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“A steel boat will take you anywhere if it is well maintained, but knowing it inside out made all the difference,”

“You can jump onto a boat and sail it, but you can have lots of problems if you aren’t familiar with it.”

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Galway scientists and sailors Peter Owens and Vera Quinlan speak of their 14 months sailing Danú of Galway with their two children Lilian (12) and Ruairí (10) and give tips for families considering the same.

Had they dodged lightning storms, swum through a shiver of sharks and clung to a coconut sack to escape the prison on the Îles du Salut that featured in the film Papillon, the Quinlan-Owens family could not radiate more exhilaration after their 12,000 nautical mile trip, which involved quarantining in the latter stages due to Covid-19.

Lilian was a toddler and Quinlan was still on maternity leave with Ruairí when they bought Danú, a 1 Mauritius-class steel ketch in 1993 to a Bruce Roberts design.

The cost for the couple was “the price of an average family car”. However, it required a complete refit, along with a new engine and electronics, after they sailed it up from the Guadiana river on the Spanish-Portuguese border.

danu crewHere comes the sun…..Danu’s crew as they took their departure from Ireland at the end of June 2019, with Lilian and Ruari (foreground), and their parents Peter Owens and Vera Quinlan. Photo Vera Quinlan

For almost two years, Owens laboured with power tools, dust and grime in Galway docks. Through dark winter nights, he dreamed of ventures north to climb in Norway’s Lofoten islands — a trip he made when the work was done.

“We just wanted to be 100% sure of the vessel,” says Quinlan. “Experience is something you cannot buy, and with that comes the knowledge that if you have something like a catastrophic fire out in the north Atlantic, you are out of range of a helicopter rescue.” Lilian and Ruairí learnt man-overboard drills and what to do if they had to abandon ship.

“You can’t take anything with you — not even your books,” says Ruairí.

Yearning to spend more time with their young family

A yearning to spend more time with their young family was also shared by Phillida Eves and Tedd Hamilton, who set off from Rosscahill, in Co Galway, for the Mediterranean in July 2003.

Their children, Oisín, Cian and Soracha, were aged between nine and two, and their springer spaniel, Poppy, travelled with them on 14-metre, 30-year old Nicholson ketch, Kari, which they had bought in southern Spain.

The couple remortgaged their house, and Hamilton’s profession as a marine engineer meant he could work on “superyachts” while Eves, a teacher, could be drawn on real-life situations to give the children maths lessons, such as calculating distance for fuel.

Practical education was also the focus for Trish McDonagh, when she and her husband and two children, then aged four and seven, embarked on an extended Atlantic circuit from Cork harbour on their yacht, Selkie, between 2012 and 2015.

“I took the home-schooling seriously, but then stripped it away to maths and English, while every other subject — history, geography, science, and so on — was based on where we were,” she says. “I think the big advantage for the children was having time with both of their parents, which can be difficult enough in this world we find ourselves in.

Read more in The Sunday Times here

Published in Cruising
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In a few days, a large fleet of 17 boats from the Cruising Association of Ireland will arrive in Belfast Lough. It's three years since they last cruised here in Northern Ireland. The contingent will include two boats from the North – David Meeke's Serenity from Royal Ulster and John Murphy from Carrickfergus SC in Enigma.

As Afloat reported previously, the plan is to depart Malahide by this Thursday (13th) heading north to gather in Carlingford Lough at the Marina the next day and then proceed to Belfast Lough for a muster in Belfast Harbour Marina on Monday 17th. After that, the fleet will be in Bangor Marina for 19th and 20th where Royal Ulster YC will welcome the crews for an evening meal. The cruise will finish with free sailing south.

Commodore Vincent Lundy is pleased that the CAI is going cruising. " It has been an incredibly difficult year for us all, but the bottom line is that we need to go cruising. Needless to say, we are bound to remain compliant with all restrictions imposed, and these same conditions will dictate the levels of social interaction for the safety of our membership. Indeed is our duty to do so. A special welcome is extended to new members and those with homeports in the Northern Region".

Published in Cruising

Ireland's solo Round the World sailor Pete Hogan gives a personal memoir of Canadian author and bluewater sailor Larry Pardey, who circumnavigated the world both east-about and west-about, and who died last month aged 81.

Many Irish sailors will have read, heard of, or met the US/Canadian cruising couple Lin and Larry Pardey. They overwintered here in Ireland at least once during their cruises. Sadly, Larry died recently in his adopted home of New Zealand. He had suffered for several years from Parkinson’s and Parkinsonian dementia.

Larry was part of the early ‘sail away into the sunset’ craze which developed with the explosion of sailing, boats and boating technology in the 1960s. Being from Vancouver, BC he was brought up in the rich British yachting tradition which the English and Scottish settlers brought to that most wonderful yachting region. He was the natural successor and friend of, Eric Hiscock who did so much in his writings and films to instruct on the correct way to go cruising.

When he moved to California in the mid-60s Larry worked on yachts and started building the 24-ft Seraffyn. It is indicative of his sailing philosophy that the boat was based on the Bristol Channel pilot cutters (though tiny), was built of wood, had no engine and that he built it himself. It was while building Seraffyn that he met Lin, a music student with no sailing experience and they sailed off together. They initially financed their cruising by working on boats and deliveries but increasingly writing about their adventures and techniques provided a full-time income. Later they were to make videos. Lin was largely responsible for the writing and the bubbly, accessible, magazine-style was key to their wide appeal. Larry was responsible for the technical side of things, boat building, maintenance and seamanship. He used a sextant right up to the end, when GPS had become universal on cruising boats.

Larry and Lin PardeyLin and Larry Pardey 

As well as being a consummate cruising sailor and boat builder, Larry enjoyed nothing better than to race boats and was always getting involved in club racing or at a higher level whenever he could. They sailed under the Canadian flag and completed two circumnavigations. They received many awards and published at least 12 books. They eventually settled in New Zealand.

I was honoured to meet the pair on two occasions. (Their popularity was such that they had to conceal their planned destinations to avoid a flotilla of cruisers following them). The first time was in Freemantle in 1992. I was on my own circumnavigation and they were on an extended stop while they made instructional videos. They were on board their second boat, the slightly bigger Taleisin (30 ft.) (Both their boats were designed by Californian Lyle Hess and it is probably true to say that they established him as a designer.) By this time they were a celebrity couple as sailors but they could not have been more welcoming to me. While the Hiscock’s were famously stand- offish, Lin and Larry were the exact opposite.

Pete Hogan's boat next to Larry Pardey's on a marinaDubliner Pete Hogan's Molly B (left) and Larry Pardey's Taleisin in Fremantle, Australia in 1992

They spent their days on board their showcase boat, Lin working at the paperwork and Larry on maintenance. Everyone who came to meet them and to see their boat was welcomed. Larry was constantly in demand for advice on nautical matters. They gave a talk at the yacht club. The talk was as much about the voyaging as the lifestyle and beautiful places visited. Lin had a special interest in on-board food and the provisioning of the cruising yacht. That was their working day and I would meet them in the evenings when we would go and explore the town. I think there was no electric light on the boat. Entertainment on the pristine Talesin was always done with a lot of style, from the exotic local food to the crystal wine flutes. They loved to sing, accompanied by guitar and had a big repertoire of sea shanties and folk songs from the sixties.

I asked Larry where I should dock in Sydney harbour, whence I was then headed. He said ‘the Cruising Yacht Club, Rushcutters Bay’. I wrote to the yacht club and asked them to keep post for me. (In those days before E-mail.) One of the messages the club held for me was a note to call a girl called Micaela, who I eventually married! So maybe Larry introduced me to my wife!

The second time I met Lin and Larry was in Cornwall a few years later while I was crossing from Ireland to France in Molly B. I was sheltering from atrocious weather in Penzance and they invited me to dinner in the house close to the boatyard where they were staying, in Falmouth. They were wintering ashore and Talesin was hauled in a traditional boatyard, the sort of place Larry felt at home in.

I lost touch with Lin and Larry when my boat sank. Indeed I was a bit concerned they might use my experience as an example of how NOT to go cruising in one of their books or an article. Then I sent them a copy of my book about Molly B when it was belatedly published. It contains an illustration of the two boats berthed together in Freo. I sent it to ‘Kawau Island, NZ’ thinking that would be sufficient address to reach them. However, the book was returned. So I left it at that.

I am friends with Lin on Facebook, though she has so many friends that she has exceeded the number which Facebook permit. (5000) She sails on and I leave the last words to her. Her favourite quote from Larry and the one which sums him up: ‘We were put on this earth to help each other’.

Lin Pardey has created a fund to remember Larry. Details here

She explains:
To keep Larry's memory alive for a good long time. He loved Camp Bentzon and the sound of children’s laughter which is right across the cove from our home base. As a memorial to him, his best friend (and one of our most long term mutual friends) donated the funds to build an observatory at Camp Bentzon. Almost 5000 school children now have a chance to see the night sky unimpeded by city lights. Funds will go towards maintenance and upgrading of the observatory.

Published in Cruising
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When two Galway children set sail with their parents for a circuit of the North Atlantic last summer, little did they know they wouldn’t be homeschooling on their own.

Nor was “pandemic” on the list of potential hazards as Lilian (12) and Ruairí (10) Quinlan-Owens, and their parents Vera and Peter, headed south in heavy winds from Kinvara, Co Galway all of 14 months ago.

Brighter sunshine, a westerly wind and an effervescent welcome greeted the family of four on Monday as they sailed their 13m yacht Danú of Galway into Parkmore several hours before high tide.

To the strains of The Ships are Sailing, played by Josephine Boland and PJ Howell, they threw a line ashore and wiped away a tear or two, in between wide smiles.

Navigating the rain forest on the Maroni river in French Guiana and collecting rock from Dominica island’s famous Boiling Lake in the Caribbean were among highlights recounted by Lilian on deck.

Reaching the Sahara desert before sunrise after a seven-day trek across the Atlas mountains in Morocco, and swimming with sharks, stingrays, eagle rays and other coral reef fish were some of her brother Ruairí’s best memories.

“I did miss my friends, “Lilian said.

When they had to quarantine after the full impact of Covid-19 hit, it was off the small island of Barbuda north of Antigua, where islanders left fresh vegetables and fruit for them on the beach.

They had undergone several quarantines by the time they sailed in yesterday, after a ten-day trip from the Azores north to the Aran islands.

The family had been en route from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to the island of Montserrat when they heard about Covid-19 lockdowns.

At that stage, Danú had taken them to northern Spain, where they walked in the Picos de Europa mountain range, and to Morocco, where they trekked across the Atlas mountains to ride camels in the Sahara desert.

The couple are both scientists, and Vera is a hydrographer for Infomar, the national seabed mapping programme jointly managed by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland.

Vera, Lilian (12), Ruairí (10) and Peter Quinlan-Owens on their arrival into the Aran islands after 14 months in the Atlantic on their yacht, Danú of Galway. The family arrived home to Kinvara on MondayVera, Lilian (12), Ruairí (10) and Peter Quinlan-Owens on their arrival into the Aran islands after 14 months in the Atlantic on their yacht, Danú of Galway. The family arrived home to Kinvara on Monday Photo: Vera Quinlan-Owens

On passage from the Cape Verde Islands to French Guiana last December, they deployed an Argo float which sinks to 2,000m to collects ocean data for climate change research.

The float had already been signed before departure by classmates of Lilian and Ruairí at Kilcolgan Educate Together primary school, some of whom were on hand for yesterday’s (mon) homecoming.

En route home via the Azores, they had to ration their water and ask for a top-up of fuel from a passing tanker.

After leaving that Portuguese archipelago, Danú was almost 400 nautical miles south of the Irish coast when the family had to “hove to” or take down all the sails, secure the tiller and batten down the hatches as they were hit by 35-knot winds.

“We rode out the conditions over ten hours, and were hit by two “growlers” where a huge wall of water swept over Danú, knocking the rails right down under before she came back up,” Vera Quinlan-Owens said.

“The boat was brilliant, but my heart did flutter a bit – thankfully, the kids slept right through it all,” she said.

They hit another system of force six to seven winds when closer to the Aran Islands, making it impossible to navigate the Gregory sound.

Vera’s father, Fergus and his wife Kay Quinlan on their 12m cutter, Pylades and the Minogue family from Kinvara had sailed out to meet them on Inis Mór.

Participating craft in the “Lambs weekend” cruise in company hosted by Galway Bay Sailing Club also celebrated their adventure.

Yesterday’s final leg home under sail was marked by a large banner held by school friends at Parkmore pier, welcoming the “gallant crew”.

Published in Cruising
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The Sailor of the Month contest has been running for nearly a quarter of a century now, but this may well be the first time the award has gone to a single seagoing family. Vera Quinlan, her husband Peter Owens, and their children Lillian (now 12) and Ruairi (10) departed their home near Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay with their 43ft steel ketch Danu in June 2019 in anticipation of a comprehensive Atlantic circuit cruise to South America and the Caribbean, concluding back in Galway Bay at the end of August 2020.

Despite their plans being battered by the massive international effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Danu and her crew have managed to finish a very complete voyage of remarkable variety, and they thoroughly deserved the warm welcome and congratulations they received from family and friends when they arrived back into Kilronan in the Aran Islands on Wednesday 29th July.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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After spending much of the past two months on her own in the Atlantic making her way home from the Caribbean via the Azores, the Quinlan-Owens family’s 43ft ketch Danu found her crew being swept up into a socially-controlled welcome home party last in Kilronan. The Galway Bay Sailing Club flotilla co-ordinated by Cormac Mac Donncha in the “Lambs Weekend” cruise-in-company arrived in on a busy programme which had already taken them to Rossaveal and is today (Saturday) taking some on round Slyne Head to Inishbofin, while others will either stay on in Kilronan through Saturday night or else make the passage today to Roundstone, where tomorrow night (Sunday) sees the "Grand Gathering” as the boats return from Bofin.

It’s a programme which will see quite a few collective sea miles being logged along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. But meanwhile in Kilronan, where Vera Quinlan and Peter Owens and their family had been relaxing since their post-Azores arrival on Wednesday night with Vera’s father Fergus and his wife Kay on their world-girdling 12m cutter Pylades, and friends Conor and Breda Minogue on their Bownan 40 Golden Harvest, the social pace was allowed to go up a carefully-monitored notch or two in the best Aran Islands style.

Conor & Breda Minogue’s Bowman 40 Golden Harvest, a Giles-designed Bowman 40 classic of 1974 vintage with which the late Michael Snell of East Ferry on Cork Harbour completed an Atlantic circuit cruiseKilronan this (Saturday) morning. In the foreground is Conor & Breda Minogue’s Bowman 40 Golden Harvest, a Giles-designed Bowman 40 classic of 1974 vintage with which the late Michael Snell of East Ferry on Cork Harbour completed an Atlantic circuit cruise. Photo: Vera Quinlan

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Last night (Wednesday) the 43ft steel ketch Danu made her way round the end of the breakwater at Kilronan in the Aran Islands in the evening light, with the day’s rain clearing away to the northeast. The Quinlan-Owens family of Kinvara had returned safely to home waters after a Transatlantic circuit cruise in which they had achieved much, despite some of their plans being curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In keeping with current circumstances, they returned to a warm but subdued numbers-limited welcome. It was a very special occasion nevertheless, as in port in Kilronan to greet them were Vera Quinlan’s father Fergus with his wife Kay on their world-girdling 12 metre cutter Pylades, whose home base is at Bell Harbour in North Clare close west of Kinvara, while from their own anchorage in the approaches to Kinvara were Conor and Breda Minogue with their young sons Micheal (11) and Tomas (8) on their classic Bowman 40 Golden Harvest, another veteran of transoceanic passages.

With their daughter Lilian (now 12) and son Ruairi (10), the Quinlan-Owens family make for a formidable voyaging and shoreside exploration team, as Vera is a scientist with the Marine Institute, while Peter’s speciality is the exploration of rugged and out-of-the-way places ashore. Thus before they’d even left the eastern side of the Atlantic for the hop across to South America from the Cape Verde islands, they’d had detailed expeditions into the Picos de Europa in northern Spain, and the Atlas mountains in Morocco.

After Christmas spent in a jungle river in Guyana, they started making their way up the chain of the Caribbean Islands in the New Year, but then had to plan carefully in order to avoid being trapped by the rising COVID-19 pandemic. The French islands were being particularly strict in imposing total lockdown which stopped all movement, but by getting themselves to Antigua where - with tests done and clearance provided to sail for some parts of Europe – they departed on the first stage of the long haul home. Their best hopes lay in reaching the forward-looking administration in the Azores, where the authorities were making every effort to accommodate long-distance cruisers, while still adhering to their own guidelines.

As reported in Afloat ie, Danu’s crew timed their Azores arrival to near-perfection, with a minimum time in quarantine, while – as Vera admits – a bit of the “Galway gab” ensured that they were the first visiting cruising yacht to be given pratique to sail at will among the pandemic-free islands. Thus although their hopes of some cruising on the US eastern seaboard had to be abandoned, they had a wonderful time cruising the Azores in some detail before gathering themselves for the 1,100 mile passage home to Galway Bay in a period when the North Atlantic is in a decidedly restless mood.

Despite that, last night saw Danu safely in Kilronan, very much within reach of home and gradually adjusting to a different style of life, with everyone wondering just when Ruairi will decide to get a haircut.

The Quinlan-Owens family’s Bruce Roberts 43 steel ketch Danu, built in 1993, was much up-graded by Peter and Vera before the voyageThe Quinlan-Owens family’s Bruce Roberts 43 steel ketch Danu, built in 1993, was much up-graded by Peter and Vera before the voyage

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The Quinlan-Owens family of Kinvara are expected home in Galway Bay within the next day or so with their 39ft steel ketch Danu of Galway, a 1993-built ocean voyager which Marine Institute scientist Vera Quinlan and her husband Peter Owens brought up to superb seagoing condition to take their two children Lillian and Ruairi on a 15-month dream cruise circuiting the North Atlantic.

They departed from Ireland in June 2019, and all was going to plan with the sailing paradise of the Caribbean reached by the New Year (after spending Christmas in the highly unusual setting of a remote jungle river in Guyana) when the remorseless spread of COVID-19 started to impact on the plans for the second half of their voyage. In the end they managed to get themselves well located in Antigua for an exit via the eastbound Transatlantic hop to the Azores, and while the ocean crossing was a frustrating business with more than their fair share of headwinds and calms, they arrived at Horta in the Azores just as those welcoming Portuguese islands were leading the world in emerging from the Pandemic.

In fact, so fortuitously had they timed their arrival in Horta that Danu was the first visiting cruising yacht to be certified COVID-free and entitled to cruise at will in that loveliest of archipelagos. The precious few weeks of cruising in the Azores have done much to offset the frustrations of the later period in the Caribbean. But they knew that in due course they’d have to prepare themselves for the 1,100 mile passage home to Galway, knowing that the further north they got, the more restless would be the Atlantic, while temperatures would plummet.

But Danu has ploughed on through those increasingly cold and restless seas, and as of 10.32 GMT today (Tuesday) she was 110 miles west of the Blasket Islands, and making five knots on course for home.

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The Cruising Association of Ireland was back on the water last weekend with a cruise around the Kish Bank Light on Dublin Bay and onwards to the Royal Irish Yacht Club at Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

Seven yachts rounded the Kish of which five lay alongside the Royal Irish overnight, sailing back to Howth, Malahide and Carlingford the next day.

This was the first outing in ten months for the association but the summer is far from over, according to CAI Honorary Secretary John Leahy, and the cruising group has several events planned including a cruise to Belfast Lough as Afloat previously reported here. Further events include the Liffey Rally on September 19/20.

At the Kish Light on Dublin BayAt the Kish Light on Dublin Bay

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The pressures of assembling an ocean-going crew on-line in the highly-constrained times of Coronavirus may have been a factor in experienced Arctic voyager Nick Kats’ decision to cut short what would have been his third cruise from Ireland to East Greenland in his 39ft steel ketch Teddy. Having left Clifden last week, Teddy was making reasonably good progress in the Atlantic and was approaching the halfway stage to Iceland, but the skipper – who has overcome deafness from birth to make some extraordinary voyages – had the feeling that things weren’t working out to create a sufficiently experienced seagoing team among his three new shipmates.

Over the years, he has drawn on the experience and teachability of a total of 35 widely-varied crewmates for long voyages, recruiting them through the Internet. But that was in periods of less pressure, and without limitations on the ports he could visit. However, during this past week, while sailing north, he has reckoned there was insufficient time and space available to have a properly seaworthy setup in place as Teddy sailed into the really demanding seas and weather of the high latitudes.

So the decision was taken to head back, stopping for a rest at St Kilda, and then heading on for an Irish port at Tory island so that the crew could disperse in an amicable fashion. “They were very disappointed but were graceful about it, and we parted on decent terms” the American skipper messaged to “These are three great people, and I hope to stay in contact with them. Getting solid crew is the hardest part of my trips. I had not met any of them before, but that has been the case with most of the 35 total that I’ve taken on my trips. Which isn’t ideal but it is reality, yet in this case it just wasn’t to be.”

Nick KatsNick Kats decided with a heavy heart that this was the voyage that he had to curtail

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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