Trimming its sails: Howth Yacht Club, the former home of Charlie Haughey's yacht, 'Celtic Mist', has now dropped its €1,200 joining fee in a bid to attract members

IT is the country's largest and arguably most prestigious yacht club, the toast of the sailing community and former home to Charlie Haughey's luxury vessel, Celtic Mist.

But with a new leaflet campaign targeting housing estates in north Dublin, Howth Yacht Club has set a course for a far less exclusive path to membership, dropping its €1,200 signing-on fee and appealing for new members to come aboard.

A spokesman for Howth Yacht Club would not be drawn about financial concerns and, while reluctant to discuss the membership drive, said there was no ulterior motive for slashing the joining fee.

"We don't have a joining fee for 2010. We are trying to increase our membership," he said.

Those who avail of the offer will still face varying annual subscription fees.

While club officials were unwilling to discuss the move, some members suggested there were motives aside from just boosting membership. One source said there had been trouble collecting fees from members and another cited growing frustration at the number of non-members regularly availing of the club's facilities.

"The problem is that the place is packed with people who sail on Tuesday who are not members and they are trying to get everyone to join again. It was beginning to be a bit of a joke," a source said. "A lot of people don't want to pay because there are people down there who are not paying and getting the same facilities."

A former member speculated that the offer might be a form of "amnesty" to entice those who had let their membership lapse but who did not want to pay a signing-on fee to rejoin. In the meantime, areas of north Dublin where members do not traditionally hail from are being canvassed to fill the membership void in what is a new and radical departure for the club.

While all sporting clubs are facing troubled waters with the collapse of the economy, it doesn't look as if Howth's pragmatic approach is being followed.

None of the well-known Dun Laoghaire clubs – the Royal St George, the Royal Irish and the National – has introduced similar tactics to attract new membership.

The Royal Irish and the Royal St George declined to comment while the National said that, while it had not increased its subscription fee for 2010, there were no deals and it was still managing to attract new members.

Malahide Yacht Club, however, said it is in the process of a membership drive.

Malahide Yacht Club, also seeking new members, was more willing to discuss the pitfalls facing clubs in the current economy.

"We're always looking to drive new membership and get fresh blood into the sport, especially in these tougher economic times," a spokesman said.

He added that, while there were "some old perceptions that sailing is for those with big money, Malahide is considered to be very affordable for the everyday person...

"We're currently encouraging existing members to invite friends and family to give sailing a try and hopefully join up to enjoy the social scene."