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Irish Trad Boat Leader is Veteran of Gaffer Global Circuit

20th April 2013
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The gaffer's gaffer – the classic Colin Archer redningskoite Sandefjord sailing off Durban in 1965.
Irish Trad Boat Leader is Veteran of Gaffer Global Circuit

#vintage boats – The season-long Golden Jubilee cruise of the Old Gaffers Association starts to roll this weekend, with vintage boats from the Thames Estuary setting out tomorrow to rendezvous in the Orwell estuary in Suffolk with character boats already on their way from Holland. And when the growing fleet reaches Dublin Bay for major events between May 31st and June 4th, they'll find the welcoming party is headed by a sailor who has been round the world under gaff rig.

The Old Gaffers Association was barely a year old when the current President of the Dublin Bay branch set out on a global circumnavigation under traditional rig in an already famous classic ketch, a vessel whose status was to become almost legendary when this voyage was completed.

It was the morning of Sunday 21st February 1965 when the 47ft Sandefjord slipped her lines from a quayside packed with friends and well-wishers in Durban, South Africa, and headed seaward down the harbour with an accompanying fleet. Instantly into open ocean at the pierheads, she was soon heading west for Cape Town, reeling off the miles on a close reach as her goodwill flotilla peeled off one by one to head back to the shelter of the great port. Sandefjord was now alone on the high seas

But the friends and supporters were to be out there again in increased numbers two years later to greet her when she returned from the eastward, with 30,729 miles completed in a classic global circumnavigation which had gone on from Cape Town through the South Atlantic to the Caribbean, thence to the Panama Canal and on to the Galapagos, then on across the wide blue waters of the Pacific to Polynesia and eventually to Sydney in Australia. From there it was northwards, cruising through the Great Barrier Reef and on into the Indian Ocean, then southwestward on the final long transoceanic leg, back to a rapturous welcome in Durban.

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Tim Magennis in 1965 after he'd joined Sandefjord's crew

It is Tim Magennis, longtime member of the Dublin Bay OGA and its current President, who gives us the direct link to this fine voyage. With a boyhood in the coastal village of Ardglass in County Down, most of his early seagoing experience was with summer jaunts on one of the local fishing boats. But having shown a youthful a talent for journalism, he went straight into it from school, soon finding his way to national newspapers in Dublin.

From there, he went on to work in newspapers in Africa in the late 1950s, and by the early 1960s found himself on the staff of the largest daily in Durban. Always drawn to the sea, he was fascinated by Durban's port, the largest in South Africa. Yet despite its size he noted that his paper gave port matters no prominence whatever. When he pointed this out to the editor, Tim was promptly detailed off to write a regular column about maritime affairs. Hanging out on the waterfront became part of his job.

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Sandefjord being craned in after her restoration in 1964-65

Through this, he met up with the people restoring Sandefjord, a classic former Redningskoite designed by Colin Archer (1832-1921), Number 28 constructed in 1913 by Jens Olson at Risor Batbyggeri. She was one of the last of the type specifically for rescue work to be built to the designs of the famous Scottish-descended Norwegian naval architect, who had also designed and built Erskine and Molly Childers Asgard in 1905. Although motor-powered lifeboats had been about since G L Watson pioneered the first one for the RNLI in 1904, sail and oar continued to play a prominent role in many rescue services, and the exclusively sail-powered Sandefjord accompanied the Norwegian fishing fleet from 1913 to 1934.

Stood down from rescue duties after 21 years of gallant service, in 1935 she was bought by noted Norwegian ocean voyager Erling Tambs, who wanted to provide a Norwegian presence in the forthcoming Transatlantic Race from Newport, RI to Bergen. Crossing the Atlantic westward in May 1935, Sandefjord was pitch-poled with the loss of one crewmember. But Tambs and his remaining shipmates still managed to nurse her to Newport, where they sorted the damage, and then raced back across the Atlantic.

In 1939, with World War II imminent, Tambs sailed her out to South Africa, where she was sold to Tilly Penso of the Royal Cape YC, who kept her with loving care for twenty years. She became a cherished part of the Cape Town sailing scene, with her rig simplified for family sailing by conversion to Bermudan ketch.

With Tilly Penso's death in 1959, she was sold by his estate, and went through a quick succession of owners. Though her gaff rig was restored, she was slowly going downhill, and by 1962 was more or less abandoned in Durban. There, already on the slide to becoming a rotting hulk, she was spotted by a restless young South African of Irish descent, Patrick Cullen (23), who despite having a very young family, had notions of a seagoing adventure. His brother Barry (24) was a qualified master mariner, and the two of them saw the potential in Sandefjord.

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Slipping the lines - departure from the Durban quayside

The notion of a two year voyage round the world to the romantic South Seas took shape, with a proper film being made of it to make their fortunes afterwards. They managed to buy Sandefjord with the support of their mother in 1963, and secured a place on the Durban waterfront for a restoration project which soon became almost a re-build. But these were two very determined young men, and soon they were attracting like-minded spirits to join their project. It was all done in a very businesslike way, with crewmembers being required to sign a clearcut contract and commit one thousand rands up front towards the expenses of the voyage.

It was in those heady days of hard preparatory work and boundless horizons that the recently-appointed Durban maritime correspondent met up with them. At 32, Tim Magennis may have been a few years older than the next oldest member of Sandefjord's crew, but he always seemed much younger than his years - he still does at 81 – and within days he was being swept up with shared enthusiasm. He jacked in his dream job, though agreeing to file reports from around the world and write up the story for the paper on their return, and signed on as the final member of Sandfjord's crew of six, throwing himself into the final frantic months of preparing the ship for the great voyage.

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Getting under way from Durban

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The departure from Cape Town had a fleet of well-wishers which included two boats of the Royal Cape OD class (see Sailing on Saturday 02/02/13)

It was a classic cruise, all the better for being at a time before sailing became overly regulated and monitored. Thus although they'd a painfully slow passage from Panama out to the Galapagos, at one stage taking an entire week to make good one hundred miles, once they got to those extraordinary islands they were able to cruise among them with a freedom denied in today's heavily regulated environmental protection of that unique place.

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The President of the DBOGA in his days as an ocean busker – Tim Magennis with his guitar in the South Seas aboard Sandefjord.

Tahiti was still a place of romance before mass tourism made it blasé, and among the Pacific islands Tim's talents with the guitar were much in demand. But they surely paid for their lotus eating in the South Seas. The passage on to Sydney, far from being tradewind bliss in southeasterlies, became a slog almost all the way against unseasonal headwinds which culminated in yet another gale on the final night at sea. It brought down the mizzen mast around their ears, and there was a fierce struggle to secure the broken spar on deck.

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Bowsprit work in the open ocean

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So who needs Europe? Sandefjord's circumnavigation of 1965-67

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Sandefjord living the South Seas dream

But when they finally arrived exhausted and battered at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia in Rushcutters Bay, they'd come to the right place. After taking 50 days for a passage which should have taken only about 33, with stores down to just 20 cans of baked beans, they were distinctly peckish. However, lunch on arrival at the CYCA was just the job, with enormous steaks. Tim is slim now, as he was then. Yet like the rest of the crew, having enjoyed one enormous Australian lunch, he simply sat on and ate his way right through a second one, with all the trimmings.

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Urban paradise – the CYCA provided a haven for recuperation and repair in Sydney, with Sandefjord's mizzen re-rigged after breaking on the last night at sea

They gave a boat a complete refit at Sydney, glued and fastened the saved mizzen mast, and then headed on north for the Great Barrier reef. But inevitably at this final stage of the voyage, resources were becoming stretched, so when the gearbox on their Perkins diesel gave up the ghost, they sold the otherwise sound engine for 400 much-needed Australian dollars at Thursday Island and completed the rest of the voyage, along the north coast of Australia, across the Indian Ocean and home, under sail only.

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A little bit of fund-raising with the sale of the engine at Thursday Island

Their average speed for the entire cruise was 4.18 knots, but when you see the one hour and 54 minute film – which has recently been re-mastered and is well worth viewing for this glimpse of life when the world was a simpler place – you soon realize that with half a decent breeze, the handsome Sandefjord could trot along in some style. And for her young crew, it was simply the time of their lives.

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The triumphant return. Her sails may be showing evidence of hard work, but Sandfjord arrived back in Durban in fine shape.

Back in Durban, reality intervened. Tim found himself locked into a hotel room until he completed the account of the voyage for his newspaper. Then a message from home from an older brother, an officer in the Irish army, was a three line whip – he was to get back to Ireland soonest for their parents' Golden Wedding anniversary.

He returned to an Ireland considerably changed. In the late 1960s, the place was finding new and very welcome vitality. He never returned to Durban, but married Ann and settled in Dun Laoghaire on the shores of Dublin Bay, perfectly fitting his new job as PR for the Irish Tourist Board. He became a voice for Ireland. You could always be sure that the usually gruff William Hardcastle of the BBC's World at One would have a smile in his voice after chatting on the air with Tim Magennis about something of interest in Ireland.

As for Sandefjord, Patrick Cullen sailed her with his family in the Cape Town to Rio Race of 1971, and then cruised north through the Caribbean to New York and on to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, where she was based from 1972 to 1976. She was sold there by Patrick and Barry in 1976 to Erling Brunborg, who sailed her home to Norway.

Brunborg, a stalwart of the Colin Archer world, eventually sold her in 1983 to Petter Omtvedt, who in turn spent ten years on a massive re-build, making her exactly as she'd been as a Redningskoite. When this was completed, she was bought in 1993 by Gunn von Trepka who – with her husband Alan Baker – has completed many Tall Ship Races in European waters as family sailing ventures. And as this year is Sandefjord's Centenary, there'll be a mighty party in Risor at the end of August which hopefully will be attended by all the surviving members of Sandefjord circumnavigating crew, though sadly Pat Cullen, who had the first spark of the idea of the world voyage, died some years ago.

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The Centenarian – Tim Magennis aboard the restored Sandefjord in Risor in Norway, where she will celebrate her hundredth birthday in August 2013

Needless to say, Tim Magennis will be in the heart of the Centenary party, the father of the crew. But meanwhile, he has much to attend to in Dublin. With retirement he has been able to focus even more strongly on his love of sailing and maritime heritage, and it was very right with the world when he was acclaimed as the new President of the Dublin Branch OGA in the Autumn of 2012, no better man with the Golden Jubilee Cruise arriving at the end of May.

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Tim Magennis (left) seen recently at a DBOGA meeting with fellow gaffers Ian Malcolm and Sean Cullen

His own boat these days is the 25ft Marguerite, a lovely little clipper-bowed gaff sloop designed in 1896 by Herbert Boyd, who later designed the Howth 17s in 1898. A great friend and fellow owner of another vintage Boyd boat, the 26ft Eithne from 1893, is Patrick Cullen's son Sean, who is very much an Irish seafarer these days – he commands one of the national maritime survey vessels, a long way indeed from racing aboard Sandefjord from Cape Town to Rio as a very young seafarer in 1971.

Tim's seagoing interests are many. He sailed many miles offshore with Don Street of Glandore aboard Don's famous ocean-crossing Iolaire. And more recently, while sailing across the Bay of Biscay aboard the square rigger Jeanie Johnston on a pilgrimage with a difference to Santiago de Compostela, his mobile phone rang, and the connection lasted just long enough to tell him he'd become a grandfather for the first time.

That's the way it is with Tim Magennis. There's always something new on the horizon. And there's quite a past too, for this is a man who once upon a time sailed right round the world on a fine gaff ketch when all the world was young, and everything was possible. So when the world of gaff rig comes to Dublin Bay in six weeks time, there'll be someone there to welcome them, a man who really does know what seafaring under gaff rig is all about.

Leave a comment

9 comments

  • Comment Link Lindy Jeffery 14th February 2017 posted by Lindy Jeffery

    Good day
    I sincerely hope you can help me. I would love to get hold of a copy of the DVD - "Sandefjord - Her voyage around the world".
    I have contacted the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute of South Africa) and they tell me they are out of stock.
    Please, please is there any way I can get a copy. I saw the film when I was a little girl and would love to see it again.
    If you can point me in the right direction it would be enormously appreciated.

    Hoping to hear from you.
    Kind regards
    Lindy Jeffery

  • Comment Link Nick Vacalo 23rd April 2016 posted by Nick Vacalo

    This is a great site. Thanks! I've bookmarked it :)

  • Comment Link Robbi Hinds 22nd November 2014 posted by Robbi Hinds

    Message for Tim Magennis...cast your mind back to September 1969 when you, Pat Cullen, my wife Lin and myself sailed out of Noank (neighboring Mystic Seaport) in Connecticut on a sailboat delivery bound for the Naval Academy in Annapolis MD. South on Long Island Sound, down the East River, narrowly avoiding collision with the Statten Island Ferry (the boat's engine had concked out so we were forced to be under sail alone (not advisable thru New York Harbor) and on down south into Chesapeake Bay where we paused for engine repair. Then on thru the Atlantic I.C.W. to Annapolis. I recall Tim having his nose bashed by an errant boom and me being able to repair it with a skillfully placed Band-Aid - no fractures, no sutures. (You're welcome, Tim). Post delivery we taxied to Washington and Lin and I went on to LA and Tim and Pat back to Mystic. Last sighting. I now live in Charleston, South Carolina. Sorry I missed Sandy's centennial in Risor. Say "Hi" to Sean and Ruthie.

  • Comment Link Dave Muller 2nd July 2013 posted by Dave Muller

    I vividly remember one of the Cullin's brothers coming to talk to my scout troop in Port Elizabeth when I was 13. I wish I can remember which one it was (I think it must have been Patrick) but I do recall he taught us how to tie a bowline using only one hand; a trick I can still perform. This must have been in 1965 when, presumably, Sandefjord put into Port Elizabeth while on the way to Cape Town. I'd love for someone to confirm this. I later saw the movie and was captivated and resolved to build a ocean going yacht and sail around the world. Arwen was launched in 1985 but in 1990, during a voyage to Bazaruto Island, my family and I were captured by Renamo boy soldiers and Arwen was torched. Amazingly, we were released after 7 weeks living in the bush. Sailing just did no longer fit in with family plans so we resorted to back packing holidays to odd destinations. Sadly, it looks as if I will never get to sailing around the world - but then it is no longer the same world as in the 1960's
    I was thrilled to stumble upon a number of web links recounting the story of Sandefjiord. She and the Cullins changed my life and although the story could have had a more tragic ending, I would never swop the joy of building my own yacht and of at least sailing her around the SA coastline during the brief five years of Arwen's life. Wonderful to hear that Sandefjiord is about to celebrate 100 years. I will drink a toast to her in August.

  • Comment Link Barbara Dimmick 4th May 2013 posted by Barbara Dimmick

    I went to the sailing school at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut when Patrick Cullen was first mate. As the captain was ill, Patrick ran the program. As we were allegedly a particularly well-behaved and eager group, we got to see the movie. I've never forgotten it (I was 14 or 15) or Patrick, who set a high standard but with great humor and enthusiasm. Sorry to read he sailing other oceans now--

  • Comment Link TIM MAGENNIS EX SANDEFJORD. 25th April 2013 posted by TIM MAGENNIS EX SANDEFJORD.

    My MARGUERITE (1896),,,,A LITTLE BIT OLDER THAN MESELF, WAS RELAUNCHED LAST WEEK END ,,,AND HAPPILY STAYED AFLOAT. GREETINGS TO ALL FRIENDS WE MIGHT HAVE HAD A JAR WITH IN THOSE FINE TIMES A GOOD FEW YEARS AGO..WE MIGHT JUST MEET UP AGAIN IN NORWAY THIS SUMMER FOR THE BIG GIG,,AND THANKS SO VERY MUCH TO WM NIXON FOR BRINGING IT ALL BACK WITH SO MNAY FINE WORDS,,,THE MAN IS A GENIUS,,,,,,,,TIM MAGENNIS, DUBLIN, IRELAND.

  • Comment Link Lena Stølås 24th April 2013 posted by Lena Stølås

    Sandefjord today if anyone would have a look :-) http://rs28sandefjord.dinstudio.no
    All the best and fair winds
    Lena

  • Comment Link Rob Martin 24th April 2013 posted by Rob Martin

    Great history..... beautifull craft, remember the film saw it four times in Johannesburg, was eighteen years old, got the dreams going,the Cullens let me watch it for free.

  • Comment Link libby  bonnet 24th April 2013 posted by libby bonnet

    wow nostalgic
    Chris and Libby Bonnet show the movie to all students during last 30 years and knew Patrick Cullen well
    so
    this a neat nostalgic read
    Well done all
    what an amazing thing
    and sailing truly aint like this no more
    and
    they dont make em like this either any more
    Sadly Chris gone to sail the ocean blue having taught over 30 000 students in Durban
    I Libby am passing the battern and legacy- just turned 70 and no zimmer frame in sight
    GO SAILORS - REAL SAILORS GO!!!!

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