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Howth Yacht Club’s Super–Vintage Seventeens are Getting it Together Again

30th April 2018
Sailing life resumes for the Golden Oldies at Howth. Roddy Cooper’s 1898-built Howth 17 Leila enjoys the sunshine for last Saturday’s gentle contest for the world’s most senior keelboat class still racing as originally designed. Sailing life resumes for the Golden Oldies at Howth. Roddy Cooper’s 1898-built Howth 17 Leila enjoys the sunshine for last Saturday’s gentle contest for the world’s most senior keelboat class still racing as originally designed.

It’s only two months since Storm Emma swept Ireland, with Force 12 Easterlies spreading havoc and blizzards and rumours and tall tales of total disaster along the East Coast writes W M Nixon. One such tall tale which began circulating almost immediately was that the 20-strong 1898-founded Howth 17 class had lost all of the seven boats which had been laid up for the winter in the time-honoured fashion in the Long Shed down at the end of the sea-swept East Pier.

The shed’s roof had been stove in by enormous breakers, and many of the first reports talked of “matchwood” within. But once the storm had moved on and some cooler investigation became possible, the word was more hopeful. Nevertheless it was soon clear that a real community effort would be needed to extract the boats – or the remains of boats - as soon as possible, as there was danger of more damage being inflicted by the next lot of bad weather, with the building expected to collapse even further.

howth rosemary2It didn’t look good – Rosemary as she was on March 1st

howth rosemary3With willing helpers, Rosemary is already looking saveable on March 3rd……Photo: W M Nixon

howth rosemary4…..and is carefully extracted from the remains of the shed, with her flattened after-deck much in evidence. Photo: W M Nixon

The volunteers assembled the way they do when the chips are down, and in one very long but well worthwhile day’s work, the boats were extracted and gathered safely in the Howth YC compound. There, a realistic assessment could begin by Larry Archer, the multi-talented boatbuilder who is one of the many specialists who are prepared to bring an extra level of dedication to this very special old class whose owners vary enormously in every way, including their availability of resources.

boats assembled hyc5A good day’s work. The six survivors of the Long Shed collapse looking remarkably well at Howth YC, but repairs – some very extensive - were needed in every case. Photo: W M Nixon

He was able to confirm that by some miracle, five boats had suffered relatively superficial - or at least quickly repairable –damage. Of the other two, Anita (Number 6, built 1900) would be a write-off were she not a classic, and therefore is a re-build proposition using her original keel. And as for Rosemary (Number 12, built 1907), last seen apparently flattened under another boat and bits of roof - she was in fact eminently restorable, but it would take until mid-summer to finish a proper job on her, after he’d done the smaller jobs on the other boats.

rosemary from ahead6Once she was in Larry Archer’s shed, Rosemary’s badly-damaged deck could be removed………..Photo: Davy Jones

Like everyone else, the Howth 17s have been slowed back by the longest winter anyone can ever remember, but their first scheduled race of the year on Tuesday April 24th saw boats come to the line. Then last Saturday afternoon (April 28th) they had topsails appearing for the first time in 2018 (they aren’t used in evening races), and with six boats racing, Ian Malcolm with the 1898-built Aura led the way to signal the class’s continuing recovery. But perhaps more importantly, in second place was the 1988-built Erica, one of the “Long Shed Survivors”, sailed by Shay Gilna.

Meanwhile, the images from Larry Archer’s shed in the depths of Fingal show how the 111-year-old Rosemary is going through her time in intensive care. The big stages of the restoration can seem to happen quite quickly, but it is the proper finishing, including the installation of new floors, and the re-building of the deck, which will take time.

larry working7a…..and Larry could get a clear idea of everything that was required. Photo: Davy Jones

original deck7 The forward timbers of the original deck may be re-used…..Photo: Davy Jone

new floors8….but down aft, the laminating-in of new floors is essential for restoring Rosemary to full strength. Photo: Trish Nixon

But as of yesterday, the vitally important newly-laminated floors were being installed to put the backbone back in the old girl, and all being well, owners George Curley and Davy Jones (they’ve been in partnership for 45 years) will be there competing with Rosemary in the Howth 17 “Worlds” in August.

Published in Howth 17, Howth YC Team

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Howth 17 information

The oldest one-design keelboat racing class in the world is still competing today to its original 1897 design exclusively at Howth Yacht club.

Howth 17 FAQs

The Howth 17 is a type of keelboat. It is a 3-man single-design keelboat designed to race in the waters off Howth and Dublin Bay.

The Howth Seventeen is just 22ft 6ins in hull length.

The Howth 17 class is raced and maintained by the Association members preserving the unique heritage of the boats. Association Members maintain the vibrancy of the Class by racing and cruising together as a class and also encourage new participants to the Class in order to maintain succession. This philosophy is taken account of and explained when the boats are sold.

The boat is the oldest one-design keelboat racing class in the world and it is still racing today to its original design exclusively at Howth Yacht club. It has important historical and heritage value keep alive by a vibrant class of members who race and cruise the boats.

Although 21 boats are in existence, a full fleet rarely sails buy turnouts for the annual championships are regularly in the high teens.

The plans of the Howth 17 were originally drawn by Walter Herbert Boyd in 1897 for Howth Sailing Club. The boat was launched in Ireland in 1898.

They were originally built by John Hilditch at Carrickfergus, County Down. Initially, five boats were constructed by him and sailed the 90-mile passage to Howth in the spring of 1898. The latest Number 21 was built in France in 2017.

The Howth 17s were designed to combat local conditions in Howth that many of the keel-less boats of that era such as the 'Half-Rater' would have found difficult.

The original fleet of five, Rita, Leila, Silver Moon, Aura and Hera, was increased in 1900 with the addition of Pauline, Zaida and Anita. By 1913 the class had increased to fourteen boats. The extra nine were commissioned by Dublin Bay Sailing Club for racing from Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) - Echo, Sylvia, Mimosa, Deilginis, Rosemary, Gladys, Bobolink, Eileen and Nautilus. Gradually the boats found their way to Howth from various places, including the Solent and by the latter part of the 20th century they were all based there. The class, however, was reduced to 15 due to mishaps and storm damage for a few short years but in May 1988 Isobel and Erica were launched at Howth Yacht Club, the boats having been built in a shed at Howth Castle - the first of the class actually built in Howth.

The basic wooden Howth 17 specification was for a stem and keel of oak and elm, deadwood and frames of oak, planking of yellow pine above the waterline and red pine below, a shelf of pitch pine and a topstrake of teak, larch deck-beams and yellow pine planking and Baltic spruce spars with a keel of lead. Other than the inclusion of teak, the boats were designed to be built of materials which at that time were readily available. However today yellow pine and pitch pine are scarce, their properties of endurance and longevity much appreciated and very much in evidence on the original five boats.


It is always a busy 60-race season of regular midweek evening and Saturday afternoon contests plus regattas and the Howth Autumn League.

In 2017, a new Howth 17 Orla, No 21, was built for Ian Malcolm. The construction of Orla began in September 2016 at Skol ar Mor, the boat-building school run by American Mike Newmeyer and his dedicated team of instructor-craftsmen at Mesquer in southern Brittany. In 2018, Storm Emma wrought extensive destruction through the seven Howth Seventeens stored in their much-damaged shed on Howth’s East Pier at the beginning of March 2018, it was feared that several of the boats – which since 1898 have been the very heart of Howth sailing – would be written off. But in the end only one – David O’Connell’s Anita built in 1900 by James Clancy of Dun Laoghaire – was assessed as needing a complete re-build. Anita was rebuilt by Paul Robert and his team at Les Ateliers de l’Enfer in Douarnenez in Brittany in 2019 and Brought home to Howth.

The Howth 17 has a gaff rig.

The total sail area is 305 sq ft (28.3 m2).

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