Bright sunshine, a good but warm sailing breeze, and summer temperatures which lasted well into the evening made Saturday’s opening of the 38th annual Autumn League at Howth Yacht Club – partnered this year by specialist car importers Beshoff Motors – into an idyllic July day which had somehow strayed into Autumn. But nobody was complaining about this inversion in normal climatic circumstance as the nine classes – with 18 sets of results when the outcome was calculated in different ways – made the best of the truly marvellous afternoon.
The fleet was mostly local, but there were contenders from Malahide and Rush too, while the enthusiastically-campaigned newly-acclaimed ISORA 2019 Champion, the JPK Rockabill VI (Paul O’Higgins, RIYC) made her way across Dublin Bay to compete - but then, as her name implies, she does have certain links with Fingal, and in a sense it was a home-coming.
As usual, it was the local One Designs, the backbone of Howth sailing, which provided the biggest fleet numbers, with the Puppeteer 22s mustering 16 entries, while the vintage Howth 17s turned out with 14 boats resplendent in their jackyard topsails.
And as it is the 40th Anniversary Year for the Squibs in Howth (the word is there’s a party to celebrate this in November), the class is undergoing one of its revivals. You could do a doctoral thesis on the waxing and waning of the Squibs at different centres in Ireland, but the almost moribund Howth nucleus has suddenly shown signs of new life, and there were eight of them racing with O’Leary (S Sheahan) winning from Derek Bothwell’s Tears in Heaven while Fantome (R.McDonnell) was third.
Naturally the glamour interest in the fleet as a whole tended to focus on Class 1 and the showing of Rockabill VI, but the O’Higgins boat found herself faced with wall-to-wall north county J/109s, and they took the first three places with Rockabill VI fourth, the winner being Outrajeous (Richard Colwell & Johnny Murphy, HYC), while second was the new RC 35 2019 Champion, Pat Kelly’s Storm from Rush SC, with HYC’s Simon Knowles and Colm Buckley’s Indian, another J/109, in third.
Howth’s classic Half Tonners are in a league of their own, which tends to distort Class 2 results, and Saturday was no exception, with Nigel Biggs’ Checkmate XVIII winning from Dave Cullen’s Checkmate XV, while Mike and Richard Evans’ The Big Picture came third and another Half Ton hottie, Jonny Swan’s Harmony, was fourth. Meanwhile, the first boat from the real world was Anthony Gore-Grimes’ consistent X302 Dux in fifth.
Class 3 saw current Sigma 33 Irish National Champion Insider getting the win for Stephen and Des Mullaney (HYC) from Vincent Gaffney’s Laser 28 Alliance II, with the Patterson/Darmody partnership’s much-modified Viking third
Non-spinnaker classes saw wins for the First 40 Tiger (Stephen Harris & Frank Hughes) and Terry McCoy & Mick Creegan’s veteran First 38 Out and About, while the J/80s saw Robert Dix (All-Ireland Helmsmans Champion of 1970, believe it or not, though he has achieved many other successes since) taking the line with his Jeannie from Jabs (J O’Dowd), while third went to Nobby Reilly with Red Cloud.
As for the Puppeteer 22s and Howth Seventeens, the racing was great at every level of their numerically significant fleets with the Seventeens being led in by Rita (John Curley & Marcus Lynch) which also won the class’s very first race in April 1898, though the word is there was a different owner back then, but in the Seventeens all things are possible. Second were the Turvey brothers in Isobel and third was HYC Commodore Ian Byrne with Eddie Ferris in Gladys.
As for the Puppeteers, they went back to the season-long situation of the two Alans – Pearson & Blay – winning with Trick or Treat, this time from Scorie Walls in Gold Dust with Ibis (S Sheridan) third, while the 2019 National Championship winner Yellow Peril (Neil Murphy & Conor Costello) had to be content with sixth.
Meanwhile, the search continues for the positional situation in Saturday’s racing of the current Irish Half-Ton Champion Mata (Michael & Darren Wright and Rick De Neve, HYC). She went out to compete with a stratospheric rating listed as being 0.989, which was out of sight compared to all the other Half Tonners which are in the 0.945 to 0.947 range. As of the time of writing, Mata has not yet landed in her true position. But as suggested on Saturday in another context, Mata should really be called Kittyhawk, as that was where the Wright brothers learned to fly, and where they also learned that flying is a doddle - it’s the landing that’s the tricky bit…..
Detailed results here