In this age of production-line boats it is comforting to note that the traditional wooden sailing boat still remains popular among DBSC sailors. With the Twenty Ones in eclipse - a temporary phenomenon, no doubt - and the venerable Water Wags racing now under their own burgee in Dun Laoghaire Harbour, DBSC's oldest wooden boat class has to be the Dublin Bay Mermaid. Not the Victorian Mermaid, whose racy if uncertain sailing qualities delighted and appalled the Club's early members, but the John Kearney version, first mentioned in the minutes of the the Club's AGM, held in the Dun Laoghaire Town Hall of the 10th April 1933. The official record is as follows:
"Mr. J.B. Kearney submitted plans which he had prepared at the request of the Committee for a 17 foot half-decked centreboard boat and he gave details of her construction and probable cost. The Commodore explained the various reasons that had caused the Committee to consider the question of providing a new class. The following resolution was proposed by the Hon. Secretary and seconded by Dr Stephens:
"That the plans prepared by Mr. J.B. Kearney and submitted to the meeting be adopted as a class in the Club for a period of three years from the first of May 1933 and that in the event of three or more boats of the new class being in commission during the coming season the Committee shall have power to provide races and prizes. "
" An exhaustive discussion followed in which the Commodore, the Hon. Treasurer, the Hon. Secretary, Capt.Twohig, Mr.L.McMullen and Mr.Croxon took part. Dr.Haughton advocated the building of a sample boat. Mr. Snow objected to the design as being detrimental to the Wag class. On being put to the meeting, the motion was passed nem.con. On the motion of the Hon. Treasurer, seconded by the Commodore, the best thanks of the Club was voted to Mr. Kearney for his invaluable assistance so freely given."
The reasons behind the proposal were not recorded in the minutes but a newspaper report of the meeting (Irish Times) showed the particular need the new boat was expected to fill.....
"For years the need of a new racing class in the Bay has been debated, its chief advantage being the stimulus it could provide. What was needed, it was felt, was a boat of moderate cost, larger than the Water Wag and smaller than a 17 Footer, but the idea hung fire until lately, when Mr. J.B. Kearney submitted plans to the Committee of the Dublin Bay Sailing Club, the Committee in turn bringing the matter before the members at the annual general meeting on Monday evening with a recommendation for its acceptance."
"The interest taken in a suggested new class was shown by the attendance. It was the largest for years, and incidentally, included nearly a dozen lady members, this being the first time they took an active part in club affairs. ...What will the future of this projected new Dublin Bay class cannot be foreseen. The design is attractive and the boats will be of half-decked, centre-board type, carrying 150 sq, ft. of canvas in Bermudian rig. It is expected that the cost will be £47-10/- to £55, the price being dependent, of course, on the number ordered at the one time...."
To the current generation of yachtsmen Kearney is remembered - if he is remembered at all - solely for his design of the latter-day Mermaid, which is a pity because Kearney had much more than that to his credit. Over a period of something like seventy years, from 1897 until his death in 1967, he was constantly involved in the design and construction of boats. Fingal, Shielmartin, Mac Lir, Sonia - all Kearney-designed craft - were famous in their day, not to mention the Mavis, which used to be one of the stalwarts of the old Dublin Bay cruiser class. Ainmara is still remembered in in Dun Laoghaire - Kearney's first venture, which he designed in 1910 and built in eighteen months by himself, working without power and often by the light of oil lamps.
The son of a well-known Ringsend boat-builder, his own boat-building skills gained him early recognition. The Yachtsman in January 1901 carried a description of Satanella, a fifteen foot canoe yacht which he had built for a Mr P.T. Walsh. Walsh wrote: `Satanella was very well put together by: J. Kearney, junior, a clever young shipwright who inherits his: father's talent'. Kearney did not remain in the family business. In 1900 he joined the Dublin Port and Docks Board as a' shipwright where he remained until he retired with the rank of Superintendent of the Engineers' Department. In the Port and Docks he is remembered for some ingenious and indeed remarkable solutions to problems of wharf construction.
The genesis and parturition of the Mermaid was somewhat prolonged. Despite the initial enthusiasm, boats in the required number were slow to appear - not, unsurprisingly, in the economically-depressed nineteen thirties. The 1934 and 1935 programmes invited entries from the new class but only one, Mermaid, Amy (Lt.Col.P.J.Dwyer) appeared - and that among unclassified boats towards the end of the 1935 season. In September 1936 there was no account of mention of Amy having raced in the season just ended, her place having been taken by another new Mermaid. This was Delphis, owned by the Hon. C.Brabazon. Given a report that four boats were being built and an assurance from Lord Glenavy that he intended to build another, the original three year limit was extended.
The 1937 records show definite signs of the new class emerging. John Good, TD, one of the owners attended the AGM on the 22nd. March 1937 with proposals for courses for the new class but, embarrassingly, none of the others attended, and the matter had to be deferred. It was again raised at the committee meeting held on the 6th. April:
"Mr. John Good, TD, attended the meeting by invitation and the question of providing races for the new 17 foot boats was considered. After full discussion of the claims of these and other small craft for unclassified boats , the Committee ruled that "races be included in the programme for unclassified boats in order to provide races for boats not eligible for the revived No. 1 Class".
Four of the new class, indeed, appear in the 1937 programme as "Unclassified Boats": Amy (P.J.Dwyer), Delphis, (Hon. C.Brabazon), Iolar (R.H.O'Hanlon)and Oonagh ( John Good). Three of them raced actively that year (Amy, Delphis, and Iolar), and in the subsequent prizegiving, Iolar was declared the overall winner, with 5 firsts, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds. Oonagh does not appear to have raced . However, the DBSC Committee were at last convinced that the class had arrived to stay, and at the Club's annual general meeting at the National YC on the of the 15th. March 1938 the following amendment to the rules were agreed:
"There shall be a Class IIIa, which shall be known by the name of the Mermaid Class, to be one-design17 foot centre-board, half-deck, Bermuda sloops, built, rigged and equipped in accordance with the specification and plans deposited with the Hon. Secretary. Entrance fees and Stranger's fees for this class to be the same as Class III"
The Committee's confidence was not misplaced. Eight Mermaid's raced that year, Iolar again winning overall, but having stiff competition from Daphne, sailed by K.D.M. Daniel and Stella, sailed by Lord Glenavy. Evidence of the increasing spirit of competition in the class is the report of the first protest hearing involving Mermaids, held on the 31st May 1938,. The protest was between Amy and Iolar, which did not defend the protest " and was formally disqualified".
That year, too, Amy's owner, J.R. Clark, emerged as the Mermaid's first Class Captain, and - further evidence of a consolidating class structure - Stella's and Iolar's owners presented perpetual cups to DBSC for Mermaid races. These trophies continue to grace the annual prize giving at the end of every season, as will, no doubt, the Mermaid class itself in Dublin Bay - hopefully, for many, many more years to come..............