Since the turn of the century, sailors in the Sutton Creek area had made various attempts to establish a club, and around 1930 an liaison was formed with Howth Sailing Club, with meetings and social events taking place in the Howth Club premises, and actual dinghy sailing taking place in Sutton Creek. As the yachtsmen in Howth and Dun Laoghaire turned their attention more towards the larger keelboats, local dinghy enthusiasts took the opportunity to “go it alone”. Early in May 1940, Sutton Dinghy Club was launched, adding to the growing list of East Coast sailing clubs.
For the first ten years of its existence, the members used a small boathouse loaned by Desmond Keatinge, the first Captain (the club could not afford a Commodore at that time!). With Desmond at the helm, the committee got down to the task of introducing a fleet of boats to convince well wishers that the club was really alive, and seven International 12 ft. Dinghies sailed their first race under the new club burgee, which was (and still is) blue with a white silhouette of the International 12 ft. dinghy. The “Twelves” no longer race here (ex-Commodore Aidan Henry owns Dorade #7) but the burgee is a reminder of those early days.
To raise funds for a clubhouse, they bought an IDRA 14 ft. racing dinghy (one of the first ever built), and raffled it, raising a total of £120. A permanent site for the club was found, conveniently, not a hundred yards from Desmond Keatinge’s boathouse. Building work commenced on the present site on November 16, 1948. Among the members at the time, there were few who had trained knowledge of what had to be done, but that was no deterrent – it was a case of build or bust! It took three long, cold winters to complete the work, with members (and often wives, daughters, and sons roped in) dressed in all manner of attire, digging, shoveling, hauling and doing all that had to be done.
The official opening of the new clubhouse took place on June 1st, 1951, by Douglas Heard, the then President of the Irish Dinghy Racing Association (later the Irish Yachting Association, now the Irish Sailing Association). The boat park (or “Hardspace”) could originally only accommodate six dinghies, but was increased to between thirty and forty over the following years. In 1967 the hardspace was increased again, and the clubhouse was extended in 1980 to provide the function room and better changing facilities, which were further developed again during 1986, to improve the quality of life ashore! The final development saw the dinghy park expanded again in 2002. The boats on the hard are also changing: the International “Twelves” were soon joined by the IDRA14’s. Over time Snipes, Hornets, Enterprises, Fireballs among others, became part of the ever evolving scene at Sutton Dinghy Club. Today in Sutton the IDRA14 is joined by GP14’s, Mirrors, Optimists, Lasers & Toppers.
The membership also evolved- Sutton sailors were family men and women, and their children inevitably took to the waters. Over the years, Junior sailing and Junior training became more and more an important aspect of the Club activities. At the same time, sailors everywhere sought to improve the enjoyment of their sport by providing a safer environment, particularly for novices: safety boats and equipment were bought and put into service in every Club. The Sutton Dinghy Club fleet now consists of five safety RIB’s and a number of other small dorys.
1995 saw the beginning of a radical new direction for the Club, a new joint venture which re-launched Sutton Dinghy Club as a centre for dinghy sailing on the north side of Dublin Bay. A few years earlier, at the 1993 Annual General Meeting, concern was expressed that Club activity would die out in the foreseeable future – for various reasons, but mainly due to the fact that the steady intake of children to the Junior Training had all but dried up in the Sutton area (indeed the following year saw the Club’s nearest neighbour, Kilbarrack Sailing Club, wind up its operations). The annual Adult Sailing Course in Sutton had proved that there are people out there who would like to learn dinghy sailing – but with only members and their boats available, these training courses could only be run one week every year, and there was no adequate “follow-up” to enable trainees to continue sailing without buying their own boat.
One of the Sutton Dinghy Club members who spoke on the subject at length at that AGM was Hugh Gill, who has been representing the Club at national and international level in the GP14 fleet. At that time, Hugh was involved with the Irish National Sailing School, who operated out of Dun Laoghaire. He discussed the situation both with his INSS colleagues and with the Club Commodore, Charles Sargent, and his Committee. These discussions eventually resulted in an agreement to extend the INSS activities to the north side of the Bay, basing a fleet of dinghies and a rescue boat in Sutton Dinghy Club. These boats were used to provide sailing courses, both for the general public, and for Club members. This arrangement was designed to be of benefit to both the Club and the Irish National Sailing School and provided an on-going series of Adult Sailing Courses and Junior introductory courses, throughout the sailing season, which attracted many graduates to take up Club membership. In addition, the full ISA Junior Training programme was provided for Sutton Dinghy Club junior members, using the Club rescue boats in addition to the INSS boat. This initial venture with the INSS was so successful that the Club decided to continue the concept, but under the full control of its membership.
As the Club activities expanded, and membership numbers expanded beyond the existing capacity for boat parking, discussion among members centred around the need for a long-term plan for the club in order to ensure its survival and viability beyond the millennium. In 2007 a dinghy park extension was completed that provided an additional 750 sq. metres of parking for dinghies and safety boats.
In November 2014 Sutton Dinghy Club and its members and friends celebrated 75 years sailing in Sutton Creek with a Gala Dinner and Ball in the local Marine Hotel.
The story of Sutton Dinghy Club and its members does not stop here, rather it is …. to be continued!