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The Snipe Class Dinghy Ranger Sails Again on Lough Erne

16th August 2021
Ranger ready to launch (from left to right) Lord Erne, Rory Corbett, Sarah Royle and Johnny Madden
Ranger ready to launch (from left to right) Lord Erne, Rory Corbett, Sarah Royle and Johnny Madden Credit: Lough Erne Heritage

The Snipe class dinghy Ranger appears to be first listed in the Ballyholme Yacht Club 1953 Regatta programme in Belfast Lough, owned by a Mr J Morrison. But by 1956 she had moved west and found a home in Lough Erne where she remained, sailing for about 15 years out of the Lough Erne Yacht Club formed in 1827 at Crom Castle on Upper Lough Erne,

As related in the afloat story, the Snipe is a 15' 5" two-person plank-built dinghy (now made in fibreglass) and was sailed extensively in Belfast Lough and Strangford Lough between the 30s and 60s and on Lough Erne from the mid-Fifties until the late Sixties. It even appeared on Eskragh Lough near Dungannon.

Crom was the centre of social life on Upper Lough Erne in the late 19th century and the early years of the 20th. There were house parties, shooting parties, and tennis parties, but yachting was the main passion of the Crichtons of Crom and other families of the aristocracy.

For over half a century, Ranger languished in the Boathouse at the home of Lord Erne at Crom; that was until a couple of years ago when local Lough Erne Heritage enthusiast Fred Ternan discovered her and another called Teal. With his brother George, he set about restoring Ranger with the ultimate vision of having those two and another discovered in Lord Belmore's Castle Coole as part of the Lough Erne Museum's displays.

Ranger making her way to the Boathouse. Edwina Ternan at the helm and Fred Ternan crewing Ranger making her way to the Boathouse. Edwina Ternan at the helm and Fred Ternan crewing

Mr Johnny Madden of Hilton Park, Clones was co-owner of Ranger with Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who went on to become a famous explorer and author. The enviable documented history of Snipe sailing on Lough Erne is entirely due to Johnny Madden, whose father, Major Madden, already raced two Snipe dinghies at Crom, Teal and Mallard. They were among several sailing families who raced at Crom in the 1950s and 1960s along with Lord Erne, the Belmore's of Castle Coole, the Rossmores of Monaghan, the Corbetts, Lucas-Clements and others of the aristocracy.

Johnny Madden in Crom boathouseJohnny Madden in Crom boathouse

Johnny Madden recalls Snipe sailing n Lough Erne; "The Snipe class was perfect for Lough Erne. The boats were cheap to buy as they were starting to go out of fashion on Belfast and Strangford Loughs. Those that came to Crom were probably pre-war and were of very solid wooden construction, highly suitable for boys landing upon rocky shores. None of this would have been possible without the generous cooperation of the young Lord Erne. Not only were we given moorings in the narrow water at the Boathouse, but he also put out a buoy at the end of Trial Bay for racing and of course he let us use the Boathouse for storage of small items and as a place to have our picnic tea after sailing".

Fast forward to the first weekend in August and among the guests gathered at the Crom Estate slipway on 7th for the launch of the restored Ranger were the seventh Lord Erne, John Crichton, and his wife the Countess of Erne, Johnny Madden, and visitors from County Down - Joe Campbell who documented Snipe sailing in Holywood Yacht Club and his wife Janet, Wiclif McCready from Strangford Lough, who sailed in Snipes at Portora and Rory Corbett and Sarah Royle, nee Lucas-Clements. Also there having travelled from London were the late Lord Rossmore's cousin Sophie and her husband. And Karen Fitzsimmons and Andy McCune, from Carrickfergus Sailing Club on Belfast Lough and previous members of Lough Erne YC.

Ranger arriving at the Crom boathouseRanger arriving at the Crom boathouse

Wiclif recalls sailing at Portora." We were allowed and perhaps even encouraged to bring our own boats back to school and the Rev Benson was very helpful in getting us afloat. The only catch here was that all the club boats had to be painted before you could go sailing in your own boat, so it was here that I gained my experience in painting and varnishing - and even removing old paint with a paraffin blow torch. It is fair to observe that I did more than my fair share of painting in the Easter term so that I could go sailing right at the start of the summer term".

Sue Roberts, Treasurer of the Snipe Association couldn't attend. " Looks like you all had a wonderful day. I'm so sorry we couldn't be there. Maybe you can do another one Fred! Well done for all the hard work in both the restoration and the planning that went into the launch day and celebrations. We certainly hope to get to meet you and Ranger in the not too distant future".

So 65 years after her first appearance on Upper Lough Erne, Ranger is back sailing at Crom. A miserable rainy morning soon blew over and Ranger in her original yellow colour and white colours brightened Crom just as the sun appeared.

Crewed by Fred and his daughter Edwina Ternan, Ranger was put through her paces from the slip, past the old castle and played on the lively waters of Crom Bay, skirting the entrance of Trial Bay, tacking in fine fashion, sporting her original cotton sails made in 1952 (69 years ago) by Ratsey and Lapthorn and as Fred confirmed "they still set very well". She arrived at the Boathouse just below Crom Castle to be greeted by many well-wishers.

Following speeches by Lord Erne and Johnny Madden, the invited guests retired to Crom Visitor Centre where refreshments were served.

Lough Erne Heritage Trustee Brian Osborne was enthusiastic about the restoration. "As an owner and sailor of classic dinghies, I look forward to seeing more of Ranger at Crom. Thank you to the caterers, photographers and everyone who braved the weather, and a big thank you to Gabriel Fitzpatrick for supplying an additional safety boat".

Fred Ternan, who with brother George, spent months restoring this classic dinghy was pleased with how the proceedings went. And he and Brian Osborne from Lough Erne Heritage concurred. " Further to our successful launch of the restored Snipe sailing dinghy Ranger, at Crom, I wish to independently offer our grateful appreciation for all the assistance shown by the National Trust at Crom and the financial support from Enniskillen BID Ltd, without whom we could not have held such a historic event at the home of sailing on Lough Erne, Crom. We look forward to working with these kind of organisations in the near future. Together, we can bring alive the many strands that make up the rich history and heritage of Lough Erne".

Lord Erne speaking at the Crom boathouseLord Erne speaking at the Crom boathouse

Lord Erne of Crom Castle very much enjoyed the launch celebration; "A wonderful occasion to witness the relaunch of this very special Snipe boat at a building steeped in sailing history and memories. May there be many more to come".

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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