Howth 17s Enjoy a Blast at their Championships
14 August 2023
Last weekend’s Howth 17s National Championships continued the trend of an exciting 125th year for Howth’s famous one-designs, ‘turbo-boosted’ by the very fresh weather conditions and warm sunshine.
The ‘intergalactic’ championships (mischievously coined following a ‘telling-off’ by sailing’s national governing body earlier this century after the class was asked not to refer to its championships as their ‘Worlds’) is traditionally held over the weekend after the August Bank Holiday Monday and the schedule comprises of a Friday night ‘round-the-cans’ race, up to 4 Windward/ Leeward or Olympic races on Saturday and potentially racing on Sunday if the weather conspires against the race management plans.
Sailed in a fresh sou’wester, Friday night’s race set the tone for the weekend and 15 of the world’s oldest one-design keelboats boats made it out to the start line in front of Howth’s East Pier. The building breeze made for swift sailing and race officer Scorie Walls and her team on the pier shortened the course during the second downwind leg, saving boats and crew energy for the rest of the weekend. Similar to the curse in golfing of winning the Par 3 competition before an Open Championship, crossing the finish line first on Friday night carries some dread amongst the superstitious amongst the 17ers. However, Luke Massey and his team on Deilginis (built 1907) were confidently dismissive of the conversation after the first race, having held an early lead in Friday’s race all the way to the shortened finish. Their distinctive green boat hasn’t been as prominent at the front end of the fleet this year as it has in recent seasons, but the bookies were prudent to slash their odds after the first race and with a similar weather forecast for Saturday.
Whilst topsails are not permitted for the Friday race (to save time rigging the boats), their optional use for Saturday’s race makes it the central topic of conversation around the forecourt over early coffees. The Howth 17 topsail (approx. 4 sqm) might not seem like very much canvas, but it’s added to the highest point of the rig and as such even the most athletic and heavyweight ‘hikers’ will see their boat hard pressed once the wind gets over 20 knots. The sheltered hardstanding and marina was always going to disguise the fresher wind on Saturday and the forecast was for it to increase. So despite the usual efforts by poker-faced skippers to intimate that topsails might be hoisted, it was not to happen on any of the boats that morning. The wind was a much fresher south west 23-26 knots on the Olympic Course that Scorie and her team lined up facing the distant Poolbeg Incinerator – often used by Howth racing sailors to detect an upcoming change in wind direction.
Saturday’s first race saw a very similar form to the previous evening, but with Davie Nixon’s ‘Erica’ (built 1988) stamping intent and a consistency with their seasonal form to cross the finish line first. ‘Deilginis’ finished 2nd and must have been pleased while 3rd went to ‘Isobel’ (1988) and 4th place was secured by ‘Sheila’ (2009) – all which made for very close scoring amongst the top of the fleet. ‘Rita’ and ‘Silvermoon’ (both 1898) and ‘Zaida’ (1900) retired during the race, mindful of the continual building of the wind and preserving 3 boats that were built before the world knew anything of cars or aeroplanes.
The next race was to be the last of the event as the wind was to claim a string of victims. 3 boats were called OCS amongst the whipped-up seas and spray on the start, however only ‘Isobel’ circled back, while ‘Deilginis’ by not hearing their radio in the start-line melee would certainly sacrifice their championship hopes by carrying the OCS on their scorecard. ‘Pauline’ (1900) also might wish to address the volume on their VHF radio and the continued the race along with ‘Deilginis’ in blissful ignorance of being OCS and the resultant scoreboard grief to come.
Elsewhere, ‘Leila’ (1898) called in to retire with an injury to one of their crew and ‘Bobolink’ (1907) then decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Next ‘Isobel’ radioed to retire following a runner snapping (thankfully the mast stayed up!), ‘Oona’ (1909) retired with a broken boom and ‘Hera’ (1898) limped home under a drooping mainsail and without their gaff.
The decision was made to conclude the championships after that 3rd race and so it was the consistent scoring of ‘Sheila’ and ‘Erica’ that brought them to the top of the leader-board and with the same points total (7) but by winning the final race and applying the ‘countback’ scoring rule – David Mulligan and Andy Johnston’s ‘Sheila’ took the 2023 championship title.
With a clean sweep in the Handicap Division, Rima Macken's 'Eileen' (1908) was untouchable and she and her team collected the prize at Saturday's Prizegiving Dinner.
The resulting early finish of the event caused carnage of a different type when the exuberant and ever-social gathering got ashore after racing and later enjoyed an excellent prizegiving dinner with guests in the club dining room.
The Howth 17 Footers Association would like to thank the race management team under National Race Officer Scorie Walls for running an excellent championships. The Class is also indebted to the generous event sponsorship from Euro Car Parks (Dave Cullen), Simon and Christina Knowles and Michael and Jane Duffy. And thanks also to Class Captain David O'Shea who kept the show on the road!
(includes top photo and others from 'Adventure Sailing')