Women at the Helm Regatta 25 & 26 May 2024


                                              WATH 2024 - Photo by Michael Chester

The third Women at the Helm (WATH) regatta was hosted by the National Yacht Club over the weekend. Kindly sponsored by SIA Partners and with support of Irish Sailing and Drumshanbo Gin, its focus is to encourage and celebrate increased female participation in sailing and particularly in helming. Of course, ladies at the helm, is not, and definitely should not be, a new phenomenon and there are many excellent examples of talented female helms in sailing history. Back at the start of the twentieth century when the Twentyones were launched one must remember Molly Osgood Childers on Asgard, a wedding present from her father, Mary Spring Rice who was part of the Asgard crew and Kitty O’Brien, sister of Conor, who was his regular sailing partner in Kelpie before he took off to circumnavigate the world.


Then of course on the Twentyones Florence Blacker- Douglas, who owned Estelle, cut a dash in Edwardian society taking on, not alone the male preserve of competitive yachting but also the might of the British Navy Authorities by sailing Estelle in the bay when all sailing was suspended during WW1. Later she competed regularly in the Greystones Regatta under her married name, Hon Mrs Westenra, with some success it seems. Mrs Hester Plunkett, Mrs Falkiner and Mrs Wilson are also recorded as owners of Maureen in Wicklow Regatta records of the 1930’s.

The WATH weekend got off to a good start with a sailing supper on Friday evening where Bryan Dobson, recently of RTE and a keen sailor himself, interviewed silver medal Olympian Annalise Murphy and professional offshore single hander Joan Molloy, both who have achieved at the top of their respective sailing career paths. Joan put it very well when she explained that women have to be smarter to work out and plan each manoeuvre so that they can maximise their total body and mind strengths rather than rely on sheer muscle power as men usually do. There is a lesson in that for all regardless of sex!

 Back to the racing. Saturday was bright but breezy with winds steadily building over the morning. While a decision to reef has been taken on Friday and all four boats were set up accordingly in anticipation of racing, the winds steadily got close to 20 Kts with gusts up to 24Kts recorded as time to go afloat approached. With a sea breeze likely to maintain similar wind conditions for the afternoon the correct call to cancel the DB21’s was made. Indeed, only a small number of boats did venture out and the feedback was very heavy conditions with a lively sea state.

With better conditions forecast for Sunday, and the prospect of 3 races, the DB21 Sunday crew assembled at NYC where Race Officer Mairead O’Callaghan advised that winds would be light and possibly fickle, but she would do her best to get in 3 short races in quick succession.

On the water it was slow progress to the start line located in the general vicinity of Pier Mark. High tide was at 14.20 and with wind to SE of less than 10 kts this was always going to be a challenging race. For the first race a course F5 was given with beat to East, broad reach to Omega, run to Pier, beat back to Omega and long run to Harbour which for Class 2 became the finish mark.

The Twentyones were part of the white sail fleet with five other boats making up Class 2. All boats got away cleanly in light airs with Geraldine helmed by Winifred Kelliher soon clear leader of the Twentyones. Garavogue helmed by Orflaith Doyle in race 1 was in 2nd place with Estelle (Liz Faulkner) 3rd. Naneen with Jean O’Driscoll had a poor start being caught behind a number of boats in very disturbed air, then passed to windward by Estelle, before finally getting going at the back of the fleet.

At East mark Geraldine had a good lead followed by Garavogue with Naneen rounding just ahead of Estelle and working hard to protect her position. Approaching Omega mark Naneen held on to 3rd position on the run to Pier. However, a wide rounding mistake by Naneen at Pier was heavily punished by Estelle who reclaimed 3rd place by expert mark rounding and consolidating the windward position by doing so. The beat back to Omega was a soldier’s race. Naneen attempted to better her position by tacking earlier than the boats ahead and the tactic seem a good one until the lee bow tide extracted a heavy price and Naneen fell further behind the fleet.

Meanwhile Geraldine marched on to secure the fleet leadership, Garavogue in 2nd followed by Estelle and Naneen bringing up the rear a good way behind.    

The beat back to the Committee boar was telling all that conditions were deteriorating with winds now more fickle and down to 3 knots. Race Officer Mairead bravely asked the fleets to hold on when many would have easily retired for an early lunch ashore. The decision was the correct one and finally Mairead announced a single leg, windward leeward course, from Start to East and back to Committee boat finish and then all home for the day.

On the Twentyones there were helm changes on Garavogue with Nikki Murray-Hayden taking over and Susan Spain making her debut on Naneen. At the off the fleet split with Naneen following Geraldine on port tack while Estelle kept far out to starboard and Garavogue played the middle. The port side seem to pay off with Geraldine rounding East first. Naneen was next followed by Estelle and then Garavogue. Naneen following Geraldine’s lead remained on starboard for the run while Estelle and Garavogue gybes immediately to port set. Unfortunately for Naneen both Estelle and Garavogue passed her in turn with final result Geraldine, Estelle, Garavogue and Naneen in that order.

All boats arrived back to the mooring without any assistance and just in time too. As the tidy up was on-going a heavy thunderstorm arrived forcing all to shelter in the cabins until it passed. With that downburst the winds completely died with mirror like conditions in the harbour.

Ashore the usual post regatta and pre results carnival atmosphere was in swing helped no doubt by the Drumshanbo Gin bar kindly sponsored by owner Pat Rigney whose boat The Great Escape participated in the event.

Prize were awarded for separately each fleet and for the overall class. For the Twentyones fleet Geraldine was awarded a well-deserved 1st with wins in both races with Estelle and Garavogue awarded 2nd and 3rd respectively being decided on countback. Geraldine was also awarded 3rd overall for Class 2 white sail fleet, with Winifred, as an RIYC member (and current Vice Commodore), making a clean podium sweep for the RIYC with fellow club helms 1st and 2nd respectively in Class 2.

Congratulations to all who participated in this great event and particularly to the helms - Winifred, Liz, Nikki, Jean, Orflaith and Susan. It was very trying in light wind conditions, but all rose to the challenge and proved their abilities which no doubt we will see more of as the season progresses.  

Full marks to the NYC and the WATH team of over 50 volunteers led by Vice Commodore Rosemary Cadogan, Ann Kirwan and Louise Dwyer in organising the weekend event. Equally to SIA Partners and fellow Twentyoner Gary O’Sullivan for sponsorship of this their 3rd such event and Gary promises to continue on as sponsor for future WATH events.

Photos of the event are on the NYC website and Afloat as link below

Afloat WATH



Winifred and Team heading for victory on Geraldine – Photo Michael Chester


 Liz and Estelle team – Photo Michael Chester

Garavogue with Orflaith and Nikki sharing helm duties – Photo Michael Chester

Naneen team with Jean and Susan taking the helm – Photo Michael Chester