by Alan Markey
Designed in 1897 and first built and launched in 1898, the Howth Seventeen-Footer is the oldest one-design keelboat racing class in the world and is still racing today to its original design! Over the years, a total of twenty-one boats were built, of which nineteen still actively compete in Howth’s busy racing calendar.
The plans of the Howth 17 class were originally drawn by W. Herbert Boyd in 1897 for Howth Sailing Club. In 1907 the class was adopted by Dublin Bay Sailing Club, when agreed class rules were finalised.
The original fleet of five comprising of Rita, Leila, Silver Moon, Aura, and Hera were built by the renowned John Hilditch in Carrickfergus. In Spring 1898 the five boats made the 90-mile voyage from Carrickfergus to Howth that would confirm the robust design and build of these boats.
Over the years, many prominent ICC member’s names (including Guinness, Gore-Grimes, Jameson, Massey, Courtney, Sommerville, Whelehan, Ennis, and Pearson) have appeared on the Howth 17s register of ownership. Currently ICC members Peter Courtney and David Jones have been long standing members of the class while our Hon. Sec. Donal Gallagher and your scribe are relative newcomers to the class.
As part of the season’s long celebration of the class’s quasquicentennial, 125th anniversary, and the 20th anniversary of the last West Cork visit, a special committee organised a week-long programme of sailing, which also featured a memorable circuit around the Fastnet Rock.
On June 23rd, 12 boats of the fleet, were brought over land on their trailers from Howth to Baltimore for this exciting week of sailing.
The first day served as an “acclimatisation” period for some crews, as they weren’t accustomed to sailing in the long Atlantic swell. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the perfect day for circumnavigating Sherkin Island via Gascanane Sound and then returning to Baltimore through the north passage.
Upon our return, Baltimore Sailing Club, led by Commodore Grahame Copplestone, extended a warm welcome to all the crews, hosting an excellent BBQ.
After this hearty meal, our ever-energetic class members gathered at Bushe’s bar, which would become our nightly gathering spot for the remainder of the week.
Monday marked a significant westward journey, consisting of a challenging beat to Gascanane Sound followed by a long fetch to Schull. Boats were left in Schull harbour overnight with the crews returning by road to Baltimore.
Tuesday’s sail from Schull to Crookhaven posed more challenges, with a strong south-westerly wind. The fleet received an extraordinary welcome in Crookhaven, with locals lining the shore to watch the 17s tacking up the narrow channel to the moorings.
Despite the generous offer from Commodore Gill O’Shea for wet crews to shower at Crookhaven Sailing Club, hungry and thirsty sailors couldn’t resist the allure of O’Sullivan’s bar. Another long table was arranged for the afternoon, to review the day’s sail. All crews returned to Baltimore by coach leaving the boats on the moorings.
Wednesday was the chosen day for the 17ft waterline open keel boats to circumnavigate the iconic Fastnet. A steady 23-25 knot north-westerly wind propelled the fleet from Crookhaven to the famous lighthouse in just under 80 minutes, averaging a speed of 6 knots. Family and non-sailing friends watched the rounding of the Fastnet from a ferry which met the fleet at the lighthouse. After rounding the lighthouse to port, the fleet gybed and made their way towards the welcoming party at the North Harbour on Cape Clear.
Blessed with blue skies, warm weather, and generous hospitality, including a fantastic BBQ sponsored by Cape Clear Distillery, the approximately 100 sailors and guests savoured a wonderfully relaxing afternoon on the quay. About half of the fleet chose to make the most of the fine weather and sailed their boats back to Baltimore after the BBQ. The others decided to utilise the preplanned “lay day” on Thursday to transport their boats back to Baltimore.
On Friday, the boats were carefully lifted out of the water and securely loaded onto their trailers for the long road journey home.
A wonderful week’s sailing was wrapped up by a dinner in Baltimore Sailing Club, hosted by Commodore Grahame Copplestone and Sailing Secretary Rob O’Leary.