A member of The Shankill Corinthian Sailing Club while in Scotland saw a boat which employed a boiler plate instead of the stones which had been the norm for ballast in small boats in the mid nineteenth century, and in 1878 he built a boat called ‘Cemiostomia’ using this new technology which was found to sail very efficiently to windward.
In response to this development, Thomas Middleton a member of the Club, decided that it would be a wonderful idea to build a number of punts of the same design and specification as this would test the skill of the yachtsmen and not that of their designers or boatbuilders. In 1886, he inserted a notice in the ‘Irish Times’ inviting interested people to contact him with a view to setting up a new Club in Kingstown ( now Dún Laoghaire ) Harbour dedicated to the idea of ‘One Design Racing’. There being no responses to this notice, he circulated flyers among the yachtsmen in the Royal Yacht Clubs in Kingstown ( Dún Laoghaire ).
The yachtsmen attended a meeting in October 1886 and agreed the specifications for the proposed new boat which was to be based on the Shankill boiler plate design. Thirteen of these new ‘One design’ boats were built in 1887 at a cost of £13.00 each.
The New Club, managed by a King, Queen, King’s Bishop, Queen’s Bishop, Knights and Rooks, was called’The Water Wags.’ Entry fees for races were paid to the Officer of the Day in his launch, and racing was started on the stroke of the Kingstown Town Hall clock. The entry ‘takings’ were then presented to the winner of the race.
All the boats were required to fly distinguishing racing flags as they started between the lamp-post to the right of the large crane on the Victoria Wharf, and the Hauling Buoy off the wharf, and raced around three permanent buoys moored within the harbour, The Melampus Buoy, The Navy Buoy and the Coal Harbour Mark. Within a few years, dozens Water Wags were racing in the Harbour.
In 1900 ‘The Water Wags’ adopted a modified design with a transom stern. However all the boats were to be of the same design and specification in compliance with Middleton’s original ‘One-Design’ idea.
The Water Wags still maintain most of the traditions of their earlier membersand sail these lovely old boats in Dún Laoghaire harbour every Wednesday evening from 6.30pm to 8.00 pm. from May to September.
The oldest boats racing today are about 97 years old and the newest boats were launched this season.
The Water Wags are easily recognised with their distinctive silver spruce planking, straight stem, raked transom.The Water Wag sailsconsist of a low centre of effort gaff rig, with the main boom extending the sail area aft of the hull. Today, the sails carry a number ( between 1 and 40 ) and no other distinguishing symbol.The spinnaker is a colourful flat triangular sail which is only to be flown on its long pole when the wind is astern.
‘By kind permission – Vincent Delaney 2003’