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Howth Seventeens Crank into Action for National Championship in 123rd Year This Weekend

5th August 2020
If we were to title this photo “Traditional west of Ireland gaff rigger sails past Macdara’s Island off the shores of Connemara”, even in Ireland quite a few people would buy it as the truth. But the rugged little gannet-laden island of Ireland’s Eye off Howth really does looks as if it belongs somewhere in the far west of County Galway. And the thought that they still sail boats of this antique appearance in such a setting within ten miles of the centre of a modern capital city is also clearly absurd….Yet this is the Howth 17 Sheila ( Dave Mulligan) in Howth Sound in training for this weekend’s National Championship, and it’s all happening on the Irish Sea within ten miles of Dublin city centre If we were to title this photo “Traditional west of Ireland gaff rigger sails past Macdara’s Island off the shores of Connemara”, even in Ireland quite a few people would buy it as the truth. But the rugged little gannet-laden island of Ireland’s Eye off Howth really does looks as if it belongs somewhere in the far west of County Galway. And the thought that they still sail boats of this antique appearance in such a setting within ten miles of the centre of a modern capital city is also clearly absurd….Yet this is the Howth 17 Sheila ( Dave Mulligan) in Howth Sound in training for this weekend’s National Championship, and it’s all happening on the Irish Sea within ten miles of Dublin city centre

The Howth 17s have been racing in their “little piece of Connemara that’s somehow in Leinster” for 122 years. And when some years ago they decided to make their annual championship into something special, they re-titled it the Howth 17 Worlds. But within the powers-that-be - where a certain lack of light-heartedness is the default mode - it was decreed that they mustn’t do that again. So the following year the Howth 17 Galactic Championship was staged….

Thus for some years now a sort of truce seems have existed over the class’s determination to call its annual major the National Championship, and 2020's comes up this weekend, with the 1907-built Deilginis (Massey, Toomey & Kenny partnership) defending the title.

Howth 17 Deilginis (Massey, Toomey & Kenny partnership)The defending champions. The syndicate on Deilginis ensure maximum speed through total concentration, and the use of liquid adjustable ballast when needed

And for those who would claim to find some oddity in a one-harbour class having a Nationals, the Seventeen sailors will magisterially point out that not all the participating crews live in the village.

On the contrary, some of them reputedly come from the bandit country on the other side of the Hill of Howth at Sutton, while there are even a few from nearby Ireland in the trackless wilds to the west beyond the peninsula’s isthmus frontier. And unbelievably, the class’s racing is so good that it draws in one or two aliens from south of the Liffey.

With the word from the west in Connacht being something along the lines that all those who would normally go to Mallorca have descended on Roundstone, the shy creatures who sail Seventeens have put all thoughts of the crowded Atlantic seaboard out of their heads, and they’re focusing on racing in home waters which suddenly seem the most exotic in Ireland.

HYC Ian Byrne with a Howth 17 It goes with the territory….while Howth YC Commodores are permitted to sail in other boat types, they’re expected to have more than a passing acquaintance with the soul of the club through the Howth 17s. Current Commodore Ian Byrne, though best-known as the owner of the Sunfast 32 Sunburn, solves the problem through part-ownership of the Seventeen footer Gladys, which he regularly races and is seen here shining with the Commodore at her launching

Admittedly in current circumstances not all the boats have yet been put afloat, but they’ll muster a dozen or so for the big one, with a user-friendly programme of a first race in Friday night (August 7th), then it’s hard going on Saturday with four races scheduled, while Sunday morning is kept in reserve in case there’s any slippage. But the tradition is that it’s done and dusted by Saturday night, upon which everyone springs to the mainbrace, and great is the splicing thereof (within socially-distant compliance, of course).

Orla was built in 2018 in France using a boatbuilding school scheme. Owned by Ian Malcolm, she is currently raced by Gerry ComerfordOrla was built in 2018 in France using a boatbuilding school scheme. Owned by Ian Malcolm, she is currently raced by Gerry Comerford as he works on completing his own new Howth 17 in his personal Men’s Shed beside his house.

While Deilginis has been showing her traditional speed, Gerry Comerford in the Ian Malcolm-owned new boat Orla has had a much-celebrated win, while Ian Malcolm himself has found new speed in his 1898-built Aura.

The word is it’s all down to a change of topside colour. During what seemed like many decades (it was actually forty years), Ian perfected an attractive pale cream finish for his topsides, and black anti-fouling below. For those who asked, the answer was that this was the colour scheme of a pint of Guinness.

Yet everyone knows that the essence of Guinness is that it should be a slow procedure, and there were definitely times when Aura’s performance reflected this.

But last year, with things a bit hectic at launching time, Aura’s owner grabbed the nearest tin of topside enamel in his rather wonderful worshop/boatshed, and Aura emerged with topsides of a sort of orange colour, and it was immediately obvious she was faster.

Howth 17 Aura The secret ingredient. It’s reckoned Aura’s new speed in 2020 is due to a change of livery to this “go-fast blue” after forty years of “slow-is-best” Guinness colours.

So this year she has a new colour yet again, a rather stylish shade which has already been dubbed “go fast blue” by the rest of the class, as Aura has been in the frame many times, quite often with the bullet, in this truncated season.

Whether go-fast-blue works in a National Championship remains to be seen. But when you’ve managed to transpose a real sense of Connemara to Howth for the hollyers - rather than drag yourself there through thickening crowds - then all things are possible.

Published in Howth YC, Historic Boats
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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