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Howth Yacht Club Gets “Sailing Club Of The Year 2023” from MG Motor, “Car of the Year 2023”

7th January 2023
Howth Yacht Club’s 2022-2024 Commodore Neil Murphy racing his co-owned Puppeteer 22 Yellow Peril in a brisk breeze off the Fingal coast. First sailed in 1978, the Puppeteer 22s are the numerically largest among Howth’s successful location-specific One Design classes, and in 2022 the winner of the Class Championship was Paul and Laura McMahon’s Shiggi-Shiggi
Howth Yacht Club’s 2022-2024 Commodore Neil Murphy racing his co-owned Puppeteer 22 Yellow Peril in a brisk breeze off the Fingal coast. First sailed in 1978, the Puppeteer 22s are the numerically largest among Howth’s successful location-specific One Design classes, and in 2022 the winner of the Class Championship was Paul and Laura McMahon’s Shiggi-Shiggi

The selection of Howth Yacht Club as Ireland’s latest MG Motor “Sailing Club of the Year Award” represents a remarkable harmony of achievement between the competition winners and the sponsors, with Howth Yacht Club becoming “Sailing Club of the Year 2023” as the all-electric MG4EV is acclaimed as Ireland’s “Car of the Year 2023”.

Howth YC came rocketing in style and readiness out of the global pandemic’s frustrations to find itself in a 2022 season of remarkable achievement at home, on the national scene, and abroad at the top international level. And it has been a time of record club membership, with numbers totalling 2,173 in all categories undertaking a hugely varied range of activities afloat and ashore at all stages of competitiveness.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

This vividly reflects the club’s dynamic interaction both with the community on its home peninsula, and with a more widely-spread membership, some of whom are happy to travel significant distances to get to Howth – in several cases internationally - in order to enjoy the special “Howth sailing and boating product”. This has developed so successfully over the years that 2023 is the sixth occasion on which Howth YC will be holding the top club title in the 44 years of this informal inter-club contest’s existence, a record of achievement matched only by the National Yacht Club of Dun Laoghaire and the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven.

MG4 EV “CAR OF THE YEAR 2023”

Like Howth Yacht Club, sponsors MG Motor enter 2023 on a real high. The international company has been facing the challenge of developing an affordable electric car for some years now, and while impressive progress had been made with several models, it has only been in recent months that the real breakthrough has come with universal approval for the MG4 EV family saloon.

The Howth Yacht Club marina/clubhouse complex was initially created literally “out of nothing” in the empty and dry-at-low-tide southeast corner of Howth Harbour between 1981 and 1987, with additions and improvements continuing ever sinceThe Howth Yacht Club marina/clubhouse complex was initially created literally “out of nothing” in the empty and dry-at-low-tide southeast corner of Howth Harbour between 1981 and 1987, with additions and improvements continuing ever since

This “hot-hatch” variant of the award-winning MG4 EV will become available during 2023This “hot-hatch” variant of the award-winning MG4 EV will become available during 2023

In Ireland, this breakthrough first came late in 2022 with lavish praise from the Sunday Business Post. But it was in December that the “we’re walking on air” level of recognition was reached, when all The Irish Times motoring writers enthusiastically agreed that the MG 4EV was The Irish Times “Car of the Year 2023”.

Sailing people are more aware than most of the benefits of clean air and the potential of different environmentally-friendly and relatively noise-free methods of generating motive power for vehicles afloat and ashore. So this happy coincidence of mutual acclamation for two outstanding organisations is a matter of special celebration in a world in which good news seems to have become a rare commodity.  

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

HOWTH’S SENSE OF CONTINUITY KEY TO SUCCESS

In announcing Howth YC’s success today, we have to take a snapshot of the club as it is now. But of course, like all successful sailing organisations, it is a strong sense of continuity in administration afloat and ashore, combined with sailing enthusiasm and success on the water, that keeps things humming smoothly along, with the regular Changes of the Watch at the Annual General Meetings reflecting the quietly renewing pool of people willing to serve an organisation of this size, complexity and energy.

Incoming HYC Commodore Neil Murphy has participated and served in sailing in Howth, in Ireland, and internationally for many years. Photo: W M NixonIncoming HYC Commodore Neil Murphy has participated and served in sailing in Howth, in Ireland, and internationally for many years. Photo: W M Nixon

Thus it was as recently as December 13th that Vice Commodore Neil Murphy – who for very many years has put even more into sailing than he takes out of it -  succeeded cruiser-racer skipper Paddy Judge as HYC Commodore. But it was the end-of-year announcement of Afloat.ie’s December “Sailor of the Month (Services to Sailing)” national award to Paddy Judge which was able to highlight the fact that his period of service had gone way beyond ascending the ladder in the officer ranks, as he had been the club’s voluntary General Manager for the difficult years as HYC – like clubs everywhere – dealt with and then recovered from the massive problems posed by the economic recession of 2009-2012.

In doing this he was ably supported throughout by Honorary Secretary Bernie Condy, who continues with her customarily under-stated yet very effective dedication to HYC. But the running of the club on a day-to-day basis was restored to normality with the appointment of Aideen Doran as General Manager in September 2020 in time for Paddy Judge to take over as Commodore in December of that year.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

HOWTH PENINSULA GEOGRAPHICALLY DEFINED ITS OWN PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS

He succeeded Ian Byrne, who had drawn the short straw in being Commodore during the most intense periods of pandemic lockdown. But Ian had provided exemplary leadership through personally acquainting himself with each and every last detail of the new regulations and limitations in order to permit sailing at Howth whenever possible.

Ian Byrne (Commodore 2018-2020) and Paddy Judge defining the two metre inter-person pandemic limit at the clubhouseIan Byrne (Commodore 2018-2020) and Paddy Judge defining the two metre inter-person pandemic limit at the clubhouse

The Howth peninsula came into its own as a clearly defined naturally distance-limiting compliant area for in-bubble activity, and one of the fascinations of it all – as the vaccination programme got under way – was the discovery that the peninsula had more healthy inhabitants over the age of 85 than the authorities had fully realised. Of course they were all on some GP’s register, but as the fittest of them never bothered their doctors very much from one year to the next, it was an agreeable surprise to discover just how many sprightly ninety years olds there were about the place.

RAVE AT THE WAVE

This spirited attitude is reflected in the fact that Howth Yacht Club doesn’t behave like a 128-year-old organisation burdened by its long history. On the contrary, if you’d been at the rave night or some other special during the club’s nationally-contested biennial Wave Regatta at the beginning of June (when the overall winner was Howth’s own Demot Skehan with his vintage MG34 Toughnut) you could have been forgiven for thinking this was some volume-enhanced pop-up setup which would be completely gone by Monday. 

Overall wnner Dermot Skehan with his successful Toughnut crew and Commodore Paddy Judge at the Howth Wave Regatta in JuneOverall wnner Dermot Skehan with his successful Toughnut crew and Commodore Paddy Judge at the Howth Wave Regatta in June

Equally, the club’s senior class - the 1898-established jackyard tops’l toting Howth 17s, designed by founding Commodore Walter Boyd, do not see themselves as sacred relics to be lovingly preserved by their owners on a curator and caretaker basis. On the contrary, the key people in keeping the class thriving down the years, mad keen sailors such as Nick Massey, Peter Courtney and Ian Malcolm, have done so on the basis that the Seventeens are all there to provide first class one design racing,

The 17ft Class Association members expect to have at least 60 races per year, with the 125th Anniversary in 2023 being enhanced by the fleet upping sticks in late June and taking themselves to Baltimore in West Cork – led by Class Captain Dave O’Shea - for the special 125th birthday bash, and much racing.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

COMMUNITY SPIRIT

The perfect topsail set on a Howth 17 by Peter Courtney’s 1911-built Oonagh (right) in close competition with the 2019-built Orla. Photo: Neil MurphyThe perfect topsail set on a Howth 17 by Peter Courtney’s 1911-built Oonagh (right) in close competition with the 2019-built Orla. Photo: Neil Murphy

The Seventeens personify the community spirit of Howth sailing, seen at its best back in March 2018 when Storm Emma flattened the shed on the East Pier in which seven Seventeens were in winter storage. In a first pessimistic assessment, it was reckoned maybe five were write-offs. But in the end, only one was a complete re-build, the rest were restored through the skills of boatbuilder Larry Archer, and a happy dream came true in August 2022 when the 1907-built Rosemary – dubbed the IKEA boat after being found as little more than a flat-pack after Emma came to call – went so well in her restored condition that helmsman Davy Jones won the closely-contested National Championship for his co-owners George Curley and David Potter by a whisker, at something like the fifth stage of a points countback.

Davy Jones and crew celebrate their extremely close win of the Howth 17 Nationals in August 2022 with Rosemary.  Photo: Patricia NixonDavy Jones and crew celebrate their extremely close win of the Howth 17 Nationals in August 2022 with Rosemary.  Photo: Patricia Nixon

“The IKEA Flatpack Boat” – Rosemary as she was in March 2018, after Strom Emma had swept through Howth“The IKEA Flatpack Boat” – Rosemary as she was in March 2018, after Strom Emma had swept through Howth

Meanwhile the Boat of the Year on a season-long points basis was Davy Nixon’s Erica, unusual for having been built in a shed at Howth Castle in 1988 when the St Lawrence family were still in residence after 817 years. As it happens, one of Howth’s significant occurrences in 2022 was the departure of the St Lawrence family after 851 years in the castle. But there are four very ancient Howth families which pre-dated them still in residence in the village, and as like as not you’ll find one of them sailing against or in the Brains’ Trust, which campaigns Erica, where the crew panel includes Fred Connolly who is both the HYC Marina Superintendent and the Howth Lifeboat cox’n, while another notable on the strength is the Peninsula’s computer genius and AI expert, who’ll have the answer to your high-tech query before you’ve even thought of the question.

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

HOWTH MOVES TO WICKLOW

This sense of a supportive Howth community emerged in an unusual way at the start of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on June 18th. Mike & Richie Evans of Howth had entered their successful little regatta-winning J/99 Snapshot for what was to be her first major offshore race. But though Stephen Quinn’s J/97 Lambay Rules from Howth has been an impressive Round Ireland performer in times past, the old salts on the waterfront wasted no time in telling the Evans brothers that they were taking on a notoriously tough race in what was little more than a glorified day sailer.

Where else would you get a lighthouse with flower-filled window-boxes? The reassuring presence of HYC Senior Committee Boat Star Point - aka “The Men’s Shed Afloat” -  entering Howth Harbour. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyWhere else would you get a lighthouse with flower-filled window-boxes? The reassuring presence of HYC Senior Committee Boat Star Point - aka “The Men’s Shed Afloat” -  entering Howth Harbour. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

Thus in his report of the race for the HYC Website, Mike Evans noted how reassuring it was to find that HYC’s senior Committee Boat Star Point had been recruited down to Wicklow to start the Round Ireland Race in the absence of the usual Naval Service vessel. In Howth the more irreverent may refer to Star Point as the “Men’s Shed Afloat”, but for Snapshot’s crew it was almost as though they were going off on an evening race at home rather than taking on the world and the largely unknown challenge of the Atlantic.

The Evans brothers’ J/99 Snapshot under Wicklow Head at the start of her successful Round Ireland Race, which contributed to her becoming ICRA Boat of the Year. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O/BrienThe Evans brothers’ J/99 Snapshot under Wicklow Head at the start of her successful Round Ireland Race, which contributed to her becoming ICRA Boat of the Year. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O/Brien

They soared through the race, frequently leading overall, and though the cards hadn’t fallen their way in the final stage, the masterly way in which they short-tacked along the beach inside the worst of the foul tide in the final miles to the finish saw Snapshot move up the rankings to a close second overall and comfortably first of all the Irish entries, an achievement which made a major contribution to her being declared the “ICRA Boat of the Year 2022”. 

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

INTERNATIONAL JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT

With a regularly-competing international lineup which includes Rob Dickson contesting the 49er to World Champion level with Sean Waddilove of Skerries as crew, plus Eve McMahon, Rocco Wright and Luke Turvey leading the charge as very junior yet seriously competitive  ILCA/Laser contenders, Howth finds itself sharing their success with all Ireland. But either way, there’s no denying that Eve brought back at least two Gold Medals from world level contests, while Rocco had at least one and many other successes at home, so the future for Howth and Ireland looks bright, with new talent such as Harry Dunne coming up through the Optimist ranks.

ILCAWorlds Gold Medallist Eve McMahon welcomed back to Dublin Airport by her parents Vicky and JimILCAWorlds Gold Medallist Eve McMahon welcomed back to Dublin Airport by her parents Vicky and Jim

That said, more senior campaigners should be given every credit when success is achieved, and Howth’s leading J/80 international campaigner -Pat O’Neill who had already carved out big wins in Europe  - went to the US in 2022 for the J/80 worlds at Newport, and returned with the Bronze, a notable success wrested from the core of the J/80 heartlands.

J/80 World Championship Bronze Medallist Pat O’Neill (second left) with his crew in Newport, Rhode IslandJ/80 World Championship Bronze Medallist Pat O’Neill (second left) with his crew in Newport, Rhode Island

MG Motors Sailing club of the Year

FORTY YEARS OF THE MARINA

At home meanwhile, Howth was quietly celebrating the 40th Anniversary of its marina in the best possible way, by using it at full capacity for a continuous programme of sailing training for all ages, an intense fixture list of club racing events, and the hosting of majors. Among these, the J/24 Europeans was a highlight, with Howth’s own David Lovegrove officiating in his role as an International Race Officer at one of several majors which resulted in his spending 25 days during 2022 afloat and actively administering significant championships.

Race Officer David Lovegrove at his work. Commodore of Howth Yacht Club for its Centenary in 1995, he is busier than ever these days, spending a total 25 days afloat in 2022 running major sailing events. Photo: Judith MalcolmRace Officer David Lovegrove at his work. Commodore of Howth Yacht Club for its Centenary in 1995, he is busier than ever these days, spending a total 25 days afloat in 2022 running major sailing events. Photo: Judith Malcolm

But for most folk, the marina is a friendly and rewarding place to keep a boat, and ever since it came into being, the club’s largest single section has been the Cruising Group. First convened in the 1980s by Gary McGuire, and larger and more active than ever these days with its record of achievement since 1982 including Pat and Olivia Murphy’s really excellent nine-year global circumnavigation with their 40ft cutter Aldebaran, in many ways the Cruising Group is what HYC is all about.

As for the future, 2023 is already well set up with the Howth programme book-ended by the National Youth Championship in April and the ICRA Nationals at the beginning of September. Looking at Howth’s busy and well-filled sailing and fishing harbour today, you might well think the basics of it have been there for a very long time. But the fact is that only forty years ago what is now the highly active and successful clubhouse/marina setup was no more than an enormous pit in the harbour, and filling it in the most useful possible way required a very special club and community effort whose spirit is happily stronger than ever today.

Howth Yacht Club and Marina today. Forty years ago, this was empty space, and still a dream whose fulfillment required enormous club and community effortHowth Yacht Club and Marina today. Forty years ago, this was empty space, and still a dream whose fulfillment required enormous club and community effort

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