For many years now the 1898-founded Howth 17s have spun quite an event out of their annual “National Championship” writes W M Nixon. It may only be a weekend series for a vintage one-design class at its home port, but they make it a three-day event by starting with an evening race on the Friday. As for the mid-championship dinner on the Saturday night, that has assumed epic proportions. And at one stage they found their owners and crews were giving such dedication to a weekend that concludes with a monster prizegiving Sunday lunch that they cheerfully referred to it all as the Howth 17 Worlds, from which title they had to be gently dissuaded (over time) by the National Authority.
Whatever it’s called, it’s a remarkable celebration of down home sailing, so inevitably last year HYC’s then Honorary Sailing Secretary Emmet Dalton got to thinking that, as all the on-water and shoreside infrastructure was in place for a proper championship, surely it made sense to see if other classic One-Design classes would like to be involved as well?
The veteran Mermaid Class (which dates from 1932) didn’t merely rise to the bait. They swallowed it whole. And then they took some more, as they’re bringing their Mermaid Nationals 2016 to Howth from Thurday 4th to Sunday 7th August, thereby over-lapping the Howth 17 Championship from the Friday to Sunday.
The Mermaids are in fine form – as reported in Afloat.ie, they had an encouraging turnout of 18 boats for the recent Skerries Regatta. With the Mermaid contingent from Foynes planning on coming across country, and several times champion Jonathan O’Rourke of the National YC also emerging from Dublin Bay with his successful Tiller Girl, it will be an impressive fleet.
This in turn has upped the ante for the ancient Howth 17s. Recently returned from starring in the Royal Ulster YC’s 150th Anniversary celebrations on Belfast Lough, back in Howth they’ve been determinedly getting every Howth 17 in existence into commission and sailing in time for the weekend of 5th to 7th August.
This scheme has included allocating the current newest boat – the class-owned Sheila which was built over several years at a number of locations – to the new HYC Vice Commodore for the season, and as he happens to be Emmet Dalton who also has a foiling International Moth, he’s having a busy year of it.
But while some of the Howth 17s are maintained to classic yacht standards, others are in something of state of limbo both as regards ownership and readiness for sea. However, the community spirit of the Howth 17s is a wonder to behold, and through 2016 the pace of voluntary work has accelerated with a team co-ordinated by Ian Malcolm implementing an action plan to get boats fitted out and into the water. Any time now, with Bobolink being launched, we’ll see all eighteen Howth 17s afloat and sailing in time for the championship.
It will be a record for the class, but it will be a record which may well be beaten next year. Just this week Ian Malcolm – who already owns the 1898-vintage Aura – exchanged contracts and a deposit with Skol ar Mor in southern Brittany for a brand new Howth 17.
The people in the boat-building school at Skol ar Mor are no strangers to the Irish classic yacht scene, as last year they launched a new Water Wag, and before that they re-built the Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle in immaculate style. So their take on a Howth 17 will be fascinating to behold.
But for now, attention is focusing ever more closely on what has become the inaugural Howth Classic One-Design Regatta from August 4th to 7th. With the Mermaids committed to bringing their own band for the Saturday night party, it will be quite something. And who knows, but next year it might entice other classes to get involved, leading on to even greater things.