Of all the dinghy classes, the Mirror was by far the biggest in terms of participation. Here Peter O’Donovan reflects on those day’s when the twin crewed, pram bowed, gunter rigged, easily holed, red sailed dinghy reigned supreme.
The Optimist class may well claim that for quite a number of years it also has had very significant fleet numbers – however their numbers would possibly have to double to match what the Mirror was doing, particularly in the 1970s and ’80s.
Way Back When – No. 25 – By Peter O’Donovan
In this day and age of mass and modern production methods it is hard to understand how a modest plywood dinghy could bring sailing to the masses. It all started in 1963 when the Daily Mirror signed up TV DIY expert Barry Bucknell and designer Jack Holt to revolutionise small boat ownership.
They designed an affordable craft that could be built at home using copper wire stitching and glue. The key was in the square bow that avoided the expert skills required to construct a perfectly symmetrical pointy bow. The ability to construct a sailing boat without the skilled craftsmen and their associated cost meant sailing became more affordable and accessible.
At just over 10ft she was big enough for two adults and a couple of kids to sail yet small enough to fit on top of a family car. She could be rowed, sailed or motored. As many a Cork sailor found out, as well as providing great racing she also proved great for beach explorations not to mention water fighting.
The arrival of the Mirror on the Owenabue was actually on the Currabinny side rather than the Crosshaven side. The Cadet class was totally dominant in the Royal Cork for junior sailing in the 1960s and when the Mirror came along the Club decided that it would be better not to dilute their racing. Effectively they were completely banned until the early ’70s. Currabinny had 12 or 14 mirrors on the beach and they ultimately raced in Crosshaven and Currabinny.
Jim Tingle has long been credited with setting Mirror sailing on its way in Crosshaven when arriving in 1969 with a boat sourced from Bantry complete with rowlocks, oars and seagull engine. Above left are two of Jim’s sons Paul & Eddie. Above right and with the addition of colour Paul can be seen wheeling their boat through the then dinghy park, now car park. As any good skipper should be Eddie, appears to be chatting while his crew does the work! Other early sailors included Eddie & Joe English, Marty Lane, John Crotty, the Hills, Loves & Storeys.
Racing was every Tuesday and Friday night with one race up and down a far less cluttered river. The start and finish line was off the club house lawn. In those days there were no rescue boats except if someone got into trouble then a club ferry boat would come out to assist. For those who still wanted more there was also racing on Saturday afternoons.
Sundays were for the beach or the local regattas such as Monkstown Bay At Home, Aghada, Cobh, East Ferry and Fountainstown. This entailed a long tow from Thrombosis to the venue, one race, then soup and sandwiches and the long late tow home with the mandatory water fight along the way. There would be 30 to 40 boats racing regularly each week. The sailing season at that time was when school finished in June and stopped after the Blackrock Race in early September. A very short season compared to dinghy sailing now!
There was no travelling out of the harbour except maybe the Skillet Trophy in Kinsale if a parent would come out of the bar and bring someone but travelling was the exception.
In 1975 George Kennefick introduced the “Admirals Cup” for Mirrors and this was the huge local event for Mirrors each year attracting 50 to 60 boats for the two day event. As can be seen below the first event had 36 entries and a close examination will show many familiar names still active in the club today.
The first big ‘away’ outing for the Royal Cork Mirror fleet came in 1973 when all boats headed for Dromineer, Lough Derg for the week long ‘National Championships’. At that time there was the ‘Junior Nationals’ raced on the Monday and Tuesday (two races each day). There was a ‘Lay Day’ on the Wednesday. And then the ‘Senior Nationals’ was raced on the Thursday and Friday (again just two races each day). The term ‘Mirror Week’ came out of that very popular format. Our late members Stuart and Janet Nairn were the main organisers of this event. They moved to Crosshaven shortly after this event.
The first Mirror Week (Nationals) to take place in the Royal Cork in 1977. Ed Tingle had the best local results with a 2nd in the Juniors and 5th in the Seniors. Phillip Swanton from Monkstown won the Juniors. It even made ‘De Paper’. The camping that was ever present at Mirror events can be seen in the paper clipping. Interestingly the campsite appears to be behind Crosshaven House which is still used for camping by the Crosshaven Sea Scouts today. The results list below shows lots of interesting names – unfortunately they forgot to mention the crews!
By the 1980’s the Mirror was firmly established as the bedrock of junior sailing in the club with kids learning racing skills such as rig tuning and spinnaker while honing skills like water fighting, paddling races and rudderless sailing.
The three stage sailing course was still the main teaching tool at the time with kids generally learning to crew with a small bit of helming before progressing over the stages and years to proficient racers. A look back over results will see the progression with crews listed as helms a few years later. The tradition of siblings sailing together has been lost somewhat with the introduction of mainly single handed classes. Like the Cadet before them boats often worked their way down through a family as younger siblings took on the mantle of helming. Conflict resolution was a skill learned at a young age when sailing with a sibling. But I don’t think anyone would trade the memories.
The 80’s also saw the normalisation of travelling to events or ‘doing the circuit’. The circuit being the four regional events, North, South, East & West along with the Nationals. The majority still stuck to club racing on a Wednesday and Saturday but names like Hassett, Coveney, O’Meara, Kiely & Collins became regulars representing the club at away events.
In 1987 Barry O’Meara & Aidan O’Connell put the club on the map when selected for the World Championships in Sligo. Patrick & Andrew Coveney subsequently joined them having qualified at the Pre Worlds Regatta. The Australians dominated the event with the top four placings. Another notable competitor was GBR’s Ian Walker who finished in 6th place. Walker later returned to the class winning the UK Nationals in 2012 with daughter Zoe.
Ronan Collins & Myles O’Byrne followed up in 1991 when travelling to the more exotic location of Hoorn in Holland. Those were pre Wild Atlantic Way days, of course now Sligo is far more exotic.
While looking back at the class in Crosshaven it would be remiss not to mention the impact of Kinsale’s James Matthews who had the distinction of holding all four regional titles at the same time.
At national level Paul Hassett took on leadership duties with the Class Association in the early 90’s while at a local level Kieran Collins ability to source, repair and transport boats brought the participation to new heights. Events began seeing entries of in excess of 150 boats from all corners.
Paul oversaw without doubt the most popular sailing event ever to be hosted on Irish waters. A week long Azores high and a five knot tide saw a week of high jinks, swimming and socialising for the now legendary Nationals in Foynes. A whisper of wind appeared on the Friday which did allow two short races be rushed in. With the results long forgotten the memories of the outdoor swimming pool and mud walking still survive.
1992 saw the club host the European Championships which were dominated by father and son combination David & Jethro Gebhard from the UK. Donal McClement chaired the event and used to patrol the waters in the motor launch ‘Turtle’. The event was rolled into a fortnight of sailing with the boats heading straight to Baltimore afterwards to enjoy the Nationals. Peter Crowley officiated at the Europeans while Dave O’Brien was OD for the Nationals. Some things never change! Two weeks of great sailing with huge fleets but not without controversy.
The Europeans saw the infamous incident where the sponsors vending machine ended up in the river one night. I can still see huddled teenagers muttering between themselves when Paul Hassett arrived in Baltimore having received a tip off. To Paul’s credit it was all sorted effectively but without unnecessary fuss.
At a leeward mark in Baltimore one club helmsman took water that wasn’t his to take. His aggrieved clubmate felt there was no need to be taking up the protest committee’s time with a hearing and the two ended up in the one boat sorting it out between themselves. Needless to say they were both hauled before Donal McClement who was giving another week of volunteering on the protest committee. Perhaps these incidents contributed to the introduction of ID cards for the Nationals in Skerries in 1993!
Another first was achieved in Skerries when Tony Coveney & Sarah Hyde became the first RCYC sailors to win the Nationals. Not to be outdone twin brother Andrew took the title a year later with Marty Moloney.
Participation grew and grew throughout the 90’s as did the travelling with trips to the likes of Canada and Sweden added to the regular jaunts to the UK. Success became the norm with Cork sailors regularly taking the podium at National events.
The ability to transport boats in numbers was key to participations. Containers were filled and shipped to Canada and Kieran Collins somehow managed to drive 9 boats to Sweden, in, on and behind his van. Not to mention the ‘horsebox’ that Harry Kaiser had commissioned.
The other impact on the fleet that Harry had was his famous Tilley hat. But Harry very nearly lost the hat. At a Cork Nationals event Chairman Conor O’Donovan decided to have an unplanned charity auction one night. Without any prizes he started raffling things like the Admirals parking space, a years co and…. Harry’s Hat! With the funds going towards the Coveney’s Sail Chernobyl the bidding on the hat was between two Dublin parents when Harry declared that the hat would stay in Cork and paid a reported £2,000 for his own hat.
Despite the huge contingent travelling to events there was still a hugely vibrant local scene with sixty sailors regularly racing on a Wednesday night and extra river racing on Tuesday and Friday night to allow sailors boost the ISA logbook racing requirements. Cathal Conlon & Pat Barrett’s mooring location meant that their boat Hannah was perfectly located as the outer end of the starting line. Many was the beginner sailor that narrowly avoided their stern.
Races to Ballinacurra, East Ferry, Aghada & Monkstown were like mini cruises and allowed sailors experience the vast expanse and joys that the harbour has to offer. Lunch & money for crisps and coke in Dirty Murph’s or Jacko’s would be stowed in the cubby hole. Hopefully junior classes will get more exposure to these away days again.
The club made it to the top of the world in 1999 however thanks to Marty Moloney & Revelin Minehane. At Easter they travelled to Saldanha Bay in South Africa were crowned World Champions in South Africa. Revelin followed up some years later by winning the Americas Cup as part of Team Oracle. In a boat called Surreal II Marty had come along way from being a water fight expert in his first Mirror ‘Nifty Cabbage’.
Around the world Mirrors always had a lot of parent child teams whether that was the likes of David Gebhard or Ian Walker. Cork did have some appearances from parents such as Kevin Lane, Conor O’Donovan and Pat Vaughan to name a few. However generally the Cork parents stuck to the supporting and the Mirror Mum was a formidable force with expertise ranging from catering and medical to boat & sail repairs.
The fleet continued into the new century with the likes of the Woodwards, Kaisers, Cotters, Murphy’s, O’Learys and McGlades to the fore. The fleet remained an active part of club life but new classes had gained in popularity with the fleet eventually fading away. It could be argued that modernisation like a fibreglass hull or new rig came too late it. What many find disappointing is that the Mirror has yet to be replaced in terms of a two person boat leaving a gap for many junior sailors not keen on going it alone. Whether sailing with a sibling or a friend it is a great experience.
After a brief period of inactivity however red sails started appearing again with a new generation of parent finding the boat they learnt to sail in perfect for teaching their offspring the joys of messing around in boats. Hots shots such as Andrew Coveney, Mel Collins, Mark O’Donovan & Donal Hegarty could be seen taking to the seas again with their offspring. Mel even made a return to the Europeans in 2016 much to the amusement of some of the younger competitors. When he won the first race the laughter was gone!
Today there are a surprising number of Mirrors still in the dinghy park but they have been repurposed from their days as the main youth class. Today the boat is used in a more understated but equally enjoyable way as before.
Way Back When is a regular series which commenced publishing last January as part of the Club’s 300th anniversary celebrations. The WbW team have voyaged for three months non-stop and having reached our 25th way-point feel it is time to drop anchor and replenish. We have explored many aspects of club and harbour life in the living memory of the current membership – during our voyage have made discoveries, renewed old and made new friendships, and hopefully we have informed and entertained. This is our Tahiti, where we will rest, revive and take stock. We are well aware that there are bountiful other parts of our clubs great heritage that we have yet to explore and hope to set sail again soon.