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Howth’s Wave Regatta Returns To Life In A Changing Local Environment

14th May 2022
“Which way would you lordship like the castle to face this year?” Over the centuries, Howth Castle (left) has faced in different directions
“Which way would you lordship like the castle to face this year?” Over the centuries, Howth Castle (left) has faced in different directions

You need to be several different people at once in order to thrive in Howth sailing. A classic case in point is former HYC Commodore Brian Turvey. His current highest-profile role - ahead of other deeply committed personal involvements - is as Chairman of the Organising Committee for the upcoming Wright Hospitality Group-sponsored Howth Wave Regatta from 3rd to 5th June.

Thus yesterday, former Commodore Turvey - together with current incumbent Paddy Judge - jointly hosted a lunch in the clubhouse for their special event’s main and subsidiary sponsors, which also include the highly-supportive Fingal County Council, as well as CKS the specialist finance group, Euro Car Parks, Cassidy Travel, Sail Training Ireland, and WD-40 as the flagship product for Euro Car Parts.

Inevitably some of the talk was of the morning’s news about the cancellation of the Scottish Series at Tarbert because of a lack of volunteers for mark-laying duties at the remote venue. The special 2022 date in Scotland had clashed directly with Howth’s schedule, and thus this negative development across the North Channel should swell the already healthy Howth entry numbers. Yet in truth there was a sympathetic fellow-feeling for the frustrated Scottish race officers, for the HYC team are only too well aware of the demands and the top standards expected, with any major event being high-profile in these over-communicated days, bringing ill-informed online comment with it.

Brian Turvey’s experience ranges over international offshore achievement and local One-Design successBrian Turvey’s experience ranges over international offshore achievement and local One-Design success

But by healthy contrast, earlier in the week Brian Turvey had put aside his high-powered concerns about how best to implement an event which will include some very sharp end racing - including the Irish debut of the Mark Mills-designed Cape 31s as the hottest of hot OD classes - and instead had shipped with his brother Conor aboard their jointly-owned Howth 17 Isobel for a brisk evening race. And they won, sailing in this very special local class that made its debut in 1898.

Yet around Howth Harbour, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. For Isobel is semi-unique in being one of only two Howth 17s which have actually been built in Howth. Back in 1987, a small group led by Peter Courtney (whose family have been involved through several generations in Howth 17s racing since 1907) organised the fund-raising for two new boats to be built in a shed at Howth Castle. There, the St Lawrence family would have regarded the Howth 17s as a new-fangled concept, as they had been in continuous residence on the rambling estate since 1177.

Howth Harbour and Village – a complex little place where nothing js quite as it seemsHowth Harbour and Village – a complex little place where nothing js quite as it seems

Thanks to the expertise of master-shipwright John O’Reilly – who had learned his boat-building skills in the Dublin Port workshops under the legendary John B Kearney – the new boats Isobel and Erica were launched into successful careers in 1988. And Howth Castle then reverted to its apparently unchanging slumber and interests of a more landbound type, such as the first – and very successful - public golf course in Ireland.

But now, as we emerge from the deceptive pandemic paralysis, we find that the basic structures of Howth have undergone revolutionary change since the previous biennial Wave Regatta, which was staged in 2018. For after only 844 years around the place, the St Lawrence family have vamoosed from Howth, headed into the depths of Kidare and Kilkenny. Thus the premier families in Howth re-emerge as those formerly Danish seafaring tribes – the Harfords, Ricards, Waldrons and Thunders - who were already in residence when the St Lawrences arrived in August 1177, and continued to quietly stay on, hidden in plain sight in the little fishing village.

Meanwhile, the Howth Estate has been bought in its entirety by Tetrarch Group, best known for their sympathetic re-development of the Mount Juliet Estate in County Kilkenny, where there’s another marine connection thanks to a direct link with the 1895 Dunraven challenge for the America’s Cup.

However, if we go any further down that particular road, we’ll disappear, and anyway there’s enough going on back in Howth. For the new arrangements there mean that Tetrarch Capital are now in a partnership with the Wright Hospitality Group for the re-development of the old castle as a hospitality and special interest destination in its own right. And as its history includes an interaction with the Pirate Queen of Connacht Grace O’Malley back in 1576, there are other nautical links to be explored as part of Howth’s quirky history.

Classic Howth Regatta scene – vintage Howth 17 and modern cruiser crossing tacks. Photo courtesy HYCClassic Howth Regatta scene – vintage Howth 17 and modern cruiser crossing tacks. Photo courtesy HYC

Time was – and it wasn’t such a very long time ago – that if you wished to travel in relative safety and convenience northeastwards from Dublin city to Howth’s hilly peninsula, then the sensible way was to take the Howth wherry from the ancient quays of Abbey Street on the north banks of the then largely-unwalled River Liffey in the heart of the city. The old bucket of a boat could sail fairly directly across the northwest corner of Dublin Bay to a rough pier on the Sutton shore at the foot of what is still named as Old Castle Avenue, and from that landing place you’d proceed along “the avenue” towards Howth Castle itself, and the village beyond.

In those days, in acknowledgement of this fact of local travelling reality, the façade of Howth Castle faced southwest in almost exactly the opposite direction to that which obtains today. For then as now, Howth Castle was such an architectural mixture from different centuries that each generation of the St Lawrence family could pretty well choose which way their stately home faced if they’d sufficient funds to build a new main doorway.

The reason for going by boat was because, to the west beyond the sandy Sutton isthmus, the very rudimentary roads around Raheny and adjacent areas towards Dublin town were such a hotbed of highwaymen and brigands that to get in relative safety to or from Howth, it was worth the hour or so of discomfort in some questionable boat, rather than risk being stripped of your possessions and maybe held to ransom by villains who bore no resemblance whatsoever to the courteous highwaymen of romantic novels.

A place apart. The independent Republic of Howth is barely connected to nearby IrelandA place apart. The independent Republic of Howth is barely connected to nearby Ireland

What this all meant was that for centuries, Howth was never thought of as being part of Dublin. And that attitude still lives on in the sailing and fishing village’s mental furniture today. For although three of the more southern councils which currently administer the Greater Dublin area are in favour of the city having a trendy elected Lord Mayor with executive powers, the fourth northern area of Fingal – of which Howth is very proudly a part – wants nothing whatever to do with the single Dublin authority notion and the new Executive Mayor to go with it, as Fingal Council is doing very well on its own, thank you.

Thus there are Howth people who occupy positions of distinction in global business and national activities when at work in Dublin, yet they cease to be Dubliners as they pass homeward bound through Sutton Cross, and instead become Peninsular People. Such apparent eccentricity gives Howth added appeal, so much so that one explanation of the title of Wave Regatta is that it’s all about waving at nearby Ireland in a friendly but decidedly independent way.

Make of that what you will. But there’s no doubt that when the Howth squad in last year’s restricted season made the best of it to dominate the Sovereign’s regatta in Kinsale with Samatom (Robert Rendell), Snapshot (Mike & Richie Evans), and Outrajeous (Johnny Murphy and Richard Colwell), there was a very pointed demonstration of HYC Peninsular Psychological Power in the Kinsale YC compound after the prize-giving.

The crew of overall winner Snapshot (HYC) with the Great and the Good in Kinsale at the conclusion of the 2021 Sovereigns RegattaThe crew of overall winner Snapshot (HYC) with the Great and the Good in Kinsale at the conclusion of the 2021 Sovereigns Regatta

And it’s all given added emphasis through the fact that the defending overall champion in Wave is new ICRA Commodore Dave Cullen’s Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV (HYC). For although he may be moving into joint campaigning of a First 50 with Nigel Biggs, he’ll continue to race Checkmate XV up to and including the Worlds at Cowes in mid-August.

New ICRA Commodore Dave Cullen’s Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV is defending champion at Wave in Howth, and will continue to campaign under his ownership until the conclusion of the Half Ton Worlds in Cowes in mid-August. Photo courtesy HYCNew ICRA Commodore Dave Cullen’s Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV is defending champion at Wave in Howth, and will continue to campaign under his ownership until the conclusion of the Half Ton Worlds in Cowes in mid-August. Photo courtesy HYC

Meanwhile, Wave 2022 is shaping up as a multiple choice event for the 12 keelboat classes involved, as it’s built around Howth’s annual Lambay Race, which dates from 1904. But for some of the hotter IRC divisions, the Lambay circuit is almost incidental to the challenging courses being made available by PRO David Lovegrove and his team, with the on-water umpiring squad being headed by Emmet Dalton.

Despite this serious element, Wave Regatta is unashamedly being billed as “a sailing event wrapped inside a big party”. Certainly, with yesterday afternoon’s long-forecast sunshine finally arriving in full strength to bring Howth Harbour colourfully and warmly to life, all things seemed possible.

Ding-dong. The X332 Equinox (Ross & Aoife McDonald, HYC & RCYC) at close quarters with champion Checkmate XV in the 2018 Wave regatta Ding-dong. The X332 Equinox (Ross & Aoife McDonald, HYC & RCYC) at close quarters with champion Checkmate XV in the 2018 Wave regatta Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

The Wave Sponsors Lunch in HYC yesterday - now you know why the Fingal coast needs so many lobster pots.......The Wave Sponsors Lunch in HYC yesterday - now you know why the Fingal coast needs so many lobster pots.......

Published in W M Nixon, Wave Regatta
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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