The Irish sailing community's response to the pandemic-induced prohibition on open events has seen some inspiring out-of-the-box thinking where there are significant local fleets. So although Howth Yacht Club has weathered two major setbacks in 2020 in being unable to stage its hugely-sociable biennial Wave Regatta and its time-honoured Autumn League, the key players in the peninsula club's administration have "Problems are Opportunities" as their mantra, and the newly-launched six-weekend End-of-Summer series got off to a flying start on Saturday and Sunday.
They were able to make a virtue out of it being "For Members Only", secure in the knowledge that during the shortened 2020 season Howth YC's already large numbers have taken on 191 new members and still counting, as people are keen to avail of the club's unique capacity to provide a safe environment within its enclosed clubhouse/marina complex.
And as for potential boat numbers, the steady growth of turnouts for club evening and weekend racing from the keelboat racing season's tentative start in July was given further encouragement by lively competition for the two national championships which the club could stage for the Puppeteer 22s and the Howth 17s, as all boats involved happen to be Howth-based.
But the real light-bulb moment came with the decision to split the fleets across two days for the new series, with the One-Designs and small cruisers racing on the Saturday, and the bigger cruiser-racers strutting their stuff on Sunday. Not only did this optimise the use of strictly social-distanced hospitality spaces ashore, but it meant that hyper-keen sailing-starved matelots could get in two races in two very different boats during the two days, while J/80s could race as J/80s on Saturday, and IRC "cruisers" on Sunday.
For most, however, the attraction of a single race in a clearly defined time-frame was enough to start with, and with the alleged end-of-summer weekend actually providing weather more like high summer, with warm offshore breezes and bright sunshine on Sunday, even the most optimistic were pleasantly surprised by the turnout of 79 boats across nine classes.
The biggest single fleet was the Puppeteer 22s with 16 (and more to come, apparently), while the venerable Howth Seventeens are still putting boats afloat (in September, forsooth), and they'd a fine turnout of thirteen.
All classes used a pier start for this first weekend, but now that the show's on the road, it will be Committee Boats for at least the next three weekends. For although the conditions were so balmy as to be almost somnolent, the pent-up competitive spirit was much in evidence right across the board.
The Puppeteers again set the pace with ferocious competition which saw the first five boats finishing within one minute and five seconds, the winners (by five seconds) being Neil Murphy and Conor Costello with Yellow Peril from Alan Pearson and Alan Blay in Trick or Treat.
The Howth 17s now have a form card for 2020, having completed their Nationals (won by Pauline) and their Lambay Race (won by Deilginis). But this time out it was Rita (Marcus Lynch & John Curley) which won by a squeak, just three seconds from Deilginis (Massey Toomey & Kenny).
The Howth Squibs are also seeing their numbers gently increasing as people become accustomed to this back-to-front summer, and while they'd just seven boats out on Saturday, the word is there'll be more this coming weekend, and meanwhile Emmet Dalton in Kerfuffle won from Chatterbox (J Kay) with Tears for Fears (N Monks) third.
Sunday's sunshine seemed almost too good to be true, but it was believed for long enough to give some intriguing racing, with the two stars of the show in Class 1 being the classic Half Tonner Mata (Wright brothers & Rick De Neve) and Stephen Quinn's J/97 Lambay Rules. Richard Colwell & Johnny Murphy's J/109 Outrajeous may have taken line honours, but Mata won on IRC and Lambay was second, while the position was reversed under HPH.
The Bourke/McGirr/Ball X302 Xebec had it every which way over sister-ship Dux (Gore-Grimes family) in Class 2, and so too had Stephen Harris's First 40.7 Tiger in the non-spinnaker division IRC, though Kieran Jameson's Sigma 38 Changeling won on HPH, while Class 3 (which had raced on Saturday) saw Vincent Gaffney's rare Laser 28 Alliance II on top.
Going into the first races on Saturday, it was still anybody's guess as to how this unusual format might work out. But with good racing for 79 boats now recorded on the time sheets, it's a concept which might even find useful applications outside the current challenging circumstances.
And for those who though pier starting downwind was just a little bit too retro, even in the exigencies of the time, the word is that this coming weekend will be Committee Boat and two windward-leeward races for the same lineup of classes each day.
Detailed results here