The country’s young sailors treated observers to a feast of sailing action on Galway Bay last weekend for the Optimist Connacht Championships. 98 competing boats with sailors ranging in age from 7 to 14 took to the water against the backdrop of gloriously sun-kissed inlets, hills and beaches. The maritime and sailing community from a whole range of clubs, community groups and institutions around the Bay who came together to provide the logistical, management and safety support for such a significant event were well rewarded with top quality sailing on display in really competitive races and some strong showings from local sailors.
The event was hosted from Galway Bay Sailing Club, near Oranmore, and visiting sailors camping at the club were woken on Saturday morning by bright sunlight streaming into the tents. The fresh westerly breeze provided ideal conditions for racing and there was a buzz of excitement and anticipation as competing boats were rigged and the safety and race management teams finalized preparations and took to the water. Shortly after 11 o’clock everything was ready, the D flag was hoisted at the front of the clubhouse and the fleet took to the water.
Despite sailing into the wind, the main fleet quickly made their way from the slip at Rinville to the race area south of Renmore. With the fresh breeze, race officer John Leech and his team were able to set the marks for the course over a broad area and the racing got underway amidst the usual jostling for position on a busy start line. In the senior fleet, the early races went the way of the Dublin clubs, with Louise Hanley of the National Yacht Club taking the first race, Jules Start of the Royal St. George Yacht Club taking the second. On a day which celebrated camaraderie, volunteerism and community spirit, it was poignant to see Sasha Bezpalyi, flying the flag for Ukraine, take the winning position in the third race. With the forecast wind looking uncertain for Sunday, the decision was taken to sail a fourth race on Saturday, where Jules Start again took the honours in the senior fleet.
There was a larger spread of winners in the Junior fleet for the younger sailors. Juliet Ryan from Malahide took the first race, Lily Donagh from Lough Derg took the second, while Loughlann Terdange Devaux from Lough Ree finished strongly, winning the final two races.
Just south of the Marine Institute, the less experienced sailors also got a taste for competitive action. Guided by the GBSC coaching team, they sailed a triangular course closer to shore. Race officer Margot Cronin also opted to run four races on Saturday. The visiting Cork boats had a stronger showing in this fleet, with two wins for Charlie McKibben of Monkstown Bay and one each for Dylan O’Sullivan or Royal Cork and Alex Butcher from Malahide.
With the appetites whetted after a great day on Saturday, sailors were again woken by bright sunshine on Sunday. However, the breeze had dropped off significantly and what remained of it had swung around to the south east. Nonetheless, the fleet took to the water and made their way to the race area. Despite scouting all around the inner Bay, the race officer eventually sounded three signals and hoisted the N flag above A to signal an end to racing for the day. It was a popular decision amongst the fleet, who cheered the winners before making their way back to shore for a well-earned meal.
Once back on land, the final checks and balances were applied to the results. Prior to the prize giving, IODAI president thanked all the volunteers who had come together to make the event possible. The co-operation between all of the sailing clubs and enthusiasts around the Bay, users of the facilities at Rinville, community groups and local institutions demonstrated the strength of community spirit and volunteerism in the region. Before getting to the prizes, team manager Ross Gorman also presented their kit bags to the sailors travelling to France this week as part of the International Development Team.
Once all the scores were counted, the overall winner of the Senior Gold Fleet was Jules Start, Loughlann Terdange Devaux won the Junior Gold Fleet and Charlie McKibben took the honours in the Regatta Fleet.
The weekend also proved a great opportunity for local sailors with 10 local boats taking part. Kate Barry and Rian Baynes were amongst the prize-winners in the Senior Bronze Fleet while Aisling Morrin won Best Local Sailor in the Regatta Fleet and the youngest sailor on the water was Darragh Baynes. Full results are available on the IODAI website at the following link - https://iodai.com/galway-bay-connaughts-results/
Galway Bay Sailing Club would like to thank IODAI and all the individuals, clubs and institutions who volunteered time, services, boats and facilities to the event.