Displaying items by tag: Conor O'Brien
On most coastlines in the world, you’ll invariably hear of some challenging nearby headland being referred to as “the local Cape Horn” writes W M Nixon
No other promontory worldwide has the same global image. It tells us much about the fearsome reputation of South America’s most southerly point, jutting as it does into the turbulent waters of the Great Southern Ocean where it becomes the Drake Passage, with Antarctica itself not so very far away across some of the roughest seas on the planet.
Cape Horn is always on the oceanic sailing agenda. And at the moment it is top of the list, with 73-year-old Jean-Luc van den Heede of France, leader in the Gold Globe Golden Jubilee Race, rounding it a week ago, while second-placed 41-year-old Dutchman Mark Slats (in a much-depleted fleet) will soon be there, albeit more than a thousand miles astern of van den Heede.
They and the remaining sailors in this challenging re-enactment are following in the wake of solo skipper Robin Knox-Johnston fifty years after he became the first man to sail round the world non-stop in Suhaili, with Knox-Johnston and his little ketch undoubtedly achieving one of world sailing’s truly great firsts.
But by the time Suhaili rounded Cape Horn on 17th January 1969, a number of small sailing boats had done so before her, though none in the same epic non-stop world-girdling style. However, some 45 years had elapsed since the first rounding of Cape Horn by a small cruising boat which had crossed the southern reaches of the South Pacific to get there. But though it was hailed afterwards as the great pioneering achievement it genuinely was, at the time those involved seemed to handle it in an almost low key way, however much it may have meant to them personally.
It was the evening of Tuesday, December 2nd 1924 (94 years ago this Sunday) when the small bluff-bowed 42ft gaff-rigged Irish ketch Saoirse, a craft of antique appearance, approached Cape Horn from the west. The weather had been unsettled with winds from several directions, and two days previously, squalls from the northeast had brought flurries of snow despite it being early in the southern summer. But conditions were improving as the Horn came abeam around 2200hrs in the last of the daylight.
With the onset of the short southern summer night with its brief darkness, the wind settled in the north, and the little ship made steady progress. By noon on Wednesday in fine conditions, she had made good 140 miles in 24 hours, aided by a favourable current of at least one knot. Superb visibility enabled the ketch’s crew to admire the massive scenery along the rugged coast as they shaped their course to pass eastward of Staten Island. The wind then drew fresh and favourably from the southwest, and despite progress being slowed by their vessel’s fouled bottom - for they had been at sea for more than 40 days since leaving New Zealand – by Saturday December 6th they were moored in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
In rounding Cape Horn, the ketch’s amateur skipper Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) of Foynes Island on the Shannon Estuary had made the breakthrough towards becoming the first to take a small yacht around the world south of the Great Capes, running down his easting across the full width of the far Southern Pacific through everything that the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties could throw at him.
He faced it with some confidence, as his little vessel had successfully negotiated several ocean storms during her long passage from Dublin Bay. Ironically, it was in the warm and sunny latitudes of the Canary Islands that they had experienced one of their most severe tests, logging a day’s run of 185 miles while driving hard in rough seas in a sharp gale of the northeast trade winds.
But O’Brien’s own-designed little ship, soundly built by Tom Moynihan and his craftsmen at the Fisheries School in Baltimore in 1922, proved well able, and continued to log many excellent 24-hours runs. The most severe conditions were experienced between southern Africa and Australia, yet the ketch seemed to lead a charmed life. Although he and his shipmates observed several huge pinnacle breakers caused by intersecting wave patterns which he felt sure would have overwhelmed his vessel had she been caught up in one of those mega-breakers, it never happened, and the long haul across the southern Pacific to curve southward to round Cape Horn was subsequently recounted in an under-stated tone. But then, that was the style of the era and the milieu from which Conor O’Brien had emerged.
O’Brien may have been rewarded with a fairly gentle rounding of the Horn itself, but the very small world of ocean voyagers at the time had no doubt of the quality of his achievement. Although Joshua Slocum in Spray had negotiated his way westward from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the channels north of Cape Horn some 28 years earlier, the weather he’d experienced, coupled with the historical stories from the crews of much larger sailing ships which had succeeded in rounding the Horn – for many failed in the attempt – left no doubt about the extremely changeable and often ferocious conditions which were central to the challenge O’Brien had faced.
For circumnavigator sailors from Europe, once you’ve rounded Cape Horn and returned to Atlantic waters, there’s a reassuring feeling of being on the home stretch, for all that there are ten thousand miles still to sail. Certainly O’Brien and his crew of two became so relaxed that they spent six weeks in the Falklands over the Christmas period, becoming so much part of the local community that a crew-member married a local girl and much of Saoirse’s subsequent voyage northward through the Atlantic was made with just two on board.
Yet although it all continued to be done in a low key style, O’Brien was no slouch when publicity opportunities arose, and he returned to Dun Laoghaire on Saturday June 20th 1925 – two years to the day since he departed – in order to facilitate a rapturous welcome. Dublin Bay Sailing Club even cancelled their Saturday racing programme so that their members could join the fleet welcoming Saoirse home.
For most of the voyage, however, Saoirse and her crew were totally out of contact, and could get on with traversing the oceans in traditional lone ship style. And 45 years later, there were long periods in 1968-69 when Robin Knox-Johnston’s location with Suhaili was a matter of speculation rather than precision – it was something of a surprise when the battered but unbowed little ketch appeared in the distant approaches to Falmouth to claim an indisputable “first”.
But today, a constant flow of information in every shape and form is central to any major oceanic sailing event. The Golden Jubilee of the Golden Globe is supposed to be a retro event in which the participants sail old-style boats of closed hull profile using only the technology available in 1968. But the demands of the 21st century with its multiple communication technologies means that the outside world knows almost everything that is going on in this nine month saga.
Thus when Jean-Luc van den Heede had passed Cape Horn a week ago, it so happened that the AGM of the Old Cape Horners Association was being held in England’s historic naval harbour of Portsmouth, and they were provided with a radio linkup with the 73-year-old Frenchman who revealed that it was in fact his tenth rounding of the Horn, and his most recent visit had been during a cruise in the area when they’d landed at Cape Horn island’s semi-sheltered bay, and had gone visiting with the lighthouse keepers for all the world like cruisers of yore making their way along the west coast of Ireland or through the Hebrides.
This almost light-hearted approach to the realities of Cape Horn is classic van den Heede, for in order to still be in the lead in the Golden Globe, he had to survive a knockdown four weeks ago which was so violent that it caused the through-mast bolt supporting his lower shrouds to cut its way downwards through the mast extrusion, leaving the vital lower shrouds dangerously slack.
For a while it looked as though he’d have to divert to Chile for repairs, but somehow this doughty veteran got aloft and cobbled together a repair which held together has now got him round Cape Horn and on to what is admittedly the longest homeward stretch in the world. But his performance is impaired, and he usually has three reefs in the main when only two would be needed were all the rig in full health.
This has meant that second-placed Mark Slats of The Netherlands has been closing the gap, but as van den Heede was an astonishing 1470 miles ahead when his rig damage occurred, Slats has to steadily outperform him by 20% in order to be first back to les Sables d’Olonne in 2019, and since van den Heede got into the Atlantic, the Slats rate of gain has slowed.
Race Tracker here
Both van den Heede and Slats are racing Rustler 36s, a slippy Holman & Pye designed sloop of 1980 which fits neatly into the retro requirement of being a 36ft production design of 1980 or earlier with the specified closed profile, even if in the Rustler 36’s case it does result in a transom stern with a very steeply sloping rudder and a propeller in a large aperture cut from the rudder, which must make them the very devil to handle under power in astern, or indeed under power in any confined manoeuvring situation under power, where prop thrust is often the key to doing the job.
This is probably not remotely of interest in the Great Southern ocean, but as Tim Goodbody so brilliantly revealed with his J/109 in Dublin Bay last weekend, a boat which has an easily-accessed stern-boarding system and handles confidently in astern under power is a very effective rescue machine in a man-overboard situation.
But that’s another topic to which we’ll return some day. Meanwhile, the reality was that the most popular design which turned up to start the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee was the Rustler 36, something of a surprise to casual observers as most folk had initially thought the response would be something nearer Suhaili, and ketch-rigged too.
But as it happens, the one Suhaili sister-ship which was allowed in under special dispensation, Abilash Tomy’s Thuriya from India, and one of the few other ketch-rigged boats, our own Gregor McGuckin’s Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance, were both dismasted in September in the mother of all storms in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean.
Their skippers were successfully retrieved by a French Fisheries Patrol vessel while McGuckin was in the midst of an heroic effort to get to the seriously-injured Tomy under jury rig. But despite promises that Thuriya would be retrieved by the Indian Navy and restored to seagoing standard, she still seems to be out there and virtually not moving at all. This suggests that she is still lying to her broken rigging, whereas McGuckin’s boat is now nearly 400 miles away nearer Australia, as before his controlled retrieval and passage towards Tomy under jury rig, he succeeded in cutting adrift all the broken spars and rigging, and the former ketch has sometimes been drifting at 1 knot and more.
The experience of McGuckin and Abilash in that “perfect storm” is of added interest in that it happened in the area of ocean where Conor O’Brien saw his ultimate breaking crest. The wind strengths were nothing like the horrific power which assaulted Tomy and McGuckin, as at the time Saoirse was running in her surprisingly speedy style before “a moderate gale” (as they used to say), and O’Brien and his helmsman observed a large waving moving along with them maybe about a mile away.
There were marked cross seas running at the time – a significant factor recorded by Gregor McGuckin – and they went to work on this big wave until it peaked out like the Matterhorn or Mount Fuji, an absolutely extraordinary pinnacle of water which then collapsed in hundreds of thousands of tons of breakers and spume.
Neither O’Brien nor his shipmate said a word to each as this all-powerful force of nature manifested itself, but afterwards in his deck log he noted that had Saoirse been caught up in it, she and her crew would have instantly been goners. As for the professional seaman who’d been helmsman at the time, as soon as they reached port in Australia, he went ashore and wasn’t seen again. It greatly annoyed O’Brien, as this was the only helmsman other than O’Brien himself who had shown he could get Saoirse to perform to her best, and O’Brien had hoped that in due course the situation would arise where their combined efforts would see Saoirse achieve the 200 miles day’s run of which he was convinced she was capable.
He had many crew changes, but despite that and other difficulties, his underlying intention to sail home via Cape Horn was maintained. Ninety-four years ago on Sunday, it was achieved - a simple and beautiful historical fact of small craft ocean voyaging.
Today, the realities of the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee race underline the remarkable nature of what Conor O’Brien and Saoirse made into reality. He may not have been single-handed, but his crew of two were of limited experience, the boat was of extremely primitive type by today’s standards, and the elements of the unknown in what they were undertaking were beyond calculation.
Now that we know so much more about Cape Horn and the conditions which may be experienced in sailing past it, O’Brien’s feat with Saoirse in 1924 becomes that much greater. He may have died on Foynes Island in 1952, but Saoirse has lived on, and she is currently being re-built by Liam Hegarty at his Oldcourt Boatyard near her birthplace of Baltimore. In 2020, Saoirse will sail again, and we will wonder anew at the achievement of the great pioneering sailor of Limerick.
In recent weeks, much of the attention on the traditional boat-building Mecca of Oldcourt in West Cork has been focused around the complex moves involved in vacating the 56ft ketch Ilen from the boat-building shed writes W M Nixon. This meant safely re-locating her through the very crowded boatyard to a secure commissioning berth where a sheltering tent could be erected to allow the fitting-out work to proceed whatever the weather.
Then in time, while fitting the interior has been proceeding, there followed the “blind stepping” of the two masts which had been trucked down from the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick, where the massive spars and rig had been built and pre-assembled.
All this has been safely dealt with despite some periods of freakishly bad weather. But it had to be done on time, as the shed was needed because it had been agreed to start work in January on the re-build of Conor O’Brien’s 1922-built 42ft Saoirse. This project – for experienced sailor Fred Kinmonth of Hong Kong – will be in honour of Saoirse’s great achievement of 1923-25, the first global circumnavigation of the world by a cruising yacht south of the Great Capes.
So while much attention has been on the brightly-painted Ilen and the flurry of activity around her, in the shed shipwrights Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan and their team have been left in relative peace for the key initial stage of creating Saoirse’s backbone from various very substantial pieces of carefully-selected oak.
But as Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project puts it: “In taking on a job like this, you have to create a new supply chain. There is no line of supply for traditional boat-building on this scale, and we had to make our own way in finding pieces of sound oak which would help to provide the myriad of shapes from which the backbone and the frames will eventually be created”.
The upshot was that if a great oak came down anywhere in Munster, they’d soon be on the spot to see if anything usable could be salvaged from it. And even then, after the processes of seasoning and so forth, that was only the beginning of the job. A piece of oak might be worked on until it was nearly ready to be installed in the backbone, but then some aspect of the almost-finished section would give out the wrong messages, and it would be discarded and an alternative piece sought from the stockpile.
So it was patient, painstaking work, it took time, and it was best done in peace and private. But finally the makings of the backbone were in place, and there then could be visible progress – the erection on the keel, from stem to stern, of the temporary moulds which would show precisely the ultimate shape of Saoirse’s frames.
This has been taking place during the past week, and though it’s essentially a mock-up, just an integral part of the building process, nevertheless it feels as though the project has taken a mighty leap forward. And as with everything to do with Saoirse, it’s redolent with history.
While Conor O’Brien of Foynes and Tom Moynihan of Baltimore may have sketched out Saoirse’s lines (with Moynihan insisting the inelegantly short stern be lengthened a little), their drawings were only very rudimentary. But after the great voyage, Saoirse was famous. When Conor O’Brien took her to Cowes to do the 1927 Fastnet Race, the already-legendary Cowes-based designer Uffa Fox took off the boat’s lines.
As was right and proper, the lines sketched by O’Brien and Moynihan were remarkably close to the little ship as she was finished. But it was the lines as taken off by Uffa Fox which have been used in the process whereby the moulds have been assembled and erected, and this has been a speedy process which by Friday night was providing a vision of Saoirse which has an air of reality to it.
At the end of 2017, it was still a project in planning. But now, we’re already seeing something. The dream is becoming reality.
“Only connect” urged the novelist E M Forster writes W M Nixon. But his idealistic concepts of emotional connection would be at some remove from the curiously coincidental nautical connections between writers Roddy Doyle and Jennifer Johnston, who are in public conversation for an hour on the final day of this week’s “Mountains to the Sea” dlr Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire.
Roddy Doyle is married to a direct descendant of Erskine Childers. And Jennifer Johnston is in private life Mrs Gilliland, married into a noted Derry family long involved with boats. Erskine Childers was of course best known as author of the 1903-published maritime thriller The Riddle of the Sands before he acquired fame as skipper of the Asgard in the 1914 Howth gun-running. And at that time, the leading sailor in the Gilliland family was Frank Gilliland, who was a pioneer in producing sailing directions and small boat charts for the northwest of Ireland, particularly Donegal, and recently came up on the radar again with Robbie Mason of Milford Haven undertaking a restoration of his 1938 Scottish fishing boat-style motor cruiser Blue Hills.
Both Childers and Gilliland were members of the oldest cruising organisation in the world, the 1880-founded Royal Cruising Club. But although both served in various sections of the Royal Naval Reserve through the 1914-18 War, by the time that war ended they had very different notions as to the future of Ireland in the post-war turbulence which eventually led to the War of Independence, the Partition which created Northern Ireland in 1921, and the Civil War in the new Irish Free State. Yet while they may have viewed some things very differently, in 1919 they combined on a small but significant project which was to have longterm effects on Irish sailing.
Both were acquainted with a sailor from Foynes called Conor O’Brien, Gilliland probably through the Naval Reserve connections, while Childers knew O’Brien from the time he had brought his ketch Kelpie along to assist in the 1914 gun-running. Whatever their origins, the connections were such that when the Foynes man sought to join the Royal Cruising Club in September 1919, he was proposed by Frank Gilliland and seconded by Erskine Childers, and duly got in.
Looked at across the series of events which occurred before and since, it was an extraordinary and unlikely combination of people and purposes. But it meant that Conor O’Brien now had access to a recognised channel for acknowledgement of his cruising achievements, which became serious when he departed Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923 for his voyage round the world south of the Great Capes with the new 42ft Baltimore-built Saoirse.
By this time, Erskine Childers had been executed by a firing squad of the Government of the new Irish Free State as an armed anti-Treaty rebel. And Frank Gilliland was on his way to becoming the Aide-de-Camp to the first Governor of Northern Ireland. But O’Brien sailed blithely along on his epic voyage, flying the tricolour ensign of the new Irish state whenever possible, yet submitting logs each year to the annual competition of the Royal Cruising Club.
Although many members of the RCC had severe doubts about having anything whatever to do with the new Ireland, the hugely-experienced adjudicator Claud Worth, RCC Vice Commodore, had little hesitation in awarding O’Brien the club’s premier trophy, the Challenge Cup, three years on the trot in recognition of his remarkable achievement.
Not only that, but when O’Brien wrote his book Across Three Oceans about the voyage, Claud Worth willingly supplied a foreword which gave the entire venture an official status which it has held ever since. In it, he memorably commented:
“Mr O’Brien’s plain seamanlike account is so modestly written that a casual reader might miss its full significance” wrote Worth. “But anyone who knows anything of the sea, following the course of the vessel day by day on the chart, will realize the good seamanship, vigilance and endurance required to drive this little bluff-bowed vessel, with her foul uncoppered bottom, at speeds from 150 to 170 miles per day, as well as handling the weight of wind and sea which must sometimes have been encountered”.
This level of support from a man regarded as God-like in his wisdom by the world of cruising was the ultimate level of recognition, and O’Brien’s reputation was secure, regardless of the fact that some found him at personal level to be a leading member of the Awkward Squad. It’s possible that his achievements were such that he would have so impressed Claud Worth regardless of his RCC membership. But the fact that he’d become a member in 1919 – albeit with the most unlikely combination of supporters – had greatly smoothed the way.
And as next Sunday’s exchange of ideas between Jennifer Johnston and Roddy Doyle is taking place beside the harbour where Saoirse’s great voyage began and ended over the space of exactly two years between 1923 and 1925, the coincidences are complete. Their conversation is on Sunday March 25th at noon in dlr Lexicon Level 4, booking recommended.
When the restoration project on the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien/Tom Moynihan Falkland Islands Trading Ketch got under way at two locations – Liam Hegarty’s boat-building shed in the former Cornstore at Oldcourt near Baltimore, and the Ilen Boat-building School premises in Limerick – it was expected that final jobs such as making up the rigging and creating the sails would be contracted out to specialists writes W M Nixon.
But while the plan is still in place to have the sails made in traditional style by specialist sailmakers, Gary MacMahon and his team in the Ilen Boat-building School came to the realisation that they’d made so many international contacts over the years while the restoration has been under way that, if they could just get the right people’s schedules to harmonise, then they could learn how to make up the rigging in their own workshops as part of the broader training programme.
As a result, the Ilen Boat-building School became a hive of activity over the Bank Holiday Weekend and beyond, for that was the only time when noted heavy rigging experts Trevor Ross, who is originally from New Zealand, and Captain Piers Alvarez, master of the 45-metre barque-rigged tall ship Kaskelot, were both available to make their voluntary instructional contributions to the project.
Trevor Ross was professionally at sea for ten years, during which time he became fascinated with traditional rigging techniques. Though he now works ashore, his interest in traditional rigging and sail training is greater than ever - so much so that he worked with the late Theo Rye in finalizing the design of Ilen’s rig to match the original from Conor O’Brien’s day, while ensuring that it is practical in modern terms both for requirements of efficiency and safety.
Piers Alvarez grew up in English cider country near the broad River Severn, but his personal horizons were far beyond apple growing. When he was 15, the captain of the famous square rigger Soren Larsen came to live in the village, which gave Piers’ father the opportunity to sign on his restless son as an Able Seaman at least for the duration of the school holidays, but the boy became hooked on the sea.
More than thirty years later, the love of seafaring and traditional ships is undimmed. Although Piers’ maritime career has also taken in tugs, superyachts and ice-classed research vessels, his current role in command of the Kaskelot perfectly chimes with his most passionate interests, and he has been fascinated by the entire Ilen project from an early stage.
So when the possibility arose of spending time in Limerick working along with his old shipmate Trevor Ross on the rigging for Ilen as a training project for the Ilen School’s intake, he readily gave up a week of his leave to teach the Ilen’s build team and future crew everything he knows, while moving a key part of the Ilen plan along the path of progress.
Modern amateur sailors, accustomed to today’s rigging where a terminal can be fitted in a seemingly-simple machine with the press of a button, can scarcely imagine the patient effort and skill which goes into making an eye splice in wire rigging which is of such a weight that, to most of us, it looks more like working with steel hawsers.
This is hard graft, but very rewarding in the result, and the satisfaction found in the effort expended. Much of it is done entirely by hand, but now and again that lethal multiple tool, the angle-grinder, will speed up a finishing job.
When finished, the neatly parcelled eye-spliced shrouds will fit the re-shaped mast like a glove, while at the other end, the shrouds will be tensioned by traditional lanyards through dead-eyes which have been made in Limerick from tough greenheart timber. It’s a long way from a drum of raw steel wire and a still squared hounds area to be progressed into something which will function on the massive mast in smooth partnership, providing Ilen with her sailing power. And in Limerick over the holiday week, it provided an unusually satisfying way to learn something new and useful.
The Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival 2017 from Friday 26th to Sunday 28th May will feature a remarkable selection of old, restored and new craft - traditional and classic alike - all reflecting the many aspects of the arts and crafts of the boatwright and shipwright writes W M Nixon.
The hospitable setting is highly appropriate, as there are more skilled boatbuilders beavering away in hidden workshops in West Cork than in any other comparable part of Ireland. And a few miles upriver from Baltimore on the River Ilen (which in due course brings you to the Olympic Medal-winning Skibbereen Rowing Club), you’ll find the boatyards of Oldcourt, where among other projects, Liam Hegarty and his craftsmen are bringing the restoration of the 1927-built ketch Ilen of Conor O’Brien fame to completion.
It’s the Ilen which provides a link to a notable debut at Baltimore by a new small boat in three weeks’ time. With both his world-girdling 40ft Saoirse of 1923, and the 57ft trading ketch Ilen which he delivered to her satisfied customers in the Falkland Islands, O’Brien felt that a robust and stable 10ft dinghy – or punt as he would have called it – provided all that he needed in the way of a ship’s tender.
He wasn’t alone in this view. At the same time in 1926 on Cork Harbour, John Valentine Sisk, owner of the substantial motor-launch Culleann, ordered a new 10ft punt for use as Culleann’s tender from noted Passage West boatbuilder Pierce Power. Cullean already had a 10ft punt, but it was considered too unstable. So Pierce Power faced the considerable challenge of creating a boat only 10ft long with firm midships sections for stability, yet with bow and stern artfully shaped to retain her predecessor’s ease of rowing.
He succeeded brilliantly, so much so that the Sisk family kept the punt after Cullean had moved on. Before John Valentine Sisk’s death in 1957, his three grandsons George, Hal and John had learned to row in this very special little boat. Then with his son John G Sisk now moved to Dublin, the Valentine Punt followed to be the tender to his Dun Laoghaire-based yachts Marian Maid, Stern and Sarnia until 1970.
She then went to a son-in-law Schull, and eventually was bought by fishermen on Long Island, where her yacht-style varnish was painted over, and finally tarred. She was reckoned past her working days when Hal Sisk found this fondly-remembered boat of his childhood and youth on the island, and had her restored. In time, she became part of the collection in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire as representative of a type once found at every yacht and fishing harbour on Ireland’s south coast, and many other ports and anchorages elsewhere.
However, it was the ease of rowing the Valentine Punt which was the fondest memory, so the late Michael Tyrrell of Arklow took off her lines for Hal Sisk with a re-creation in mind. But it was reckoned that real benefit would be conferred if the lines could be used, yet instead of the inevitably heavy traditional clinker construction with ribs (timbers), much lighter construction could be achieved by building instead with glued clinker ply.
Alec Jordan in Scotland is an acknowledged expert in creating laser cut marine ply kits, which are then built into a boat with the “lands” of the lapstrake planks now bonded and sealed with impervious gap-filling epoxy resin. The result of this project was an elegant hyper-light and easily-rowed yet stable 10ft punt which has been the ideal tender for Hal Sisk’s classic cutter Peggy Bawn and his innovative motor-cruiser Molly Bawn.
The Valentine Punt is a concept which could have many uses, and when the notion of having one as the tender to the restored Ilen came up, the Ilen Boatbuilding School director Gary MacMahon in Limerick leapt at the chance, as the school is always enthusiastic about testing new methods of wooden boatbuilding to broaden its syllabus.
This latest model of the Valentine Punt has been built in the school by Elan Broadley, a trainee boatbuilder from Donegal, and he and his attractive creation will be making their debut in Baltimore during the Wooden Boat Festival, with a bit of a party involving all the main players, and his mum down from Donegal. After that, the little boat won’t have far to go to be united with her mother ship, the Ilen herself, preparing for launching at Oldcourt.
The season is upon us for goodwill and dreams of very special gifts. And for many Irish sailors, the dream Christmas present would be an elegantly classic or solidly traditional wooden boat, with all maintenance and running costs somehow covered by Divine Providence into infinity……W M Nixon goes down the Yuletide timber trail.
Love of wood is part of what we are. It’s in our genes. At some times and some places in the remote past, an instinctive fondness for wood, and an inherited ability to do something useful with it, would make all the difference between survival and extinction. So though today the availability of other more purposeful materials may have transformed boat-building, a new boat without some sort of wood trim is a very rare thing indeed.
At a more personal level, many of today’s generation of sailors cherish family memories of the communal building of wooden DIY kit boats at home. Here, there and everywhere, a drawing room or little-used dining room found itself a useful new purpose as a boat-building salon, with Mirror dinghies and occasionally larger craft taking shape in domestic settings throughout the land.
“Our daddy the boat-builder” became a household name in his own household. And for those who sometimes wonder why today’s adult sailors can become misty-eyed at the very thought of the Mirror dinghy (which really was and is a wonderful design and concept), the answer surely is that at a significant stage of their sailing and family life, a Mirror dinghy was centre stage, the symbol of a family’s shared values, hopes and interests.
But maybe the most important thing about the Mirror is that she is so eminently practical. So perhaps at Christmas we should allow our imaginations to take flight and soar high to envisage the complete wooden dreamship. And there she is as our header image, introducing this week’s meandering thoughts. That schooner at the moment is total fantasy. But any sailing enthusiast who looks at that concept design and doesn’t think: “Now there’s my dreamship”, well, he or she just doesn’t have a true sailing soul.
The origins of Eirinn, as she is named for the time being, go back to 2012, when the nascent Atlantic Youth Trust sought suggestions as to what a new sail training vessel for all Ireland should look like. But with their proposals recently getting the first real hints of a fair wind from both governments, the AYT have gone firmly down the route of a 40 metre steel barquentine.
The Ilen as she was in the Spring of 2015 in Oldcourt...
….while in the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick, spars and deckhouses were taking shape
Deckhouses built in Limerick are offered up on the Ilen in Oldcourt
However, down in Limerick where they were busy with moving forward the restoration of the Conor O’Brien 1926 ketch Ilen at two sites – the hull with Liam Hegarty in Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, and the deckhouses, spars and other smaller items being built at the Ilen Boat Building School in Limerick – they gave some thought in 2012 to the possible form of a new sail training vessel. They came up with the concept of a classic 70ft schooner which they knew, thanks to the work on Ilen, that they could build themselves using the skills learned and deployed in re-building the O’Brien ketch.
A classic hull for a classic schooner – Theo Rye’s profile and general arrangements plan for the schooner concept of 2012
But with the Ilen project moving steadily on towards the vessel’s commissioning next summer, and with other directly-related new proposals at an advanced stage in the pipeline, that sublime schooner concept is in a sort of limbo, truly a fantasy.
Yet she’s such a lovely thing that we’re happy to use her as our symbol of Christmas cheer. Her creators are Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Boatbuilding School, and Theo Rye, who is best known as a technical consultant in naval architecture, and on clarifying matters of design history and detail in boat and yacht design. But he can turn his hand to all sorts of design commissions if required. He came up with the clever concept for the CityOne dinghies in Limerick, and when Gary started musing about a classic training schooner, within the scope of what the Ilen school could do, as their answer to the AYT sail training vessel query, Theo came up with the goods and then some.
In fact, the design of the hull is so perfect that we’ll run it again right here to save you the trouble of scrolling back to the top. The overhangs at bow and stern are in harmony, but it is the sheerline which is the master-stroke. There isn’t anything you’d want to change in it, yet when you look at other famous schooners such as the fictional Southseaman (in real life she was Northern Light) in Weston Martyr’s masterpiece of maritime literature The Southseaman – the Story of a Schooner (1926), we see a sheerline which is too flat in the way of the foremast. But with Eirinn, the curve is just right, and it’s something achieved by tiny adjustments and balances which the eye can’t really perceive, yet somehow it registers the sublime harmony of the total concept.
Worth a second look – and then a third one. The longer you look at the lines of Eirinn, the sweeter they seem. But her overall appearance might be improved with a slight rake of the masts
A schooner sheer not quite right – Weston Martyr’s Southseaman (aka Northern Light) could have done with a livelier sheerline abeam of the foremast.
So Theo Rye not only writes critiques of other people’s designs, but if given the chance he can personally come up with something which is wellnigh impossible to fault. Of course, we mightn’t quite go for the same rig – a little bit of rake in the masts wouldn’t go amiss - and for private use you’d want something a little different from the dormitory layout of the training ship. But that said, this is a beautiful yet not excessively pretty-pretty hull, a boat which sings. And the fact that she’s beyond just about every private owner’s reach only adds to the mystique.
But to redress the balance, last week we’d an inspiring evening’s entertainment and information about a dreamship which really is being re-created. It was the December gathering of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association in the ever-hospitable Poolbeg Y & BC, and a full house was there to hear about how Paddy Murphy of Renvyle in the far northwest of Connemara is getting on with his mission of bringing the famous Manx sailing nobby Aigh Vie back to life.
Paddy himself is something special. When asked his trade, he says he’s a blacksmith. But he can turn his hand to anything. Originally a Dub, his early sailing experiences included owning a Flying Fifteen and a Dragon, though not – so far as I know – at the same time. But then got the gaff rig traditional boat bug, and a sail on Mick Hunt’s Manx nobby Vervine Blossom sent him in pursuit of near-sister Aigh Vie. She was reportedly for sale, having for a long time been the pet family cruising boat of Billy Smyth and his family at Whiterock Boatyard on Strangford Lough, after spending her final working years fishing as a motorized vessel out of Ardglass.
Aigh Vie as she was in Whiterock Boatyard when Paddy Murphy bought her, her elegant huul shape clearly in evidence
Aigh Vie in her final working days as a motorised fishing boat based at Ardglass
The deal was done, an ideal buy for a special man like Paddy Murphy, for the Aigh Vie is one very special vessel. The Manx fishing nobbies reached their ultimate state of development in the first twenty years of the 20th Century before steam power and then diesel engines took over. The nobby evolved to an almost yacht-like form through vessels like the 43ft White Heather (1904), which is owned and sailed under original-style dipping lug rig by Mike Clark in the Isle of Man, and the 1910 Vervine Blossom, now based in Kinvara, which was restored by Mick Hunt of Howth, but he gave her a more easily-handled gaff ketch rig which looked very well indeed when she sailed in the Vigo to Dublin Tall Ships Race in 1998.
It was a sail on Mick Hunt’s 1910-built Manx nobby Vervine Blossom which inspired Paddy Murphy to go in pursuit of Aigh Vie
It takes quite something to outdo the provenance of these two fine vessels, but the story of Aigh Vie (it means a sort of mix of “good luck” and “fair winds” in Manx) is astonishing. It goes back to the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat off the Cork coast in May 1915, when the first boat to mount a rescue was the Manx fishing ketch Wanderer from Peel, her crew of seven skippered by the 58-year-old William Ball.
They came upon a scene of developing carnage. Yet somehow, the little Wanderer managed to haul aboard and find space for 160 survivors, and provide them with succour and shelter as they made for port. In due course, as the enormity of the incident became clear, the achievement of the Wanderer’s crew was to be recognised with a special medal presentation. And then William Ball, who had been an employee of the Wanderer’s owner, received word that funds had been lodged with a lawyer in Peel on behalf of one of the American survivors he’d rescued. The money was to be used to underwrite the building of his own fishing boat, to be built in Peel to his personal specifications. The name of the donor has never been revealed, but the result was William Ball’s dreamship, the Aigh Vie, launched in December 1916 and first registered for fishing in January 1917.
Over the years, the Aigh Vie became a much-loved feature of the Irish Sea fishing fleet. Tim Magennis, former President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, well remembers her from his boyhood days in the fishing port of Ardglass on the County Down coast. Her working days over, Billy Smyth gradually converted her to a Bermudan-rigged cruising ketch with a sheltering wheelhouse which enabled the Smyth family to make some notable cruises whatever the weather. His son Kenny Smyth, who now runs the boatyard with his brothers and is himself an ace helm in the local 29ft River Class, recalls that the seafaring Smyth family thought nothing of taking the Aigh Vie to the Orkneys at a time when the average Strangford Lough cruiser thought Tobermory the limit of reasonable ambitions.
After he’d bought the Aigh Vie and brought to her first base in Howth, Paddy Murphy soon realised he’d still a lot to learn about sailing and about keeping hard-worked old wooden boats in seafaring condition. But he’s such an entertaining and inspirational speaker that you’re swept along in his enthusiasm and empathise with his admission that, now and again, he felt things were getting on top of him.
Sisters - Vervine Blossom (foreground) and Aigh Vie in Howth
Sailing days on the Aigh Vie from Howth, before it was decided that she needed a major restoration
Following several seasons with increasing evidence of problems, he decided that a virtual re-build was necessary. It was then that the Dublin wooden boat owners’ perennial problem shot to the top of the agenda. In our very expensive city, the space and shelter to work long hours at an old wooden boats is almost impossible to come by, and he’d to shift the big Aigh Vie several times. On one occasion, he was asked to move in a hurry out of an ESB shed, but was offered £1,000 (this was pre-Euro days) to do so. He moved heaven and earth and finally found somewhere else at considerable expense, got the Aigh Vie installed there, and then went back to collect his thousand snots. Only to be laughed at. The manager told him it was the only way he could see to get the old boat moved out, but there were absolutely no funds available at all for such a thing, and surely Paddy would have guessed that?
The re-building under way at Renvyle, using the technique where hull shape is retained by first replacing every other frame
With one thing and another, he moved to Renvyle in Connemara where he liked the big country and the open spaces and the friendly people right on the edge of the Atlantic, and in time Aigh Vie came too, and found herself being slowly re-born under a special roof. But it was demanding work for one man, so every so often a team led by Paul Keogh of the famous Galway Hooker from Clondalkin, the Naomh Cronan, together with a good selection of DBOGA specialist talent, descends on Renvyle to put in a ferocious day or two of work, and then on the Saturday night they put a fair bit of business the way of the pub at Tullycross.
The planking was more easily restored by laying the Aigh Vie over on her side
Agh Vie upright again, and the deckhouses are being put in place
DBOGA workteam of all the talents descends on Renvyle. Paul Keogh of the Naomh Cronan (left) and Paddy Murphy himself (second right). Photo: Cormac Lowth
Old Gaffers Association International President Sean Walsh (right) and Peter Redmond install Aigh Vie’s new Perkins diesel. Photo: Cormac Lowth
One of the options for Aig Vie’s rig is the classic lug ketch as shown here with Mike Clark’s 1903-built White Heather
So now, many years later, the journey towards the restored Aigh Vie is getting near its destination. But it will never be fully ended. Thanks to sails, spars and rigs donated from other boats, Paddy has the choice of either gaff ketch or classic lug rig, so she’ll always be work in progress. Which is good news. Because every couple of years or so, the DBOGA can guarantee a full house to hear Paddy Murphy talking about how the Aigh Vie story is going.
He’s a wonderful speaker, sometimes almost messianic, and he shares his every feeling. Thus he mentioned that one day he was feeling a bit low, and he just went out to look at the big boat down by the shore, seeking some sort of inspiration. His mind had been elsewhere with the details of completing the interior, but he suddenly realised that he was at the stage of thinking of putting the white paint on the topsides. So he just set to with a big paint brush and a bigger tin of paint, and Aigh Vie was transformed. So was he. “That’s the secret” says he. “If you’re feeling a bit down, just go out and slap on some white paint. It works wonders.”
Feeling a bit down? Then just go out and slap a coat of white paint on the boat – it works wonders
A very special boat – Aigh Vie’s sweet lines can now be fully appreciated again. Photo: Cormac Lowth
#woodenboats – In the annals of Irish seafaring, whether professional or amateur, only a very few can match the achievement of Conor O'Brien (1880-1952). Between 1923 and 1925, this multi-talented sailor from Foynes on the Shannon Estuary circled the world south of the Great Capes in the 42ft ketch Saoirse which he'd designed himself with the help of Tom Moynihan of the Baltimore Fisheries School Boatyard.
It was there that this unique vessel was built in 1922-23 as Ireland in general – and West Cork in particular – recovered from a short but brutal Civil War. The very fact that Saoirse was built in Baltimore, followed by the successful completion of her great voyage, became part of the slow post-war healing process. So as the 2015 Traditional and Classic Boat Season gets under way this weekend with the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival, W M Nixon voices the hope that Saoirse – which had been feared totally lost since 1979 – may be re-born.
They're hardy sailors in West Cork. That lotus-land of easygoing cruising may seem a gentle place in high summer, yet down there they've felt the recent summer-delaying cold spell as sharply as anywhere else. But despite the unfavourable conditions, as usual in this last full weekend of May we'll see the Baltimore Woodenboat & Seafood Festival swing into action. And although wooden boats need reasonably good springtime weather almost as an essential for the annual refit, there'll be a colourful turnout of character vessels large and small.
But the talk of the town will not be about a boat which is showing her style off the busy Baltimore waterfront today. Indeed, not only will this very special boat not be there, but it's a moot point as to whether she still exists. Put another way: Does enough of Saoirse still exists to allow a re-creation of this wonderful little ship to be properly classified as a re-build?
The voyage of the Saoirse in 1923-1925 only gains further lustre and wonder with the passage of time. It was an achievement of greatness, yet of beautiful simplicity. It was a uniquely pioneering venture made by an Irish skipper in an Irish designed-and-built vessel, and it was the first major voyage by an Irish ship of any size flying the Tricolour ensign of the new-born nation.
Saoirse under her original ketch rig in the 1950s, but with a boom fitted to the mainsail. Conor O'Brien had a loose-footed mainsail, and as evidenced here, the sail would have set much better but would have needed more attention in handling. (From a photo by Eric Hiscock)
In dry dock during the 1950s, Saoirse's "cod's head & mackerel tail" hull shape is clearly seen. Yet in the Great Southern Ocean on her voyage round the world south of the Great Capes, this bluff little 42ft ketch regularly logged 180 miles a day in comfort.
The wreck of the Saoirse in Jamaica, 1979.
Thus when the news in 1979 of Saoirse's destruction in a hurricane in Jamaica was confirmed, if anything it added to the legend. But it also meant that the only other boat created by the same team in the same place – the 56ft trading ketch Ilen (1926) – acquired added significance. But she was a long way away, still working the stormy seas around the Falkland Island, for which she'd been built after the islanders had been so impressed by the capabilities of the Saoirse, when she called there after rounding Cape Horn from the west, that they ordered a bigger sister-ship to become the inter-island workboat .
Yet thanks to a totally single-minded approach by Gary MacMahon of Limerick, Ilen was brought back to Ireland in 1998. And though it has taken quite a while for the various ideas to become reality, she is now well on the way to what has become a very public restoration with Liam Hegarty at Oldcourt Boatyard near Baltimore, while the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick has become part of the fabric of Shannonside life, building not only the deckhouses and spars for Ilen herself, but an interesting selection of smaller boats ranging from traditional Shannon gandelows to the new CityOne sailing dinghies.
A man who just doesn't give up. Gary MacMahon of the Ilen School in Limerick. Photo: W M Nixon
By any standards, all these projects would be remarkable achievements in themselves. But in addition to his day job running one of Limerick's leading design studios, Gary MacMahon has for twenty years and more been quietly accumulating every bit of documentation of all sorts there is to be found relating to Saoirse.
It's an absolute treasure hoard of old photographs, certificates, plans, artefacts and other materials. And through this collecting, he has become well acquainted with Anthony Bolton who was Saoirse's last owner. Bolton had the misfortune of seeing his beloved boat destroyed by a hurricane in Jamaica before rescue attempts could save her after she'd dragged her anchor and gone ashore.
But though Saoirse was broken up by the battering of the hurricane, substantial pieces of her remained on the sea bed, and two sea-worn iron hanging knees – lovingly fitted by the Baltimore shipwrights 93 years ago – have recently been confirmed as definite relics of the wonderful little ship.
The hull lines of Saoirse as taken off by Uffa Fox in Cowes in 1927 before the start of that year's Fastnet Race (from which she retired, as endless windward work was not what she was designed for). Thanks to documentation of this quality, it will be possible to re-build Saoirse with precision. But in fact it has emerged that, such was the skill of Tom Moynihan and his boatbuilders in Baltimore in 1922-23, Saoirse as built very accurately followed the original lines drawn by O'Brien and Moynihan.
Saoirse's hull sections as recorded by Uffa Fox in 1927.
More importantly, though, the word is that much of the keel may still be intact. So just as he somehow got himself to the Falkland Islands to buy Ilen back in 1997, Gary MacMahon will shortly be going on the much easier journey to Jamaica for some real on-the-spot research as to just how much of Saoirse survives.
These days, it need only be a very small piece of the original to count as a re-build. But the spirit of the Ilen School is such that even if they find nothing at all in Jamaica, the notion of re-creating Saoirse is gaining so much traction, with that great shipwright Liam Hegarty among those totally taken with the idea of seeing Conor O'Brien's characterful little masterpiece sail again, that already the idea has acquired its own momentum.
But there'll be time enough when winter comes around again to give proper attention to the full range of Saoirse material which Gary MacMahon has amassed in order to ensure an authentic re-build. Meanwhile, this weekend may be seeing the new classic and traditional boat season kick into action in Baltimore, but already things are well under way in France, with last week's huge gathering in the Morbihan on the Biscay Coast, to which seven Dublin Bay Waterwags travelled, and eight returned.
The wonders of the Morbihan. A very small part of the fleet at the Sailing Week eight days ago, with four of the Dublin Bay Water Wags at mid left. Photo: Courtesy Judith Malcolm
Like all the great French classic and tradboat festivals, the Morbihan event (it's full title is La Semaine de la Voile du Golfe de Morbihan, that's Morbihan Sailing Week in simple English) was mind-bending in terms of numbers, with 1200 boats of all shapes and sizes taking part. But the scale and layout of the Morbihan is such that it could well cope. The extensive inlet has six main ports, so the fleet was divided into six sub-groups of around 200 boats each. Everyone mingled out on the water during the day, then each night of the week-long festival saw your group going to a new port.
Two little Water Wags a long way from home – Ian & Judith Malcolm in the hundred year old Barbara (left) and Guy and Jackie Kilroy in Swift (right) in the midst of "sundry boats" in the Morbihan eight days ago. Photo courtesy Judith Malcolm
It worked, and it worked so well that the Irish flotilla of one Shannon One Design (Reggie Goodbody) and seven Water Wags not only had themselves a fine old time, but in a reversal of the usual story where our people return from distant places short of a boat or two, they came back with eight Wags, as Adam Winkelmann was united with his new boat. It was built in France as a boat-building academy exercise with a finish so exquisite that it was on exhibition in a marquee, but he was allowed to bring it home with him to Dublin Bay.
Far to the southwest in Baltimore, today we'll see a complex programme, as several traditional rowing craft (including a 23ft traditional Shannon cot or brochaun, the latest creation of Limerick's Ilen School built by a team headed by Tony Daly) were due to launch last night to berth at the pontoon in Skibbereen beside the West Cork Hotel. Today at 11am they start a rowing race all the way down the Ilen to Baltimore. Fortunately, the tide is ebbing.....
The new 23ft Shannon cot or brochaun is the latest creation of the Ilen School in Limerick. The cot's usual task was to head upriver from Limerick to fish, but today this boat will be rowed down the River Ilen from Sibbereen to the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival.
The rest of the day will see sailing and rowing races off Baltimore with a prize-giving dinner tonight in Baltimore Sailing Club presided over by Tom MacSweeney of this parish, then tomorrow (Sunday), as the one day Seafood Festival gets into full swing, there's perhaps the most interesting event of all afloat. This is the Pilot Race, in which the sailing boats put out to sea, and then turn and approach the harbour to be met by racing gigs each of which has to put a pilot on board one of the sailing craft which then race back into the harbour – it all makes for mighty sport.
Bowsprits at the ready, and the island ferry coming into port – it can only be Baltimore at Woodenboat Festival time
If you can identify even half of the boat types here, then you should be in Baltimore this weekend.
If your heart is with classic and traditional sailing boats, you can get an abundance of them by being in Baltimore this weekend, and then by being along Dublin's Liffey for the Riverfest in a week's time for the Bank Holiday weekend. It's a three day event (May 30th to June 1st) based on Poolbeg Y & BC, with the Old Gaffer's Leinster Trophy Race in Dublin Bay on Saturday, and then two days above the bridge for all sorts of city festivities and boat parades through to Monday evening.
The 117-year-old Howth 17s will be returning to the Dublin Riverfest in a week's time. Photo: W M Nixon
The famous waterborne ballet of the Dublin Port tugs Shackleton and Beaufort will be a main event in the Dublin Riverfest over the Bank Holiday Weekend of May 31st-June1st. Photo: W M Nixon
Following that, on Saturday 6th June out in Howth, the Classic Lambay Race is being provided within the annual Round Lambay Regatta (it dates back to 1904), with the Old Gaffers and Traditional boats joining the 117-year-old Howth Seventeens for a direct circuit from a pier start out to Lambay, round it and back again direct, with no fancy special mark rounding in between.
Defending champion in the Classic Lambay is OGA International President Sean Walsh of Dun Laoghaire with his cutter Tir na nOg, and extra interest is added this year as the fleet will include Dickie Gomes' 1912-vintage 36ft yawl Ainmara, built in Ringsend but now a longtime resident of Strangford Lough. There's a certain edge to Ainmara's involvement, as she was overall winner of the cruiser division in the 1921 Lambay Race when still owned and sailed by her designer-builder John B Kearney. But if you think this remarkable historic link will cause her opponents to give her an easy time of it, you're much mistaken.
The 103-year old Ainmara – seen here on her home waters of Strangford Lough with the Mourne Mountains in the distance – will be returning to the Lambay Classic at Howth on June 6th 2015, which she last won in 1921. Photo: Pete Adams
Sean Walsh is having a busy year of it, as his duties as OGA President take him hither and yon, while Tir na nOg will be flagship for the OGA Cruise-in-Company which will follow the big one of 2015, the Glandore Classics Regatta from July 18th to 24th.
But for this weekend, he's in his home waters of Dublin Bay on a venture which means a lot to him, the OGA Youth Sailing Project at Poolbeg under the direction of Liam Begley. It's for youngsters who might not otherwise get a chance to sail. They're taken out to learn the ropes aboard two fine gaff cutters, the Clondalkin Community group's majestic Galway Bay hooker Naomh Cronan, and the OGA President's own Tir na nOg.
When we remember that many folk head from Dublin towards Cork to go sailing, it's intriguing that in this case the young people have come the other way, as they're a group from Mayfield Community School which has eternal fame through being the old school of Roy Keane.
The tyro sailors from Mayfield – there's nine of them, all in the 15-16 age group - have already become boat-acquainted through the Meitheal Mara Community Boatyard in Cork city. But the outing to Dublin puts a different spin on it all, as the first stage is devoted literally to teaching them the ropes, then after the sailing programme is completed out in the bay, the shift in skills is demonstrated by command of the two gaff cutters being given over to the Mayfield crews, who then have to sail them back to port.
OGA President Sean Walsh (top right) with Junior Gaffers from Mayfield Community School in Cork aboard Tir na nOg in Poolbeg in Dublin. Photo: John Galloway
Junior Gaffers from Cork and Senior Gaffers from Dublin aboard the Naomh Cronan Photo: John Galloway
In all, it's an entertaining balance between an outing to Dublin, a chance to learn in a fun environment, and a real opportunity to demonstrate that practical skills have been well and truly acquired. And before somebody is driven to send in a rude comment after seeing these two photos of last year's Youth Sailing Project course, I hasten to assure you that when they do go sailing, everyone wears a lifejacket.
#woodenboat – Marine Minister Simon Coveney is confident that wooden boat building in Ireland is going to be revived writes Tom MacSweeney.
Traditional skills have been lost and there are fears that they will disappear forever, but the Minister sounds a confident note about preserving them on the current edition of my maritime programme, THIS ISLAND NATION.
"This project is going to reinvigorate wooden boat building in Ireland again. It is going to open a new chapter for us," he says. "Hopefully multiple ports around the country will be able to build projects like this in the future. We still have great skill sets of wooden boat building available to us in Ireland which we must not lose. It is projects like this that will keep them alive and encourage a new young generation."
I recorded Mr.Coveney at Liam Hegarty's boatyard at Oldcourt near Skibbereen where the Ilen, the last traditional sailing boat of its kind, is being restored. It is the boat which the legendary Conor O'Brien had built for the Falkland Islanders who so admired his previous vessel, Saoirse, when he sailed it into those islands during his round-the-world voyage in 1923-25. Liam Hegarty's yard at Oldcourt on a bend of the road from Skibbereen to Baltimore in West Cork is one of the few remaining that specialises in wooden boat building.
The Falklanders asked O'Brien, the first Irishman to sail a round-the-world voyage to emulate the boat on which he arrived in Port Stanley. He did as they asked, having the Ilen built in Baltimore, where Saoirse was also constructed. With two Cape Clear Islanders as crew, he sailed it to the Falklands in 1926 where it worked for 70 years until Limerickman, Gary McMahon, had it brought back to Ireland in 1997:
I was the only reporter on the quayside in Dublin when it was landed there from the deck of a cargo ship, looking every bit her age of 71 years at the time. So it was a great feeling to stand on her deck in Liam Hegarty's boatshed where the restoration work has been carried out, in conjunction with the AK Ilen boat building school, initiated by Gary McMahon, the driving force of the project Such a change from the condition in which I had seen her in the Dublin docks 18 years ago.
Gary McMahon, Liam Hegarty and Minister Coveney tell the story on the programme. Gary and Liam are both confident that Ilen will be back in the water, sailing once again. She may provide opportunities for effective sail training. Several sources have provided restoration funding. More is needed for a project which, as the Minister said, can restore Ireland's resource of traditional skills.
Also on the programme you can hear the story of a submarine which sank not once, but twice, which will make you wonder whether superstition about changing the names of boats is correct. And did you know that the Dubs beat the Kingdom ... Not in football, but fishing...?
You can hear more by listening to THIS ISLAND NATION above.
A new scheme to teach traditional boatbuilding skills to university level could be of huge benefit to young people from disadvantaged areas of Limerick.
The Irish Times reports that degree programmes in traditional boat craft accredited by the UK's University of Middlesex are set to take their first students in 2012.
Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney also confirmed that partnerships have been developed with the US Northwest School of Wooden Boat-building and Sail Training International.
Some 40 trainees, mostly from Limerick's designated regeneration areas, have already taken part in the restoration of the ketch Ilen, designed by record-breaking sailor Conor O'Brien.
The AKA Ilen project, set up by boat-builder Gary McMahon, is intended to "nurture self-belief and confidence through the medium of wooden boatbuilding and maritime education".
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.