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Howth’s Wave Regatta Provides Golden Circle For Mark Mills-Designed Boats

16th April 2022
The start of a stellar career. Peter Beamish (RStGYC) racing his new Mills 31 Aztec to success in the 1996 Lambay Race at Howth
The start of a stellar career. Peter Beamish (RStGYC) racing his new Mills 31 Aztec to success in the 1996 Lambay Race at Howth

With at least four Mark Mills-designed Cape 31s making their Irish class debut at the Wave Regatta in Howth from June 3rd to 5th, we will see one very important wheel come full circle. For it was a 31ft Mark Mills design making her debut at Howth in 1996 that launched the tyro designer on a stellar career which today sees him established as an internationally-recognised and much-awarded race-winning innovator. But he still finds the best space to think and create in Ireland, as he has moved his productive design studio even deeper into the peaceful rural depths of the lush Wicklow countryside, where he and his team come forward with frontline designs of all sizes up to super-maxis, designs that win at the top level for racing and style in five continents.

Yet twenty-six years ago, it was quite something - a real leap in the dark - to be the first owner to appreciate this nascent talent. That personal distinction falls to Peter Beamish of Dun Laoghaire, who in 1995 placed the order for a completely new 31ft Mills-designed offshore racer to the then-dominant CHS rule. Peter Beamish was to show an exceptional talent for spotting potential, for in the 21st Century he has been one of the quietly effective supporters of Ronan O Siochru and his sailing school, the remarkably successful Irish Offshore Sailing in Dun Laoghaire. But back in late 1995, it was a Fingal-based boat-building partnership, Mizzen Marine, which he commissioned to build the new boat.

Aztec on her maiden sail at Howth, May 1996. Photo: WM NixonAztec on her maiden sail at Howth, May 1996. Photo: WM Nixon 

Cape 31 in full cry – raceboat design has moved on, but there’s no doubting the family link to Aztec. Photo Rick TomlinsonCape 31 in full cry – raceboat design has moved on, but there’s no doubting the family link to Aztec. Photo Rick Tomlinson

The two main movers in Mizzen Marine were David Harte – now of Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Centre in Schull – and Garrett Connolly, an Olympic crew in the Soling. They drew on the talents of Darragh Peelo and Robin Evans as coal-face workers in this intriguing project, with further input from the multi-talented Johnny Smullen, who subsequently became California-based and the personal boat-builder to America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner.

So in all, with ideas being bounced between designer, builders and owner, it was something of a magic circle that created the boat that was initially known as Aztec, and is now known as Raptor in Dun Laoghaire, where she’s owned and sailed by the FOFC, otherwise known as the Friends of Fintan Cairns.

As Aztec in May 1996, she was a star from the start, winning her first inshore race by a clear 3.5 minutes, and making her big time debut in the Lambay Race before going on to sweep Dublin Bay and the Solent. So with the Lambay Race continuing at the heart of the Wave Regatta (it’s on Saturday June 6th), the appearance of the Cape 31s (and let’s hope Raptor as well) will mark a very special stage in the Mark Mills design career.

Aztec makes her debut – she may have been the first of the line, but she was a thoroughbred from the startAztec makes her debut – she may have been the first of the line, but she was a thoroughbred from the start

History in the making. And Aztec fulfilled all her promised, winning her first race - a short inshore – by 3.5 minutes. Photo: W M. NixonHistory in the making. And Aztec fulfilled all her promised, winning her first race - a short inshore – by 3.5 minutes. Photo: W M. Nixon

And it will show how our concepts about boat purposes have moved on too. Aztec aspired to be a proper offshore racer, with overnight capabilities. But the Cape 31s make no such promises -they’re pure day-sailing sportsboats, and indeed at the moment they’re even exploring the possibilities of a foiling version. Yet the fact that they reflect Aztec’s overall length rings a bell, and there’s no doubting a distant but distinct family relationship in their appearance.

With the post-pandemic rising profile of the Wright Group-sponsored Wave Regatta becoming evident, June 2022 is confirming predictions of being an exceptionally busy month for the offshore brigade. But there’s much more to Wave than Cruiser-Racer competition, and while as already reported in Afloat.ie there has been a remarkable uptake in entries for Classes 0 and 1, with three race areas available. And a user-friendly pick’n’choose programme means there’s every option available from the opportunity to enjoy three days of intense competition to the more traditional choice of simply doing the Lambay Race, which was first sailed in 1904, and continues as a special way of celebrating the existence of a very handsome and unspoilt island only 22 kilometres from Dublin city centre.

Lambay – the perfect unspoilt island, yet it is only 22 kilometres frOm the heart of Dublin city.Lambay – the perfect unspoilt island, yet it is only 22 kilometres frOm the heart of Dublin city.

Howth’s long tradition of One-Design keelboat racing will be much in evidence, for in addition to the locally-rooted Howth 17s of 1898-vintage and the Puppeteer 22s dating from 1978, the Squibs are undergoing one of their number surges in anticipation of the big championship in Kinsale at the end of June, while at the other end of the scale, the Sigma 33s are indicating growing strength, with the Howth-based Insider (Stephen Mullaney and Ian Martin) the current Irish champion.

Post-finish celebration aboard the Irish Champion Sigma 33 Insider after another race win. Photo: Conor LindsayPost-finish celebration aboard the Irish Champion Sigma 33 Insider after another race win. Photo: Conor Lindsay

The peninsular harbour also has a small but potent J/109 flotllla sailing from its marina, including Irish class champion Storm (Pat Kelly, Rush SC) , and they will be on their mettle, as J/109 star Mojito from Pwllheli (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) is already into the mix, and now the class have made Wave a designated event for their Eastern Championship.

The Howth-based J/109s Outrajeous (Richard Colwell) and Storm (Pat Kelly) racing off the Fingal coast. The J/109s have designated the Wave Regatta as their Eastern Championship.The Howth-based J/109s Outrajeous (Richard Colwell) and Storm (Pat Kelly) racing off the Fingal coast. The J/109s have designated the Wave Regatta as their Eastern Championship.

HYC’s own club-owned fleet of J/80s made their impressive 2022 debut with the Irish Universities Keelboat Championship in the last weekend of March (when the weather was much more spring-like than it has been since), and that successful series of 18 sunlit races has inspired college crews to put down their names for charter of J/80s for more of the same.

The HYC fiotilla of J/80s making the best of bright March sunshine during the recent Irish Universities Keelboat Championship. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyThe HYC fiotilla of J/80s making the best of bright March sunshine during the recent Irish Universities Keelboat Championship. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

With normal club racing on the East Coast in full swing before the end of April (DBSC Opening is today week), there’s no doubt that it will take time for the full buzz to manifest itself again, but in Howth there’s an impressive harbour/community effort underway to ensure that Wave is an effective launching pad for the national and international programme, with Howth Harbour Master Captain Harry McLoughlin pulling out all the stops to optimise the port’s potential, while the Michael J Wright Group are joined as sponsors by Fingal County Council, Euro Car Parks, WD 40, Cassidy Travel and CKS Finance.

As for the weather, that’s in the lap of the Gods. But for anyone immersed in the culture and lore of Irish sailing, the prospect of the ancient Howth 17s racing round Lambay as they have done for 118 years in tandem with the presence of the very modern reminders of Mark Mills’ first boat in the same place is profoundly moving.

The Howth 17s Aura and Pauline racing round Lambay - as they have been doing for 118 years. Photo: John DeanThe Howth 17s Aura and Pauline racing round Lambay - as they have been doing for 118 years. Photo: John Dean

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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