by Louay Habib
A large number of amateur sailors find it hard to commit to a full on racing campaign due to work and family commitments, and some yacht owners are put off racing by the cost and the logistics of putting together a crew; but an initiative which addresses these issues has become the biggest of all racing classes on Dublin Bay. Racing under IRC a large number of cruising yachts are getting off their moorings into the White Sail racing fleet.
The 2009 Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta attracted 480 yachts and close to three thousand competitors and the largest class was the White Sail fleet. Racing under IRC, the diverse range of cruising keelboats enjoyed simple racing; no spinnakers, no big crews or more importantly no big budgets. The development of White Sail racing attracts new sailors and yachts to the sport. 28 boats were racing in the class at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, and regular Thursday and Saturday night racing is now well established in Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour.
The attraction is that a bunch of friends sailing together on an average cruiser could participate in simple racing after work or at weekends without any of the high-end hassle. Hi-tech race sails are not permitted. The class gives genuine cruising sailors a chance to win without spending a fortune on kit or crew.
Barry O'Connor has been racing for many years but recently work and family commitments have ‘clipped his racing wings'. However Barry was racing with friends on Katanca, the Elan 31, at this year's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. Katanca won the White Sail IRC Two division and in doing so were crowned Irish national champions for the class. Barry explains what the experience was like:
"On a very sunny Sunday at the end of the first week in July, I found myself standing on a podium in front of an assembled crowd of hundreds of sailors being handed a very nice silver cup by Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup skipper, Ian Walker. When I thought about it, I realised that we had managed to win a national championships and having a lot of fun in the process.
We had had four days of very varied conditions and courses and the five of us were pretty happy with our performance. We had to work a little harder as we were sailing in the classic White Sail "squeeze". We had smaller boats with incredible handicaps and bigger boats with reaching advantage, but that is the nature of the competition.
When I entered my objective was to try to better the 4th place from 2007, so I decide to take some of the weightier non-essential items off, such as a case or two of sparkling wine and 13 children's puzzles! I did however leave some essential items onboard such as the fishing tackle. We managed to put this to good use in a very Sorrento-like Killiney bay where we were eating fresh Mackerel on soda bread drinking freshly brewed coffee, 20 minutes before our gun.
The combination of fun on and off the water with a competitive fleet across a variety of courses makes this a special event. I certainly felt that we were trying hard but it was in comfort. We will be back in two years and expect the fishing to be just as good!"
Racing in the White Sail Class may not be for the hardened pro-race sailor but the initiative has proved very popular in Ireland, and there is no doubt that the class introduces new people to the sport and offers part time racers an avenue back into yacht racing. The essence of the class is to get cruising boats off the moorings and onto the water, something that should be applauded by all of the yacht racing community.