Blog history Notes

The Holywood 16 Foot One Design Sharpie Class

Holywood Sharpies racing off the Esplanade – probably mid 1930s

As someone who has always admired the world of small boat sailing from a distance, I was fascinated to discover the existence of a home-made sailing boat unique to this little bit of coast. The Holywood Sharpie (or the Holywood 16 Foot One Design Sharpie Class to give it its proper designation) was created in the 1930s in an attempt to make competitive small boat sailing both more affordable and more fair.

Under the covers – Storm, one of the last two known Sharpies remaining

Prior to this time, racing at the club had been based around a handicap system, the boats were generally larger than modern dinghies and varied in design. Handicapping was an inexact art and keeping racing both fair and affordable was challenging. So, in 1929, Mr F W Steen and Mr N McArthur jointly drew up a design for a smaller boat which was suitable for the conditions at Holywood and which could be built cheaply by anyone wishing to sail and race at the club – the Holywood Sharpie.

This drew on ideas in sailing magazines of the time and on ideas from America.

The boat was to be 16ft long, gaff (more correctly gunter) rigged with a retractable centre board (necessary at Holywood so the boats could sit level on the mud at low tide).

The materials were not allowed to cost more than £17 pounds and the sails no more than £4-19-6 per set. All planking was based on off-the-shelf lengths and widths, thereby reducing wastage.

Cloud circa 1960

From the start, frugality was a feature of the class with its first embodiment, Spray’s, maiden voyage setting sail on the 11th September 1930, with the flagpole of the Kinnegar Inn (now the Dirty Duck) as a mast!

A W T Beatty in his very thorough history of the Holywood sailing classes states:

The boat had no vices except that they were renowned for ploughing through all oncoming seas rather than riding over them. This necessitated the fitting of a splash board on the fore deck to prevent excessive filling. Although constructed of wood throughout and therefore more likely to fill rather than sink, when filled they could not be easily righted and would normally have to be towed ashore for that purpose. Nevertheless they were a safe boat, no member of the club ever being lost in one, and were easily repaired when damaged (see volume 2 page 171) . The strength of construction usually minimised damage when washed ashore except in the fiercest gales.

Holywood Yacht Club (Volume 1), A W T Beatty

The Sharpie sailors were clearly a hardy bunch. F W Steen recalls Spray’s third voyage in an article written 40 years later:

Christmas Day was so nice that year we could not resist launching again, and before we realised it we were at Carrickfergus. Entering Carrick harbour we were asked where we came from. After saying from Holywood the gent said “in that” and went on his way muttering something about fools and idiots.

First Sail in a Sharpie, F W Steen
Racing by the Esplanade

However, the new design soon proved itself and around a dozen boats were built. Several of these were constructed by club members in a hayloft above a pig shed behind the Railway Inn (now Platform 20 Bar) in Hibernia Street. It is hard to imagine such dedication today in our era of instant Amazon gratification off-the-shelf plastic everything!

The Carrickfergus critic was soon proved wrong and a fleet of Holywood Sharpies made frequent visits to the port’s regattas and those of Bangor, Cultra and Whitehead. These regattas were the basis of a thriving social cycle which ran throughout the sailing season and were enjoyed by land bound and seafarers alike.

The names of the boats were all meteorologically related – Mist, Spray, Spindrift, Crest, Ripple, Cloud, Tempest, Coral, Squall, Kelpie, Foam, Cyclone.

Cyclone, Crest and Spray – 1961

Not all boats were built with the best of materials. Former owners reflected:

“The quality of build in the majority of boats was always suspect. The builders were in the economic depression of the thirties and could not afford good timber even if it was available. Floor boards 7/8” thick was the wood of choice for the sides and bottom of the boats. Up to the start of the war in 1939 many men were on the dole and these men raced in the sharpies during the day. A wooden cup was turned as the prize – covering it with the silver paper found in cigarette packets. It was named after the minister of employment of the day. I wonder where it is now!? During the war years all sharpies were registered with the “ministry” and had a certified number painted on either side of the bow”

Memories from Bobby Graham and Ivan Nelson former sharpie owners
Spindrift (circa 1960)

In the late 1960s Fred Steen (who sailed Spindrift) designed a “junior” sharpie for young people. At 10ft long and crewed by two young people these provided enormous fun. About 10 were built by parents and others, then raced by teenagers from Holywood. But these disappeared as mass produced plywood boats came in, followed by fibreglass and now plastic.

Over the years as new classes and new construction materials and methods were introduced, the number of Sharpies gradually declined until 1973 when the last Sharpie – Cyclone – left the club. However, in 1988 George Laing, who had built Cyclone in 1933, found his old boat in a dilapidated state in the Comber River and brought it home to Holywood and there restored it fully.

Jabble being built by Ken Copper in his garage (1994)

Subsequent to this a new batch of Sharpies were built to the original specification, including Storm and Jabble, the two boats which remain at the club today.

Jabble and Storm at Holywood

Both these boats embody the principles of the original Sharpie design. Storm, in that it pwas constructed using salvaged mast, boom, centre plate and rudder from the first Sharpie, Spray, and Jabble whose rudder was once a sideboard! Modern sailors and shore dwellers alike could learn much from this tradition!

Jabble at its moorings
Joe and Janet Campbell in Jabble


  • Holywood Yacht Club (Volume 1), A W T Beatty
  • First Sail in a Sharpie, F W Steen
  • Additional material from Joe Campbell, owner of Jabble
Notes people

Praeger in Holywood

Sophia Rosamond Praeger 1867-1954

Rosamond Praeger was the only daughter among the six children of linen merchant William Praeger and his wife Maria (née Patterson). Rosamond was born on 15 April 1867, shortly before the family moved to Woodburn House on Croft Road, Holywood.


Rosamond Praeger works and Legacy

Holywood Library

Main Library

A Waif, cast in bronze, by the reception desk; (presented by Rosamond to Holywood Urban District Council in 1953, though first exhibited in 1906).

The Praeger Room
(Ground floor, Holywood Library)

A display cabinet containing various works, including
  • three books by Rosamond
  • The Philosopher in alabaster (first made in 1913)
  • a bronze bust of Sir Robert Lloyd Patterson (her uncle)
  • a plaster relief Of Mrs D Weaving
  • the book Rosamond Praeger by Con Auld
On the wall
  • two large charcoal drawings by Rosamond (c. 1884), of James Dunlop Barbour and his daughter Gail Hilda Mary Barbour (then at Ardville in Marino)
On the window sill
  • The Philosopher in painted clay
  • a bust of an Italian Boy in painted clay

High Street

Johnny the Jig, (on a granite base carved by Holywood sculptor, Morris Harding). This was a copy of the original now in North Down Museum, erected in November 1953 at Rosamond’s wish to mark the playground donated to the town by the McCormick family.

Hibernia Street

A blue plaque erected by the Ulster History Circle on the site of her studio, St Brigid’s, at 33 Hibernia Street (replaced by the premises of the Fold Housing Association and the Ruddy Duck).

King Edward VII Memorial Hall
Sullivan Place

Rosamond created the plaque above the main entrance to this 1912 building. It reads ‘Be just, temperate, brave and free’.

St Philip and St James Church
Church Road

Her St Brigid plaque is on the west wall; (formerly it was above her Hibernia Street studio).

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church
High Street

War Memorial plaque placed (in 1922) in the central foyer of the church, along with other works by Rosamond including Angels in a Tympanum, and memorial to Lt James Dermot Neill. (The Praegers worshipped here, and Rosamond attended the School in the lower part of the Lanyon-designed building.)

The Priory Graveyard

The memorial to Rosamond’s parents (at the farthest east wall).

The Crescent

A blue plaque commemorates the birth place of William Emilius, Robert Lloyd and Sophia Rosamond Praeger. It was the first home of her parents after they married.

Woodburn House
Croft Road

The home of the Praeger family from 1868 to 1891 is indicated by a blue plaque; her brothers Harry, Egmont and Owen Praeger were born here.

Praeger’s Field

The open space, inland of the Coastal Path, between Holywood and Seapark (donated by Rosamond).

Sullivan Upper School

Cartouche tablets above the main doors, (based on a bust of the founder Dr Robert Sullivan); other works and a school house named after her. Also twin reliefs over the Girls’ entrance to Sullivan Upper School.

Campbell College

War Memorial (dated 1922).

Riddel Hall
Stranmillis Road

A memorial bronze (of 1915) commemorates the founders of this Hall of Residence for women students in Belfast.

Queen’s University

The monumental memorial to Rev Thomas Hamilton in the Great Hall, (who was be President of Queen’s as a College and then the first Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University).

Ulster Museum

The Fairy Fountain (1901, in white marble); and other works not all of which are on display.

Ulster Hospital

Bringing in the Sheaves, (a memorial bronze commemorating the first chairman of the Hospital, Ernest Boas, and his son who was killed at the Somme in 1916).

St Anne’s Cathedral

The memorial to William Reeves, of Down and Connor and Dromore (1886-92), on the north wall of the Cathedral.

North Down Museum

A dedicated display in the museum of Rosamond’s plaster-work sculptures featuring Johnny the Jig (commemorating Boy Scout Fergus Morton) and Spring.

In the Café, there is a frieze in stone called The Shawls, depicting Belfast mill workers.

Further Information

For more information and the life and work of Rosamond Praeger see Praeger in Holywood


Time and Tides

A number of the walks described in this blog follow the coast and therefore will be impacted on by the tides. The tide cycle will almost always affect the opportunities for wildlife spotting and change the coastal landscape. However, in extreme cases, they may make certain routes impossible or ill advised.

Bearing in mind the general dearth of rights of way for the foot traveller in NI, you will often find yourself relegated to the foreshore, the strip of land between spring low and high tides. Generally this is crown property and public access is permitted. However, by definition, there will be times at high tide (and onshore strong winds)  when access is impossible or at least ill-advised. Hence, when walking on the coast check the tides and avoid walks which are limited to the foreshore in places at high spring tides or in high winds.

Checking the tides in advance is much easier nowadays with online tidal predictions readily available either on the web or via smartphone apps. Free data tends to be limited to about a week ahead so if you are arranging a walk some time in the future you may need to use  a paid service.

Finally, tidal predictions will be for specific ports and not individual points on the coast. As high tide times can vary substantially along the coast it is wise to check times for points either side of your walk unless your are close to a listed port.

I have found the websites / apps below useful in the past (please note this is not a ‘product endorsement’- see our post on “Opinions not Endorsements”  for further explanation of this issue).