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'We Are Sailing' is the Song of Howth

25th May 2020
HYC Commodore Ian Byrne on the winch and Lea O'Donoghue maintaining social distance on the helm aboard the Commodore's Sunfast 32 Sunburn, all within 5 kilometres of home in the weekend's revival of sailing at Howth HYC Commodore Ian Byrne on the winch and Lea O'Donoghue maintaining social distance on the helm aboard the Commodore's Sunfast 32 Sunburn, all within 5 kilometres of home in the weekend's revival of sailing at Howth

We'll put aside for the moment the fact that Bono's father, the late Bob Hewson, lived out his days in Howth, a place he adored. We'll let it go for now that U2 drummer Larry Mullins lives in an elegantly-restrained modern mansion along Howth's Burrow Beach, and is seen in a boat from time to time. We'll overlook, too, the fact of the peninsular port's renowned connections to James Joyce and WB Yeats and J P Donleavy. Because, as of the weekend, Howth's favourite minstrel is the Tartan Troubadour Rod Stewart.

The Plaid Pixie's battered anthem "We Are Sailing" may have passed its sell-by date a dozen times and more. But as Noel Coward observed: "It's strange how potent cheap music is". Yet maybe "We Are Sailing" isn't cheap. Maybe it is just extremely good value. And that is something else altogether, for it's one of those songs which anyone can sing, and in three words it captures the mood of the moment.

Certainly, it captured the mood of Howth this past weekend, when sailing tentatively resumed after Howth YC Commodore Ian Byrne had put in some time working out the ramifications of the Irish Sailing policy document on the various permitted stages and phases in the post-Covid19 resumption of our much-missed sport.

2 howth sailing moth2You can't be more socially-distanced than with a Moth, and Alistair Kissane takes his for a lone spin at Howth on Sunday with some winter covers still in place

The Irish Sailing document was presented in such a professionally-finished way that it reminded too many people of an Income Tax Returns Form. It brought some out in a rash, while others perspired and put it away for consideration later. But Ian Byrne stuck at it, he posted his encouraging and clearcut conclusions on the HYC website at around 10pm on Thursday night, then his interpretation was up on Afloat.ie soon after, and by Friday night although gales were in the offing for Saturday, it was all systems go to get some boats sailing by Sunday in Howth, with due observation of bubble groups and family familiars and social distancing and whatever you're having yourself including being within five kilometres of home.

So even though Saturday came in with a Mistral-like westerly gale out of a clear blue sky, things were moving afloat with boats being kitted out in their marina berths and sails put on, while ashore Demelza was being launched as a hugely appropriate flagship for the entire enterprise.

3 demelza launches3The classic and historic Club Shamrock 30 Demelza, absolutely immaculate at 44 years old, and launching with total compliance on social distancing. Photo: Steph Ennis

For Demelza isn't any just any vintage 30-footer. The 1976 Ron Holland-designed and Cork Harbour-built Club Shamrock is the boat on which Mark Mansfield cut his offshore racing teeth when his father Stafford was the first owner. Then she went to Neville Maguire of Howth, who had her for very many happy and extremely successful years, with his son Gordon frequently honing his skills on board both inshore and offshore, a special family peak of achievement being reached in August 1984 when Neville with a largely family crew on Demelza won the ISORA Championship with the Abersoch-Howth race, and on the same day down in Kerry, Gordon won the Irish Windsurfing Nationals.

For some years now, Demelza has been owned by Steph Ennis and Windsor Laudan, and they keep this 44-year-old veteran in an immaculate condition which belies her age and reflects great credit on the Corkmen who built her, while on the sailing front Demelza continues to win top prizes in major national events at several Irish sailing centres.

4 wright optimist4Family group – Sydney-Hobart Race star skipper Darren Wright in the support RIB with his Optimist champion kids Rocco and Sienna back in their home waters of Howth Sound on Sunday. Photo: Paddy Judge

So when Marina Superintendent Fred Connolly (who is also the Howth lifeboat cox'n) and his team swung Demelza aloft for launching at HYC in such a restriction-compliant style that it seemed no human agency was involved, it was an eloquent signal that it was time and more for sailing to begin, time and more for people to come out of their cocoons.

Although Sunday started raw enough, it became a perfect day of early summer, and the boats were out, all sizes from the Wright family with Optimists to cruiser-racers, tentatively enough at first perhaps, but they definitely were out with cloth aloft, and "We Are Sailing" became the anthem of the day.

It is a time of rising hope. Here in Afloat.ie on 18th May in another context, we were stubborn enough to suggest that the current wave of COVID -19 would be gone by the end of May "like snow off a ditch", whatever the Autumn might bring. Let's stick by that.

5 indian sailing5Are we in the Greek Isles with their virus-eliminating climate? No, it's Howth on Sunday, May 24th, and we're within 5 kilometres of home with the Knowles family of Simon, Christina and their son Matthew on the helm of the J/109 Indian, celebrating the re-birth of sailing as the Lockdown eases off

It seems to be the case that in addition to possible genetic factors, there's a major climatic input in the combatting of the virus. Thus we note that one of the lowest rates of occurrence has been in Greece, which has a largely European population, but then so too has plague-stricken Lombardy in Italy. However, in Greece, the virus was trying to take hold just as the sometimes miserable Greek winter was being transformed into the radiant Greek spring, with the total warmth and brightness of the early Greek summer soon after.

For sure they'd had a lockdown like everyone else. But that glorious Greek weather must have played a key role, and now that we have what passes for summer in Ireland, Covid-19 is in the departure lounge, heading away for at least three months, and maybe for good.

So let the people sail, and let us accept that there have been quite enough cancellations. The truncated season which the various event, club and association officers have devised will do fine well in light of what we know now. And while we're at it, it's high time the rule for a social gap of two metres gets reduced to one.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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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.

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Howth Yacht Club is the largest members sailing club in Ireland, with over 1,700 members. The club welcomes inquiries about membership - see top of this page for contact details.

Howth Yacht Club (HYC) is 125 years old. It operates from its award-winning building overlooking Howth Harbour that houses office, bar, dining, and changing facilities. Apart from the Clubhouse, HYC has a 250-berth marina, two cranes and a boat storage area. In addition. its moorings in the harbour are serviced by launch.

The Club employs up to 31 staff during the summer and is the largest employer in Howth village and has a turnover of €2.2m.

HYC normally provides an annual programme of club racing on a year-round basis as well as hosting a full calendar of International, National and Regional competitive events. It operates a fleet of two large committee boats, 9 RIBs, 5 J80 Sportboats, a J24 and a variety of sailing dinghies that are available for members and training. The Club is also growing its commercial activities afloat using its QUEST sail and power boat training operation while ashore it hosts a wide range of functions each year, including conferences, weddings, parties and the like.

Howth Yacht Club originated as Howth Sailing Club in 1895. In 1968 Howth Sailing Club combined with Howth Motor Yacht Club, which had operated from the West Pier since 1935, to form Howth Yacht Club. The new clubhouse was opened in 1987 with further extensions carried out and more planned for the future including dredging and expanded marina facilities.

HYC caters for sailors of all ages and run sailing courses throughout the year as part of being an Irish Sailing accredited training facility with its own sailing school.

The club has a fully serviced marina with berthing for 250 yachts and HYC is delighted to be able to welcome visitors to this famous and scenic area of Dublin.

New applications for membership are always welcome and can be accessed through its official website.

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