Sailing spotlight on Schull

THE town of Schull is making final preparations ahead of Sunday’s opening ceremony of the ISAF Team Racing World Championship that will bring a spotlight on the West Cork sailing centre.

At least 20 teams from six nations compete over the following week for a title traditionally coveted amongst varsity students but which has extended into the younger ranks of amateur sport.

The championship pits teams of three boats in matches against other teams where the emphasis is on boat-handling and tactics rather that first past the post. Matches are won by the best finishing combination of each team’s boats.

A round-robin series over three days decides the final rounds while a youth championship within the event is also held and can lead to a place in the finals.

The championship team boats are dinghies, each with a crew of two, all aiming to get the ideal winning combination of first, second and third places in any match.

But a match can also be won by other combinations such as second, third and fourth or similar variations.

The pace is usually fast and exciting and, unusually for sailing, is spectator-friendly so can be viewed from the shore.

Staging the event is a high-point in the evolution of the sport as part of the sports curriculum at the Fastnet Marine Outdoor Education Centre that shares the VEC grounds with the Schull Community College.

Organisers at the FMOEC want to give Schull a worldwide profile as one of the best sailing regions anyone could ask for.

“The second reason is that team racing is what we do here as sailing is on the curriculum,” said David Harte, manager of the FMOEC. “Around 100 of the 480 students are regular sailors and last year former students accounted for around half the helms at Intervarsity Team Racing Nationals.”

Harte points to the experience at West Kirby on the Mersey that went from being a small local club to being the main centre for team-racing in the UK. A similar long-term view is being taken in West Cork.

“The beauty of team-racing is that boat ownership isn’t needed as all the equipment is shared or provided,” said Harte. “All a sailor needs to do is turn up with their buoyancy aid and wet-suit.”

As part of the plan, a fleet of 24 brand new dinghies was built that will become a legacy for future years. But instead of buying a costly off-the-shelf option, a more creative approach was taken in Schull.

“We looked at the event at the same time as ISAF were looking for a European venue,” said Harte. “Of course, we were in a different economic situation then and we were able to get sponsors for the boats that have been built locally.

“We could have gone off and bought a fleet of new boats but that would have been very expensive. Not only were the hulls, sails and trailers built and fitted-out locally, — everything except the masts — but the FMOEC now owns the hull moulds and can build replacement if ever these are needed.”

Entries have been received from Japan, Thailand, Australia, Spain, Italy UK, Ireland, USA and a possible team from India could still be received. Around 150 competitors plus another 100 officials and volunteer organisers will be taking part. The United States are the title holders but Australia won the youth title last year so may be strong for the overall this year.

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