When Howth Yacht Club hosted the 1981 Optimist Worlds, it was while the harbour was in the midst of a major redevelopment project writes W M Nixon. Yet young sailors from 26 nations provided a fleet of 130 boats, and getting them afloat each morning from a special slipway at what was then the Claremont Hotel on the beach to the west of the harbour was a major logistics challenge writes W M Nixon.
Tomorrow, the Irish Optimist Nationals get under way at Howth, and there’s a fleet of 185 boats – seven more than at Kinsale last year – and their young and sometimes very young helms come from eleven nations. Clearly, our Optimist Class is in great good health.
In 1981, some of the competitors from warmer climes complained about the rugged weather, but being the Worlds they knew they’d to take what was on offer. However, the fact of eleven nations – including a strong squad from the US - taking part in the competition over the next four days tells us much about the current strength of the Irish class, which is on something of a roll these days.
Back in the 1981 Worlds, the overall winner was Guido Tavelli of Argentina, while the top girl was Ireland’s Denise Lyttle of the Natinal YC, who was 17th in the open division. The Argentines were on top form in 1981, the last year before the Falklands War, and they also won the Team Prize, while the folk in Howth were drily informed by one of the sophisticated people accompanying the squad that your classic Argentine is an Italian who speaks Spanish and thinks he is English. This would seem to be at odds with the efforts of a certain Government minister, who spoke Italian to the Argentina-born Pope on his visit to Ireland last year, under the impression that this was his native language.
With Oppie sailors being exiled into the big bad world when they become 15, the turnover of talent is inevitably very rapid, and it’s more than difficult to keep tabs on the fact-moving production line of winners.
Defending champion is Justin Lucas who currently lists Royal Cork as his home club, and also well in the frame of serious contenders is James Dwyer Hickey of Crosshaven and Kinsale, while the host club’s Rocco Wright is progressing so rapidly in major events at home and abroad that any overall contemplation of the front runners in the Senior Fleet is akin to ranking a gladiatorial contest, and it’s a gladiatorial contest in which the obtuse August 2019 weather seems determined to make things even more difficult.
Meanwhile, in these times of tight budgets and shy sponsors, it’s intriguing to recall that back in 1981, after the Claremont Hotel had been returned to normal on its waterfront site and Howth Yacht Club was able to resume its battle towards having an in-harbour marina which finally opened in its first sections in July 1982, it was discovered that staging the 1981 Optimist Worlds had left HYC Events Ltd with a surplus of just over 5,000 pounds. It was used to buy a new rescue boat.