The 43ft 1937 Tyrrell of Arklow-built gaff ketch Maybird has become a familiar sight in Irish waters in recent years writes W M Nixon. Bought in New Zealand in 2002 by Darryl Hughes (who hailed originally from Wales, but carved out a formidable international career in the security and electronics industry), she was shipped back to the UK with a full restoration eventually planned.
Everything pointed to getting it done in the Solent area, as that’s where you get the greatest concentration of highly-regarded specialists in the classic yacht industry in all its extraordinary variety and manifestations. But while the talents are undoubtedly there, if you channel them through one of the leading firms, the costs could be astronomical.
That said, when people in the know heard that Darryl had received a quote of around £500,000 from a highly reputable firm, there were those who reckoned it was a perfectly reasonable price. But Darryl knew he simply had to do it another way to bring it within his budget, which was more like £250,000.
Successfully chopping 50% off a figure supplied by experts requires confidence, technical ability, unflagging energy, infectious enthusiasm, and the very coolest of judgement. Darryl Hughes has all these and more, and showed good sense from the start.
Typically, he called on the consulting services of classics naval architecture technologist and historian Theo Rye, in those days very much at the height of his powers as a globally-recognised expert on the highest quality yachts. As ever, Theo was generous with his help and advice, and that set the Hughes team on a course which resulted in a successful project which, in time, could well become a case study in what is now know as the gig economy.
Fond memories will be evoked for classic yacht enthusiasts everywhere by this brief video of the late Theo Rye with Maybird during the restoration project.
Darryl’s solution was to appoint himself Project Manager, get Maybird onto a low loader, and move her to a small vacant site he had identified on the quayside in the heart of the Southampton yacht industry. Once she’d been installed there as inconspicuously as possible, they immediately erected a “temporary” covering structure over her which, while weatherproof, still let the light through, and provided the essential minimum of space so that the boat could be enclosed in a convenient series of stagings, while leaving enough spare space for the temporary installation of workbenches and other wood machining paraphernalia.
That said, the fact that some of the most sophisticated wood-working equipment in England was within a few yards on either side of them in vast sheds which were producing everything from pre-packs to finish the accommodation of the Oyster range up in Ipswich, to complete boats of the various marques most directly associated with Southampton, meant that it was essential that Darryl build up a network of mates to let him know when a specialist or two might be available for some specific task on Maybird during a slackening in some big production run.
Then too, Maybird was different from your usual run of classics. She wasn’t your usual elegantly long-ended creation of Fife or Herreshoff. On the contrary, she was an ocean-voyaging veteran, a rugged little yacht – or at least “little” by Southampton marine industry standards – and she came to be regarded as something of a mascot by the many exceptional talents who worked on her during a two year project, which was successfully completed in 2011.
Since then, she has completed the Fastnet Race, and covered many miles at sea, with an increasing number of them off the Irish coast. In fact, so much involved have Darryl and Maybird become with Irish sailing that this year he was elected a member of the Irish Cruising Club. It was particularly special that it should happen in 2017. In 1937, when she was new, her owner Colonel W E Hawkes – who lived in England but was originally of a Crosshaven sailing family – had been an ICC member since the early 1930s.
He’d been inspired to built Maybird by the success of ICC Rear Commodore Billy Mooney’s Fred Shepherd-designed 42ft ketch Aideen, built by Jack Tyrrell in 1934. So when the team in Tyrell & Sons set out to build Maybird in the Autumn of 1936, the brief was “Aideen, only better”, and the result was a slightly longer and more stylish canoe stern which brought the new boat up to 43ft in overall hull length, while they also changed Billy Mooney’s mizzen gaff for a simpler Bermudan setup.
Maybird was a very welcome newcomer to the ICC’s fleet – a very small one in those days – and the fact that she was instantly part of it as soon as she was put afloat makes her re-joining of it exactly 80 year later all the more poignant.
For Colonel Hawkes was already an old man, and not in the best of health, when he had his dreamship built by Tyrrell’s. His years with Maybird were all too few. But Maybird’s life thereafter was interesting. For a few years, she even flew the British white ensign of an owner who was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and by that time she sported a full Bermudan ketch rig.
It was under this rig that she sailed to New Zealand, carrying two families who saw this as an affordable and interesting way to emigrate. One of the youngest on board was Dan Mill, and in an extraordinary twist of fate, he too has now ended up in Ireland, as he runs the busy boatyard in Galway Docks.
So Maybird’s links with many parts of Ireland are very special, but nowhere is more special to boat and owner than Arklow. The feeling is mutual, for few enough Arklow-built classic yachts make a point of visiting their birthplace whenever possible. This friendship – and Maybird’s 80th birthday – is being celebrated in Arklow Sailing Club on Friday 7th April 2017 at 8.00pm sharp for an illustrated talk by Darryl Hughes (and doubtless some others) on Maybird’s extraordinary history, her even more extraordinary restoration, and her remarkable involvement with so many aspects of Irish sailing life since it was completed.
All funds raised will be going to the RNLI, for one special episode in Maybird’s life back in Ireland came in May last year when - with a crew including Arklow RNLI people - she was entering the harbour to complete a passage from her winter berth in Crosshaven, and the engine cut out.
Everyone thought it was a stunt in that some RNLI personnel aboard Maybird were towed into port by their own lifeboat, for it happened to be the RNLI Fund-Raising Festival in Arklow. But it was for real, and caused much amusement. It will certainly add an extra edge to the fund-raising itself.
Yet who knows, but there might be another edge to it. For there will be people there whose fathers and forefathers worked on the building of Maybird in Tyrrell’s shed back in 1936-37. What would those craftsmen of yore have thought if a cheeky young Welshman had come along and set up a boat restoration project on the Arklow quayside right next door, and then chatted up their best shipwrights and other specialists to give of their time when there were lulls in the building of Maybird…..?
However, as the gathering of April 7th in Arklow Sailing Club will also be honouring the memory of Theo Rye, who was taken from us all too soon last November, we can be sure that goodwill and generosity prevail