Monday 26 September 2016

'How we tried to sail to Italia 90 - and ended up nearly drowning'

Published 10/06/2015 | 12:22

The crew on board the boat back in 1990
The crew on board the boat back in 1990

THE draw for Italia 90 inflicted untold expense on the travelling hoards of Irish supporters. Many Schemes were devised in order to cut costs.

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Dubliner, Sean O’Gorman, hatched his own brainchild. Fly to Naples, charter a boat in Naples and sail to the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Sean’s idea aroused great interest in the Dublin area. All the lads were pleased with the idea but after several meetings the shocking truth unfolded, nobody could sail, seven had never been on a boat before and five couldn’t swim.

It was decided to advertise for a captain. In return for his sailing expertise, all expenses would be paid. Having made extensive inquires a suitable candidate was recruited. All was going well until a month before they were due to sail.

The captain announced his defection. Contingency plans were made and a substitute was recommended by a local boat club. The second captain hailed from Cork. He travelled to Dublin to meet the lads and was duly accepted.

There was only time for one meeting at which arrangements were finalised. Sean takes up the story...

WE landed in Naples on the 7th of June and chartered a 30 foot, 10 berth yacht. A course was set for the first voyage to the port of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.

As we looked at the map one of the lads commented: “Jaysus, it looks fairly handy. Just sail straight down from Naples to Cagliari.” The captain had other ideas. “Fuck that. If we miss Cagliari we will end up in Africa. I’m not taking any chances. We’ll head for the coastline of Sardinia, use the coast for our guidline and make our way down to Cagliari.”

“So be it,” said one of the lads. “You’re the skipper.” After a couple of hours at sea I went below deck to sort out the luggage. A book fell out of the captain’s bag. I picked it up and almost collapsed when I read the front cover, How To Sail A Ship.

Shocked by what I had read I shouted for my brother Cathal,  who was also on board.

“Cathal, come down here quick. “Listen to this,” I read aloud.

How to Sail A Ship

How To Plot A Course

Man Overboard Drill

Signals From A Lighthouse

Cathal: “Christ Almighty what are we going to do?”

Sean: “Say nothing to the rest of the lads. There will be mutiny if they find out.”

Our journey continued and myself and Cathal watched every move of the ‘Skipper’. Two days later, a call went up. “Land ahoy.”

Skipper: “That’s the coast of Sardinia.”

Sean: “What do we do now?”

Skipper: “I can see a fishing boat. Maybe someone on board will tell us where we are.”

It was typically Irish. There we were afloat in the Tyrrhenian Sea, five non- swimmers, doubts about the captain and me screaming at a fisherman for directions to Cagliari.

After several minutes of broken Italian and sign language the fisherman pointed us on our way. As darkness fell we lost sight of the coastline. The skipper was now called on to use his navigational experience.

Skipper: “I see an ocean liner approaching. We’ll stop it and ask them the way.”

The liner came closer and closer.

“For God’s sake wave your hands.”

Sean: “Wave me arse. Get this boat out of the way.”

We escaped death by inches as the ocean liner cruised past.

Skipper: That’s the ‘Achille laura’, the ship with all the Irish supporters. If we follow it it’ll bring us to Cagliari.”

Sean: “Follow it. Sure the bleedin thing is out of sight already.”

Having been sailing for almost three days we eventually reached the port of Cagliari, only to face the most harrowing experience of our lives. A storm, which had already caused havoc with Hydrofoils and Catamarans, was now raging around us.

The boat was tossed about with ridiculous ease, at times completely submerged in water. Resigning ourselves to certain death, we went below deck and covered our heads. It seemed like an eternity before the ship steadied itself.

The Gods had steered us through. We reached Caglialri, put the ship in dock and headed off to see Ireland draw 1-1 with England. Our next port of call was Palermo Sicily for the Egypt and Holland games.

This was another navigational disaster. We missed the harbour by about 20 miles and crashed into a wall. After several more attempts we eventually anchored the ship in Palermo. The skipper reminded us of an earlier agreement we had made.

“Don’t forget lads, I’ll be leaving yese tomorrow. Yese’ll have to bring the boat back to Naples yourselves.”

The news was greeted with a sigh of relief. I willingly helped out with his taxi fare to the airport.

After a marvellous week in Sicily, we took the boat back to Naples. Mine was the only sailing experience, a canoe race in Dun Laoghaire Harbour in 1979. By a stroke of luck, or sheer common sense, we sailed into Naples with pinpoint accuracy. We were to find out later that our skipper was on the radio back in Ireland, telling everyone how he had ‘guided’ nine ‘inexperienced’ sailors around the islands of Italy.

For Sean and the lads, a maiden voyage not to be forgotten.

This story is from What's The Story, a hilarious nook written by Ireland f,ans about their days supporting the team. For more extracts, see YouBoysInGreen.ie.

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