We have some of the greatest sailing in Europe

Pat Henry

If hanging over the side of a dinghy just about touching the water with your shoulder or bottom is your idea of fun, then dinghy sailing may be for you. At times, however, you may end up in the water, which can be exhilarating and fun.

There was a time when any form of sailing was only for the elite, but not any more -- there are people of all ages taking up the sport, especially after the great success of Annelise Murphy at the Olympics, where she finished in a very respectable fourth place.

Watching the race on TV, you got a glimpse of what was going on. Seeing the flexibility and agility of Annelise gave you an idea of how fit she is and the amount of time spent training. Not in the water, but in the gym.

It takes considerable strength to pull yourself freely around a dinghy and the ability to stay focused is important as one wrong move and it could be the end of your race.


Having had the great opportunity to train natural champion Francis Rowan (part-time sailor, and full-time lawyer and the current Ulster champion in fireball racing) for the past number of years, it gave me an insight into how specifically designed exercises can make a difference, especially for the more mature adult where muscle tone and strength is not always there.

Our programme centred on core balance, shoulder strength, back, arms and especially triceps -- the back of the arms. When you pull in the ropes and spinnaker to change direction, the more strength you have, the more you can relax and not try too hard.

When muscle tone is weak, you end up pulling with your lower back, hips and neck muscles and this is when injuries can occur.

Watching Annelise made it look effortless and free flowing and she showed inner confidence and strength. If you have the opportunity to go dinghy sailing, look out for those who are unfit -- they show their tension and their movements are executed almost with anger.

With children, it is important to help them improve their natural fitness through running, chin-ups and press-ups, free squats and dips between chairs.

They don't need gym training or weights until they are 16, and even then it's not recommended they use heavy weights.

Ireland, being an island nation, is blessed with a plentiful supply of wind and the combination of these two factors means that we have some of Europe's best sailing waters. The world of sailing is divided into those who sail cruisers (big boats) and those who sail small boats and dinghies. Almost all sailors start off their sailing life in dinghies and as they get older "progress" onto cruisers. Others stay sailing dinghies all their life.

The great thing about sailing is that it is a totally "natural" sport in that you are very close to nature -- both wind and water. The only form of propulsion for a sailing boat is the wind and you have to be at one with the elements of wind and water. On a small sailing dinghy you get to feel every puff of wind propelling the boat forward at about 13 knots maximum speed. When you are sailing out in the bay, all your worries and cares seem to get left behind on land and there is a great sense of freedom.

In Ireland, dinghy sailing can be in one- man or two-man boats. The boat which Annelise Murphy sails is a Laser Radial, which is a one-man boat. There are many dinghies which are manned by two people, a helm and a crew and both have very separate and different jobs to do on the boat.

Dinghy sailing in Dublin is very well catered for and Dublin Bay Sailing Club, a wholly voluntary club, organises weekly dinghy racing on Dublin Bay and is the largest sail racing organisation in Ireland (www.dbsc.ie).

Although sailing has an elitist reputation you can get on the water for a reasonably modest outlay. A second-hand Laser Radial, fully rigged, could be obtained for around €1,500.

Essential kit includes a wet suit, buoyancy aid and neoprene boots, all of which could be obtained for around €350.

While some dinghy sailors are leisure sailors only, most get into racing, which has been described as "chess on water" especially when the winds get light.

There is a good social aspect to sailing and even after a close-fought race in the water, sailors love to meet in the bar afterwards to swap tales as to how their race went.

The cost of joining a sailing club varies widely from around €200 per annum in one of the smaller dinghy clubs to €1,500 per annum for one of the larger Dun Laoghaire clubs.