Over the past few days we have seen celebrations in honor of the young superstar sailors who have brought home major international gold, silver and bronze sailing medals to Ireland, together with their rightly delighted families and the enthusiastic local clubs. They are seafarers whose particular talent was identified and nurtured at an early stage in a largely maritime sociological environment, so that they almost automatically qualify for inclusion and support in what we might call the Fast-Track Flotilla.
But make no mistake, there must be some very special talent present in the first place. And there has to be a preparation for dedication to a level of hard work in fitness, combined with an almost continuous devotion to practice, which would arguably amount to cruelty were it not for the fact that these are usually the young Special Ones themselves who are establishing that personal career rhythm and, if necessary, ruthlessly dragging their circle of support with them.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying that they often depart from relatively special positions in the first place, and so it’s fitting to take an overview of one of the shipping lanes available to those who may not be coming. from a marine environment or who even – although this is rare in Ireland – live some distance from a place where sailing is seen as one of the many parts of the local scene.
While reputable sailing schools – of which the Rumball family’s INSS in Dun Laoghaire is the largest – play a very commendable role in attracting people to the sport, as do clubs with energetic local outreach programmes, there no doubt that when sailing Brigantine Asgard II’s training was at its peak, she was uniquely positioned to bring the young – and sometimes the young at heart – into a state of natural sea awareness.
For Asgard II, all the boxes have been checked. She had a natural historic position, she was just large enough to be considered the national flagship, she was instantly recognized in any Irish or foreign port she visited, and aboard her there was genuine equality in the shared maritime experience and learning process. She was the living camaraderie of the sea in an attractive and approachable package.
So when it sank – for reasons still poorly explained – in the Bay of Biscay fourteen years ago, only to be followed to a watery grave in Rathlin Sound two years later by the 80ft Northern Irish ketch ST Lord Rank, despite the absence of any deaths, the maritime community of northern and southern Ireland has entered a state of mourning so deep that some of us have still not really taken the step of denial .
There are times when we truly believe this is all just a bad dream, that Asgard II will arrive in port in the morning. And beyond that, we have a hard time accepting that it seemed like the civil service and most in government were quite happy to see Asgard II disappear in 2008, because running a sailing training ship does not fit easily into any Irish government agenda, and at the political level there are proportionally very few voices – even in coastal areas – to promise to provide such a service.
But fortunately there are those who – instead of sinking into gloom – have gradually taken action, and the recent certificate ceremony for Coiste an Asgard’s successor, Sail Training Ireland, reminded us that at A more modest size, there are private companies as diverse as the Limerick ketch Ilen, the ex-MFV Brian Boru and the charter-in Pelican which welcome Irish trainees.
Also from the north and recently seen in Dublin is the classic Brixham sailing trawler Leader, while for those with very specific offshore sailing ambitions Ronan O Siochru’s Irish Offshore Sailing of Dun Laoghaire offers courses in Sunfast 37s which can culminate in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, the Round Ireland and the Fastnet Race, in which in 2021 they were the best Irish boats and second – by minutes – in their class.
But while that’s all well and good, the size of the ship in the established Ireland-based sail training fleet means they lack what Dermot Kennedy of Baltimore – one of the original inspirations behind the eventual design of Jack Tyrrell – described as the “eye-catching” factor.
In 1972, as ideas for a replacement for Asgard I were floated, Dermot outright dismissed those looking for a modest-looking utilitarian craft, stating that their attitude was nonsense – the new ship should be a significant-sized, immediately recognizable craft. and a classic appearance setting up as many square sails as possible and lighting up every anchorage she visited. And in 1981 he succeeded. But in 2008, she was gone.
However, for the past few years, one maverick who could rival Dermot Kennedy for his stubbornness has been beating the drums about proper sailing training for the whole island, and that’s Enda O’Coineen with what was at the originally the Irish Atlantic Youth Trust, but now appears to be the Atlantic Youth Trust pure and simple, overseen by a well-populated board of trustees of great and good, Peter Cooke having recently taken over from Olympic gold medalist Robin Glentoran in as president.
No one can accuse AYT of being impatient, as they studied the project for years at all levels to come up with proposals that would provide a ship capable of providing useful educational services beyond simple sailing training . And from time to time, the governments of the north and the south – when approached – have made encouraging noises.
But in the uncertainties of pandemics and the current political situation, the need for leadership through action became increasingly evident, so when a suitable vessel became available in Sweden on the second-hand market, they abandoned the idea of building from new and opted for this.
And although pessimists would suggest that we are probably at the least appropriate time in at least a decade to bring a proposed all-island sailing training vessel to Ireland, there is something about the very presence of the Grace O’Malley which seems to generate goodwill. , and if it is impressive in port, it is even more beautiful under full sail.
You’ll have read all about it in various disparate articles on Afloat.ie for several months and more now, but with the 164ft Grace O’Malley smartly making her Irish debut at the recent Foyle Maritime Festival, the story is gaining momentum. and as Afloat.ie’s Betty Armstrong reported yesterday, she has since made a quiet but supportive first appearance in Belfast.
Her current duty commander is Captain Gerry Burns, who comes from a fishing background in West Cork but these days lives in County Down. He was a regular relief captain for Asgard II, and his passion for realizing the full potential of Irish sail training is a wonder to behold, so there will be a fervent atmosphere at Warrenpoint this weekend as Grace O’ Malley will be in Port.
Thereafter, what could become a circuit of Ireland’s main ports is the planned progression, and it would be fair and appropriate to include a visit to the Clare Island base of the Sea Queen Grace O’Malley, not least because the ship has two O’Malleys from there – Brian and Owen – on its crew, and they don’t deny direct descent from the woman herself.
In time, when it is fully operational next year, the Grace O’Malley will turn heads wherever it goes, and the program will have grown to have a throughput of a thousand interns a year. In Irish sailing terms, that’s a lot of potential seafaring talent, so who knows what new names of national and international maritime significance will emerge from the voyage of the good ship Grace O’Malley. We wish him good luck.