When the 1720 sportsboat class announces that Baltimore in West Cork will be host to an event, it immediately generates entries and the championship, which begins this morning, is no exception.
At one point, it seemed that 20 crews were set for the three-day series, but the usual mix of logistics means that three to five boats may not make the line.
“All the main players are there, including the top boats from the last event plus a couple more,” said Clive O’Shea, 1720 Class captain. “I think it’s anybody’s event, really.”
Although it’s a far cry from the ‘early days’ of the class barely two decades ago, when 70 or more of the Irish-built keelboats would be in action, plans are afoot to recreate such a spectacle in 2020 for the tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club after which the class is named.
With 35 boats regularly racing in Ireland plus at least a similar number sailing in the UK, it certainly seems like a realistic target. There’s definitely more interest again, especially in the last 12 months, reckons O’Shea.
But when many more of the day-boats that are in action at clubs and sailing-schools around the country are counted, adding a club division to the gathering in three years could even push the fleet towards the 100-boat mark.
It’s all the more reason why the class die-hards persevere, whether in the hunt for the class title or just for the competitive fun of the boat-on-boat action.
That’s the spirit of this week’s regatta and exactly how the fleet breaks down in terms of runners and riders.
Anthony O’Leary, along with his son Peter plus Alex Barry, all go head to head in the leaderboard stakes: Little space between all three boats can be expected in the final score and a three-way shoot-out will make for guaranteed close-quarters action.
Paul Gibbons will be racing and has Olympic veteran Mark Mansfield on board so that will be a rerun of many former 1720 battles, old and new. Fionn Lydon will be racing the Baltimore Sailing Club entry so will be competitive.
Other entries hail from around the country and include Ben Cooke from Dun Laoghaire, Howth’s Ross McDonald paired with Crosshaven’s Aoife English on another entry, while Howth regular Jonny Swan is fresh from competing in the Half-ton Cup in Kinsale where he finished best amateur crew overall in seventh place.
Where the class and venue really deliver is in terms of a spectacle.
With the race course immediately off the harbour wall and surrounded by the town of Baltimore to the east and the islands to the west, the big sail area of the sportsboats deliver a fine sight.
“When the 1720 class did die-off, it was Baltimore Sailing Club that kept the fleet alive with half a dozen boats racing regularly, even when other clubs fell away and boats were put in sheds,” said O’Shea.
“It’s a fabulous place to sail and you always get a great welcome whenever you go there.”