Saturday 16 December 2017

Sailing: Few tears shed for these most demanding, exhausting beasts

WM Nixon

The Olympic Star Class keelboat is a wayward beast, demanding and exhausting to sail, yet beloved by its aficionados. But it's viewed with mixed feelings by everyone else.

Those mixed feelings crystalised last year when it was announced that the 2012 Olympics would be the final appearance of the Star in the five-ring circus.

Nobody seems to have prostrated themselves in front of the Olympic sailing juggernaut in opposition to this eviction. In fact, the view seems to be that it was miraculous that such an eccentric vehicle had managed to cling on to its Olympic status for so long. But far from it signalling the demise of the Stars as an international class, one of its major events, the annual Bacardi Cup currently being staged at Miami, would suggest that the class now has a new lease of life. There are 93 Star boats racing off Florida -- a mind-boggling turnout.

But while it may partly be a show of defiance for Star diehards, who will now gather strength as the Dragon class did when it was dropped from the Olympics, the Miami mayhem is also part of the countdown to the Olympics in 2012.

The news is good for Ireland's hopes, as our duo of Peter O'Leary and David Burrows -- who had a disappointing showing in the Miami Olympic Classes regatta in January -- have been showing well, lying fourth overall at the halfway stage with an early scorecard of 7, 2 and 5, and putting an impressive amount of boats behind them.

This year, the annual Figaro Solo Challenge from France -- the testing ground for many of the fabled French sailing talents -- will return to Ireland. But where it has tended to favour Dingle in times past as the Irish stopover for the fleet of 70-plus specialised boats, in August this year they'll be coming into Dun Laoghaire and the National YC.

Damian Foxall is the best-known of our stars to have successfully emerged from the hotbed of the Figaro, and this year we've two lone sailors -- Mick Liddy and Paul O Riain -- currently on the list, and in the throes of putting the final package together. The standard of competition is ferocious, and the level of interest is higher than ever.

Last autumn, the concept of an Irish sail training trust was unveiled to step into the breach left by the loss of Asgard II and the government's withdrawal from an active national sail training programme. Sail Training Ireland came into being, and in January it was formally registered as a charitable trust which everyone can support and join, whereas Coiste an Asgard was something of a closed shop, functioning entirely through government appointees.

With the Irish Sailing Association providing administrative services, the new group has been researching its options. With two years of bursaries being provided by the global organisation Sail Training International, they will be taking a further step with formal announcements on April 12.

Meanwhile, the people who host the tall ships, the harbour authorities, are having a public workshop to hear all views on Ireland's need for a ship -- this is taking place at Dublin Port Offices on Saturday, March 26.

Whatever course is taken, the message is that Ireland's next ship should not be a government project. That would not be in keeping with the concept of sail training as part of character development and acquiring self-reliance. For if we're serious about such things, then we can't just stand aside and expect the government to do it for us.

Irish Independent

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