Meet John Leahy - Volunteer of the Year

Meet John Leahy - Volunteer of the Year

From Cruising in Company to Zooming in Company

The love of sailing …

John’s first introduction to sailing was on school summer camps in Falmouth in the fifties. John shared “There were so many dinghies sailing in a perfect natural Harbour that one couldn’t help but develop a real love of sailing and the sea.” John bought an Albacore A1211 in 1962 and sailed the Dublin Bay racing scene  as well as cabin boy  cruising aboard CunaMara a Berthon 38 footer, far and wide.

After years of watching the boats in Dublin Bay John, and his wife Pauline, decided to buy a Westerly Centaur called Myuna (which means still waters in Mauri) towards the end of the 70s. They cruised together and loved trips to West Cork with their young family. “The children loved the adventures exploring the coast and coves of West Cork. The rough seas off Seven Heads not so much!”  John smiled as he shared his memories.

Cruising in Company

John now has 60 years of sailing experience and has owned 8 boats over those years. “For many of those years we sailed alone with the family, which is very challenging. We had no support and if anything had gone wrong we were very vulnerable. Bad weather or a mechanical problem can always be round the next headland. So, in 1987 I started a cruising group out of the National Yacht Club to have some support and company.” John shared. “We would go on great cruises with 10 to 15 boats together In the 80’s and 90’s. “

“In 2006 and I was ‘press ganged’ into joining the Cruising Association of Ireland (CAI)* and organising a cruise of 25 boats to the Menai Straits. We had such a good time we extended the cruise to the Lleyn Peninsula as the weather was set fair. The success of the trip gave me confidence to do it some more.” 

Since then, John has had every role in the organisation since, from Committee Member, Cruising Captain, Honorary Secretary and Commodore.

Zooming in Company

When “Cocooning” came along in early 2020 the CAI knew that communication amongst the sailors needed to continue. So as well as getting in one successful  cruise Company to Belfast, they started Zooming in Company.

By the end of March John and the CAI were organising TNTs – Tuesday Night Talks - on a range of subjects from YM navigation and meteorology tutorials, to talks of adventures by guest speakers other cruising topics.

Are Zooms here to stay? “Oh yes. Zoom is with us to stay. It is an extremely convenient way to bring us together, to learn or to just chat. We even have collaborative access with other club talks now too.”

John then shared a great example of the strength of friendship and comradeship amongst the group. “We didn’t have a speaker for our TNT one night. We were still going to meet online for a chat anyway, but I rang Charlie Kavanagh and casually asked if he would be interested in sharing one of his adventures with the group that night. He accepted the challenge and within a few hours was sharing his adventures with over 80 people on 52 screens around the country.”

“Members feel comfortable and welcome online, just as they do on the pontoon.” John shared.

Even with very little sailing and one Cruise in Company in 2020 the CAI increased their membership by more than 40% - so it sure is good to stay connected.

A little training advice

John also used to run an Irish Sailing Cruising school, so we asked for his recommendations on training preperation.

What training would you recommend for any sailor before they join a cruise on any coastline?

"Shore based navigation training in the winter is a good foundation – 42hours of study and an exam. Then put it into practice on your own boat in a cruise in company. Day Skipper live aboard sailing course with 5 days at sea and 4 overnights."

And for the crew themselves?

"Competent Crew is a good building block for all sailors."

Any tips for finding crew?

"Within CAI we can find crew easily for a day trip or delivery using our Whats App group. We have a crew slot on the website too."

Organise your own cruise in company

John gave us a few recommendations for organising a Cruising Group in your club or region ... 

  • You need a nucleus cruising boats and skippers in a club or region that want to get together.
  • 18 to 20 boats works well and is manageable in marinas and anchorages.
  • Clubs could collaborate to organise a cruise in company in their area.
  • Really good weather forecasting.
  • Having a plan B and C (possibly even a D).
  • Be prepared to cancel completely if not suitable.
  • Advise all skippers that even though it is a cruise in company, each skipper makes their own judgment on passages. This is very important.
  • Respect the slow boat. Plan for them to leave earlier and arrive at the same time, so they get the cover.
  • Need to be free loose and easy. Ready to change direction and plans. Open ended journey. Don’t commit to a train!!
  • Build in a lay day. Time to rest. Time to swim. Crew need a break. Long suffering partners and family need to be considered.
  • Join the CAI* 😊

A section on Irish Sailing’s web site on Planning a Cruise has some useful links HERE.

* What is the CAI John?

“A cruising club with no club house for people all sizes of boat and a keenness from and share with others. We support each other and share tidal information and weather forecasting together when on a cruise, as well as offer advice and enjoy a great social scene off the water.

It is more structured and safer to cruise in company and people can stretch to sail a little further than they may alone. We look after each other on the cruisers mutually.

We are not trying to impress each other, just enjoy each others company and knowledge.”


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