#SAILOR OF THE MONTH – Our new Irish Independent/Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" is a boat enthusiast who does good work by stealth. In fact, "under the radar" is the apt term in every way when talking about Hal Sisk's maritime involvement. He makes a speciality of shining the light of enquiry into many aspects of boats and seafaring history which have not been getting their deserved attention.
Over many years now, the Dun Laoghaire sailor has unearthed neglected information and history, and presented it in a way which makes it accessible and interesting to less academic mariners. At a practical level, he has undertaken the restoration of ancient boats which provide an insight into the past, and bring it vividly to life.
One place this was seen was along the Dun Laoghaire waterfront. In the Coal Harbour Boatyard, there are always boats which don't get launched as each season approaches. But it took Hal Sisk to realise that one of the orphans, a skinny little boat called Vagrant, was significant, as too was an elegant clipper bowed craft called Peggy Bawn. The first was a pure example of the highly specialised racing boats of the 1880s (she dated from 1884), while Peggy Bawn was a fascinating example of a time of rapid change in design - she dated from 1894, and had the further interest of having been built in Ireland.
Both were long past seaworthiness, but Hal Sisk restored and sailed the little Vagrant back to her birthplace in Scotland, and she is now an exhibit in the Scottish Maritime Museum. Later, he did a meticulous restoration of Peggy Bawn, which he has kept for the special pleasure of sailing a living artefact of 118 yars ago. He has also been busy in research and publication, and six years ago he played a key role in bringing out a massive tome, Traditional Boats of Ireland edited by Cristoir Mac Carthaigh.
But in recent weeks, anyone who thought that this would be Hal Sisk's only great big boat book has had to think again. With an international team centred on Ireland, his new company of Peggy Bawn Press has brought out a monumental work by Martin Black, detailing the life story and designs of the Scottish naval architect George Lennox Watson (1851-1904), who was adjudged by the legendary Olin Stephens to have been the greatest yacht designer of all, but is unfairly neglected today.
Giving G L Watson his proper due has been a classic Hal Sisk project, and the international acclaim this handsome and profusely-illustrated book is receiving shows how deservedly he is the "Sailor of the Month".