Optimist Dinghy Sailing – More Messing About In Boats


Optimist Dinghy Sailing – More Messing About In Boats












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When I was a kid, Dad built a Mirror dinghy and painted it red. We spent many holidays in Cleggan, in the west of Ireland, mucking about on the sea. I remember looking over the back (stern?) into the deep dark water, watching the silver flash of a mackerel’s belly suddenly appear from below as it was hooked on the line we had trailing behind. I haven’t sailed in thirty-five years, but those holidays are the reason I came to live in Galway.

Drive south from Galway for many miles and eventually you come to Baltimore, a tiny fishing village in Co. Cork, in the southwest of Ireland, a great spot for Optimist dinghy sailing. It is literally the end of the country, on the tip of the southernmost of those fingers of rock that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the last stop, and it sure feels like that when you’re trying to get there, especially if you are pulling a trailer with two boats on it (and if your navigator isn’t paying attention to the GPS and you take the scenic route). My family and I arrived late on Saturday evening after a seven-hour trip, so that our kids could partake in a week’s sailing camp. The village is very cute, but you can’t help noticing that it’s full of empty houses. “The houses are mostly occupied for just two months of the year,” said Jim, our letting agent. There wouldn’t be much in the way of work in Baltimore: any work, other than fishing, is based on the very short tourist season. Those empty houses seemed like a waste to me: if you were a hardy sort, and just happened to have an interest in urban sketching, it is an absolute paradise…

Two of my children have been trainee sailors for the last while. They sail Optimists, a beautiful little boat designed for children to sail on their own. They’re sturdy and don’t capsize easily, and the children can rig them themselves. My husband had told me that this week of sailing instruction does wonders for the kids’ sailing ability, and that everyone says it’s great, etc. etc. so in the end I said I’d come along for the ride. I wondered if I’d get any sketching done: I normally don’t sketch outdoors in exposed conditions, but I arrived fully equipped nonetheless.

This was my first sketch: halting, hesitant, clearly the first after the winter’s hibernation. It’s just about recognisable as the slip where the Optimists launch.

Sketch of Slip in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

There were some one hundred and sixty boats in Baltimore last week, and the organisation involved in keeping the young sailors safe was phenomenal. Launching was carefully executed; the kids entered the water calmly and in order, dropping like lemmings into the sea, one by one. Perhaps baby ducklings is a nicer analogy. A woman of supreme competence called Mandy stood in her bright yellow sou’wester and shepherded the children and their boats along the correct path, which was lined with striped orange bollards. I drew my daughter as she waited in line.

Olivia in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

The kids have to wear warm hats when they’re out on the waves, and my husband had asked me to buy her the brightest one I could find, so that he would be able to spot her at a distance. The pink one with the orange bobble did the job nicely.

I noticed the sky darkening a bit. “Looks like bad weather coming in,” I said to my husband. “The weather is coming from the other direction,” he said. He’s the weather expert in our family so I took his word for it. We watched our daughter launch in bright sunshine and went to meet the landlord in the house we rented. He arrived ten minutes later. “Did you see the squall that blew up?” He asked. “Just now! It was carnage!” “No,” I said, “it was lovely only a few minutes ago.” “It blew up really suddenly,” he said. “Carnage! Frightened children, waves rolling into the harbour, boats heading towards the rocks…it was carnage, I tell you!” “Can you please stop using that word?” I asked. “My daughter is out there.” When we went back down, fortunately she hadn’t capsized, but there were a few who refused to go back out once they’d been rescued. You couldn’t blame them.

Next day, I was enchanted by the scene before me as I stood on the steps leading to the harbour. Scores of Optimists (“Oppies”) were laid out in front of me…out came the sketching stuff. The kids would be grand without me – my husband was with them anyway (“you didn’t do anything to help all week” he said, not inaccurately).

Optimists in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

Me on the steps in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

That’s me on my perch…and a couple of days later I sat directly across the harbour and drew the view from the opposite direction! Parents “volunteered” to stand in the freezing water and help launch the kids, and pull their trolleys up the slip as they came off.

Baltimore Harbour, watercolour by Roisin Cure

The sketch below shows a couple of parents doing “slip duty”. The man on the left is a friend of mine and he said he really enjoyed slip duty, but it was relentless – there was always a group coming in or going out, from 9.30 or so until 4pm. He was exhausted by the day’s end…but that’s where things really got good, as all the parents would gather for a pint of Cork’s finest in one of the pubs in the village. Clubs from all over the country were represented, but the Galway crowd are a fantastic bunch, warm and down-to-earth. I don’t mind telling you that I used to lead a merry life of convivial evenings in the pub, usually in terrific company. The company has dispersed: most of us have kids who aren’t quite old enough to be left alone too often, and so that side of our lives has faded away (then again, I was often in those pubs in the hope of creating the very sort of family life that now keeps me at home). So it’s wonderful to discover new friends who make me laugh just as much as those in days gone by.

Baltimore Slip Duty, watercolour by Roisin Cure

The sailing school in Baltimore is perfectly placed. The bay is sheltered, enclosed by Sherkin Island to the west. You can see it in some of the sketches. If you want to find a piece of the world that is still pretty perfect, go there. There are ferries that head over many times every day, and one rainy afternoon I drew them through the window of the clubhouse.

Ferries in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

That day was the worst (for sketching): it rained all day. I had very much wanted to pay tribute to Mandy,the Shore Master, and her incredible work keeping everything under control as she guided well over a hundred boats in and out of the water, but every time I tried to draw her it was either raining, or she left, or someone wanted me for something. You can spot her in her distinctive yellow sou’wester in most of my sketches. Here’s what I did that rainy afternoon:

Wendy in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

There is only one Mandy, but I drew her three times so that I could always work on something when she changed position.

I never tired of watching the kids head off into the bay: they’d hurtle towards the quay wall at some speed, and then tack (or whatever it’s called) and change direction, perfectly confident. Once or twice I felt a bit choked up, but I didn’t let on. A thirteen-year-old boy isn’t going to thank you if you do that in front of his mates: indeed, I wasn’t even allowed to approach him as he prepared to launch.

Here he is…I was told NOT to draw him, but, as always, he was delighted when I’d done it (and other parents asked me to draw their kids too). It’s always the same – when is my family going to learn to just accept and enjoy? And stop trying to avoid being drawn? This is the last year my son will be sailing an Oppie – he’ll be too big next year. So I for one am very happy to have this sketch.

Paddy in Baltimore, watercolour by Roisin Cure

Friday was the day of the race. The weather was perfect – sunny, with just the right amount of wind. This time I was free to choke up all I wanted, as my kids couldn’t see me. I painted furiously between showers (note rain splotches in the sea) and watched in awe as kids from seven to fourteen years old raced across the waves single-handedly. My husband commandeered the binoculars. “Can I have a look?” I asked. There was a silence. “I’m not allowed, am I,” I asked. Eventually I was allowed the briefest of glances through them, before they were taken back. I understood – Marcel follows the kids’ racing progress closely, and anyway I hadn’t a clue what was going on. During the prize-giving ceremony later, a lad got a prize for pulling a fellow sailor out of the water, who had become separated from his boat…another got a special award for being the youngest sailor there – he was only seven, and absolutely tiny.

Marc chinese, watercolour by Roisin Cure

Marc chinese, watercolour by Roisin Cure

During the race many young sailors lost their heads in a squall, but our boy kept his – there are advantages to living in Galway I suppose, in that he is very used to sailing in bad weather, and the cosseted South and East types maybe not so much! He didn’t win – not by a long way – but he did much better than he has ever done in the past, and he was bursting with pride as he left the water. In the past he has been very downcast. Our daughter (who is ten) didn’t win her race either, but it was her first. A little girl who sailed with her – she’s only eight – capsized, and still managed to place well. These kids are learning self-reliance, independence and resilience and I think I’ve become a “sailing mom”, or “mum”, in my case.

One of the other parents and I were singing the praises of the sport one evening. “What I love about it,” he said, “is that it is the perfect antidote for kids’ lives today. You can’t bring anything electronic out there – but it’s more than that. They’re completely active and have to be continually resourceful.” I thought about one of the eleven-year-old girls during that first squall: she tied her boat to a mooring to keep her boat safe from the fast-approaching rocks. Another young lady of eleven, who had started the day with a very wobbly tooth, found herself with no free hands when it finally came out – so she was obliged to spit it into the sea, Rocky-style, with a mouthful of blood. Now that’s a cool kid.

My husband gives another reason for enjoying sailing (apart from being obsessed anyway). “It’s a way to make the most of living in Ireland,” he said. “It’s so small, you can get anywhere easily, and there is so much coastline. It’s a great way to see some gorgeous places in Ireland, and you meet lovely people.”

Me in Baltimore painting, watercolour by Roisin Cure

I’m sold. The next meet is in May: I’m looking forward to some fair weather sketching….and maybe I’ll even do a bit of messing about in a boat myself.

Note: I will be working these sketches up into larger studio pieces during the month of March. Commissions start at €300.

Some limited edition (hologrammed) giclée prints on heavy watercolour paper are available in our shop :-

Baltimore Harbour
Optimists in Baltimore Harbour
The Ferry and Optimists in Baltimore Harbour

For any queries or orders, or if you want a framed price please email me at roisincurepictures at gmail.com

Róisín Curé


Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-


Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-


Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-


Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-


Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

1 Comment

  1. Yvonne Ankerman

    April 15, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    wonderful !

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