Howth Yacht Club has become the latest winner of the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year” Award primarily on the strength of its sailing successes through 2018 - major successes which began in February and continued until well into the Autumn writes W M Nixon. And the 1895-founded club’s busy programme afloat – it has been continuous since April 1974 thanks to long-established winter sailing events – comes complete with comprehensive training courses which contribute a stream of recruits for developing campaigns at all levels.
But with its special location in the heart of a harbour at the end of a very distinct peninsula, HYC’s extensive clubhouse/marina complex also finds itself playing a significant role in its local community. In Howth, the harbour and its wellbeing is central to just about every area of economic activity. So when Howth fishermen’s leaders Sean Doran and John Lynch reckoned that the best way to bring Howth Harbour’s growing need for dredging and other improvements further up the national agenda, they went right to the top, and in conjunction with Senator Catherine Noone, arranged that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Richard Bruton, Dublin Bay North TD and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, made a visit to the harbour in its entirety on Saturday, December 1st.
In company with the Mayor of Fingal, Councillor Anthony Lavin, and guided by Harbour Master Harry McLoughlin, the visitors had much to see and learn, for Sean Doran has a very broad view of what Howth Harbour already achieves, and how it could all be further developed without impairing the place’s attractive and colourful character.
So in line with the Doran vision, the visit concluded with cups of tea and an information exchange session in Howth Yacht Club with Commodore Joe McPeake and members who were representative of all aspects of sailing, right from absolute beginners to Olympic 49er U23 Gold Medallists Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove.
This friendly gathering - with everyone from active fishing representatives through waterfront business operators along the continuum to those who have taken the Irish flag to the top of the world sporting podium - really said it all about the special nature of Howth Yacht Club and the harbour it shares with so many other maritime interests. And coming as it did in December 2018, it provided an ideal vantage point to survey a remarkable year of sailing achievement that well reflected the approach to running a successful sailing club which the Mitsubishi Motors award seeks to promote and encourage.
Mitsubishi Motors is Irish sailing’s most committed longterm sponsors, as they have supported the “Sailing Club of the Year” accolade for 33 years. This unique and informal competition was first inaugurated in 1979 and initially only covered Leinster, but after Mitsubishi Motors had become the enthusiastic sponsors in 1986, it went nationwide and the title of “Irish Sailing Club of the Year” became one of real prestige, based on a rigorous set of standards.
An underlying purpose of the award is to highlight and honour the voluntary effort which goes into creating and maintaining the unrivalled quality of Ireland's yacht and sailing clubs, and the dedication of their members. In making their assessment, the adjudicators take many factors into consideration. In addition to the obvious one of sailing success at local, national and international levels, considerable attention is also paid to the satisfaction which members in every branch of sailing and boating feel with the way their club is run, and how effectively it meets their specific needs, while also encouraging sailing development and training.
The effort and encouragement put into junior training is naturally a prime consideration, but the adjudicators also seek clear evidence of introducing newcomers from all age groups and backgrounds to sailing and encouraging them to share the friendly ambience that a healthy club provides.
The successful staging of events, whether local, national or international, is also a factor in making the assessment. The importance of dynamic and fruitful interaction with the local community is emphasised, as also is working effectively with the relevant governmental and sporting bodies, both at local and national level.
The adjudicators expect to find a genuine sense of continuity in club life and administration. Over the years, the assessment system has been continually refined in order to be able to make realistic comparisons between clubs of varying types and size. With the competition's expansion in 1993 to include class associations and specialist national watersports bodies, the "Sailing Club of the Year" competition continues to keep pace with developing trends, while at the same time reflecting the fact that Ireland's leading sailing clubs are themselves national and global pace-setters.
Ireland’s best-known clubs have featured prominently over the years in the winners list, with the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven heading the leaderboard for several years with five wins. Yet the Mitsubishi Motors Awards Ceremony has also seen the famous ship’s wheel trophy being handed over at convivial gatherings in smaller organisations such as Poolbeg Yacht & Boat Club in the heart of Dublin, Lough Ree YC on the Shannon, and Wicklow Sailing Club on the East Coast, while “homeless” organisations such as the Shannon One Design Association, the Irish Cruising Club, and the Irish Cruiser Racing Association have also had their Year of Honour.
This year’s winner has been the “Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year” four times previously, the most recent being ten years ago in 2009. Now, with five wins, they are – with the National YC - equal to the Royal Cork on the leaderboard.
Howth YC’s successful 2018 season began on February 8th at the annual Irish Sailing Awards at the RDS in Dublin, when the club’s Conor Fogerty was made Ireland’s “Sailor of the Year” for his victory against the odds and through ferocious storms in the Single-Handed Transatlantic race in June 2017. That is now 18 months ago, but continuity is everything in a club like Howth, and before the end of the month, Fogerty had made himself “Sailor of the Month” for February 2018 by winning his class in the stormy RORC Caribbean 600 Race.
This important international race had another Howth representative, the Michael Wright-chartered 45ft Pata Negra which took second in her class, so with a first and second in the RORC Caribbean 600 before February was out, HYC was off to a good start in 2018.
But then what might have been disaster at home struck with ferocity when Storm Emma arrived at the beginning of March, with Force 12 winds from the east which almost destroyed the shed on Howth’s East Pier where seven of the Club’s historic Howth Seventeens were winter-stored.
Founded in 1898, the Howth Seventeens are so central to the heart of Howth sailing, and indeed so central to classic boat sailing in Ireland generally, that in 2001 their Class Association was awarded the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year award in their own right. But in March 2018, the initial news from the remains of the East Pier was so pessimistic that some feared as many as all seven of the priceless vintage yachts stored there might be a total loss.
But then there came one of those community moments which make Howth special. As soon as the weather had relented, a voluntary group of around 20 and more - all with specialised skills or equipment - materialised at the disaster site, and by day’s end it was clear that six boats would sail again, some as soon as the season began, though others would require skilled boatbuilder Larry Archer’s services for longer. But they’d definitely sail again.
Only one – Anita - was a total loss, but she is now being re-built on the original ballast keel in Brittany through the good services of classic boat uber-enthusiast Ian Malcolm, and thanks to the French government’s special incentives for traditional boat-building schools. Thus the Howth Seventeens sail on, and this was further proven through the summer and in the Autumn as the class built up to 14 boats in active racing commission, with the Autumn League being won by the syndicate-owned Deilginis, originally saved from extinction in 1972 by Nick Massey, another of the “Seventeen saviours” like Ian Malcolm who believe passionately that this class is the heart of Howth sailing.
Maybe so, but Howth is equally active on the more modern front, and you’ll get no better racing in the Greater Dublin area than in the J/109 Class, where Howth’s leading representative is Pat Kelly with Storm. In May, Pat and his mostly family crew decided they’d shift their focus for a month to Scotland, where the new RC35 class accommodates boats like the numerous J/109s. They returned having won just about everything for which they’d entered, including overall victory in the all-important Scottish Series, so that made them Ireland’s “Sailors of the Month” for May. But for good measure they went on to win the Welsh Championship in August and the RC35 Celtic Cup with it, so the Kelly family really did storm through 2018….
Meanwhile, June in Howth saw a visionary re-think of HYC’s core event, the annual Lambay Race which dates back to 1904 or even earlier, and it was expanded into what will now be the biennial three day Wave Regatta, a nicely-judged balance between sport and fun sponsored by Wright Hospitality, and favoured at its inauguration in 2018 by the onset of total summer weather combined with useful sailing breezes which saw Dave Cullen of the host club with the immaculate Classic Half Tonner Checkmate emerge as overall winner.
Checkmate was only getting going, as she went on to win her class in all the big Dun Laoghaire regattas in June and July. Then in August together with clubmate Jonny Swan’s Harmony, she went to Belgium for the Half Ton Classics Championship, and they took first and second overall, while Harmony during July had collected the overall victory in the legendary 92-boat Harbour Race at the heart of Cork Week 2018.
Dave Cullen’s major national and international wins are made with a judiciously-selected crew of all the talents, but he showed his personal sailing skills by winning the Howth Two-Handed Race in Checkmate with his regular shipmate Aidan Beggan. And ashore, his organizational skills show themselves in many ways, not least in the annual Charity Lunch he runs each December in the clubhouse – it has been going now for ten years, many fine causes have benefitted, and in 2018 the total funds raised soared through the €100,000 mark.
While the offshore and cruiser-racer classes have been making their mark for Howth, so too have the club’s dinghy sailors, with Laser Radial sailor Aoife Hopkins spearheading a challenge towards the 2020 Olympics, while the 2024 Olympics are the target of Robert Dickson of Howth and Sean Waddilove of Skerries - in September, they set Irish sailing alight with joy when they won the Gold Medal in the U23 49er Worlds at Marseille, the culmination of a carefully-planned training and campaign programme.
Howth has strength in depth at all age levels in dinghy sailing, with Rocco Wright one of the most promising Under 12 performers internationally in the Optimist, while Luke Turvey and others slightly further up the age ranking are also usually well into the International Optimist frame at home and abroad.
As for the Lasers, in addition to Aoife Hopkins’ determined campaigning on the international circuit, Howth’s young McMahon family – the siblings Ewan, Jamie and Eve – have had a remarkable story of success in their respective Laser categories, an upward trajectory which continued through 2018.
“Healthy upward trajectory” has in fact been the theme in Howth YC in recent years. Like all Irish sporting clubs, it suffered at almost every level during the years of the financial crash. But managerial re-structuring and a set of determined Flag Officers put the club back on course. The movement towards this stepped up a gear when Joe McPeake became Commodore in 2016, and he made no secret of the fact that he felt Irish sailing needed to change its approach in attracting newcomers, and in positive support of this, he played the key role in establishing Quest within the club.
Quest is in effect a commercial sailing school using the fleet of club-owned boats and offering a wide variety of courses (including some done in a choice of languages), a sailing school which nevertheless is a lively part of club life, its “products” now being promoted by experienced Howth sailor and marketing executive Christina Knowles.
But in tandem with this, Howth’s own in-club Junior Training Programme has been expanding in the past two years under the overall direction of Sara Lacy, with an additional element provided by Sarah Robertson, one of Ireland's leading proponents of the STEM! Programme – she may be a “cradle sailor” of Howth and Sutton, but her experience in sailing instruction has a strong international background.
With its 1,655 members from a wide variety of backgrounds, HYC has been able to draw on such an extensive range of talents to develop club activity that it is difficult to tell where professional input and voluntary effort begin and end. But there’s no doubt that in the day-to-day running of this complex club, in recent years the full-time yet voluntary input on the management side by people like Peter McKenna, Paddy Judge and Ian Byrne has helped to transform the club’s financial health.
For Howth faces its own special challenges in that – in addition to running is own marina – it has to provide all the services afloat and ashore which, in Dun Laoghaire, are spread across several clubs and organisations, with Dublin Bay SC a uniquely experienced administrator of the main sailing programme, while the marina is a commercial project.
In Howth, they not only have to do all this themselves from under the one roof, so to speak, but when we remember that this includes running, maintaining and crewing two fully-equipped Committee Boats, plus all the fleet of support RIBs and their trained crews, then we begin to appreciate the breadth of organisation and depth of voluntary enthusiasm which is required.
In addition to all that, HYC has its own club-owned fleet of 35 boats of all sizes from J/80s and J/24s down to Optimists, and keeping them all in sail-ready condition is a monumental challenge. Yet this is a task which noted offshore racer Kieran Jameson has been fulfilling with aplomb, while at the same time playing a leading role in the Michael Wright challenge which secured that second place in the RORC Caribbean 600.
Howth Yacht Club is in the uniquely challenging position of having its large clubhouse/marina complex in an extensive designated leisure boat area in a busy fishing/sailing port which, in recent years, has become even more of a visitor magnet through its picturesque location and profusion of seafood restaurants with a bustling working harbour in its midst.
Thus although Commodore Joe McPeake and his busy committees have led their large membership through a season of outstanding sailing success in all areas at home and abroad, the stylish clubhouse – which was impressively new when HYC became the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year in 1986 - is no longer the highly profitable unit it was during its first 25 years.
Partly, it has been the victim of its own success. When it was built, Howth had few trendy eating places, while many of the buildings on the West Pier were semi-derelict. But the bustle of activity around Howth Yacht Club gave the harbour fresh life, and now the West Pier is thriving with a wide selection of eating places set colourfully among marine industry workshops. So the competition for custom is intense. Then too, social habits have changed. In short, the once hugely-successful clubhouse business model is no longer valid.
But even as HYC moves smoothly from one successful sailing year into another, a high-powered group headed by committee member Robert Dix – a former Olympic sailor, Fastnet Race class winner, All-Ireland Helmsman’s Champion, and notably experienced and successful businessman and number-cruncher – is looking at visionary concepts which could transform the clubhouse while still retaining HYC’s essential character.
It’s a formidable challenge. But when we remember that between 1982 and 1987, Howth Yacht Club moved the entire focus of its operations from the western to the eastern portion of the harbour, and trebled in size while it was doing so, then the problems of 2019’s changing world are put into a manageable perspective.
Certainly, the way in which Howth’s main season drew to a close with the well-established Autumn League co-ordinated by Eddie Bourke in September and October was hugely encouraging – with Honorary Sailing Secretary Caroline Gore-Grimes’ overall direction, everything was in place for crisply-run racing in perfect sailing conditions which defied the advancing seasons. The sun shone, warm breezes blew, and at the end of a hundred-per-cent-completed programme, the overall and very popular winners were Algy Pearson and Alan Blay in the Puppeteer 22 Trick or Treat, top boat in another of those well-established One-Design classes which are a pillar of regular Howth club sailing.
As sure as night follows day with, the Autumn racing out of the way, the hardy men and women of the winter leagues – the Brass Monkeys for cruiser-racers and the Frostbites for Lasers - emerged from their inverted hibernation for some busy sport. But for most Howth sailors, it was time for the winter break, time for reviewing the year and meeting Government ministers and other distinguished visitors when they came to call, and time to get through the Annual General Meeting on Thursday, December 13th.
Time was when the Howth Yacht Club AGM could have its dramatic moments. But these days, the club has the good fortune to have Bernie Condy as Honorary Secretary, and what she doesn’t know about the smooth and proper running of a club and its AGM isn’t worth knowing. So with the vibrant two-year Commodoreship of Joe McPeake coming to its conclusion to be followed by what looks like being the equally vibrant Commodoreship of Ian Byrne, the large turnout of members felt confident that the remarkable year of 2018 was drawing to its successful conclusion.
Certainly the Club faces into the future with a formidable lineup of administrative energy and talent, as Paddy Judge – who somehow finds the time and energy to be a very effective voluntary club general manager – is now also Vice Commodore - while Sara Lacey, who has given new vigour and standing to the junior training programme – is Rear Commodore.
They’re supported by a Committee of all the talents, including former ISA President Neil Murphy – a formidable racing helmsman when he’s not doing Race Officer Duties – and Sam O’Byrne, whose work in encouraging new members into the club is given added validity by his own campaigning of a J/24.
The Howth club is also active in making an input into the administration of national bodies, for in addition to several roles with Irish Sailing where former President David Lovegrove is very much of Howth, the newly-elected Commodore of the Irish Cruiser-Racing Association is Howth’s Richard Colwell, who recently upgraded from a Corby 25 to the J/109 Outrajeous which he co-owns with Johnny Murphy, while the Vice Commodore and Honorary Secretary of the Irish Cruising Club are respectively Howth’s Tom Fitzpatrick and Alan Markey.
Looking ahead, 2019 will be a year of consolidation for Howth Yacht Club as initial planning is already underway for the 2020 Wave Regatta, a year which will also see the Club staging the Fireball Worlds where Event Secretary Judith Malcolm has already been putting many of the building blocks in place, with hosting the Fireball Nationals 2019 from 19th to 21st July part of the process.
Other special events in prospect include the Student Yachting Nationals with the HYC J/80s on 30-31st March, and the International Moth Flutter on 18th and 19th May, while the Lambay Race will be in its traditional form on June 1st. HYC will also be staging three Eastern Championships – for the SB20s in 4-5th May, the Squibs on 8-9th June, and the J24s on 15-16th June, while the summer’s main dinghy open event will be the Optimist Nationals from 15-18th August, all of this set in the midst of a busy week-by-week club racing programme for a club which also accommodates many non-racers with a well-supported Cruising Group.
On the boat front, Conor Fogerty will be bringing the first foiling Figaro 3 to the Irish Sea, while he and Dave Cullen are working on two different but complementary lines of thought on how to encourage more young people into offshore and cruiser racing, something which is already reflected in the early HYC entry of two of the club’s J/24s with Under-18 crews in July’s Dun Laoghaire Regatta. As to those already committed to the offshore game, we can expect a significant Howth input into the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, and the club has long had involvement with the Fastnet. But looking further afield, there’s a special box to be ticked again with another Howth campaign towards the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race.
Howth involvement Down Under goes back a long way, as Kieran Jameson and Gordon Maguire – whose wonderful father Neville, many times Helmsman’s Champion, is still active in HYC in his 90s afloat and ashore - headed up one of the three boat Irish team in the 1991 Southern Cross Series, which culminated in success in the Sydney-Hobart race. It also resulted in Gordon Maguire’s eventual move to Australia, where he has just competed in his 21st Sydney-Hobart Race. His successes have been many, and it was as one of the world’s top professional sailors that he met up with the Howth squad in Antigua for the 2018 RORC Caribbean 600. That in itself was further impetus for a Hobart challenge, so all being well, on December 26th 2019 a Howth entry will be racing through Sydney heads, Hobart-bound.
That will be a highlight of a typically busy season for Howth boats of all shapes and sizes at home and abroad. Meanwhile, this morning Howth Yacht Club becomes Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2019” in celebration of sailing success at home and abroad, and a remarkable turnaround in the Club’s sense of purpose and well-being.
Gerard Rice, Managing Director, Mitsubishi Motors Ireland, comments: Mitsubishi Motors Ireland, part of the Frank Keane Group, was first introduced to Ireland in 1984 and since 1986 Mitsubishi Motors has proudly sponsored the Sailing Club of the Year Award. With a reputation for all-enduring 4x4 technology and exceptional engineering with the introduction of the world’s first plug-in Hybrid, Outlander PHEV, the Mitsubishi brand is the perfect partner for the sailing community. It is with great delight that the Ship’s Wheel Trophy passes to yet another exceptional Club and its hard-working sailing community, Howth Yacht Club, for 2019.