Environmental awareness and sailing success to top international level were dynamically intertwined at this week’s official presentation of the Mitsubishi Motors “Sailing Club of the Year 2019” award to Howth Yacht Club writes W M Nixon
The announcement that Howth had received the accolade may have been made back in January. But the 40-year story of this unique informal contest sees the vintage Ship’s Wheel trophy traditionally being handed over in the winning club’s premises as the new season gets underway.
In Howth this week, out in the racing area off the harbour, the club’s inshore keelboat classes - the classic 1898-founded Howth 17s, the closely-contested Puppeteer 22s, and the Squibs – were having their first evening race of the season, albeit in rather damp conditions. And within the bright and warm clubhouse, the great and the good had assembled with top Howth-based sailors and members to celebrate HYC’s remarkable level of continuing activity and success.
For of course the “Club of the Year” award is only a marker along any successful club’s steady line of fulfilment as one year follows another. The adjudicators do not seek a surprise flash-in-the-pan year of sudden success. Rather, they look for a continuity of progress and sailing achievement, a readiness to initiate or adopt new programmes and ways of doing things, and a genuine enthusiasm to interact with the community around them, and with regional, national and global sailing in all its many aspects.
The challenges which the leaders of Howth YC’s 1600 members face in helping their sailing community to get the best use of a large marina/clubhouse complex and develop it into sailing success at home and abroad will be obvious. In these competitive times, all sporting bodies need vision, energy and dedication to maintain a healthy existence in a hectic environment where other recreational interests are always clamouring for attention.
But during the past 18 months, HYC members have received the national Sailor of the Year award twice in a row – noted international offshore campaigner Conor Fogerty receiving the honour in February 2018, while in February of this year it went to HYC’s Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove for their Gold Medal in the International 49er U23 Worlds.
These supreme prizes have been the peak of achievement in a comprehensive range of success which we reviewed on January 4th 2019 when the Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year recognition was announced. But in a successful club, nothing stands still - since then, the pace has been maintained with the top achievers heading a list of winners at all ages, including Optimist International Stars Rocco Wright and Luke Turvey, while just days before this week’s ceremony, siblings Jamie and Eve McMahon of Howth took the top places in the boys and girls divisions in the Laser Radials at the Irish Sailing Youth Nationals in Cork, with the Howth squad also very well represented in the top ten in the Optimists.
All this is happening at a time when environmental awareness is rightly moving top of the agenda in sailing as elsewhere, so there was a very effective synergy in that Mitsubishi Motors featured their notably environmentally-friendly Outlander PHEV in the club forecourt in company with a classic Howth 17 and one of the HYC multi-use J/80 flotilla, while during the past year the Club has twice been honoured for its high level of environmental awareness, as evidenced during the highly-successful Wave Regatta last June which received international recognition, and as one of just two winners – the other was the Royal Cork – of Irish Sailing’s Club Environmental Award.
Running a club of this size with its multiple activities from sailing introduction to high-performance achievement means that being Commodore is virtually a full-time job. But current incumbent Ian Byrne, with international business experience and broad sailing interests which range from cruiser-racer campaigning with his Sunfast 32 Sunburn to involvement in the cut-and-thrust of the Howth 17s, where he is a part owner, is very much the man for the job.
During 2018 as Vice Commodore he was the right-hand man to Commodore Joe McPeake, and by the time he took over the senior position in December, it made for a seamless change, though each Flag Officer with their individual styles and strong personalities had made major individual contributions to the club’s continuing success.
This level of input became clear after Jason Byrne, National Sales Manager of Mitsubishi Motors Ireland, opened proceedings by telling of how pleased as sponsors they were to see the trophy go to a club which so energetically shared their own enthusiasm for environmental concerns. And then after the trophy had been handed over to Commodore Byrne and his fellow Flag Officers, it provided Ian Byrne with an opportunity to outline the multiplicity of activities and initiatives which are under way at Howth Yacht Club - some of them new, and some of them long-running projects which are now coming to full fruition.
Howth YC in unique in Ireland in that it is the country’s largest club in terms of membership and amenities, yet at its heart is all the friendliness and readiness for voluntary work of a small neighbourhood club. This is because the two major Howth Harbour developments which made expansion possible both occurred well within living memory, and the club still has many active senior members who can remember how constrained Howth sailing could be in times past by limited space in an overcrowded and very basic fishing port.
Now all that is changed. But the hugely expanded scale of a harbour in which every area is utilized brings its own challenges. Not least is the infrastructure, with dredging of some areas an increasingly urgent requirement which fortunately is now well and truly in the Public Works pipeline.
But equally, for the club to continue its high level of activity and success, maintaining a vibrant and involved membership requires an outreach programme to make boats and sailing accessible and attractive to a wider public. In this area, HYC with its Quest Sailing School and other programmes - including an expanding Junior Training scheme - is currently setting a cracking pace.
While there is a level of professional input, voluntary work plays a very important role, and Ian Byrne was eloquent in his praise and thanks for people like Paddy Judge, Peter McKenna, Derek Bothwell, Ian Malcolm and many many others who devote much of their spare time to seeing that the proper attention is given to the hundred-and-one things which always need doing in and around a busy clubhouse/marina setup in an active fishing/sailing harbour.
Irish Sailing President Jack Roy then took over the microphone to give generous praise to Howth on behalf of the larger sailing community in which HYC plays such an active part. The sheer breadth of the club’s activities came in for his special praise, and its enthusiasm for making sailing more accessible and user-friendly for the general public was something he particularly shared.
While he was delighted for Howth’s wide range of success right up to the top international level across a broad range of classes, he was also encouraged by the fact that at grassroots level, it was clear that Howth YC realised that for many participants, sailing was as much about having fun and quiet enjoyment afloat, and it is a fact that the largest single sector in the varied Howth membership is the Cruising Group.
By the time the speeches were concluded, guests and members alike had a fresh insight into what makes a large club run smoothly and successfully, and it was then an opportunity for further renewals of old friendships and added insights into the workings of the club.
Mitsubishi Motors have been the sponsors of the “Club of the Year” since 1986 – it may well be the longest-running sponsorship in Irish sailing – and the first awardee under their stewardship was Howth Yacht Club as they were moving into what was then their brand new clubhouse, plumb in the middle of what had formerly been a rather muddy part of the harbour, and all set to serve the adjacent marina.
The Mitsubishi support came in through the enthusiasm of that legend of the Irish motor trade Frank Keane, who had brought the brand to Ireland as he had brought BMW many years before. Frank Keane Holdings have continued their support of sailing, so at any gathering such as that in Howth YC this week, you’ll find the most unexpected friendships going back many years, and as the evening drew to a close the mood was good while outside the sky cleared to bring the Howth 17s, the Puppeteer 22s and the Squibs back into port in the beginnings of a sunset. It hinted at the summer to come when - as ever - Howth Yacht Club will be busy.