The Royal Cork may well have the record for the longest continuous Oppie parent career in the world. A former Rear Admiral and Oppie parent of 17 consecutive seasons recalls his time with the fleet.
Way Back When – No. 6 – By Larrie Martin
Life has a habit of moving in strange circles which can be interesting unless you are going around in circles on the water – a frequent occurrence when following young Optimist sailors. So when our esteemed former Admiral Kevin Lane asked me to write this article my mind went back to my childhood. I had no connection whatsoever with sailing but Kevin was one year behind me in National School. Kevin has a definite memory of an occasion when I apparently gave him all the school books for his upcoming year free gratis. How Kevin repaid this will be recounted later.
The Optimist was first designed in 1947 but took some years to reach Crosshaven. The origins of the Optimist fleet in the RCYC are shrouded in some uncertainty with some past officers rushing to deny any connection with the introduction of the fleet. However what is known is that in the early 1990s, the Club was in possession of three very basic wooden Optimists. Tommy Dwyer recalls making use of the wooden boats and thinking that there had to be a better option. Tommy and a group of other parents were conscious of the fact that many other clubs in the country already had very active Optimist fleets and decided that the RCYC needed to do likewise or junior sailing in the Club would fall behind.
In early 1994 after a trip to Dublin, Stuart Musgrave collected a few Optimists and arrived at my front door in Crosshaven with a Falsled Optimist which cost the princely sum of €350. The Falsled was a very heavy fibreglass model which was virtually indestructible and therefore was ideal for starting novice sailors. This particular boat served my five sons very well in that capacity. When all my boys had finally progressed from the fleet I managed to trade the boat on for one pint of beer.
The fleet grew very quickly and within a few years the Club had a number of sailors at the top of the national fleet and representing their country abroad at international events – among them were Colm Galvin, Roy Darrer, Richard Lane, Stefan Hyde, Peter O’Leary, Richard Murphy, Darragh Burns, Brendan Dwyer and others. The Club has continued to have representation at the top end of the fleet over the years including people like John Downey, Nin O’Leary, Katie Tingle, Séafra Guilfoyle, Peter McCann and more very recently Harry Twomey and James Dwyer Matthews.
Despite my lack of association with sailing growing up, when I came to live in Crosshaven it seemed a good idea to join the Club, particularly once five sons arrived. Little did I know what I was committing myself to when that first Oppie arrived. For 17 years from 1994 to 2011, on the pretext of minding my children, I managed to travel the length and breadth of the country and visited places I would never have seen otherwise. My first away trip, with son number 1, was to Dromineer and it remained my favourite venue throughout my Oppie “career”. The list of clubs visited would almost qualify one to have completed a Round Ireland race. Each venue generated its own anecdotes and stories.
Putting five children through Oppies meant that over the years we went through eight different boats and I think I was the first person to own a three tier trailer in the Club if not the country – a source of much amusement to my boys the first time we tried with some difficulty-to load the top boat.
One of my sons did very well initially in his first national trials but unfortunately fell away towards the end. As a parent I was trying unsuccessfully to help him come to terms with his disappointment. Kevin Lane appeared on the scene, ushered me away and managed to calm things down – a favour repaid after many years and very much appreciated!
Another set of trials took place at the Broadmeadows on a freezing January day when I felt the adults were in danger of being hauled up in front of the ISPCC. Two of my boys were competing and racing took place in showers of hailstones. The sailors came off the water almost petrified and a few did not sail again for a long time!
The memories of many trips and events are happily remembered. A small few are listed to give a flavour of life in the fleet:
Central to many trips away was the Saturday night meal when parents and kids would gather in a local restaurant. The job of apportioning the bill at the end of the night was vigorously avoided by most and unfortunately fell to me far too often – how not to win friends A tradition began at that time also amongst some of the Dads of wearing a pink shirt for these occasions.
On another night, I was feeling unwell so I decided to head off to bed early. I left my 10 year old son drinking Coke at the bar and conversing with Paddy Costigan. I am reliably informed that they were still talking 4 hours later. Nice to know that even at an early age one’s son can deputise.
The 1999 Nationals were at the RCYC with Paul Tingle OOD for the Junior Fleet. There was a gale blowing, so Paul advised all the parents that because the event was a National Championship’s he would run racing but that each parent would have to make their own decision as to whether their child should sail. I was assistant beach-master and my main work was rescuing sailors (including my own son) who could barely make if off the slipway before being blown backwards. Three races were completed and Rory Love finished first in all three – one of the finest sailing displays in any fleet for many years. John Downey won the Senior Nationals that year.
At a Trials in Kinsale a number of us adults, who were on the water noticed, that Jack Crotty was paying huge attention to Katie Tingle, hanging on to her gunwhale and very seriously chatting her up. It took a huge roar from the adults for Jack (and possibly Katie) to realise that the one minute gun had gone and they were well back from the start line. I wonder from where he learned that manoeuvre!
The Oppie fleet would be nothing without coaches and over the years there have been many – both homegrown and imported. Some of the experienced senior sailors in the Club including Tommy Dwyer, Anthony O’Leary and others were involved in the early days. The tradition of former fleet members returning to coach was established and probably the standout one was Nin O’Leary.
One of the more notable coaches to come to the Club was Ian Percy, who arrived, along with his Olympic Gold Medal post Sydney 2000, for a week’s coaching. One afternoon when sailing was cancelled Ian, along with about eight Oppie sailors, piled into my jeep to head off bowling – a unique way to entertain an Olympian!
However it would be impossible to talk about coaching without mentioning the coach who made the biggest impression, Fernando (Gwozdz) from Argentina . Fernando came to coach our sailors for five summers in a row and stayed with us each year. He became like my sixth son and someone who endeared himself to all the sailors and their parents. His work ethic, ability to deal with various levels of competence and interest in the sailors was incredible. He was a superb coach and remains a dear friend.
How to sum up the time spent in the Optimist fleet. It certainly gave me the chance to spend a lot of precious time with my children during the many away trips. I also made many friends around the country over the years. It gave the boys a skill they will have for life but also taught them how to make decisions, the value of persistence and how to deal with disappointment. However the most significant benefit was the friendships made by the sailors – friendships which have endured. Every Christmas some of my sons still attend a “sailing” dinner where they meet up with their friends from Oppie days.
I would like to finish by recounting my proudest moment as an Oppie parent. This came when one of the boys was at a very early stage of his career. The Munster Championships was taking place in Fenit and on a foul day with a big wind, rain and a huge swell it was eventually decided to proceed with sailing. On the last beat when conditions worsened, despite capsizing a couple of times, my lad managed to cross the finish line in last place. My gratitude still goes to the Race Officer who was probably slightly generous with the time but my lad’s sheer persistence and courage on that day has stood to him throughout his life so far.
UPDATE 11/02/2020 – Jamie McWilliam emailed us in response to the following comment on Facebook
Sham G Riordan: Great article. John McWilliam was I think the first to bring an Oppie to the Club. So that would have been when his boys were 8 or 9.
Jamie McWilliam: Sham is correct. We had two home-made wooden Oppies – a red one called Fred and a blue one called Speed Wobble. Either Dad made them, or some mate of his. We sailed in the river – often doing creek raids up around Drake’s Pool – and in West Cork. The first (only) race we ever did was Glandore Regatta in about 1976 when Tom managed to cross the line just in front of the massive onrushing form of Yellow Devil (Jim Donegan). This after sailing to the event from Rossbrin – I think, but surely not, it’s miles. But we never did any regional or national stuff, singlehanders never worked for us. Mirrors were the only way to go as they offered sport and social entertainment – Proof above
WayBackWhen is being published as a regular series in the run up to the Cork 300 celebrations next July. The publication team are interested in photographs and articles showing the life of the club in living memory and are inviting submissions at this time. A number of members have already kindly agreed to write articles on specific subjects like this one by Larrie Martin. If you have items of interest or a good story that fits the theme please make contact through firstname.lastname@example.org