75 years ago - The First Helmsmans
Sutton sailor Andrew Johnston has been uncovering the fascinating history of the newly named Irish Sailing Champions’ Cup, formerly the Helmsman’s Championship or All Ireland’s. As we mark the event’s 75th anniversary, he reveals the silver salver’s original donor…
With only days to go to the Champions' Cup, an event synonymous with the end of the competitive sailing season, one might be forgiven for thinking it has been a constant, particularly when the event is in its 75th year.
However it is not what it seems. The event, formerly and probably best known as the Helmsmans Championship, has had a number of names, many formats, has not always been run at the end of the season, but throughout its 75 years has always been recognized as a major honour amongst the best Irish sailors and within Irish Sailing, with the winner lifting that now famous silver salver.
The 'Irish Open Championship' as it was first coined, was just one of a number of events held within the inaugural IDRA Championship week in July 1947 under the burgee of the Royal St. George Yacht Club. The event was organised by the recently formed Irish Dinghy Racing Association and was to include the International 12ft and IDRA 14ft Nationals Championships, Mermaid, Snipe & Water Wag races, an overseas Team Racing event with teams from England & Northern Ireland invited and a Juvenile Championship sailed in 12ft Dinghies. The 'Open Championship' would be sailed by helms competing at Dinghy Week or nominated by sailing clubs around the country.
Considering the IDRA had only been formed in late 1945, the weeks racing in 1947 saw an entry of over 150 with the innovative Helmsman’s Open Championship attracting 45 helms representing more than 24 Clubs and culminated in a final, raced in Fireflies with Douglas Heard, IDRA President, emerging as the winner against R W Morris (Royal Alfred YC).
The format, using 3 borrowed Fireflies, saw a series of 37 elimination races run throughout the week till there were only 4 helms remaining. The 2 semi-finals saw Heard & Morris beat W R McFerran (Water Wags) & T E Philips (Antrim Sailing Club) respectively. Despite the fact they were not yet an established Class in Ireland, the Fireflies were selected because they were to be used at the London Olympics the following year and the Irish Dinghy Racing Association were already planning to hold Olympic trials in Fireflies before the end of the year.
What is quite incredible is that the idea for a Dinghy Week was not raised at an IDRA meeting till the 24th January. It was proposed and approved at the 2nd IDRA Annual General Meeting on 7th March and the event took place the week ending 5th July 1947. The era before email, mobile phones and the internet was certainly pretty efficient when it needed to be.
The final IDRA meeting before the event dealt with a number of issues that could impact the event itself. Firstly, the situation where an owner nominated a helmsman, the question was whose name would go on the trophy of a Championship winner at Dinghy Week. Strangely it was agreed that the ‘owners name should be engraved on the cup or prize as the winner and if possible the H’mans name after the owners’. While a number of owner/Helmsman combinations entered the weeks racing, thankfully the issue never arose for the Helmsmans Open Championship as the Fireflies were all borrowed boats.
Contrary to popular belief, the famous silver salver was not donated by Douglas Heard, but by another well known Dublin Bay yachtsman of the day Hugh Doran. That IDRA meeting before the event agreed that in the absence of a suitable trophy for the Open Championship, that a tankard would be provided for 1st with the promise of a trophy in the future. One option to be considered was a model based on a photo of a Firefly or an IDRA 14.
Step forward Mr Hugh Doran to provide a far more fitting trophy and one that greatly lends itself to being held aloft in both hands. While his name would not become synonymous with the event, his trophy has certainly become the most iconic prize in Irish sailing.