A superbly-restored 1937-built 42ft gaff ketch arrived in Howth on Saturday August 25th writes W M Nixon, and as she'll be here for a week or so, HYC members and classic yacht enthusiasts will have the opportunity to examine a boat which is fascinating in her own right, and also has historic associations with Howth through being a sister-ship of Billy Mooney's famous Aideen.
Billy Mooney (1890-1972) was a sailing man of international stature, who was a leading figure in Howth sailing and lived here from 1919 to 1943. His former home is now Harry Whelehan's house along Claremont beach, while his number one crewman was Tom Cronin, father of Paddy and Peter. In 1934 he sketched out the plans of his dreamship, a 42ft canoe-sterned ketch which was an odd mixture of traditional and modern, as she set a gaff rig, but had a centre cockpit. Despite a high quality auxiliary engine installation, Aideen was by no means a motor-sailer - skippered by Mooney, she won her class in the 1947 Fastnet Race.
One of the requirements of the new design was that she could fit through the narrow gap into Higgy's Pond along Burrow Beach, the old flooded quarry hole where many of the Howth fleet laid up for the winter during the 1920 and '30s. Thus Aideen, being bigger than most of the Howth fleet of that time, tended to look a bit slab-sided, but she was otherwise a handsome yacht and designer Fred Shepherd was commissioned to "put manners on my doodles" by Billy Mooney, while Jack Tyrrell of Arklow, who had built his previous yacht, the 9-ton Albert Strange-designed yawl Nirvana in 1925, was contracted to builder her.
Aideen was so comfortable that in summer, if they weren't away cruising or doing a programme of offshore races, the Mooney family lived aboard in Howth harbour, letting their house to summer visitors. This happy period of family life came to an end in 1943 with the death of Mrs Mooney. Billy Mooney eventually moved to Dun Laoghaire and a house right on the sea on the point at Sandycove. He married again in 1948 and became a leading figure in the Royal St George YC, while his son Jimmy, who had learnt his sailing in Howth, became a Dublin Bay sailing star of international standard (he won the Edinburgh Cup in the International Dragon Class in 1953).
After the 1947 Fastnet Race class win, Billy Mooney cheekily claimed that he could no longer afford to buy dinners for his crew every time they won a race, and Aideen was sold to Canada where she was reported at the Royal Canadian YCV in Toronto, and was still in Lloyd's register as owned in Chicago in the mid-1970s. Her original owner meanwhile, having claimed that heart problems meant he could no longer actively race offshore, was soon the owner of the lovely 6-ton J B Kearney-designed 1936-built Bermudan yawl Evora (also originally a Howth boat), and he made his mark anew on the offshore scene, including winning a race from Dublin Bay to the Clyde, until he finally "retired inshore" and raced a Dragon with success and style on Dublin Bay.
We have no word of Aideen's existence or otherwise these days, but her spirit lives on in Maybird, a sister-ship built by Tyrrell's in 1937 for a Colonel Hawkes of Crosshaven, an officer in the Indian Army who retired to live in Cornwall. Subsequently Maybird was re-rigged as a Bermudan ketch, complete with RORC rating, and then she was sailed by two families to New Zealand. She was seen there by English sailing man Darryl Hughes (he'd done much of his cruising with a Nich 32) who fell in love with the boat, had her shipped home to Southampton, and for two years was his own project manager in a meticulous restoration programme.
He raced Maybird in last year's Fastnet (managing to beat Aideen's 1947 time), then cruised to Arklow to honour the Tyrrell association, and then along the Irish coast to Cork and a visit to the Hawkes homelands. He seems to have fallen for Ireland big time, as Maybird wintered in Cork, and then after refit there has spent the summer of 2012 cruising round Ireland in some detail. Maybird is expected in Howth this evening (August 25th) and she's well worth seeing - Peter Cronin and I were on her in Arklow last October, and were completely bowled over by the quality of Darryl Hughes' restoration work and his devotion to this fine ship.