This weekend HYC hosted the Classic One-Design Regatta – incorporating the National Championships of the Dublin Bay Mermaid and Howth 17 Footer classes. Even before you could see them, the vapour of varnish bumbled over the hills and lowlands into Howth. Facebook updates from sailors on motorways passing shiny timber creations confirmed that the Mermaids were officially on tour. Some arrived under cover of darkness and were only noticed early on Thursday morning with a full dinghy pen. Little sailors, just starting out on their sailing careers, couldn’t even see over the gunwhales of these big dinghies. They oohed and ahhed at boats made from “actual timber?”
Twenty-three Mermaids were weighed and plopped into Howth Harbour. Some of them had been here relatively recently (1953!) and wondered who had stolen Howth Sailing Club. HYC’s Jedi, Neville Maguire was on hand with fellow Mermaid aficionados Gerry and Ian Sargent to poke and point and raise eyebrows at things called “Cleats”.
Under the care of National Race Officer Scorie Walls, Thursday’s racing started at a polite 1400. Keeping the Northside flag held high, “Azeezy” from Skerries did the business with two wins from three races. Not content with competing with eachother on the water, the Annual Mermaid Table Quiz followed rehydration. In a show of poor manners, a table made up almost entirely of Howth 17 Footers won. A prize was awarded for the best answer to “What is the capital of Mongolia?” “Don’t know, but it’s got a lot of vowels and sounds fierce foreign”.
Two races for the Mermaids on Friday saw “Wild Wind” (Rush SC) and “Tiller Girl” (National YC) equal “Azeezy”‘s daily tot of 6 points. The gap wasn’t closing.
Howth history in the making was being mentioned all week before the old ladies of sailing, the Howth 17 Footers, put on their Friday night frocks and took to the water for a single race from the East Pier. For the first time in history, 18 boats were afloat and jockeying for position. The busy start line was made slightly more complex when the class was given a downwind/ spinnaker start in front of the East Pier, with boats gybing and tacking simultaneously as they jockied for position with a minute to go. Almost inevitably for the class, the girls began the bumping and grinding before the start signal and “Oona” went for “Rita” like a jealous girlfriend. “Rita’s” stick-man, Marcus Lynch, found himself with a clip around the ear from “Oona’s” bowsprit and was forced to retire with injured planks, cracked frames and a split rudder. Turns out that “Oona” picked the wrong girl to shout at and she broke her bowsprit in the collision. And so the anticipated race with the full compliment of the world’s oldest one-design racing keelboats never quite happened. The remaining seventeen boats crossed the line with spinnakers flying and more photographers clicking than at a Justin Bieber underwear collection launch. Head girl was “Deilginis” with “Aura” and “Hera” following in her tracks.
Saturday morning saw the Howth 17 Footers dressing up in their finest gowns and bonnets and gliding like debutants to the dancefloor. “Hera” lifted up her skirt and frightened the girls by winning by over two minutes. The brazen thing. She would have to have her cough softened! “Deilginis” took back control of the crowd in Race 3, trailed by “Gladys” sporting her 2016 Spring/Summer collection.
By the middle of the day, the wind had picked up, gusting over 30kts, and it was become hard for some to keep the bonnets atop. The ladies rolled down the run more like drunken maids than the elegant princesses which left the Harbour. Half of the fleet chose to remove their topsails but not before the paparazzi had caught them on video, in full swing…
The Mermaids were on the far side of the trapezoid course and only crossed the Howth 17s at the leeward mark and short beat to the finish. It was likely that some Mermaid sailors were checking their insurance when they saw the 17s approach! Top Mermaid of the day was “Vee” (Rush SC) with a 1st and 4th. “Wild Wind” and “Tiller Girl” produced some magic to close the gap to leader “Azeezy” but it wasn’t to be enough to rein in the eventual Champions.
Back on the Howth 17 course, “Leila” and “Aura” sobered and took the last two races, and “Deilginis” was to take the 2016 title. Class Captain, Tom Houlihan, took the Handicap prize aboard his “Zaida”.
As the last of the Howth 17 sailors were plucked from the moorings, the Mermaids had already already been craned out and packed up, setting the scene for a packed balcony in glorious sunshine. Rehydration once more!
170 sailors and their entourages filed into the club dining room to be fed, found, watered, awarded and clapped at. Champion Mermaid sailor Sam Shiels pronounced an epic acceptance speech. His Howth 17 opposite, Luke Massey, countered it with an example of brevity and raised the trophy aloft.
The next episode of the Classic One-Design Regatta will be held at Howth Yacht Club over the weekend of 10-12 August 2018.