She was Ireland's pride.
Like America's Eagle, Australia's Young Endeavour, Portugal's Sagres III and a host of other nation's tall ships used for training, Asgard II for 27 years provided very special experiences for young Irish sailors - until she sank, ingloriously, in the Bay of Biscay in September of 2008 (see Sail-World Cruising story).
More than 12,000 young people from every walk of life and all parts of Ireland (and abroad too) enjoyed their first sailing experiences on Asgard II. She was a very busy ship in the years that she sailed, and there were already concerns about her advancing age when she tragically sank.
Thanks to the calm skill of Captain Colm Newport and his crew and the assistance of the French coastguard, all on board were safely evacuated.
But the sinking was the end of an era. The Asgard programme had become an anomaly, as she was government owned yet not used solely for trainee professional sailors. Places were available to anyone in the required age bracket.
Yet she was one of the very few government owned and run sail training ships in the world, in an era when governments increasingly concentrate on specific areas of infrastructure and welfare, while specialist activities such as publicly available sail training are handled by voluntary trusts -- monitored by government agencies like any other aspect of life on the sea.
Asgard II last moments - .. .
Now that approach has come to Ireland. This week in the offices of Dublin Port (Dublin will be hosting the Tall Ships next year), Nigel Rowe, the chairman of the global body Sail Training International was in town to support Sail Training Ireland, which is now officially recognised and will take on the mantle of Coiste an Asgard.
Coiste an Asgard was a small group of government-appointed volunteers, supported by an office of the public service under the wing of the Department of Defence. Sail Training Ireland, which has been brought into being with the active support of the Irish Sailing Association, is open to membership from anyone. It can accept donations and corporate endowments, and it will be run from an office in Dublin Port Headquarters.
One of the notions behind sail training is that in instills self-reliance. Thus the new group, chaired by Sheila Tyrrell of Arklow Shipping, is a timely move.
The sailing community and all those interested in promoting maritime affairs now have an opportunity for self-reliance, making an active and positive input into an organisation which in time will set us on the road back to having our own square rigger.
And in the meantime, Sail Training Ireland (irishsailtraining.ie) will be able to place Irish trainees on tall ships already sailing the sea.