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60 Years of Sailing

By Simon McIlwaine

 ‘Where the mountains of Mourne sweep  down  to the sea’ -  there is no finer a  place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than skimming the waves at the foot of  Donard, powered only by the wind. This must have been the same feeling shared by  a group of visionary individuals who came together fifty years ago to form  Newcastle Yacht Club,  following an initial chance meeting between Dr Jim Gibson and  Don McCracken.

With the initial  idea of reviving the Town Regatta and potentially forming a local club, groups  of like-minded individuals from all walks of local life were enlisted in the  venture. Many classes of boat descended upon Newcastle from all over the country  to take part in what was to be the first of two very successful regattas . 

By 1962 it was apparent to all concerned that a  proper sailing club was required to support the local interest and following a  meeting in the Watch House at the Harbour, Newcastle Yacht Club was formed with  the Earl of Roden as Commodore, Mr GF Annesley and Dr JC Gibson as joint vice  Commodores, and Mr RD McCracken as Secretary.   

Unlike today, racing craft were not readily available at the  click of a mouse button and following a visit to the London Boat Show, the
commodore deemed that the Seafly class of dinghy was the most suitable craft to  cope with the trials and tribulations of Dundrum Bay (remember Brunell’s SS  Great Britain in the winter of 1846!!). It was then left to the skills of  Leslie Hanna to create a fleet of spritely Seafly craft for the club. However, the Seafly was not the only boat in town as Dr Gibson’s need for speed resulted  in a number of club members building a 20ft trimaran in the Dorman Brothers’ joinery workshop. The ‘free spirited’ Shannagh saw many years of adventure on  the high seas of Dundrum Bay.  



Over the years, many members have also gone on to partake in  great sailing adventures in larger cruisers not just with the yearly trip  around the Scottish Isles, but also further afield including trans-Atlantic  racing, sailing round Cape Horn, and bagging first place in the 3 Peaks Race.  Closer to home, the club ran a sponsored sailing event with the aim of setting  the record of sailing at the highest point in Ireland. Unfortunately, this also  entailed carrying the boat through the Mourne Mountains up to Lough Shannagh! 

Today, Newcastle Yacht Club remains true to the ethos of the  original founders and takes great pride in being a family-orientated club,
devoid of social and class boundaries. Although the workload associated with  running the club has increased dramatically over the last number of years, in  particular in relation to best practices and legal obligations, the benefits  that this new era has brought to the club are substantial. 

Much has changed over the years especially in the technology of  boat building with wood giving way to fibreglass and plastic: however the skills and seamanship required to successfully helm or crew a craft cannot be easily  bought, and the years of local knowledge and experience passed down through  generations of sailors will always ensure that Newcastle remains a remarkable  place to sail.

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