Renovating a vintage Irish racer: part I


What does it take to renovate a carvel planked racing sailboat that’s more than 100 years old? Time, collaboration – and a healthy dose of WEST SYSTEM® epoxy. In part one of this Your Project, Ian Byrne – co-owner of the Howth 17 Gladys – explores the backstory of this Irish beauty.

The Howth 17 Gladys is one of 17 traditional racing sailboats originally built between 1897 and 1913. Since that time two were lost and replaced with new builds in 1987. Another was built even more recently, bringing the current fleet to 18.

The Howth 17 Footer class is internationally recognised and unique as the oldest one-design keel boat fleet in the world still racing as originally designed. The design is also believed to be the oldest one-design class still racing under its original design, including the gaff rig complete with early spinnaker and jack yard topsail.

A history of adventures

Gladys was built by J Kelly of Portrush in Northern Ireland in 1907 along with four sisters, all ordered by Dublin Bay Sailing Club for the inaugural Dublin Bay fleet sailed out of Dun Laoghaire. With her other adventures, Gladys easily had the most unusual history and travels of all her sisters but in more recent times she was successfully and toughly raced in the 80s and 90s. Towards the end of this period, however, there was a need for a major maintenance and a refit, which meant she began spending more time ashore than afloat and eventually in storage.

She changed ownership over ten years ago with plans to renovate and race her. An attempt was made to get her back sailing; however, having spent so many years out of the water drying out and deteriorating, she sank on launch and after some days her seams were still not sealing up. Her owner remarked that ‘it was like launching venetian blinds’. She was put back in storage, awaiting major refurbishment, but time and priorities intervened and Gladys has remained languishing ever since.

The chance to restore her

Late in 2015, we were approached by the Class Association who were looking to support a new owner to refurbish and actively race Gladys. A lot of support was offered with the objective to complete a full hull restoration and have the boat launched by end of April, ready for the first Club race of the 2016 season. So, we became the new owners and started planning the restoration.

Two phases were decided and the tasks were divided into preparation, those requiring experienced skills and support and those requiring professional shipwrights, metal workers, riggers etc. The new owners – Eddie Ferris, Pat Heydon and me all experienced and local racing and cruising sailors in dinghies, cruisers and 17s – got to work with a huge amount of help and support.

We had tough deadlines but all work had to be to a professional standard and provide a 50-year lifecycle target on some of the structural works. This led us to review what materials and technologies were available and could assist us – and that included WEST SYSTEM epoxy.


Read part II to learn about the restoration process of this fantastic boat.

Find out more about the fascinating history of the Howth 17 class here and here.

Many thanks to Ian Byrne for this contribution to epoxycraft. 



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