5 months ago

Three Women Share Their Love of Sailing 


One of Ireland’s biggest sailing events this summer was the Volvo Dún Laoghaire Regatta, a four-day series, with 2,500 sailors and 500 boats competing across 34 classes on Dublin Bay. There was a buzz about the festival on and offshore – the event attracts Olympic, international and national talent, with yachts competing from Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, and all four provinces of Ireland.

Lesser known is the inaugural Pathfinder Women at the Helm Regatta which takes place this weekend (August 17 – 18) at the National Yacht Club, Dún Laoghaire which encourages women to set new goals for themselves, develop confidence to move from shore to boat, from crew to helm and from club to regional event. One of the participants is Sara Davidson who began sailing on June 5 this year, “As it turned out, the weather was kind to us on the first evening, and despite being a bit cold, we had a ball and thoroughly enjoyed our initiation.” She immediately found herself changing tack and helming on a J80. “None of us had any sailing experience before so we were very excited to see what was involved, try something different, and get out on the water after a day at work.” She has just completed a six-week Learn to Sail programme and hopes to compete in the regatta. “We love the exhilaration, laughs, freedom and focus that’s required out on the water. Listening to the helm (and our very patient instructors) for direction and guidance is absolutely key – lest we get knocked off the boat by the boom. Translated into our work environment – poor listening leads to bad decision making, which can also have potentially disastrous results.”

Also relatively new to sailing is Sarah Byrne, board member of Irish Sailing who began at the age of 39. Now 53, she is 14 years proficient having started out with an adult Try Sailing weekend in Greystones before buying an RS200 dinghy with a club member who taught her how to helm on a weekly basis. “It was definitely a case of imposter syndrome but I soon realised that anyone with a will to learn could easily master the basics. With incremental progression, I bought my own boat and sailed with my children, now accomplished sailors themselves. The cross-generational aspect of sailing stands apart as one of the most valuable advantages of this sport.”

Roisin O’Brien Ryan is another passionate young sailor who has been sailing with her father in Dublin Bay since she was three. Her parents nurtured her hobby and in addition to taking summer sailing courses, Ryan completed her Irish Sailing Level certificates, and raced on the IUSA College Sailing circuit and in the Dublin Bay Sailing Club summer and winter series. She currently races on Gringo, an Archibald 35, out of the National Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire and on a J80 as part of the National Yacht Club Under 25 team. “This team, as well as the club’s Under 30 Match Racing initiative, is a wonderful way for young people to remain involved in sailing between college and young working age in that transition from dinghies to keelboats, without even needing to own a boat.”

What she most enjoys about her hobby is how gender neutral it is in comparison to other sports. “In college [Ryan was Commodore of the UCD Sailing Club] both men and women sailed on the same teams, ranging from the most competitive to the lower teams. I think this is rare among other sports where teams are segregated by gender. The same can be said for age – on any given Thursday night racing in Dublin Bay you’ll have boats with mixed gender crews ranging from 15 to 70-plus years old. The sport provides an opportunity for everyone to be involved and learn from each other.” The skills Ryan has acquired through sailing have proven useful in her personal and professional life. “Dealing with situations under pressure in a calm and controlled manner is something sailing has taught me – that comes in handy too.” This summer you’ll find her on the water most evenings, weather permitting. “I take part in Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon racing aboard Gringo and often race with the National Yacht Club’s Under 25 team on a Tuesday and train with them on Sunday mornings.” She particularly loves the buzz during the summer months when the harbour is full of sailors, from children to adults – learning, racing and enjoying the sport. “Sailing has introduced me to several lifelong friends. It is an incredibly social sport and something I think is unique to sailing is the community. It never ceases to amaze me how open, welcoming and approachable people in the sailing community are.”


Irish Offshore Sailing, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin: Start Yachting Course, €300 with overnight stay onboard; www.irishoffshoresailing.com.

Sailing Ireland, Kilmore Quay Marina, Wexford: Try A Sail Day, €50 for half day; www.sailingireland.com.

Heir Island Sailing School, Co Cork: Adult sailing lesson, €50 for half day; www.heirislandsailingschool.com.

Carlingford Lough Yacht Club, Carlingford: Adult evening course, €112; www.clyc.info.

Irish National Sailing School and Club: Yacht Taster sailing day course, €49 for full day; www.inss.ie. AC

Penny McCormick

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