A tiny West Cork harbour village has managed to reinvigorate its sailing school, thanks to a conversation 15 years ago which was the genesis of a great idea, writes Sally Fegan-Wyles
HOW does a village, with a winter population of 70 people, have a yacht club with the most active Dragon fleet in the country?
Glandore Harbour Yacht Club is certainly what’s classed as a small club, but it has an abundance of excellent sailors.
On a cold winter’s night, 15 years ago, a bar-side conversation turned a great idea into reality. GHYC members were reflecting on the lack of local participation in the summer sailing school.
Children were coming from Dublin and Cork, or even further afield, but not from the area around Glandore. The problem was that there was no tradition of sailing for fun in the local farming or fishing families. Yachts were for ‘blow-ins’.
It was Debbie Bendon who suggested providing free introductory classes to children from the local primary schools, hoping that if they had a great time, some of them might persuade their parents that they should come to the summer school courses.
Debbie, Avril Cooke, and Neville Scott started to work with Glandore Primary School headmaster Vincent O’Neill, and parents Noreen O’Mahoney and Kathleen Hayes, to try and make it happen.
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half later, and enter Kevin Hayes, dairy farmer, former senior sailing instructor GHYC ISA training, and captain of the Glandore fleet of 13 Dragons.
No one in Kevin’s family had been on the water before the national schools programme started, but now there are five sailing Hayes’ – Michelle, Clare, Kevin, Rebecca and Peter, three of whom crewed at the 2016 Irish Dragon Championship in Kinsale.
And it’s not just the Hayes family. Hundreds of local youngsters from four local primary schools (Glandore, Leap, Union Hall and Abbeystrewry) have been through the programme, which is now run by Anne O’Mahoney. Many of them have gone on to attend further sailing courses, and are now coming back as sailing instructors, either in Glandore, or in sailing clubs in the US, where GHYC graduates have a great reputation.
Any doubts about local interest evaporated with the first course.
‘Ever since I saw a line of little mirrors coming into the harbour, with the heads of the summer school children hardly up to the sides of the boat, I was determined that some day my children would learn to sail,’ said Kathleen Hayes, wife of Cyril, a local dairy farmer.
‘We jumped at the chance. Michelle was the first, and I went down to the harbour with my camera to watch. She came off the water on such a ‘high’– the fun they had, and the level of excitement – if we could only bottle the joy that those children felt our fortune would be made.’
After Michelle came Clare, and then Kevin. ‘He took to it like a duck to water. Normally a rather shy child, he could not wait for us to leave when we dropped him off,’ explained Kathleen. ‘Already when he was 10-11, he was helping to teach the children from the other schools. All five of our children then went to the GHYC summer school for the full set of sailing courses, and then did the instructors’ course. So far Michelle, Clare and Kevin have all worked as instructors, with Rebecca starting this summer, and Peter chomping at the bit.’
And what about Kathleen herself? She says she would have loved to sail, but feels it is too late for her to learn. Instead she gets out on the water on any boat she can hitch a ride from, and takes pictures, still trying to capture the joy of sailing.
A simple idea has changed the nature of GHYC, building a level of local engagement that is not always seen in yacht clubs, and ensuring that GHYC has a very bright future.