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While the Howth 17s have continued with their usual club fixtures throughout their 125th Year – the Quasquicentennial – with regular events such as the Single-Handed Race (won in 2023 by 2022 National Champion Davy Jones sailing Rosemary), innovative Class Captain David “Daisy” O’Shea has highlighted a Trinity Special, a trio of major happenings to energise the standard programme in honour of the big One-Two-Five.

Initially, this Trinity was planned as (1), a re-sailing of the first race of May 4th 1898 on Thursday, May 4th 2023, then (2) in late June, there was the well-supported fleet transport to West Cork for a Cruise-in-Company among Carberry’s Hundred Isles with a mind-blowing rounding of the Fastnet Rock, and finally (3) there was this weekend’s turbo-boosted National Championship, with the five-race programme starting on Friday and concluding yesterday evening (Saturday).

SEASON STARTS WITH AN IDYLLIC RACE, IDEAL RESULT

But from the beginning of the season, 2023’s wayward weather has played a major role, and not always helpfully. The waters off Howth were simply being blown away by gales on Thursday, May 4th, yet just two days later Saturday May 6th produced such idyllic conditions for the 125th Year Special Race that an ideal result was inevitable – it was won by No 1 Rita (John Curley & Marcus Lynch) just as it had been won 125 years earlier by the same boat when owned by Noel “Pa” Guinness.

 Idyllic race, idyllic result – Rita leading the 125th Anniversary Race. She also won the class’s first race in May 1898. Photo: Judith Malcolm Idyllic race, idyllic result – Rita leading the 125th Anniversary Race. She also won the class’s first race in May 1898. Photo: Judith Malcolm

As for the West Cork jaunt, we’ve covered that extensively in Afloat.ie here

SIXTEEN BOATS – MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS

However, the Nationals – with 16 boats out and racing these past two days to provide a combined fleet age well over one thousand years (and that’s before we include the numbers for ever-young yet often decidedly vintage crews) had its own challenges. Strong winds between south and west, funneled through by a seemingly self-perpetuating great big black cloud sitting over the hills to the north above Skerries, gave Race Officer Scorie Walls a real challenge which she nevertheless took in her stride.

 Friday evening’s first race sent mixed signals – the big dark self-renewing cloud was already on station in the hills above Skerries to the north. Photo: Alistair Craig Friday evening’s first race sent mixed signals – the big dark self-renewing cloud was already on station in the hills above Skerries to the north. Photo: Alistair Craig

Perhaps that’s because, for some fortunate reason, while there looked to be driving rain everywhere else, in Howth’s sailing waters, they missed it - in fact, the sun quite frequently shone. But that fast-moving air was notably dense, so squalls recorded at 26 knots for quite prolonged periods were carrying a lot of extra damage-creating pressure.

 The 1907 Portrush-built Deilginis (Massey, Toomey & Kenny) put down a clear marker with a win in the first race. Photo: Dave O’Shea The 1907 Portrush-built Deilginis (Massey, Toomey & Kenny) put down a clear marker with a win in the first race. Photo: Dave O’Shea

 The “Castle Boats” – the 1988-built Isobel (left, Conor & Brian Turvey) and Erica (Davie Nixon) are still the only Howth 17s built in Howth, in a shed at Howth Castle by master boat builder John O’Reilly. Under one of the class’s more archaic rules, the originally leg ‘o mutton spinnaker must be carried to weather of the jib. Photo: Dave O’Shea The “Castle Boats” – the 1988-built Isobel (left, Conor & Brian Turvey) and Erica (Davie Nixon) are still the only Howth 17s built in Howth, in a shed at Howth Castle by master boat builder John O’Reilly. Under one of the class’s more archaic rules, the originally leg ‘o mutton spinnaker must be carried to weather of the jib. Photo: Dave O’Shea

Thus after a good but brisk race on the Friday evening (won by Deilginis) and two increasingly demanding races on Saturday, that fine fleet of 16 boats in full racing trim was reduced to just seven. Yes, that’s seven – less than half the opening turnout. Yet if Scorie had allowed a fourth possibly boat-breaking race, it would have opened up the options of a discard.

 Built in France by Skol ar Mor in 2019 and the newest boat in the class, No 21 Orla (Donal Gallagher & Marc Fitzgibbon) finished third overall. Photo: Dave O’Shea Built in France by Skol ar Mor in 2019 and the newest boat in the class, No 21 Orla (Donal Gallagher & Marc Fitzgibbon) finished third overall. Photo: Dave O’Shea

But it might have opened up some boats wide open as well, so she decided against it, even though some members of the heavy brigade were making it known that they were mad keen for one final fight to the death, as things were so close among the top three boats that whoever won that final race would be the Howth 17 Quasquicentennial National Champion.

 “On the wings of the storm” – by the time this bit of weather went through in what was to be the final race, only seven boats were still fit to face another contest. Photo: Patricia Nixon “On the wings of the storm” – by the time this bit of weather went through in what was to be the final race, only seven boats were still fit to face another contest. Photo: Patricia Nixon

THE TRIBES OF HOWTH

Calling it a “National Championship” when most of the crews come from within the Howth Peninsula may seem a bit OTT, but be aware that within the peninsula there are distinct tribal groupings such as the Sutton Squad, the Baily Boys, the Up-the-Hills, the Village Folk, the Burrow Bunch, and the Claremont Crowd.

Sometimes, they are barely exchanging ambassadors. So when the the countback showed that the Sutton Squad led by former Sutton DC Commodore Andy Johnston in partnership with Dave Mulligan on No 20 Sheila had edged it ahead of Davie Nixon of the Up-the-Hills on Erica (No 18), with fellow Up-the-Hills Donal Gallagher and Marc FitzGibbon third on Orla (number 21), the joy was unconfined in the sunny side of the Howth slopes.

 The walking wounded….the 1898-built Hera (Jane & Michael Duffy) returns to port with the gaff jaws in bits. Photo: Dave O’Shea The walking wounded….the 1898-built Hera (Jane & Michael Duffy) returns to port with the gaff jaws in bits. Photo: Dave O’Shea

Despite the shortening, it was a hard day’s racing, with the gybes in particular being Grand Opera at its scenery-crashing best. Yet somehow they summoned the energy for the prize-giving dinner in the club, and at its conclusion Class Captain O’Shea signed off with the telling conlusion: “See you Tuesday”.

For Tuesday evening will see the routine mid-week racing, with its time-honoured pier start. So how do you get to be 125? You just keep going as usual, that’s how.

Results below

 Now it’s official. Sheila’s co-owners Andy Johnston (left) and Dave Mulligan with the championship trophy and Class Captain Dave O’Shea together with crewman Sean O’Mahony. Photo: Philip Treacy Now it’s official. Sheila’s co-owners Andy Johnston (left) and Dave Mulligan with the championship trophy and Class Captain Dave O’Shea together with crewman Sean O’Mahony. Photo: Philip Treacy

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In Ireland last week as June drew to a close, the month’s exceptionally high temperatures were already becoming a memory, while the winds were raw along the west coast. Yet in far Southwest Cork and particularly out at Cape Clear, summer was still to be found.

The vintage Howth 17s, on tour to celebrate their class’s 125th Anniversary under the visionary leadership of Class Captain David O’Shea, found a lacuna of reasonable weather in a week of sailing among Carbury’s Hundred Isles in Roaring Water Bay, whose inappropriate title stems from the fact that the Roaring Water River – serene by the time it reaches the sea – flows gently into its sheltered inner reaches.

No hope? Rosemary in March 2018. Thanks to the skills of boat-builder Larry Archer, she was brought back to lifeNo hope? Rosemary in March 2018. Thanks to the skills of boat-builder Larry Archer, she was brought back to life

Even had they wished to, they couldn’t have celebrated their 120th back in 2018, as several of the class were still in bits after their storage shed had been flattened by Storm Emma in March. But what with Pandemics and other negative happenings since, it seems to have been intended that this particular week should be used for Cruise-in-Company time, as the 125th Anniversary of their very first race – on May 4th 1898 – had been marked in suitable Quasquicentennial style.

“As long as you’ve the ballast keel, the boat is not completely lost”. Anita in March 2018. Thanks to the determination of Ian Malcolm of Aura, she was successfully re-created by Skol ar Mor in Brittany“As long as you’ve the ballast keel, the boat is not completely lost”. Anita in March 2018. Thanks to the determination of Ian Malcolm of Aura, she was successfully re-created by Skol ar Mor in Brittany

And the very best of the weather in this Week of Weeks was out at Cape Clear. But they’d every intention of going there anyway during their celebratory Cruise-in-Company, as Malachy Harkin and his team at Cape Clear Distillery were going to send the little boats back to Baltimore with cargoes of their finest products.

Very much alive. Anita (David McConnell) revelling in the sailing off the Fastnet. Photo: David O’SheaVery much alive. Anita (David McConnell) revelling in the sailing off the Fastnet. Photo: David O’Shea

An enchanted coastline. The Howth Seventeens chose well with the venue for their 125th Anniversary Cruise in CompanyAn enchanted coastline. The Howth Seventeens chose well with the venue for their 125th Anniversary Cruise in Company

Faith fulfilled. Ian Malcolm and Aura at the Fastnet Rock. They were last here twenty years agoFaith fulfilled. Ian Malcolm and Aura at the Fastnet Rock. They were last here twenty years ago

But just to show that they weren’t being exclusively drawn on their way with a nose for special local spirits, they left Baltimore – where the Sailing Club’s Racing Secretary Rob O’Leary had already put in much skilled and highly-appreciated work in getting the boats safely afloat – and slugged upwind to Schull under the watchful eye of Schull’s Mr Sailing, David Harte. His Howth links through sailing and family go back a long way, and he certainly looked the part of the mother-ship in his smart new Boston Whaler, a very different animal from the original Boston Whaler.

David Harte aboard his new boatDavid Harte aboard his new boat

A warm and welcoming place. Captain Dave O’Shea with Billy O’Sullivan’s in the latter’s very hospitable family pub in CrookhavenA warm and welcoming place. Captain Dave O’Shea with Billy O’Sullivan’s in the latter’s very hospitable family pub in Crookhaven

From Schull it was upwind again on the Tuesday to Crookhaven, where O’Sullivan’s were well geared up to feed and water sixty-plus thirsty and hungry mariners and their supporting crews’ comforts. Wednesday 28th June had been selected as the primary choice for rounding the Fastnet Rock, as it cut the fleet a bit of slack with Thursday as an option if conditions didn’t suit.

But an admittedly rising westerly was their first fair wind as they began their return east, and it blew the clouds away to provide blue skies and a bit too much for topsails, but several boats went for spinnakers, and those that did reached the Rock in an hour, which for 17ft waterline is way above theoretical hull speed.

There is something supernatural about the Fastnet Rock, and Cape Clear with its much improved North Harbour is such a charmingly out-of-this world place that it might be from another galaxy, a situation which was right in tune with the developing mood of enchantment in the visiting Quasquicentennial class.

Pumping the adrenalin. Deilginis (Massey, Toomey, Kenny) getting above theoretical hull speed on the run from Crookhaven to the Fastnet RockPumping the adrenalin. Deilginis (Massey, Toomey, Kenny) getting above theoretical hull speed on the run from Crookhaven to the Fastnet Rock

Wet and wonderful – Erica (Davy Nixon) reaches the rock.Wet and wonderful – Erica (Davy Nixon) reaches the rock

Time to gybe….Isobel (Brian & Conor Turvey) streaking past the rock, with the sky suggesting they’re getting the best day of the week.Time to gybe….Isobel (Brian & Conor Turvey) streaking past the rock, with the sky suggesting they’re getting the best day of the week.

The Cape Clear ferry was at the Fastnet, festooned with photographers as the Howth Seventeens rounded the RockThe Cape Clear ferry was at the Fastnet, festooned with photographers as the Howth Seventeens rounded the Rock

The perfect shelter in North Harbour, Cape Clear after a brisk day’s sailingThe perfect shelter in North Harbour, Cape Clear after a brisk day’s sailing

“You’ve earned it”. Cape Clear Distillery spreads the good news about its product range through Howth Seventeen sailors.“You’ve earned it”. Cape Clear Distillery spreads the good news about its product range through Howth Seventeen sailors

Sensing that this might happen, the wise old Class Captain had left Thursday’s programme open to each boat’s choice, the only remaining item being a possible race in Baltimore Harbour on Friday morning before lift-out started at 11.00am. But it was blowing strong westerly, and it was raining, and some thought the liftout berth very exposed and possibly unusable. 

The Man Who Worked Miracles. Master boat-handler Rob O’Leary (left) with David O’Shea in Baltimore Sailing ClubThe Man Who Worked Miracles. Master boat-handler Rob O’Leary (left) with David O’Shea in Baltimore Sailing Club

But Rob O’Leary demonstrated otherwise. A dozen times he gave a master-class in using a RIB as both towboat to, and fender against, a choppy quayside. And he’d a crane-driver to match. The whole fleet were out, unrigged and ready for the road in four hours.

Heartfelt thanks. Commodore Grahame Copplestone (left) of Baltimore Sailing Club receives tokens of appreciation from the Seventeen Foot Class and Howth Yacht ClubHeartfelt thanks. Commodore Grahame Copplestone (left) of Baltimore Sailing Club receives tokens of appreciation from the Seventeen Foot Class and Howth Yacht Club

It left everyone in fine form for the concluding supper hosted by Commodore Grahame Copplestone in Baltimore Sailing Club on the Friday night, with Geraldine and her team in the kitchen cooking up a storm, and the good form and bonhomie reaching stratospheric levels. Then by Sunday night, every last little wandering Howth Seventeen was safely back on the home peninsula, with the good news that Howth Yacht Club was so pleased by the favourable publicity they’d generated in several leading outlets that they’d all be craned into Howth Harbour for free.

West Cork hospitality at its best – the concluding supper and presentation in Baltimore Sailing Club.West Cork hospitality at its best – the concluding supper and presentation in Baltimore Sailing Club.

“Dear Leader, we all love you”. Father of the Class Nick Massey shows the Howth 17s’ appreciation for their Captain David “Daisy” O’Shea at the conclusion of an exceptional West Cork Quasquicentennial visit.“Dear Leader, we all love you”. Father of the Class Nick Massey shows the Howth 17s’ appreciation for their Captain David “Daisy” O’Shea at the conclusion of an exceptional West Cork Quasquicentennial visit.

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The frequently misquoted ‘if you build it, he will come’ is often used to inspire and motivate people to follow their instincts in respect of unthinkable events and dreams, but it seemed like destiny for the oldest one-design racing keelboat class in the world, this week. Because after months of fickle and light winds and then a forecast of the return to normal Irish weather, most sailors should baulk at the thought of relocating their prize assets to distant shores, not least in the direction of the oncoming wind. Not so for the Howth 17s, who proved with resilience this week that a spirited and convivial bunch can make anything happen when it comes to planning a sailing event.

Former DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan, a passenger on the Cape Clear Ferry, witnessed the classic Howth 17 fleet rounding the Fastnet Rock Photo: Ann KirwanFormer DBSC Commodore Ann Kirwan – a passenger on the Cape Clear Ferry – witnessed the classic Howth 17 fleet rounding the Fastnet Rock Photo: Ann Kirwan

The organising team, led by Class Captain David O’Shea, managed this week to blend 12 teams and a plethora of supporters with a brilliantly designed schedule in West Cork for a sailing rally that seems to keep on giving.

Following this week’s three days of sailing in Ireland’s eminent cruising grounds, including obligatory stopovers at Baltimore, Sherkin Island, Schull and Crookhaven, the 125-year-old keelboat class chose Wednesday as the day to take their 17-foot waterline open keelboats around the iconic Fastnet Rock, and it couldn’t have been a better decision.

Howth 17 Class Captain David O’Shea with Debbie Klimcke and David Mulligan helming ‘Sheila’ Photo: Andrew JohnsonHowth 17 Class Captain David O’Shea with Debbie Klimcke and David Mulligan helming ‘Sheila’ Photo: Andrew Johnson

The morning promised an opening window in the gloomy skies, albeit with the continued very fresh Atlantic winds, and so it was to be. Less than half a dozen of Howth’s legendary class has ever sailed around the 119-year-old lighthouse (built six years after the first Howth 17s). But a lucky few people on boats, including the Cape Clear Ferry, were at the ‘Rock’ this Wednesday afternoon to witness 12 of the famous wooden keelboats rounding it to port after setting out from Crookhaven and then gybe towards the welcome party at the north harbour in Cape Clear.

Davy Nixon’s ’Erica’, one of the few Howth 17s to carry a spinnaker to the Fastnet Photo: Brian TurveyDavy Nixon’s ’Erica’, one of the few Howth 17s to carry a spinnaker to the Fastnet Photo: Brian Turvey

A steady 23-25 knot north-easterly pressed the boats from Crookhaven to the Fastnet, and the relatively youthful ‘twins’ (Isobel and Erica - 1988) led the fleet around and got to the famous lighthouse first and made the passage in 69 minutes, averaging 6 knots - quite a feat for the normally unhurried classics.

Ian Malcolm’s ‘Aura’ - his Howth 17 is older than the Fastnet Lighthouse Photo: Trish NixonIan Malcolm’s ‘Aura’ - his Howth 17 is older than the Fastnet Lighthouse Photo: Trish Nixon

But the boats thrived in the conditions, as did the wide-eyed crews and lucky spectators who will all be left with an unforgettable memory, not least aided by the hundreds of photographs, videos and torrent of social media posts that followed even before the boats had docked in the serene surroundings at North Harbour on Cape Clear.

The Howth 17s drop mainsails and creep into the serenity of North Harbour, Cape Clear The Howth 17s drop mainsails and creep into the serenity of North Harbour, Cape Clear 

The Howth 17s all snug in North Harbour, Cape Clear The Howth 17s all snug in North Harbour, Cape Clear after an epic rounding of the Fastnet Rock Photo: Ann Kirwan

Aided by the warm hospitality at Cape Clear (including a BBQ and drinks reception sponsored by Cape Clear Distillery), the 100-plus sailors and visitors enjoyed a relaxing afternoon before half of the fleet sailed back to Baltimore and the other half wait to return on Thursday.

Most of the sailors will rest their boats before the week concludes with racing in Baltimore harbour on Friday.

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The Howth 17s, on their Quasquicentennial (125th Anniversary) Cruise-in-Company in West Cork, are on target with their arrival this afternoon (Tuesday) from Schull at their furthest west port of Crookhaven. There, it was discovered that Billy O'Sullivan, second generation host of O'Sullivan's the cruising enthusiasts' favourite pub in the picturesque port, is no stranger to the historic class. Years ago, he was in Irish Lights, and served for eighteen months at the Baily Lighthouse at the steep seaward end of the Howth Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the restored 56ft trading ketch Ilen, built in 1926 in Baltimore to the designs of Conor O'Brien, is due tomorrow (Wednesday) in Porto Santo close north of Madeira, after a good passage south from Dun Laoghaire, which she departed on June 17th after a commemorative lunch in the Royal Irish Yacht Club.

DATES WITH DESTINY

This leaves all craft nicely on track for their dates with destiny. Tomorrow (Wednesday) the Howth 17s plan to sail out to the Fastnet Rock, and then head on into North Harbour on Cape Clear for the night. And next Monday (July 3rd) is the precise Centenary of Conor O'Brien's arrival with the Baltimore-built 42ft Saoirse at Funchal in Madeira, after what had been in effect the trial cruise of the newly-built boat - a passage of 1,300 miles - in preparation for his pioneering global circumnavigation south of the Great Capes.

By Monday, July 3rd at the Club Navale in Funchal on the main island of Madeira, Ilen will be joined by 38 boats of the Irish Cruising Club, the Royal Cruising Club and the Ocean Cruising Club to mark a major Centenary for Irish voyaging and boat-building.

All the threads come together- the Ilen sailing in Dublin Bay, with the Baily Lighthouse in the background. Photo: Gary Mac MahonAll the threads come together- the Ilen sailing in Dublin Bay, with the Baily Lighthouse in the background. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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On the 20th anniversary of their last visit to West Cork, the Howth 17s travelled to Baltimore this weekend as part of their season-long celebrations for the 125th year of their class.

The very active class is credited with being the oldest one-design racing keelboat in the world and is still built and rigged as originally designed by Walter Herbert Boyd in 1897.

Howth 17 ‘Aura’ (1898 vintage) bears away and leads the much newer ‘Orla’ (2017) through the flatter waters of Gascanane Sound (Credit Brian Turvey)Howth 17 ‘Aura’ (1898 vintage) bears away and leads the much newer ‘Orla’ (2017) through the flatter waters of Gascanane Sound Photo: Brian Turvey

Anyone familiar with the class will know there will be no shortage of stories from any events and trips they make, and this ‘rally’ will be no different. Even before the boats arrived at their destination, the adventure began and coincided with the change to more usual summer weather.

‘Erica’ heading south from Baltimore to greet the Atlantic weather (Credit Trish Nixon)‘Erica’ heading south from Baltimore to greet the Atlantic weather Photo: Trish Nixon)

Not used to navigating on land, the newest-built boat within the class ‘Orla’ (2017), took an early but erroneous decision to choose the port attack to the M7 towards Limerick - a tactic that might be better suited at sea, with the forecast of a veering, fresh wind from the west. The recent warm and benign weather conditions were forecasted to end this week, and the Howth 17s greeted the news with relish rather than dread, setting out fully crewed but sensibly without their distinctive topsails, towards the Atlantic seas for their ‘acclimatisation’ day on Sunday.

Ian Macolm’s ‘Aura’ and navigating the back passage between Sherkin Island and Turk Head in the background (Credit Brian Turvey)Ian Macolm’s ‘Aura’ navigating the back passage between Sherkin Island and Turk Head in the background Photo: Brian Turvey

Some took the opportunity to anchor off Sherkin Island, where the crew went swimming, while other teams tested the conditions and the long ocean swell following days of new westerly wind below the developing low-pressure system in the North Atlantic. The historic fleet hadn’t encountered such a sea state in 20 years, and when they previously travelled to Glandore in 2003 for their Championships.

Swimming at Sherkin Island with ‘Orla’ slipping anchor for the crossing back to BaltimoreSwimming at Sherkin Island with ‘Orla’ slipping anchor for the crossing back to Baltimore

It was a perfect day to circumnavigate Sherkin Island, passing through Gascanane Sound and viewing Roaringwater Bay towards Schull (Monday’s destination) before negotiating the ‘back passage’ downwind between Heir Island and Sherkin Island.

The Howth 17 ‘Isobel’ (1988) crew enjoying the conditions with Cape Clear in the background. (Brian & Conor Turvey, John Deegan and Wayne Hearher)The Howth 17 ‘Isobel’ (1988) crew enjoying the conditions with Cape Clear in the background. (Brian & Conor Turvey, John Deegan and Wayne Hearher)

The six boats that chose to take this route needed to take precautions for what is a tricky undertaking in a non-engined keelboat, not least for those that hadn’t upgraded their iPhone marine-chart apps to the ‘paid’ versions.

More used to the younger members of Howth Yacht Club that make the regular journey to train and race in front of the harbour, Baltimore Sailing Club and Commodore Grahame Copplestone welcomed the crews to the club after their first day’s sail with a special BBQ for the Howth 17 crews on Sunday evening. Afterwards, the ever-energetic class members filled Bushes Bar and other local hostelries with scenes that will be repeated daily for some days to come.

Birthday Cake courtesy of Baltimore Sailing Club for ‘Deilginis’ skipper Nick Massey - considerably younger than his 115 year-old classic keelboat (Credit Trish Nixon)Birthday Cake courtesy of Baltimore Sailing Club for ‘Deilginis’ skipper Nick Massey - considerably younger than his 115 year-old classic keelboat Photo: Trish Nixon

The class will spend the rest of the week in West Cork, lifting out in Baltimore next Saturday for the road trip and returning back to Howth.

Below is a video from Sunday made by the Howth 17 ‘Eileen’ crew of Rima Macken, Cillian Macken, Simon Knowles, Christina Knowles and Leah Ann McHenry.

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The Howth 17s are sailing amongst Carbery’s Hundred Isles.

The oldest classic sailing boats in the world are in West Cork waters to mark their 125th year and intend to sail around the iconic Fastnet Rock

The photo above is from Seamus O’Drisceoil, taken from Cape Clear Island this afternoon, showing them “passing beyond Bird Island en route from Baltimore to Schull.”

Their visit is “a unique maritime occasion, blending history and maritime culture,” he says.

As Afloat reported earlier, weather permitting, they plan a circumnavigation to include Schull, Crookhaven, Fastnet, Cape Clear Island and Baltimore.

“The plan is that they will arrive on Cape Clear on Wednesday afternoon, June 28, to a great welcome, and every boat will be a winner. Every participating boat merits an award and what better than an engraved bottle of 3Sq Miles Gin from Cape Clear Distillery”.

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During this past week, competitors in the Simply Blue Sovereign’s Cup at Kinsale have been sailing at a venue much of which is a time capsule of the picturesque town attached to a naval base of the 1700s.

Today (Sunday), further west in Baltimore, a dozen crews from Howth have been limbering up for a week of sailing among Carbury’s Hundred Isles in boats which are themselves time capsules, as the design of the Howth 17 has remained unchanged from 1898.

Thus the most senior of the 12 boats that have been road-trailed to West Cork for a highlight of their 125th birthday year were already six years old when the emblematic Fastnet Rock lighthouse started operating in 1904.

Howth 17s Class Captain Dave O’Shea (left) with Malachy Harkin of Cape Clear Distillery, one of the sponsors of the Howth 17s’ 125th Anniversary Celebration Week in West CorkHowth 17s Class Captain Dave O’Shea (left) with Malachy Harkin of Cape Clear Distillery, one of the sponsors of the Howth 17s’ 125th Anniversary Celebration Week in West Cork

Planned track for the Howth 17s in West Cork. They intend to be in North Harbour in Cape Clear on Wednesday afternoonPlanned track for the Howth 17s in West Cork. They intend to be in North Harbour in Cape Clear on Wednesday afternoon

The energetic Class Captain David O’Shea has devised a programme that will include a circuit or two of the Fastnet Rock on Wednesday. It’s a return visit for some, as several of the boats were here twenty years ago when they took a westward expansion from their participation in the Glandore Classics Regatta of 2003.

Peter Courtney’s Oona in West Cork – the Courtney family have been involved with the Howth 17s since 1907. Peter Courtney’s Oona in West Cork – the Courtney family have been involved with the Howth 17s since 1907
Howth 17 Eileen heads seaward past Baltimore Beacon, aka “Lot’s Wife”. Photo: David O’SheaHowth 17 Eileen heads seaward past Baltimore Beacon, aka “Lot’s Wife”. Photo: David O’Shea

This time round, Baltimore is their most easterly port, while Crookhaven is furthest west, the programme being Baltimore-Schull on Monday, Schull to Crookhaven on Tuesday, Crookhaven to Fastnet Rock and North Harbour Cape Clear on Wednesday, followed then by options on Sherkin Island on the way to rounding out the celebrations with some serious racing off Baltimore on Friday.

The call of the open sea. No 20 Sheila – built by Charlie Featherstone of Wicklow and finished by Dougal MacMahon of Athlone – revelling in open waters conditions off Baltimore. Photo: Dave O’SheaThe call of the open sea. No 20 Sheila – built by Charlie Featherstone of Wicklow and finished by Dougal MacMahon of Athlone – revelling in open waters conditions off Baltimore. Photo: Dave O’Shea

Ian Malcolm’s Aura – one of the 1898 boats – thrusting through Gascanane Sound after Sunday’s “shakedown circuit” clockwise round Cape Clear Island. Photo: David O’SheaIan Malcolm’s Aura – one of the 1898 boats – thrusting through Gascanane Sound after Sunday’s “shakedown circuit” clockwise round Cape Clear Island. Photo: David O’Shea 

That will be followed by the awards ceremony in Baltimore Sailing Club on Friday night, leaving Saturday clear for the logistics of group lift-out and preparation for that very long drive home. Regular road trailing was completely unknown when the Howth Seventeens first sailed, but despite the rigging complexity their crews have shown themselves sufficiently enthusiastic to undertake the hassle in order to provide the best of sailing sport in a very special setting.

In fact, their enthusiasm was already shown to have an extra edge today (Sunday), when their shakedown sail saw some of them leave the shelter of the harbour and slug their way down to Cape Clear before heading north of Cape Clear Island and returning to Baltimore via Gascanane Sound.

David O’Connell’s Anita returns to port after the open sea sailing. The 1900-built Anita was the only Howth 17 that had to be completely re-built after Storm Emma wrecked the Howth 17s’ storage shed on Howth Harbour’s East Pier in March 2018. Photo: Dave O’SheaDavid O’Connell’s Anita returns to port after the open sea sailing. The 1900-built Anita was the only Howth 17 that had to be completely re-built after Storm Emma wrecked the Howth 17s’ storage shed on Howth Harbour’s East Pier in March 2018. Photo: Dave O’Shea

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It’s a Céad Mile Fáile to the world's oldest keelboat fleet to Carbery’s 100 Isles in West Cork from June 24 to 30.

As Afloat reported previously, the classic Howth 17s from Dublin will sail around Fastnet Rock next month, marking their 125th anniversary.

As Afloat reported previously, they will launch on Saturday, 24th of June, in Baltimore Harbour and plan to spend a full week in West Cork to include some cruising and some racing.

Weather permitting, they plan a circumnavigation to include Schull, Crookhaven, Fastnet, Cape Clear Island and Baltimore.

They will arrive on Cape Clear around 2-3 pm on Wed 28th.

"Every boat will be a winner. Every participating boat merits an award. What better than an engraved bottle of 3Sq Miles Gin from Cape Clear Distillery, which will include both the logo and the name of the boat, according to local promoters.

The participating boats In the 125th Anniversary Celebration of The Howth 17s are as follows:

  • 3 Leila built in 1898
  • 6 Anita 1900
  • 7 Aura 1898
  • 8 Echo 1914
  • 11 Deilginis 1907
  • 12 Rosemary 1907
  • 14 Gladys 1907
  • 16 Eileen 1908
  • 17 Oona 1909
  • 18 Erica 1988
  • 19 Isobel 1988
  • 20 Sheila 2008
  • 21 Orla 2017
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In April 1898 the little gaff sloop Rita came sailing into Howth Harbour, the first of the five new inaugural Howth 17s built by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus on Belfast Lough to reach their home port. The 90-mile open-water voyage from her birthplace was undertaken by owner Noel Guinness, who had decided with four other serious enthusiasts in what was then Howth Sailing Club that they needed a new One-Design boat which was more robust than the lightly-built Half Raters they’d been using until then.

They asked their Commodore Herbert Boyd – already an amateur yacht designer of proven talent – to create an able little boat “that would last well, and be safe”, and the Boyd-designed Howth 17 (she’s 17ft waterline and 22ft 6 ins LOA) has since done that and more.

Rita and Aura sailing together in Howth in May 1898. Photo: W N StokesRita and Aura sailing together in Howth in May 1898. Photo: W N Stokes

Rita and Aura at the South Rowan Buoy off Howth, Saturday May 6th 2023. Photo: David O’SheaRita and Aura at the South Rowan Buoy off Howth, Saturday May 6th 2023. Photo: David O’Shea

The “First of the First” – Noel Guinness (left) helming Rita in 1898. Photo: W N StokesThe “First of the First” – Noel Guinness (left) helming Rita in 1898. Photo: W N Stokes

Some of Rita’s sister-ships took longer to make the passage, with overnight stops in a few cases, but by late April, the little fleet was gathered, and the first race was scheduled for April 30th. But bad weather prevented this, so they finally had their maiden race on May 4th 1898, with Rita winning.

THE 1898 CLASS GETS ADDED BOATS AFTER 1900

In those days with just five boats, identity was by hull colour, but sail numbers were introduced as new boats joined the class from 1900 onwards, and Rita became Number 1. However, when the 75th Year Race was held in 1972, there was scant acknowledgement of historical precedent. For although the winner was one of the five original Hilditch boats, it was Norman Wilkinson’s Leila, No 3, and he continued this cavalier disregard for historical proprieties by also winning the Centenary Race in 1998.

CLASS CAPTAIN IS “CAT-HERDER-IN-CHIEF”

However, the 125th Anniversary this year has been brought under way in proper history-respecting style under the direction of Class Captain David O’Shea - aka “The Cat-Herder-in-Chief to the High Kings of Ireland”. Not only did the Centenary Race scheduled for May 4th have to be postponed by bad weather until last Saturday - May 6th - but the winner was that same Rita which won the first race in 1898, now owned by Marcus Lynch and John Curley, with Jim Cotter and Susan O’Mara as crew.

Rita sailed a brilliant first leg against the tide to emerge at the north end of The Sound at Howth with a clear lead, followed by Roddy Cooper’s Leila and Ian Malcolm’s Aura. Photo: Judith MalcolmRita sailed a brilliant first leg against the tide to emerge at the north end of The Sound at Howth with a clear lead, followed by Roddy Cooper’s Leila and Ian Malcolm’s Aura. Photo: Judith Malcolm

The fleet on Saturday was divided in two, with the five Originals going first and “The Others” sailing the same course, but with a five minute gap between the starts. Conditions off Howth for a day sponsored by Acadia, the financial risk management specialists, were wellnigh ideal, with sunshine blocked only occasionally by the cloud cap on the Hill of Howth. And a strong Spring ebb in the Sound sharpened the early-season attempts at a southeasterly summer breeze to create perfect jackyard topsail-setting conditions, and truly open competition in racing conditions.

SUBLIMINAL EFFECTS OF HISTORY

Yet so powerful were the possibly subliminal effects of history that anyone relying on the performance showings of 2022 to make predictions for this first very special race of 2023 would have been well off target. The 2022 “National Champion”, the 1907-built Rosemary that is now owned by David Jones, David Potter and Mary Curley following the much-lamented passing of the nonagenarian co-owner George Curley, was only an also-ran.

As for 2022’s Boat of the Year, Davy Nixon’s 1988-built Erica, it seems that it was her turn to Take One For The Team. For if there was a tactical or other error to be made at any stage of this Quasquicentennial Race, then Erica embraced it with enthusiasm.

The Topsy Turvey boat? In the race for “The Others”, Conor and Brian Turvey’s 1988-built Isobel was second for much of the course, but snatched the lead from Peter Courtney’s Oona nearing the finish. Photo: David O’SheaThe Topsy Turvey boat? In the race for “The Others”, Conor and Brian Turvey’s 1988-built Isobel was second for much of the course, but snatched the lead from Peter Courtney’s Oona nearing the finish. Photo: David O’Shea

But despite the general absence of 2022 form, very much present was the Ghost of Races Past. Race Officer Paddy Cronin – a former Seventeen owner of many successful years of competition – set them a running start from the East Pier, as the weather-going ebb made it a controllable situation. But from the off it looked as though the hand of history was on Rita’s helm, and though Michael Dufy’s Hera was getting into the frame towards the finish, the first race for the original five boats, the Quasquicentennial Race itself, was won by Rita exactly as Divine Providence had intended.

Hint of approaching summer? Some of the fleet racing in “The Others” division, with build dates ranging from 1907 to 2021. Photo: David O’SheaHint of approaching summer? Some of the fleet racing in “The Others” division, with build dates ranging from 1907 to 2021. Photo: David O’Shea

TOPSY TURVEY

As for The Others, for most of the race Peter Courtney sailing Oona was holding the lead, as is right and proper for the member of a family that has been involved with the class since 1907. But nearing the finish things went topsy-Turvey, as you might say but we wouldn’t, with the 1988-built Isobel (Conor & Brian Turvey) slicing into a last-minute lead.

The Isobel winning crew with the Cat-Herder-in-Chief are (left to right) Brian Turvey, John Deegan, Conor Turvey, Howth 17 Class Captain David O’Shea, and David O’Farrell. Photo: Brian TurveyThe Isobel winning crew with the Cat-Herder-in-Chief are (left to right) Brian Turvey, John Deegan, Conor Turvey, Howth 17 Class Captain David O’Shea, and David O’Farrell. Photo: Brian Turvey

The Howth Seventeens have endured and prospered – there’s at least one new boat now nearing completion – probably because if they had to select a class motto, it would likely be “When God Made Time, He Made A Lot Of It”. Thus it takes them a while to get everyone into full commission each year, but thanks to David “Daisy” O’Shea’s boundless enthusiasm and encouragement, there were fourteen boats from the current class complement of twenty out and racing on Saturday, an unprecedented number so early in the season.

Supreme Champions: the crew of Rita with the Class Captain are (left to right) Jim Cotter, Susan O’Mara, Marcus Lynch and John Curley plus David O’Shea. Photo: Brian TurveySupreme Champions: the crew of Rita with the Class Captain are (left to right) Jim Cotter, Susan O’Mara, Marcus Lynch and John Curley plus David O’Shea. Photo: Brian Turvey 

WEST CORK RAID

They’ll be settling into regular club racing on Tuesday evening and next Saturday, and the next major is the Lambay Race on Saturday, June 3rd, following which there’s the 21st Century equivalent of the Sack of Baltimore from June 24th to July 1st, when this ancient class celebrates its 125th birthday with a week of racing among the ports and inlets and islands of West Cork. You can hardly say we haven’t warned you.

Winning owners with the event sponsor are (left to right) John Curley and Marcus Lynch of Rita, Conor Turvey of Isobel, Donal Gallagher of sponsor Acadia, and Brian Turvey of Isobel. Photo: David O’SheaWinning owners with the event sponsor are (left to right) John Curley and Marcus Lynch of Rita, Conor Turvey of Isobel, Donal Gallagher of sponsor Acadia, and Brian Turvey of Isobel. Photo: David O’Shea

Published in Howth 17
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With strong easterlies sweeping the East Pier, Howth 17 Class Captain Dave O'Shea has postponed this evening's 125th Anniversary race until early Saturday afternoon; other terms and conditions still apply...

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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