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Sailing has flourished on the River Shannon, and especially on Loughs Ree and Derg, for hundreds of years. Initially a means of transport, it gradually became a social event. In the eighteenth century, travel by water was the safest and most convenient way. Therefore if you were one of those who could say that "one lived in a fine house on the shores of a lake or (Cork) harbour", it was likely that "one" kept a yacht as a means of going on house visits.
This very quickly evolved into rendezvous for picnics, joint manoeuvres and ultimately competition. Two of these clubs still surviving are the Lough Ree Yacht Club (Ballyglass, Athlone), which traces its origins to 1770, making it the second oldest yacht club in the world, and the Lough Derg Yacht Club (1835) (at Dromineer). It was members of these clubs, along with representatives of the North Shannon Yacht Club (Lough Boderg), who met in the Prince of Wales Hotel, Athlone, in the difficult times of January 1920 and commissioned what was to become the Shannon One Design from a leading British designer of the time, Morgan Giles.
Sailing craft have until recently been just that: crafted by hand and eye. Each builder learned — and incorporated improvements in each successive boat. Yacht designers did the same, and the sport of yacht racing therefore evolved into a handicap sport as the boats were all different.
As a one-design, the SOD is following in a proud Irish tradition. She is 18 feet (5.54m) long by 4 feet 10.5 inches (1.5m) beam, drawing 4 feet (1.23m) with her centreboard down. The sail area is 140 square feet (13.25m2) set in a single sail, giving the boat what is called a cat rig or una rig.
The SOD requires three people to race and this produces a very sociable form of sailing. Sailing Shannons has always attracted families, and generations in many cases have been involved in campaigning the same boat down through the years. Indeed many of the same family names that attended that first meeting in 1920 still feature in SOD racing today. The SOD is an exciting boat to sail in a breeze of wind, and a serious challenge to sail well in any conditions. As a result, Shannon sailing attracts a wide range of sailors from far and wide, not simply limited to Shannon riverside dwellers. At the two main events each year, the weeklong regattas at Ballyglass on Lough Ree and Dromineer on Lough Derg, up to 55 SODs have been counted. These will be sailed by a mixture of local sailors and others based in Dublin or elsewhere (as far away as the USA), most of whom return year on year to compete. It is not unusual to have two generations of the same family sailing together in a SOD or even have all three crew-members from the same family. There is also a very healthy influx of younger sailors joining the fleet to compete against older generations.