Sean Walsh, president of the OGA has a passion for sailing traditional boats and wants to explore possibilities for passing on the valuable knowledge, skills and sailing experiences of the OGA members to a younger generation. Over a number of months, Sean drew together a team of people to take a sail-training weekend in traditional boats from concept to reality. The team comprised the DBOGA, Poolbeg Yacht and Sailing Club, skippers and shipmates. Stefan Ó Laoghaire and Liam Begley developed the curriculum for workshops before and after the weekend and the weekend itself. The young participants were recruited from Mayfield Community School in Cork where Liam is a teacher.
Once selected, the young gaffers attended two workshops after school to introduce them to the history, structure, rigging and sailing of traditional boats and to prepare them for the practical weekend. To review and consolidate what they learned a follow-up workshop for after the weekend was also scheduled. Depending on feedback, future activities could be planned.
When the weekend finally arrived, the party of ten students and two teachers made their way by train to Dublin where they were met by Derek and John from DBOGA and driven to Poolbeg where they received a warm welcome from the Commodore, Negley Groom, Sean Walsh and very welcome tea and sandwiches from Katie.
As a female teacher in the same school, and an occasional crew on Sean's boat, I was to supervise the four girls. Our berths were in ‘Tír na nÓg’ and for the young gaffers this was their first experience of sleeping on board a sailboat. Once on board they quickly adjusted to the limited space, the lack of privacy, the absence of electric sockets for recharging their phones and the novelty of 'the head’. Changed into their PJ's they sat on deck watching the giant ocean liner the 'Mein Schiff 1' slowly leave its mooring on the opposite side of the marina and move towards our boat. Everyone was reminded of the 'Titanic' as the lights of this floating skyscraper got closer and closer and to everyone's relief slowly and almost silently turned and floated away out to sea. Some of the girls found getting to sleep difficult as the constant movement, the weird noises and sharing cramped quarters were all very strange. A few tried sleeping on deck for a while, but returned to the cabin when it got too cold.
The following day we woke to blue skies, sunshine and enough wind to make the sailing interesting but not too challenging for novices. The crew of young gaffers was divided between three boats, ‘Tír na nÓg’, ‘Naomh Crónán’ and ‘Rinn Explorer’ for the trip to Dun Laoghaire. This provided a variety of experiences for the crews. Everyone had an opportunity to learn by doing, putting theory learned in the introductory sessions into practice, they were particularly appreciative of being 'trusted' by the various skippers to handle the boats.
Listening to conversations on deck at night was interesting. Participating students thought that Katie was great, very friendly and welcoming. They were amazed when they heard that she worked at the club for free, everyday and even at night! They were intrigued by Paul's story of the building of the ‘Naomh Crónán’ and how he and the crew maintain the boat and go off on voyages to France and further afield. They loved sitting chatting on deck in the moonlight, watching and listening to the boats coming and going in the harbour.
Over the course of the weekend I observed how sailing provided a real opportunity for the young people to gain in confidence, to learn from their own and often other people’s experience and to have a real adventure rather than a virtual adventure, to be close to nature rather than be insulated from it. The training weekend gave these young gaffers more than sailing skills and a greater understanding of traditional boats, it also gave them a unique opportunity to spend time, and share experiences, with people who are living their dream of sailing boats and having real adventures sailing to places far and near.
The door into a world of adventure was opened, if they choose to go through it, it is up to them. Thanks to Sean Walsh and all the crew for a brilliant weekend, good memories and a great adventure.