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The Resurgent Glen Keelboat & Why Local One Design Sailing Classes Have Never Been More Relevant

17th July 2021
Glen Class OD revelling in Dublin Bay sailing. Dating from 1947, the class now show the signs of successfully emerging from limbo into classic status
Glen Class OD revelling in Dublin Bay sailing. Dating from 1947, the class now show the signs of successfully emerging from limbo into classic status Credit: Afloat.ie

The cherished local One-Design classes of Ireland have never been more relevant than they are now, in these crazy times of soaring-graph numbers when local is good. The expectation of staying local, while making do with fairly modest socialising and sporting ambitions, is proving to be the ideal way to avoid having to go through more travel hassle than the eventually-achieved broad-scope socializing event or sporting competition is worth.

Admittedly there are those for whom "staying local" in Ireland has now come to encompass the entire island. And beyond that there are those who have suddenly rediscovered their dormant sense of being European, which apparently can only be assuaged by a highly-monitored endlessly bothersome journey to some southern sun-spot.

But with summer settling in over Ireland for the next few days at least, local sailing is in the ascendant. And the historic neighbourhood classes are blossoming, with the Water Wags in Dun Laoghaire (originally founded 1887) on the cusp of achieving their first-ever turnout of forty boats racing at once, while across Dublin Bay the 1898-founded Howth 17s are pushing towards a cracking turnout of 20 boats regularly racing.

Meanwhile up on Strangford Lough the handsome 28ft 6ins sloops of the River Class are celebrating their Centenary in style with all of the 12 boats ever built to the design currently in full commission, and a really handsome, informative and well-illustrated history of the class by James Nixon has been published to help the celebrations along (and yes, he is the brother, but the book really is super).

Graham Smyth's Enler, Strangford Lough River Class Centenary Champion. Photo: W M NixonGraham Smyth's Enler, Strangford Lough River Class Centenary Champion. Photo: W M Nixon

In fact, Strangford Lough, where the majority of all boats still lie to swinging moorings, is ideal for the classic local and inevitably engine-less classes, as such craft never seem comfortable in the confines of a marina berth even if skilled crews have long since learned how to access pontoons under sail only.

Thus although surprise has been expressed at our recent report by Betty Armstrong of the news that the surviving 18ft Belfast Lough Waverley Class boats of 1903 are planning an experimental year based at the Rivers' home club of Strangford Lough YC at Whiterock, it's an idea which makes sense. And for those who seek even the smallest historical link, the word is that in 1913 two Waverley boats were built for Strangford Lough owners, but the arrival of World War I in 1914 delayed their regular commissioning, and by the time peace returned the only people interested in sailing them were involved with the Belfast Lough fleets at Whitehead and Ballyholme.

The Strangford Lough YC anchorage at Whiterock looking north across Sketrick Island towards the Down Cruising Club base at Ballydorn. The majority of boats based in Strangford Lough lie to swinging mooorings, while its extensive sheltered sailing waters make it ideal for classic boats to thrive.The Strangford Lough YC anchorage at Whiterock looking north across Sketrick Island towards the Down Cruising Club base at Ballydorn. The majority of boats based in Strangford Lough lie to swinging mooorings, while its extensive sheltered sailing waters make it ideal for classic boats to thrive.

And therein we find the nub of the matter. Classic boats are merely vehicles, even if they're fascinating and often beautiful creations. But they're ultimately only bundles of lumber and metal unless they retain the strong interest of a viable group of people with enthusiasm and a strong sense of community, people genuinely keen on sailing them, and interested moreover in the quietly continuing effort of keeping the class association in a thriving state of health.

The vital role of regular racing is something that will be immediately obvious to any Irish club sailor, even if classic yacht enthusiasts elsewhere can sometimes be a bit sniffy about it. They tend to think that the preservation and genteel sailing of their historically significant pride-and-joy should be sufficient reward in itself.

But such has been the continuity of some classes in Ireland that everyone is well aware that – originally - far from being classics-in-the-making, they were simply built in economy-style to meet perceived local needs. And top of the list in those needs was sport - and it still is. In fact, the need to involve and reward everyone taking part in the impressive local racing programme is such that a parallel handicap system is deployed in most local classes, and the class associations see it as an integral part of life afloat as it actually is - not as performance fascists might like it to be.

The restored Belfast Lough Waverley is involved in the class's trial move for a season to Strangford Lough   The restored Belfast Lough Waverley is involved in the class's trial move for a season to Strangford Lough  

"Better than new" – Waverley with her new deck by Ricky le Boas of Ardglass"Better than new" – Waverley with her new deck by Ricky le Boas of Ardglass

When it works, the system of local class associations works very well indeed - so much so that more modern series-produced standard boats, in trying to get a class going, hope somehow to replicate the spirit of the best local classes in their own organisations. We see good examples of this in the Flying Fifteens in Dun Laoghaire, and the GP 14s on an Ireland-wide basis.

It was four times Olympic Gold Medallist Paul Elvstrom of Denmark who pointed out the value of strong class associations. In his later sailing career, he and his daughter raced to global success in the Tornado Catamaran, but as someone who invented several useful items of boat equipment, he felt the Tornado had many flaws, and oversaw the development of an alternative.

Nearly everyone else agreed that the new Elvstrom boat was indeed superior. Yet the concept didn't flourish in the face of the Tornado's strong international class association. Thus Elvstrom ruefully concluded that not only should you have the support of a strong association as you develop a new boat, but in fact, it might be better to have some sort of energetic association in being before you even begin detailed work on the project.

Yet getting things off the ground doesn't necessarily work as a top-down project. In times past the global authority – the IYRU or ISAF or World Sailing as it is now – might introduce an international design competition for a new Olympic boat, but in the long term being an Olympic class can become the kiss of death for the boats involved. A conspicuous example came in the 1960s when they sought a new three-crew keelboat. The Soling was chosen in preference to the Etchells 22 thanks, to an element of block-voting among the Scandinavian countries. But now the Soling is no longer in the Olympics, it's only very rarely found anywhere else, if at all. Yet the Etchells 22 sails merrily on, as does another rejected Olympic keelboat, the International Dragon.

In fact, in refutation of the usefulness of the top-down approach, the only Olympic boat which can claim to have true global popularity at every level of sailing is the Laser or ILCA or whatever you're having yourself. Yet it was far from erudite committee rooms and computer banks and tank tests that she was conceived more than fifty-year ago when the Laser really and truly did emerge from a couple of quick sketches by Bruce Kirby on the back of an envelope.

On the other hand, there has been a certain amount of top-down involvement in two distinctly Irish classes, the Tony Castro-designed 1720 Sportsboat of 1994, and the more recent Phil Morrison-designed Ultime development of the National 18. In both classes – and to their eternal credit – the Royal Cork YC weighed in with tangible support, and did so with the becoming modesty of good work being done by stealth.

The attractively innovative lines of the 25ft Glen Class, a wartime dream which emerged from the Alfred Mylne office, and are taken here from the Yachting World of July 1945. In the interests of post-war economy, the stern is a simple "sawn-off" counter, and thanks to the angle at the garboards in the way of the ballast keel it is possible to carry in-hull bent timbers right across the keelson, while the mast was to be a simple box girder.The attractively innovative lines of the 25ft Glen Class, a wartime dream which emerged from the Alfred Mylne office, and are taken here from the Yachting World of July 1945. In the interests of post-war economy, the stern is a simple "sawn-off" counter, and thanks to the angle at the garboards in the way of the ballast keel it is possible to carry in-hull bent timbers right across the

Nevertheless, there's no single golden rule for the success of a class – local, national or global. For a long time one of the most successful local classes in Dun Laoghaire was the 25ft Glen One Design, which originated in Belfast Lough to an Alfred Mylne design in 1947, and by the late 1950s – having already spread to Strangford Lough – was then beginning to appear in Dun Laoghaire.

Busy times – a poster from 1951. Courtesy Dun Laoghaire Glen ClassBusy times – a poster from 1951. Courtesy Dun Laoghaire Glen Class

Soon there was a thriving class, and even after the harbour was re-shaped around the turn of the century, the Glens were well set up, as they retained their own anchorage close in off the Royal St George YC, which had been the focal point for the class from its earliest racing days in the harbour as additional boats were brought in from the north.

I remember doing the overnight delivery to Dun Laoghaire as an impecunious student with a Strangford Lough Glen one sunny late April evening in the early '60s. The boat was going to a Dr Cantwell, and though her name is forgotten, her seagoing ability is well remembered. For there was a very brisk sou'easter with more to come, yet with two reefs in the main and the working jib – the only jib – set, she powered along perfectly balanced, and then once we'd cleared St John's Point the sheets could be slightly eased for even better speed. The sun was coming up over The Baily as the gallant little boat swept into Dublin Bay, the job done and the crew completely coated in salt from top to toe.

Glen Class in Strangford Lough. With two reefs in the main and the working (and only) jib set, a sister-ship proved to be a very able seaboat on passage from Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay in a brisk southeaster. Photo: W M NixonGlen Class in Strangford Lough. With two reefs in the main and the working (and only) jib set, a sister-ship proved to be a very able seaboat on passage from Strangford Lough to Dublin Bay in a brisk southeaster. Photo: W M Nixon

In fact, the little Glen's offshore credentials were recognized with the creation of a rather unlovely reverse-sheer offshore version called the Porpoise for racing with the Junior Offshore Group. But today it is the standard Glen as conceived in the Alfred Mylne design office in Glasgow during gaps in work on naval contracts during World War II which stirs the heart, the original outline specification having come from Arthur Clapham who ran a boatyard in the west end of Bangor on the shores of Belfast Lough on the shores of an inlet called Smeltmill Bay.

The Glen Boatyard on the shores of Smeltmill Bay in West Bangor, seen moth-balled as Arthur Clapham eventually moved operations to Strangford Lough. Photo courtesy SLYC Glen Class   The Glen Boatyard on the shores of Smeltmill Bay in West Bangor, seen moth-balled as Arthur Clapham eventually moved operations to Strangford Lough. Photo courtesy SLYC Glen Class  

Happily for future nomenclature, Smeltmill Bay was at the seaward end of a pleasant little dale called Strickland's Glen. Thus the Clapham setup was called the Glen Boatyard, and while he built other craft including the 43ft Robert Clark offshore racer Uladh which we happened upon while cruising what was then Yugoslavia in 1990, these days the long-since defunct yard is best remembered as having built around 36 Glen One Designs. It's a nice clear distinctive name with endlessly romantic naming possibilities incorporating the word "Glen", whereas I don't think the Smeltmill OD would have cut the mustard at all in the brand challenge stakes.

The 43ft Robert Clark sloop Uladh The 43ft Robert Clark sloop Uladh – seen here in Croatia in 1990 – was built by the Glen Boatyard in 1946-47. Photo: W M Nixon

Be that as it may, Arthur Clapham's concept for the new Glen OD fitted the post-war austerity requirements perfectly. Instead of the long and elegant but rot-prone counters of yore, she had an easily maintained sawn-off counter, the hulls were built upside down with a straightforward angle turn in the garboards in the way of the ballast keel, and the mast – carrying a very effective fractional rig without any aspirations to a genoa – was a simple box girder.

The mast may have been rather heavy, but like the boats themselves, it was all completely One Design at a time when everyone still remembered that when the Dublin Bay 25s were being built in the late 1890s, the several different builders involved were so ready to stretch measurement tolerance to extremes and beyond that they would have been more accurately described as the Dublin Bay 26 OD Class.

The first ten Glens were snapped up to be the new Royal Ulster No 1 Class, and my father and uncle secured No 8, which they named Glenoe after a sweet little place near Larne, as all the more famous Antrim Glen names from further north had already been collared.

Glenoe's intended colour scheme of pale-blue-with-slight-hint-of-green topsides with white boot-top and red anti-fouling was finally agreed after many extended family discussions around the kitchen table, and next afternoon my father on his rounds as a GP called by the Glen Boatyard, and gave the always-busy Arthur Clapham the colour-scheme selection, which he jotted down in his flustered way in a crowded notebook with the promise that the new boat would be ready for launching in a week's time.

Came launching day and the weather was perfect – a gentle southerly wind to provide smooth water on the decidedly basic slipway, yet no hint of rain. So a very extended family group went down the leafy glen to the boatyard, and there was Glenoe rigged and ready for launching at the top of the slip, resplendent in her red topsides, white boot-top, and blue bottom.

Glenoe as she is today, being launched at Whiterock after her restoration in Ardglass. Photo: Mike StephensGlenoe as she is today, being launched at Whiterock after her restoration in Ardglass. Photo: Mike Stephens

As ever, my father was Master of Ceremonies by default, but to his eternal credit, this shock sighting of the complete reversal of the agreed colour scheme was handled in almost total silence. There may well have been steam coming out of his ears, but he simply turned us all around, marched us back up the road to the cars, and a week later – in decidedly unsuitable conditions with an onshore breeze - the properly coloured Glenoe was launched for the first time into a successful career which included being the top Glen in the Belfast Lough Festival Regatta Week of 1951.

She was part of the family for fifteen years, and though I didn't sail on her all that much as I was soon involved with the growing class of 14ft Insect dinghies at Ballyholme, you have to remember that children are the most conservative of creatures, and we like the significant cornerstones of our boyhood to stay exactly as we remember them.

So when I heard that a bundle of energy called Mike Stephens had taken on the restoration of the now elderly and Whiterock-based Glenoe a couple of years ago, I was nervous, as he had already used the highly-skilled services of ace boatbuilder Ricky de Bloas of Ardglass to restore the original Waverley Class sloop, and the re-born Waverley emerged as a proper little classic, but some distance in presentation from the basic boats as designed by John Wylie in 1902.

Lateral thinking. The standard teak-and-holly striped ply is more usually found on the cabin sole but why shouldn't it be used on deck? Glenoe today is very different from Glenoe 1948. Photo: Mike StephensGlenoe’s “new” deck has in fact been created from salvaged teak

The Glens having been so utterly basic in their original form, it was highly unlikely that the re-born Glenoe would chime with family memories.  It so happened that Ricky had a store of vintage teak from a salvage yard, superb timber which had originally been used in the work surfaces of science laboratories. The wood was of such quality that when made into strips for finishing the deck, it was as good as new, an effect heightened by the use of white sealant rather then the traditional black to fill the seams. The result is impressive, but that’s not Glenoe as I knew her from very long ago.   

Be that as it may, the project has contributed to the chances of reviving the Dun Laoghaire class, which was becoming tired. Glenoe turned up in her new form to race with them in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta of 2019, and not only won overall, but succeeded in demonstrating just how much life there was still to be found when a Glen was given the total re-born treatment.

This new awareness came at a time when people better known for their international achievements were acquiring a fresh appreciation of the pleasures of local sailing. Local sailing is at its purest with a local class, and though (as seen in our reports of The recent Narrows regatta at Strangford) the Glens are thriving in Strangford Lough, the class in Dun Laoghaire shows every sign of finding a much-needed new local strength.

Glenariff and Glenosiros – both from the Dun Laoghaire fleet – in the final stages of restoration in ArdglassGlenariff and Glenosiros – both from the Dun Laoghaire fleet – in the final stages of restoration in Ardglass

Adrian Lee and Hugh Cahill O'Brien have taken Glenariff and Glenosiros (me neither) to Ardglass and they're recently left the yard there in pristine condition, while in Dun Laoghaire itself, Ailbe Millerick (best known as an International Umpire) and Henry Roche found themselves a formidable Lockdown project with the restoration – even unto proper-job epoxy coating – of Glenluce and Gencree.

In Ailbe's case, the coating was done to the entire hull externally, and to the interior up to the topsides. Being an umpire, he has kept a diligent log for anyone who may plan something similar, but he admits to have stopped counting the hours involved when they got to a thousand.

Glenluce's hull read for expoxy treatment, with all seams splinedGlenluce's hull read for expoxy treatment, with all seams splined

When a Glen's interior is stripped, the way in which the amidships bent timbers can be carried right across the keelson is clearly shownWhen a Glen's interior is stripped, the way in which the amidships bent timbers can be carried right across the keelson is clearly shown

"Lockdown Labour of Love" – Glenluce and Glencree being restored in Dun LaoghaireGlenluce and Glencree being restored in Dun Laoghaire

Getting there. Glenluce on the verge of being re-bornGetting there. Glenluce on the verge of being re-born

Glenluce newly afloat in Dun Laoghaire, finished in a style which is in keeping with the Glen Class's original concept. Photo: John DugganGlenluce newly afloat in Dun Laoghaire, finished in a style which is in keeping with the Glen Class's original concept. Photo: John Duggan

The result is a re-born Glen which for me captures the spirit of simplicity which those innovative junior draftsmen in the wartime Alfred Mylne office strove to create for Arthur Clapham, whose outline specifications may have needed quite a bit of deciphering in themselves in order to make any sense.

And contemplating the really fine bit of work which has resulted is a reminder of an experience which few can share: the dim recollection of being beside one's occasionally volcanic father as he realises the new boat's lovingly-chosen paint scheme has been applied precisely upside down. 

When it all becomes worthwhile. Glenluce on her way to her first win on Dublin Bay in restored formWhen it all becomes worthwhile. Glenluce on her way to her first win on Dublin Bay in restored form

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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