When photos circulated of the mangled remains of the 1907-built Howth 17 Rosemary in the wreckage of her storage shed on Howth’s East Pier after Storm Emma in March 2018, many unacquainted with the spirit of this 1897-founded class thought she would never sail again writes W M Nixon.
Yet the “flat-pack boat” is not only sailing again but after Saturday’s club race – her second since she returned re-born – she was on the podium with a third place. But then the Howth 17s – with their distinctive jackyard topsail-setting gaff rigs unchanged in 121 years – really are a class apart, with a community spirit and a can-do approach which overcomes every obstacle put in their way.
That said, Storm Emma was quite an obstacle, with seven boats significantly damaged, and two of them – Rosemary and Anita – giving every appearance of being write-offs. But the Howth class have a secret weapon, in that long-time member Ian Malcolm is the latest in a long and distinguished line of people who remain determined that not only will the Seventeens never die, but they’ll prosper and expand with new boats joining a class of 20 or so in which the original five boats of 1898 are still racing.
In this mission, he and his colleagues have a further secret weapon in the renowned Fingal-based boatbuilder Larry Archer, who is game to take on challenges which more orthodox craftsmen would regard as impossible. Thus while he agreed that Anita was in need of a total re-build on her original ballast keel (it is now nearly completed n Brittany utilising the French Government’s boat-building training scheme,) he reckoned the five partially-damaged boats could be repaired in time for the 2018 season, but although Rosemary could be restored to life, it would take time and more than a little ingenuity, and she wouldn’t be sailing again until 2019.
So before the summer of 2018 Rosemary’s hull was roughly put back in shape from its foldaway parts to enable Larry to get on with other longer-term jobs he already had on contract, and then through the winter of 2018-2019 Rosemary was transformed from an IKEA item into a seagoing little ship, complete with new deck, and owners George Curley, Davy Jones and David Potter were able to take delivery of her in time for the recent Lambay Race on June 1st.
Their long-standing partnership is typical of the class, as George and Davy were originally a duo from 1972, but with George now into the latter half of his eighties, they took on regular crewmember David Potter to make it a triumvirate four years ago.
With one thing and another, the challenge of the Lambay Race became the first sail test of the restored boat, but despite it being a brisk one, Rosemary came through with flying colours, finishing halfway up a very respectable turnout of 14 boats.
But then last Saturday, while their cruiser-racing clubmates were making hay in the Frank Keane ICRA Nationals across in Dublin Bay, the Howth 17s held their traditional pier-start Saturday race, and in splendid sailing conditions, Rosemary came third. A podium place for a boat whose mangled transom was the ultimate image of destruction just 15 months ago. Now that’s quite something.
As for the re-born Anita, Ian Malcolm is road-trailing her back from boatbuilding school L’Atelier d’Enfer in Douarnenez at the end of the month, and she’s due home in Howth on Saturday, June 30th.