Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Howth 17s' Quasquicentennial Race On Thursday May 4th Hits The Publicity Button

2nd May 2023
The Howth 17's Poster For Thursday's 125th Anniversary Race includes eye-catching wording
The Howth 17's Poster For Thursday's 125th Anniversary Race includes eye-catching wording

Just get one good strange and distinctive word in your publicity material, and the news will spread like wildfire. Howth 17 Class Captain Dave O'Shea has discovered that the word for 125th Anniversary is Quasquicentennial, and he posted it this morning in the notice for the 125th Anniversary Race coming up this Thursday (May 4th). The magic word is spreading like wildfire in cyberspace, with a remarkable number of comments and fresh input from London, which suggests that life there is still far from emerging from the easy-going WFH mindset, but that's a problem for Mr Sunak and his mates.

Meanwhile, the problem in Howth is whether the present volatile weather will be providing reasonable conditions at 19:00 hrs on Thursday when two races will be sailed - one for the original five 1898 boats, and the other for "the others" - boats built between 1900 and 2017.

A reference to the June 1998 Afloat Magazine reveals that the Centenary Race was won by Norman Wilkinson's Leile, which also won the first race in 1898, so there's unreasonable pressure on current owner Roddy Cooper. Be that as it may, the Soundings column in the back page of that June 1998 edition includes further insights, notably the fact that Norman Wilkinson - then aged 81 - was so completely right-handed that even when sailing on port tack from the lee side in ancient Howth 17 style, he still used his right-hand thanks to being able to curl his long right arm in behind his back in what looked like excruciating discomfort.

Inside-back page from Afloat Magazine, June 1998. 81-year-old Norman Wilkinson wins the Howth 17s Centenary Race despite his odd helming technique on port tack. And in another story, mink make a meal of it in a sinking boatInside-back page from Afloat Magazine, June 1998. 81-year-old Norman Wilkinson wins the Howth 17s Centenary Race despite his odd helming technique on port tack. And in another story, mink make a meal of it in a sinking boat

We could only comment that if Norman - a truly great man - wished to race while standing on his head and holding the tiller with his feet, then that was fine by us. Which in turn, reminded us of the late great Dave FitzGerald of Galway Bay Sailing Club, who was the first western Commodore of the Irish Cruising Club. Dave was boss of Tynagh Mines in Loughrea, and though very much the boss, he was also so totally immersed in mining culture that sometimes in the middle of a club dinner, he would stand up and give an excellent a capella rendition of the rebel miners' anthem, The Ballad of Joe Hill.

At the recent ICC Dinnner in Sligo, his old shipmate Peter Fernis told me this was only the way he did it at polite parties. At a real heavy-going miners or sailors party, Dave's speciality was singing Joe Hill while standing on his head and smoking a large cigar. It's beyond imagination. There's also a little tailpiece in that Soundings column which is a memory of another time. Apparently, a very leaky old wooden boat was waiting to get into the local dry-dock on the Shannon for re-caulking, but was delayed as the boat already being worked on in the dock was running late. But the wooden-boat owner wasn't unduly worried, as his automatic bilge pump kept things under control. However, one weekend he turned up to find the vintage craft had sunk. It seems the electric cables had been knawed through, but not by rats. Mink were the guilty party.

All of which is a long way from Howth on Thursday evening, when Leila has the hand of history on her helm, as she also won the 75th Anniversary Race in 1972 when the class Honorary Secretary, mathematics obsessive Gerald FitzGibbon, insisted that class organisations had no Year Zero. Thus the 75th Birthday Season was 1972. But you'll note that Gerald - having long since gone to the Great Algorithm in the Sky - has left the Class clear to revert to old-fashioned notions of when birthdays occur, and they'll be carrying this with them when they move en masse for their Quasquicentennial Regatta Week in Baltimore and its West Cork environs in the last week of June.

Conor & Brian Turvey's Howth 17 Isobel (no 19, built at Howth Castle in 1988) gleaming in the Spring sunshine as she launches at Howth Yacht Club on Bank Holiday Monday.  Photo: Brian TurveyConor & Brian Turvey's Howth 17 Isobel (no 19, built at Howth Castle in 1988) gleaming in the Spring sunshine as she launches at Howth Yacht Club on Bank Holiday Monday.  Photo: Brian Turvey

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

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.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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).

©Afloat 2020