One of the most publicity-shy classes in the entire country is also one of the most successful at club level writes W M Nixon. They’re the Puppeteer 22s at Howth. In all, the peninsular port has around 25 of these very handy fractionally-rigged sloops, which originated in Strangford Lough from 1978 onwards, but nearly all have now gravitated to Howth. Their enthusiasm is indicated by the fact that seventeens boats with their crews of four (sometimes five, sometimes three) signed up for the marathon eight-day 2019 Nationals, and all seventeen were still racing at the end.
The class seldom if ever ventures from the racing areas at its home port, where it’s a by-word for ease of handling with good sport - and all in a neatly affordable package. While their racing is at a very determined level, they don’t take themselves too seriously, as they seem happy to be known as “The Pups”. And they’ve a refreshingly politically incorrect approach to the names that some of their boats carry. However, as the class has been around for a while, in many cases they inherited those names, and Puppeteer crews share the old sailors’ superstition that boat names shouldn’t be changed for fear of it bringing bad luck, regardless of PC attitudes.
The eight day Puppeteer Nationals 2019 at Howth (where else?) ran from Saturday August 24th to Saturday August 31st. Now admittedly they took a break off racing from Sunday August 25th until Friday August 30th, to permit Sabbath observation and a return to a week’s work or other duties. But for Saturday August 24th and the following event-concluding Saturday, Howth YC was dressed overall in championship finery, and the breezes were great for a total of six intensely fought race races, three each day.
Over the season as a whole, Algy Pearson & Alan Blay’s Trick or Treat has tended to be top boat. But for the Nationals, former ISA President and serial Race Officer Neil Murphy and his co-owner Conor Costello in Yellow Peril were on a winning streak which lasted for the entire eight days. Their scoreline of 1,1,2,(4),3,2 speaks for itself. But though after the single discard they topped out with 9 points to the 15 of Dave Clarke, his Harlequin had three firsts and that six points gap was usually a matter of seconds out on the water. Third was Gannet (T Chillingworth) on 16, as were the Hegarty brothers’ Eclipse, and Trick or Treat, but the countback gave it to Gannet while Eclipse and Trick or Treat had fallen from stronger positions through failing to finish in the big breeze of the final race, making for a punishing discard.
As for the prize-giving dinner last Saturday night, the class’s official report gives a flavour of this quietly-successful local phenomenon:
“The well-attended prize giving dinner in HYC first dealt with the mundane distribution of silverware to the successful before moving on to the presentation of the serious awards for the Championship - most spectacular collision (Crunchie trophy), broach of the event (Andrex trophy) and man overboard trophy (fishing net). The top award of the evening - and one only presented on rare occasions - is for the most enthusiastic grounding (beach bucket and spade), with the trophy this year going to a boat that spent an entire race (and a little extra) looking at the sea bottom getting ever closer to them. The award winners’ modesty (and discretion) prevents their identification, but their good humour in adversity was a credit to them all”.
Now here’s a thought. If anybody has ever commented on the fact that the designer of Howth’s most iconic class happens to have the same surname as Chris Boyd, the designer of the always-keen Puppeteer 22s, then they’ve never made much of it.
Yet in Howth Yacht Club, there’s a Boyd Room filled with memorabilia related to Herbert Boyd, designer in 1897-98 of the Howth Seventeens. Surely a corner could be found in the Boyd Room for something about Chris Boyd (no relation), who these days sails a Laser from Ballyhome, and is no longer in the boat business. But at the time he was designing and building boats, he tangentially made an enormous and lasting contribution to Howth sailing.