It may only be the start of June, but Howth Yacht Club already has an extra-special year going in 2018, and all the signs are that it will continue to get better. W M Nixon takes the pulse of a club in good heart as it stages Wave Regatta, the East Coast’s biggest regatta this season.
Howth YC is on a real roll, truly the crest of the Wave. There has been a new zing about the place since the year turned. Improved administrative structures have started to provide beneficial effects, while the rise of new sailing talent inspires established sailors to greater effort. Things are moving again, with the establishment of Quest Sailing School – it’s within the club, yet publicly accessible - providing user-friendly ways of getting involved with sailing to bring a welcome new addition to the club’s range of services.
Thus the mood is good as this extended weekend of the Wave Regatta unfolds with all sorts of bells and whistles added to the club’s historic Lambay Race to make it a centrepiece of one very up-to-date sailing championship, an event so comprehensive that it includes an ISORA Race.
This new-style combination event has emerged fully-formed as a unique mix of very serious and notably well-attended IRC racing - overseen by top race officers of the calibre of Jack Roy and David Lovegrove - run in tandem with today’s homage to Lambay, that perfect island which does so much to make the Fingal coast into Leinster’s sailing paradise.
"Lambay, that perfect island which does so much to make the Fingal coast into Leinster’s sailing paradise"
But it isn’t just the natural advantages of its sailing waters which have propelled Howth YC back into the premier league. The whole-hearted club spirit had been renewed through 2017, to be further invigorated this year. The annual Afloat.ie Irish Sailing Awards ceremony on February 9th in Dublin opened with Howth in a very good place, listing seven known winners before the show had even begun. And by its conclusion, there was every sign of increased momentum, with Howth’s own astonishing Conor Fogerty the new Volvo Afloat.ie Sailor of the Year on the strength of his successful performance – against ferocious conditions – in his Sunfast 3600 Bam! in the storm-tossed east-west Single-handed Transatlantic Race from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode island.
You might have thought that was enough to be going along with, but by purest serendipity the following night back home, Howth YC Commodore Joe McPeake hosted his club’s own annual Achievers’ Night, and the list of those who had done great things was awesome, topped as it now was by the Fogerty triumph and augmented by a proper recognition of the many volunteers who beaver away behind the scenes to keep Howth’s unique show on the road.
But those early February celebrations were for achievements in 2017. It was time and more to think of what had to be done in 2018. No sooner had the winners recovered from the Achievers Night than a goodly group of many of the Howth talents went west, west to Antigua in the Caribbean to get the 45ft Pata Negra (chartered by Michael Wright HYC) and Conor Fogerty’s own Sunfast 3600 Bam! into tune for the RORC Caribbean 600.
It says much about the spread of Howth talents globally that one of the first people the boys and girls from home met up with in Antigua was international Irish-Australian sailing superstar and Howth ex-Pat Gordon Maguire, there with his specialists to campaign the Maxi 72 Proteus as one of the favourites for the big race.
But in one of the most rugged Caribbean 600s yet sailed, it was the ex-Howth star’s mount which fell by the wayside in the tough going, while the two Howth crews battled on over the 600 sometimes very rough miles to see Conor Fogerty win Class 4 overall, while Michael Wright and Kieran Jameson and their team in Pata Negra took second overall in Class 2 despite shredding some important sails during a proper Demolition Derby in which it was a real achievement to finish at all, let alone get a top class placing.
However, no sooner had the successes of the Caribbean expedition become official than Howth experienced what could have been a disaster back home. The 1898-founded gaff-rigged Howth Seventeens – the world’s oldest One-Design keelboat class – is another key strand of Howth sailing life, and with the thriving Puppeteer 22 class, they provide the inshore keelboat racing backbone to the season-long club sailing, which in turn is supported by multiple dinghy and junior activity.
By their age, special nature and classic quality, the Howth Seventeens are a central part of Howth sailing. In many ways, they’re the soul of the club. So when - immediately after the Caribbean success in late February – Storm Emma struck the Irish Sea and inflicted serious damage on buildings at the end of Howth’s exposed East Pier on March 1st, it was feared the Seventeens had been dealt a shattering bow, as the now-wrecked Long Shed at the end of the pier was the winter storage home for seven of the twenty Seventeens, and first reports suggested that all of them had suffered serious damage, with several probably total write-offs.
But in a remarkable community effort, as soon as conditions had settled down post-storm, a group of club volunteers worked through the day and into the night to extract all the boats from the wreckage of the shed, whatever their level of damage, and get them safely round the harbour to the club’s own compound.
Miraculously, while five boats had been seriously damaged, only two were severe cases, and one of them – Rosemary built 1907 - is currently being re-built in the heart of Fingal by ace boat-builder Larry Archer, as he is now able to concentrate on the job after completing the repairs on the less-damaged boats.
But the seventh boat – Anita – would have been judged a write-off were she not a classic. Thanks to this status, Anita (built 1900) can be re-built on her ballast keel to comply with international classic standards, and already this process has been put in train, with HYC Rear Commodore Ian Malcolm – Action Man for keeping the Howth Seventeens alive and well – making a recent business visit to the classics boatyard in Douarnenez in Brittany.
There, the Howth Seventeen class can avail of the French Government’s Boat-building Training Scheme whereby all the customers have to do is cover the costs of the materials – which will include that existing lead ballast keel – while the French authorities look after overheads, staff wages, tuition fees and whatever.
So in due course, Anita will sail again. But meanwhile back home, the class has been pulling itself together after emerging from what could have been a body blow, and for their regular Tuesday evening race this week they mustered ten boats – including some which had been among those damaged in March - for some flukey breezes on an otherwise perfect summer’s evening, and Peter Courtney with Oonagh was the winner.
Peter Courtney is classic Howth in that his family have been involved with the Howth Seventeens since 1907, yet he was also a Fireball champion in his day, and a formidable and successful offshore racing skipper. And while the Puppeteer 22s and the Howth Seventeens and other local boats of character will be much in evidence in today’s Lambay Race, it’s the classes catering for today’s “formidable and successful offshore racing skippers” which will be providing the bulk of the fleet.
In recent, years Howth Yacht Club has been keenly aware of the need to provide attractive access routes into the cruiser-racer game, and the Club’s Under 25 squad using J/24s has been so successful that it has been paid the ultimate compliment of being replicated in other clubs on all coasts of Ireland, thereby bringing new life to Ireland’s J/24 class such that J/Boats co-founder Bob Johnstone made a point of visiting HYC in 2014, and was persuaded to autograph one of the rudders to memorialise the occasion.
But the Howth administrators were also aware of a need to link actively with the strong interest in sportsboats, and for some years they’ve also been providing a club-owned flotilla of J/80s which are in turn being supported by a growing privately-owned J/80 fleet at HYC. Apart from being an attractive and versatile boat in its own right, the J/80 is a boat with sportsboat characteristics which can nevertheless access an IRC rating, so what’s not to like?
The J/80 certainly has everything going for it for a club like HYC, and as a result people head for Howth when they have specific championship or selection trials requirements, with the club’s J/80 flotilla being used in April to select the Irish squad for the Student Yachting Worlds in France on October - University College Cork captained by Fionn Lyden took the honours.
Staging events like this helped to get the club back to life after the longest winter in living memory, despite which the club’s winter Laser frostbite series – inaugurated in 1974 – continued its traditional progress to conclusion on St Patrick’s Day, while a Brass Monkey Winter Series for cruisers has also been running annually for more than thirty years. But since May began, the sailing pace has been accelerating, and one boat in particular - a true champion of Fingal – has been lifting everyone’s hearts.
A couple of weeks ago here, we outlined how Pat Kelly and his family in Rush, together with their friends and shipmates, keep their J/109 Storm in beautifully-presented and highly competitive shape. But at that time, they had only started their season by overall victory in the Kip Regatta in Scotland.
Being in Scotland meant they’d to miss the J/109 Easterns at the Royal Irish YC a fortnight ago, but they’ve since upped the performance level with their total runaway victory this week at the Scottish Series. This further raises the stakes for theRoyal Irish YCs racing within Class 1 in the current Wave Regatta, as the Andrew Algeo-skippered Joggernknot had the win in the Easterns, albeit by a close margin from Dear Prudence.
For this weekend, Dear Prudence is listed as part of the Howth J/109 contingent, having been entered by Patrick Cruise O’Brien. So between that and the fact that the hyper-champion Storm is actually Howth-based, as Howth is also the undoubted home port of Indian (Colm Buckley and Simon Knowles) we now have three Howth J/109s taking on the might of the Dun Laoghaire class in what looks like being a Battle of the Sailmakers, with the likes of Rob McConnell’s A35 Fool’s Gold from Dunmore East and Royal Irish YCRockabillRoyal Irish YC also in Class 1 to keep those J/109s on their toes.
That said, we shouldn’t let the current glamour of J/109 racing reduce the attention earned by Howth’s remarkable contingent of classic Half Tonners, whose charge in the Scottish Series was led by Johnny Swan’s Harmony – an all-wood boat, would you believe. Harmony was in the groove in Scotland and missed the class overall win by just one point, so she has a refreshed reputation to defend this time round.
But then, so have many boats in a fleet this size. And as ever, private battles are developing which will be played out today and tomorrow, and then minutely dissected in one of the many après sailing venues on offer.
Of all this we can be sure. But the great imponderable is the weather. Or more particularly, the wind. Sometimes, the Fingal coast gets breeze when Dublin Bay lacks it. But sometimes, it’s the other way round. We can only hope……..