THE LIFE AQUATIC?Rory Casey loves life on the open water.
Wind, waves and wonder
Rory Casey’s obsession with the sea has been lifelong. His first foray onto the waves was windsurfing as a youngster. “Once you get the feel for the wind and it just lifts you, it’s a feeling that you never forget. I suppose when someone sits on a boat and the wind fills the sails and off you go, you never forget it. It’s very instant. You either love it or you won’t end up a sailor. The people who get the ‘wow’ sensation end up sailing for a long time.”
That wow sensation struck deep for Rory, and it has propelled him to his current post as Commodore of Mayo Sailing Club. It’s a two-year position, and he has another year to go before he relinquishes the helm.
Mayo Sailing Club was founded in 1976, and Rory, who lives in Castlebar, has been sailing with the club since he was in his teens. While life’s currents led him to drift away from sport for a while, he’s been back chasing waves for around ten years now. He came back to the sport after meeting Jarlath Cunnane, owner and skipper of the expedition yacht Northabout, which Rory sailed on through the Inside Passage, British Columbia, Canada. The Northabout successfully sailed the North East Passage – starting in Prince Rupert in June 2004 and ending in Westport over two years later. It was the successful first attempt at a westward arctic polar circumnavigation by a small yacht.
On his role as commodore, Rory likens it to being president of a football club or chairman of an organisation. He says there’s a lot of organisation and work to do, but that the hard work of strong commodores in the past and the dedication of the current committee have made his job much easier.
So what’s his vision for the club? “At the moment, the club has around 260 senior members and about 150 junior members, and we’ve 70-odd boats moored in Rosmoney. It’s a very active club, probably the most active on the west coast. I suppose the vision is to keep going as we are, get more members and more activity, keep the focus on safety … On the competitive side of things, we want to get Mayo boats winning.”
Rory is quick to point out that Mayo is already shining competitively. “John Gordon, one of our members, won his class in Cork Week, which is a big international event, and three of our young sailors were on the Round Ireland winning boat, and two of our sailors were in the World Student Games and won the World Student title. I suppose the vision would be that there’d be a Mayo sailor on a Volvo boat! There’s certainly the talent in the young crop that’s coming through.”
When it comes to encouraging children to take to the waves, Mayo Sailing has six-week summer courses dedicated to juniors who have never sat in a boat before. “The kids go through the different grades. It’s a very challenging environment to sail in Clew Bay. You’ve got the big Atlantic swells, you’ve got the weather systems – the whole lot can change very quickly. It’s a very tough training ground.”
But it’s not just children the club teaches – it’s older landlubbers who would like to try sailing too. “We have this course called ‘Taste of Sailing’ – it’s a four-week course, and it’s on the bigger boats, the cruisers rather than the dinghies, so you don’t actually get wet in the water. You might get wet with rain or splashes, but you won’t be swimming!
“It’s four Tuesday nights in a row. You start off with an introductory lecture about weather and tides and so on, and then you go out on the boats, and you get to set the sails, and trim the sails, and steer the boat, as much as we can do in four weeks. If the person is still interested after that, they can become a full member of the club. We have racing every Thursday night, and the boats are always looking for extra crew, so we’ll integrate people who’ve done the Taste of Sailing course onto one of the boats, and away they go.”
You don’t need your own boat; all you need is a set of wet gear and a life jacket to get started. That said, Rory reckons that many who start out crewing are bitten by the bug. They soon seek greater challenges, and gradually progress to sailing on their own, buying their own dinghy and eventually buying their own boat. The club also offers adult dinghy sailing on a Tuesday night, with dinghies and wet suits available for hire.
Like many others, Rory started out sailing dinghies first, but now he has his own boat – a 33 footer that sleeps six – which he bought with his brother, Ger, and sailed back from France with his son, and his brother and his brother’s son. He hasn’t looked back since, and sails it on Clew Bay and along the west coast whenever he gets the chance.
While he has sailed across the Atlantic, in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean – and even been a little too up close and personal with an inquisitive polar bear in Siberia – Rory’s favourite sailing ground is much closer to home. “A sail down to Leenane is one of the best day’s sailing you can do. You come out from Rosmoney, out through Clew Bay, down along the west coast, and then turn in and up the fjord. I’m telling you, in a day’s sailing, you wouldn’t get as good scenery anywhere else. Mountains on the north, mountains on the south, islands on the east and Clare Island on the west. You couldn’t get better.
“If it’s skiing you want, you want to live in Chamonix; if it’s sailing you want, we’ve got it here on the west coast of Ireland – everything you want. Beautiful landscape and real tough, challenging sea conditions … there’s no end to the learning. It’s just wonderful.”
For more information on Mayo Sailing Club, Rosmoney, Westport, visit www.mayosailingclub.ie.