The Howth 17 Nationals 2020 saw five good races sailed – a pier starter on Friday evening, and four committee boat open water races on Saturday – with the sunny nor’east wind holding up enough for the four open water contests to provide some cracking racing, although it never developed into the hearty sea breeze which might have been expected.
But even with the gentler conditions, there was still just enough power for proper closely-contested sport, and the best competitive showing saw everyone in the fleet of eleven across the finish line within three minutes, with some private contests separated by less than five seconds.
Overall winner, with the final race the decider, was Shane O’Doherty sailing the 1900-built Pauline. He’s known to some as The Mountainy Man, as he runs an outfit called Shane’s Howth Hikes, which in normal times (remember them?) takes visitors to the peninsula on quite energetic walking tours (there’s an electric bike option as well) of the Hill of Howth and its more extraordinary features, most of which the locals take for granted or don’t even know about.
Yet even in the busiest visitor times in non-lockdown years, Shane always keep Saturdays free for sailing while a colleague looks after the tours, for he regards racing with the Howth 17s as an essential part of the Howth experience, and it re-invigorates his love of the place.
For now, that love is total and unquestioning, as conditions suited the Clancy of Kingstown-built Pauline to perfection for the Championship, and she finished two points clear – after that final race decider - of the defending champion Deilginis (Massey, Toomey, Kenny) of 1907 vintage, with Dave Mulligan’s 21st Century “new” boat Sheila third, and another 1907 boat from Kelly of Portrush, the George Curley, Davy Jones and David Potter-owned Rosemary, notching fourth with a scorecard which included the win in Race 4 and a third in Race 5.
While the Howth Seventeens may be the world’s oldest one-design keelboat class, particularly when it’s further qualified by still having the original rig and with the added restriction of all the boats being in the one harbour, nevertheless their personnel lineup is encouragingly supra-national and broad-minded in its outlook.
Thus Shane O’Doherty’s partners in the boat are Michael Kenny -who couldn’t be there as he’s based in Warsaw - and Sutton Dinghy Club Commodore Ian McCormick, who was away in West Cork on a Sportsboat campaign. But being The Mountainy Man, the skipper recruited on his hillside with some heather (Wayne Heather to be precise) and some holly (his daughter Holly O’Doherty). With Brendan O’Brien on the strength to add a surname of unimpeachable Irish sailing distinction, it was all systems go for success for Pauline, with the skipper revealing further insight at the outdoor prize-giving, as his T-shirt told us “Harbours rot ships and men”.
One of the secrets of the Howth Seventeens’ longevity is their determined application of a parallel handicap system to ensure that other boats emerge out of the cannon fodder division to get their place in the sun. It was very well demonstrated this time round as the winner was another Clancy 1900 boat, Anita owned by David O’Connell (Phibsborough) in partnership with helm Muige Karasahin (she’s from Istanbul), with crewing by Elizabeth Jakobson (from Latvia) and Susan Morgan (Sutton).
Anita – re-built by Paul Robert and his team at Les Ateliers de l’Enfer in Douarnenez in Brittany in 2019 after being destroyed by Storm Emma in Howth in March 2018 – was certainly finding her feet as the series progressed, and logged a scratch second in the last race. But even with that, she was sixth overall on scratch in the final tally, yet that became a clear win with the handicaps in an interesting case of sailing for Byzantium within sight of a house where the family of W B Yeats lived for two years in the early 1880s.
The clear division between scratch and handicap continued down the listing, with Tom Houlihan’s Zaida taking second, though there was then an element of overlap as Rosemary (fourth on scratch) was handicap third while scratch winner Pauline was fourth, the double results give everyone at least one good race.
As for sailing enjoyment in a summer when travel is restricted, the weather was such that you could find whatever you wanted off Howth, as the view to the east was of Irelands Eye which looks like a piece of Connemara transferred to the Irish Sea, to the north Lambay would not look amiss in the Hebrides, to the west the dunes of Portmarnock are reminiscent of the Vendee, and to the south with a fore-shortened lens against the strong sunshine, you could be looking at the French Riviera as the narrowed eyes take in the flank of the Hill of Howth and the Wicklow Mountains beyond.
Howth 17s Nationals 2020 (Scratch) Results
1st Pauline (S. O’Doherty, I. McCormick & M. Kenny): (4),3,1,3,1: 8pts; 2nd Deilginis (Massey family, M.Toomey, K, Kenny) 3,1,2,4, (5): 10 pts; 3rd Sheila (D.Mulligan) 2,(7),4,2,6: 14pts; 4th Rosemary (G, Curley, D. Jones, D.Potter) 16pts.
Howth 17 Handicap
1st Anita (D. O’Connell & M. Karasahin), (2), 1,1,1,1: 4 pts; 2nd Zaida (T. Houlihan) 1,2,2,2, (3) 7 pts; 2rd Rosemary (Curley, Jones, Potter) (3), 3,3,3,2: 11 pts; 4th Pauline (O’Doherty, McCormick, Kenny) (7), 6,4,5,4.