History (The Early Years)

“The Howth Seventeens are the worlds oldest one Design Keelboat class,and they may well be the worlds oldest extant one design class still racing as originally designed”

At a meeting of Howth Sailing Club (1895) on October 22nd 1897 it was decided to go ahead with a class of 17ft waterline gaff sloops . These were Designed by club member Herbert Boyd the son of Sir Walter Boyd ,1st Baronet PC (Ire) Irish Judge and member of Privy Council of Ireland . Herbert, A talented amateur designer, drew up the plans for this gaff-rigged with jackyard topsail yacht  which was designed to endure the local rugged conditions around Howth that many of the keel-less boats of that era would often struggled with and thus have to avoid.

Howth Village had virtually  no boat building tradition so tenders were sought from a number of top boat builders around the Country . The contract to build the first 5 Boats was awarded to John Hildititch of Carrickfergus and work got underway in November 1897 and was completed in April 1898. Each of the 5 boats cost just under £90 to build.

The Design was to be an inexpensive yacht that would last. The materials used to build these boats  at that time were so common, as scarcely to be worthy of comment and included specification for a stem and keel of oak and elm, deadwood and frames of oak, planking of yellow pine above the waterline and red pine deck planking below ,a shelf of pitch pine and a topstrake of teak (the only luxury item on the original plans ), larch deck-beams and yellow pine deck planking, and Baltic spruce spars , with the keel of lead ( The keels were originally  made of cast iron when the boats were being built ,however at the 1899 Howth sailing club Autumn general meeting held in October it was announced that three additional boats would join in 1900 to be built by James Clancy of Kingstown and these would have lead keels and this encouraged the 5 established owners to engage James Clancy to change their original iron keels to 16 cwt lead keels) .  The dimensions were 22ft 6inch overall length ,LWL (low water line) 17ft 0ins, Beam 6ft, Draught 3ft 7ins, Sail Area 305 Square Feet, and Weight (Thames Measurements) 3 Tons .

On April 11th 1898 (Easter Monday) The 5 owners of the new boats -Rita (Noel Guinness), Leila (C.A.V. Yeo), Silvermoon (W.B. Dyer), Aura (Judge-Boyd sailed on this occasion by Cecil Boyd),  and Hera (W.R.P. McKeight) set off from Carrickfergus to sail the 90 miles through rugged conditions of the North Channel and Irish sea. Rita reached Howth Harbour first on the morning of Thursday 14th April and the other four boats ,who had kept in touch  and sought shelter together throughout the battering journey swept through Howth Harbour mouth on Friday April 15th 1898 to be met and greeted by Judge Boyd.

On April 29th at the Howth Sailing Club spring meeting the rules for the Howth Seventeen Class were finalised and the following Wednesday May 4th 1898 saw the first race of what is today the world’s oldest one design keelboat class still racing as originally designed. In a Light North Westerly they started on a line across the harbour mouth and sailed three rounds of a course set between Irelands eye and the Burrow beach ( Today the HYC course would be Start – I (Island Mark) -C (Cush Mark) -I – C – I – C  -Finish) – The race produced a mighty  battle between Leila (C.A.V. Yeo) and Aura (Judge Boyd but sailed by Cecil Herbert Boyd) . Seventeen seconds separated them at the finish, Leila coming 1st Aura coming 2nd with Hera (W.A.V. Mc Neight) and Rita (R.N. Guinness) crossing the line 20 seconds later with nothing separating them,  getting 3rd and 4th,and finally  Silvermoon (W.B. Dyer) getting 5th place 33 seconds later.

Howth 17 Keelboat Plans 1898
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