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Deilginis Retains Howth 17 Title for Fourth Time

11th August 2019
Howth 17s revelling in a good westerly breeze – the new 2019 ‘National’ Champion Deilginis is on the extreme right, overall runner-up Leila is third from left, and third-placed Oonagh (yellow hull) is third from right Howth 17s revelling in a good westerly breeze – the new 2019 ‘National’ Champion Deilginis is on the extreme right, overall runner-up Leila is third from left, and third-placed Oonagh (yellow hull) is third from right Credit: Tom Ryan

The classic Howth Seventeens have not survived and thrived since 1898 through having a narrow perception of themselves writes W M Nixon. When they decided some years ago to add an annual two-day championship to their already busy 60-race season of regular midweek evening and Saturday afternoon contests plus regattas and the Howth Autumn League, they announced it as the Howth Seventeen Worlds.

Told by the Powers That Be that they couldn’t call it that, the following year it became the Howth Seventeens Inter-Galactic Title. Eventually, it became the Howth Seventeen ‘Nationals’, and that’s what they challenged for yesterday (having lost Friday evening’s first race because of a gale), with Race Officer Scorie Walls managing to fit in three races between wind bombs and thundery downpours which were deluging much of the rest of Ireland.

Admittedly conditions were marginal, with a strong and gusty westerly as fifteen boats came to the line for the first race. Certainly, it wasn’t a top’l day, but spinnakers were flown, and though there were some retirals, damage was relatively minor with a broken spinnaker pole or two, and some trouble with jib halyards.

Thus the boats re-built after the shoreside carnage of Storm Emma, (aka The Beast from the East) back in March 2018 showed that they were able for it, but it has to be admitted that it was a race for physically strong crews. When the Seventeens first appeared, they were frequently raced with just two on board. Gradually this became three, but these days these able little 22ft 6ins boats seem to do best with four on the strength, and strength was at a premium yesterday.

"Some said it was really too windy and volatile to be taking any boats out"

The Masseys and Mike Twomey on the 1907-built Deiliginis had a field day with a scoreline of 1,5,1. Their very able-bodied crew were brothers Luke and Jamie Massey, their cousin Ian Massey, and Mikey Twomey, and their accomplished sailing made it four in a row for a title Deilginis has won at least six times in all.

It was a very special day for Roddy Cooper, as it was his 70th birthday. He has owned the 1898-built Leila since 1998, the two previous owners being Seventeen class legend Norman Wilkinson, and before him Billy McBride, who was a special talent in the renowned Harry Clarke stained-glass workshops.

Birthday Boy Roddy was crewed by his sons Drewry and Giles and longtime shipmate Ian Jackson, and they finished the series second overall on 11 points to Deilginis’s final score of 2, while third was Peter Courtney in Oonagh on 13 points.

Peter Courtney is third generation Howth Seventeen - his grandfather first owned one of the boats in 1907 - and for the ‘Nationals’ his crew were Daisy O’Shea, Dinger Massey and David O’Connell.

Some said it was really too windy and volatile to be taking any boats out, let alone boats where four of the fleet were 121 years old. But you won’t hear that said by the twelve guys who were on the three leading boats…….

Published in Howth 17, Howth YC
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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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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