Displaying items by tag: Galway Hooker
On the western edge of Europe lies a unique culture that depended and fought with the Atlantic Ocean for thousands of years.
It is the native sailboat, the Galway Hooker, that sustained this poorest of communities, and the new generation of these same families of sailors still sail the coast of Connemara, now racing to be champions.
TG4’s documentary Bádóiri, now in its second series, follows the historic boats as they awaken from the long Connemara winter, only to find new contenders aboard for this season’s Galway Hooker Racing League regattas.
The preparations have started in earnest, and the show will keep up with the sailors as they race each other in the first of the summer’s races.
In series one we saw the family owned boats battle one another for the coveted prize of All-Ireland champions. In this new series, we introduce a new boat and a new family to the fleet.
Young and eager to impress, this new crew from The Truelight become a racing force to be reckoned as all the crews push themselves and their boats to their limit.
This second series also delves deeper into sailing families lives and histories.
An illness to one of the skippers bring the boatmen together where they share their personal stories as well as their hopes and fears from their sailing culture. Towards the end of the series, the racing and rivalry becomes more intense and the waters become treacherous.
Producer and director Donncha Mac Con Iomaire says: “There are few societies in the world where a 200-year-old boat is the epicentre of the same family for two centuries.
“The maritime community of Connemara never underestimates the Atlantic, and the unity of their families cannot afford to succumb to failure at sea. This ancient world that works hard and plays hard is what is still most genuine culture of Ireland.”
Bádóiri returns tonight, Thursday 5 March, at 8pm on TG4.
When I walked into Adrian O’Connell’s office in Kilrush Boatyard on the edge of the Shannon Estuary in County Clare, a photograph on the wall caught my attention – a boat sailing at speed, red sails dramatic atop a black hull.
A powerful image of a ‘Half Boat’ – a ‘Leathbád’ in the lexicon of the famous Galway Hookers. The Leathbád has roughly half the carrying capacity of the Bád Mór, the big Hooker.
Adrian built that boat for the Killary Adventure Centre.
“It was very successful, could sleep six, had a self-draining cockpit, was fully decked and a good sea boat, which was sailed by many people, including young sailors learning about boats and how to sail and enjoy being on the water.”
"At the age of 78, Adrian O'Connell is planning to build yachts based on the Galway Hooker design"
At the age of 78 he is planning to build yachts based on the Galway Hooker design.
From a boatyard at Clifden in County Galway where he built fishing boats and the closure of which he blames on the government decision to enter the EU and ”give away the fishing industry,” to Aster Yachts which he now leads as Managing Director is an interesting story, which he told me - after I asked him about that photo of the ‘Leathbád.’
Listen to the Podcast below
When the late Tony Moylan cajoled the notion of Cruinnui na mBad at Kinvara into being in 1979, times were different writes W M Nixon. The idea was to celebrate the Gathering of the Boats in the old days, when the traditional boats of Connemara on the great inlet’s northwest shore sailed up Galway Bay as Autumn approached well laden with turf, one of the few commodities in which their area was naturally richer than the prosperous region around the southeast corner of the handsome bay.
This year, they celebrated the memory of Tony Moylan in the best possible way, by making Cruinniu na mBad bigger and better and more varied than ever for its Fortieth Anniversary. And though the weather was less than co-operative with a seemingly endless deluge on Saturday, for the big day – Sunday – conditions gradually relented, and Kinvara came colourfully to life in evening sunshine after the ancient craft with their black or tanned sails had experienced good racing.
Cruinniu na mBad is all about the dynamic interaction between sea and land along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard, and though the conditions on Saturday saw the emphasis inevitably falling on the landward part of the equation – and the indoor aspect of the landward part at that – there were enough musicians and singers and declaimers of poetry and ancient tales in town to keep the show in the road, even if rain came down extremely heavily with impartial force on both the largest thatched roof in all Ireland – it shelters the Merriman Hotel – and roofs of more prosaic style.
Back in 1979, the digging of turf by hand in the bogs of south Connemara, and then sailing it all the way up the bay, must have seemed one of the most natural and ecologically-sound re-livings of the past you could possibly imagine. But in this hyper-sensitive era, even the burning of humble turf is under scrutiny as a possible menace to our fragile planet, as is the digging of bogs. In the case of Kinvara, it’s something which poses a quandary, for the turf is cut by hand, piled to dry by hand, then moved to be laden by hand onto boats which are sailed by hand – and every bit of it is very hard work if you want to see it as work in the first place.
It’s shared work in a continuum from the land to the sea and back to the land again, and it is nature’s abundant wind which provides the motive power. So anyone who would wish to discourage the Kinvara experience from the turf-burning point of view needs to get a sense of proportion – after all, the Festival itself was promoting the plastic-free ideal as one of its main themes. But in any case we’re talking of turf amounts which are symbolic rather than of significant size, and we’re thinking that the meaning which this annual combination of actions and activities afloat and ashore gives to those involved is something very deep-rooted indeed, an eloquent expression of community.
Certainly it’s something which folk from elsewhere wish to share, bringing in crews and boats of other types from places beyond the sea, interesting boats like the comely Sally O’Keeffe from Querrin on the shores of the Shannon Estuary, a very attractive 25ft community-built cutter which is an authentic re-creation of the sailing working boats which used to ply the waters of the mighty Shannon Estuary.
Also there was the hefty ketch Celtic Mist, research vessel of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group whose CEO Simon Berrow was on hand with a group of fellow-enthusiasts to spread the message and answer queries while SAR helicopters buzzed overhead and the Galway Lifeboat – crew and boat alike – were keenly represented for the two main days, and talked afterwards of the marvellous sense of community in Kinvara.
Meanwhile, a completely different yet equally appropriate aspect of seafaring was being provided by sea-musician Marieke Huysmans of PianOcean, whose piano was set up on the deck of her Freedom 40 type ketch, which aptly is called Freedom
But inevitably and rightly the attention is mainly on the hookers, which vary in sizes between at least four classes – some would say six – while no two boats are identical, for individuality is the default setting of the west. Presiding over all this was the empress of them all, Organising Committee Chairman Dr Mick Brogan”s giant hooker Mac Duach, which was originally built as a cutter, but at that size her main boom was such a widow-maker that in due course the good doctor made her a more manageable ketch, under which rig she has continued a busy programme of ocean and coastal voyaging and attending western maritime festivals.
The main player in the symbolic bringing in of the turf was the mighty An Mhaighdean Mhara, built by McDonagh of Callahaigue in Connemara a very long time ago, re-built or partially re-built now and again since - as is the way of the west - and sailed with considerable style to Kinvara by Jimmy Mac Donncha aided by Colm Ciaran O Flatharta, and laden with such a pile of turf in what is usually the cockpit that the rest of the crew were finding what comfort they could on the foredeck as An Mhaighden Mhara shaped her course into Kinvara’s long natural harbour, gliding alongside the quay to begin the long and sweaty job of discharging the cargo by hand.
With the many and varied rituals completed or at least set in train, Sunday brought the racing, as hard fought as ever. As anyone who has ever tried to report on Galway hooker racing - whether at Kinvara or one of the traditional events in Connemara itself – there will be as many different versions of what happened during the race as there are people involved, for at times it cannot even be agreed within crews as to what happened or didn’t. Yet when they’re eventually published, there’s a finality about results which sets the story to rest, and we can do no more than publish them as they were – in due course – supplied to us.
Cruinniu na mBad 2019 Results:
Bad Mhora: 1st Tonai, skippered by Ronan O’Brien; 2nd Cailin, sk. Pat Folan; 3rd An Mhaghdean Mhara, sk. Jimmy Mac Donncha
Leath-Bhaid: 1st Norah, sk. Sean Mac Donncha; 2nd Colmcille, sk. Mairtin Thornton; 3rd Antain, sk. Joe Reaney
Gleiteog Mor: 1st Catherine, sk. Paraic Barrett; 2nd Ciarain, sk. John Flaherty; 3rd An Bhantra, sk. Daragh O Tuairisc
Gleiteog Beag: 1st Erin’s Hope, sk. Pat Folan; 2nd Sianach, sk. Ciaran Mac Donncha, 3rd Nora Bheag, sk. Coilin Og Hernon.
The sport over, the sun appeared - and Kinvara partied.
Bádóirí provides an insight into seven Connemara families, part of one of the few indigenous communities of sailors left in Europe, as they compete to be champions of the Galway Hooker Association Racing League.
The first of four episodes screens tomorrow at 8pm and will be available to stream for viewers in Ireland on the TG4 Player.
The Chairman of the Galway Hookers Association says that these iconic boats deserve support to ensure their future as part of Ireland’s maritime heritage.
Dr.Michael Brogan told me in an interview which you can hear on this week’s Podcast (below): “The Galway Hooker is the iconic emblem of so many things about Galway and Connemara, which is used in every logo around Galway, but though many use it they don’t give anything back to it. We should not take these boats for granted. They are part of our heritage, they are an art form in themselves, the traditional sailing craft of Ireland, of the West, of Connemara and these craft should be given a similar recognition, for example say like the artists in Aosdána. I think they should be given a similar type of grant for their artistic work in keeping up the boats, just to help buying paint, anti-fouling, putting in new planks, things like that.”
He is hoping to get together “a group of interested people and put some pressure on the appropriate authorities and highlight to all those who use, admire and benefit from the Galway Hooker as an ionic emblem to ensure that the people who maintain, who keep these great boats going get some type of stipend and support.”
“These iconic boats deserve to be considered as part of the traditional art form of Ireland, which they are in the maritime sense and it is time to recognise that.”
I talked to Michael Brogan at Cruinniu na mBád, the Gathering of the Boats, in Kinvara, Co.Galway. Listen to him on this week’s Podcast below, where he starts by telling me how he bought the Galway Hooker, Mac Duach, the biggest of the fleet and I recall that I once helmed it and found just how strong these boats are.
Colie Hernon and his family were setting the competitive pace over the weekend at the Crinniu na mBad in Kinvara, with the man himself winning the leath bad race with the 2012-built Croi an Cladaig, while his son Colie og Hernon was winner in the gleotogs with Nora Bheag writes W M Nixon.
The very handsome Croi an Cladaig featured here last week when we were previewing the annual festival, which in its modern form was founded by Tony Moylan in 1979 as a celebration of the western maritime and folk traditions.
The sunlit image of Croi an Cladaig was so cheering that we were moved to put the most favourable possible spin on the weather predictions. That inspiring mainsail, by the way, was made in Connemara by Dara Bailey. But as our photos from the Pierces Purcell, father and son, clearly indicate, far from a brisk and sunny westerly, a huge crowd and a large fleet had to make do with rain and a fitful sou’east breeze.
Yet the boats were so interesting and the onshore entertainments and food & drink experiences so many and varied that some who were there claim they didn’t notice any rain at all. Under the benign direction of Dr Michael Brogan it all went swimmingly, deliberately so in the case of those who took part in the time-honoured cross-harbour swim, and preferably not swimming at all for those who were in the in the seaweed boat race – don’t ask, the photo says it all.
The requisite cargoes of traditional turf were on the Kinvara quayside from Connemara, and the inevitably slow racing began. The rest of the world thinks it is getting to grips with the nomenclature of Galway Bay’s traditional boats, but then those in the heart of it all move the goal-posts with a new category which we hadn’t heard of before, but doubtless it has been around since the time of St Brendan.
This is the gleotog mor, the “big gleotog”, which one expert assured us is somewhere between a leath bad and a bad mor. Thus in order of size we presumably ascend from the pucaun through the gleotog, the leath bad, the gleotog mor, and the bad mor which can go on to become something enormous like the Chicago-built, Atlantic-crossing Naomh Bairbre.
But exact categorization depends on so many factors that it’s not a topic for the faint-hearted, let alone the dim-witted, in which category we include ourselves when it comes to working out what’s what west of the Shannon.
All we know is that every size was represented. There was even what looked like a pucaun road-trailed down from the north in a shade of brown through varnish which might look orange on a sunny day, but definitely looked brown in Sunday. And on the harbour in front of everyone was a traditional boat which seemed well on the way to becoming a yacht, for with her immaculate black topsides she sported a very stylish white boot-top at the forefoot to set off the blue anti-fouling.
The visual effect of a neat white boot-top, even a partial one, cannot be over-estimated – the great schooner Atlantic which was in Dun Laoghaire last week absolutely cried out for one, as she didn’t look her best with midnight blue topsides and dark grey anti-fouling with nothing in between.
But there in Kinvara was John Flaherty’s Naomh Cailin looking very well indeed with her white boot-top, and she was more than just good looks – she went out and won this gleotog mor class which is only just registering on our radar, and looked great doing it, with her Philip Watson sails settling in nicely as the breeze got a bit of life to it.
As for the really grown-up class, the bad mor division, that was won by the Tonai, skippered by Mairtin O’Brien. Yet again, the Kinvara gathering leaves us with a cascade of visions of unique boats - and unique people too. May it continue for ever.
This weekend’s annual Cruinnui na mBad festival (the Gathering of the Boats) in Kinvara in the southeast corner of Galway Bay celebrates a tradition going back far into the mists of time writes W M Nixon. In the old days, it was a matter of necessity that the fleet of working Galway hookers in Connemara should sail up and across the bay, bringing the winter’s consignment of turf to a region where it’s a relatively scarce commodity.
The healthy mixture of commerce and effectively racing under sail, with festivities at the conclusion of a job well done, inevitably developed into a regatta atmosphere, West of Ireland style. So much so, in fact, that these days, the annual Cruinnui na mBad is a major event, which can attract a fleet of up to a hundred boats.
There’s now something extra to celebrate, as new boats to the traditional designs are being built at a steady rate by Colie Hernon and Peter Connolly and their team in Badoiri na Gaillimh in the Claddagh in Galway, and one of their creations is the central feature in the maritime display in the nearby City of Galway museum.
They are currently working on their seventh boat, a gleitog to be known as the Markeeen Joe. And a fine bit of work she is too, with completion anticipated for the Autumn. But they’ll be well represented by other craft they’ve built in Kinvara on Saturday and Sunday, when good weather is hoped to prevail until at least the middle of Sunday, and there’ll be no lack of proper sailing breezes.
There is really no reasonable comparison between Ireland’s eastern and western seaboards writes W M Nixon. The east coast is quite densely populated, and while it has some areas of impressive scenery, in general it lacks the majestic inlets and islands which make sailing the Atlantic seaboard such a joy. That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that, taken overall, the east coast leads in economic activity, and at the very least there’s no doubting it has much less rain.
But when the rain in the west clears to reveal the coastline in all its glory, the extra precipitation seems a small price to pay for such visual natural abundance. And then too, while there are fewer people, they’re all so much larger than life, and bursting with innovative and entertaining ideas, that you’re inclined to think one western person is worth a dozen easterners.
However, those of us living and doing most of our sailing on the humdrum old east coast have one inescapable and total advantage over those in the west. When our east coast life gets too stressed and samey, we can escape for a while to the big country, fresh air and crazy attitudes of the west.
If you live in the west, you simply can’t genuinely experience this moment of release. But on the east coast, if life gets tedious, all that is necessary is head west for a day or two. The moment you cross the River Shannon, the spirits lift, and as you crest the watershed between the Shannon and Galway Bay, the big generous country of the west is rising on the horizon, and all is much better with the world.
In the west, too, they operate on a different time scale. And they do it in a different time zone. Until the railways of the 19th Century made some national co-ordination of time essential, local time meant that the recognised noon was later the further west you moved. As is only natural, Galway was twenty minutes later than Dublin. It was only with the exigencies of the Great War in 1916 that an Official Act was passed making uniform time-keeping a legal requirement. Oddly enough, no-one seems to have discussed what effect this draconian measure might have had in provoking the outbreak of the Easter Rising in 1916. Be that as it may, all we know for now is that in Galway, they still operate on a local time zone which is at least twenty minutes later than everyone else’s time, and is probably nearer half an hour.
This became apparent last week when I wheeled into the car park at Galway Bay Sailing Club to give a performance of the current illustrated warblefest, which is about Ireland’s unique relationship with gaff rig and how it has emerged that Irish sailors led the switchover to Bermudan. The details of that will have to wait for another blog, but on this particular night, the immediate concern – with less than a quarter of an hour to go to the advertised start time – was that there just one other car in the car park, and that was Vice Commodore John Murphy, who was there a minute earlier to open the place up for the night.
“Oh Jaysus, Nixon” thought I, “you’ve bombed tonight, there’s not going to be a soul here.” But there wasn’t a moment to brood on the prospect of a showbiz flop, for I was with Pierce Purcell the mover and shaker of the west, and he wanted to show me the almost-finished refurb job they’ve been doing on the ground floor setup in the clubhouse, where they’ve managed to greatly enlarge the floor-space and rationalise its use for a state-of-the art changing room and multiple-use room and boat and equipment store setup.
You know the feeling you get when you’re looking at a job which is going very well indeed. It’s heartening. The re-furb in GBSC is precisely that. It’s being overseen by members Pat and Emer Irwin - he’s the Project Manager and she’s the Architect – and is being done with exemplary efficiency, on time and within a budget of only €160,000, which is the best value in building work I’ve ever seen anywhere.
We emerged much encouraged from seeing all this to be further cheered by the fact the club was warming up with its famous big stove in the middle of the bar getting into its stride, and the place filling up with people from near and far. For of course I’d temporarily forgotten that Galway’s in a different time zone and it wouldn’t be until around 8.30pm that we’d have some idea of the real turnout, and how effective it might be for the yellow welly collection. This is an idea imported from Poolbeg Y & BC which provides the most painless way of raising funds for the lifeboats. You just provide one yellow RNLI seaboot and request the audience to see how many €5 notes they can get into it. Usually it concludes with some worthwhile figure inevitably ending in either zero or five, but Galway being Galway, the night concluded with the boot yielded up a sum ending with six euro and eight cents……
The show became something we all had to go through with, just in order to justify being there, so it went ahead and finally got to its meandering conclusion. Then the lights went up to reveal even more people had arrived. Pierce Purcell had certainly done his stuff in the phonecall chivvying department, for despite all your modern means of instant total-cover communication, the personal phone call seems to be more important than ever, and the photo below gives some indication of the coverage he achieved, while also hinting at the conviviality of an evening in which a shared love of boats and sailing and a good club atmosphere completely obliterated any feeling of it still being winter outside.
It was good to talk again with Barry Martin of Galway who made such an impact as bo’sun on the Asgard II many years ago that he found himself being recruited into the same role for both the much larger Britsh sail training schooners Winston Churchill and Malcolm Millar, a job in which he was so successful that he ended his sail training career as a senior officer on the Churchill.
There too were Jim Grealish and Barry Heskin, against whom we used to race inshore and offshore in the days when we each had boats around the 35ft size, boats of very different type yet rating notably similar, so if the Morrisssey-Grealish-Heskin squad appeared on the starting line with Joggernaut, aboard Witchcraft of Howth we knew we were into a boat-for-boat battle in which no quarter would be given, yet everyone would be the best of friends afterwards.
But if there was ample opportunity in GBSC for memories of good times past, equally there was plenty of discussion of the here and now, and it was fascinating to meet up with Dan Mill who runs the busy boatyard in the industrial estate beside Galway Docks. Dan’s story is such that we’ll be developing it into a complete blog in due course, sufficient to say at the moment that his links to Ireland are extraordinarily complex, for although he was born in England, at the age of three his parents together with another family set off to sail to New Zealand from Lymington in the then-bermudan-rigged 43ft Tyrrell ketch Maybird, and Maybird of course is now back in Ireland fully restored as a gaff ketch, and well-known in the ownership of Darryl Hughes.
As for young Dan, growing up in New Zealand he naturally moved into boat-building in what is probably the best boat-building school in the world, the New Zealand marine industry. But then Mna na hEireann took a hand in his life-path.
It would be difficult to overestimate the influence that the charms of the Women of Ireland have had on the development of a small yet top-level boat-building industry in this country. But there’s something about marine craftsmen and Irish women which gets them together and entices the craftsmen to settle in Ireland despite the fact that, let’s face it, anyone trying to produce such top quality work here is ploughing a lonely furrow a long way from the great centres of the specialist industry, such as the Solent district, parts of the Baltic, certain places in Brittany, and particularly New Zealand.
Yet the women get them, and they get them home to Ireland, and they keep them. Thus we have the likes of Dan Mill in Galway, Steve Morris in Kilrush, and Bill Trafford in the hidden depths of the country near Mitchellstown, all three of them trying to ensure work of the highest quality in a country where “Ah sure, ’twill do” is sometimes the defining motto in woodwork.
Having arrived in Galway, Dan Mill found himself within the orbit of the formidable John Killeen, with whom all ideas are possible, and somehow they found themselves setting out to build a cruising version of an Open 60.
In the end she became a very one-off 68-footer named Nimmo in honour of the great Scottish harbour engineer Alexander Nimmo, who is one of John’s heroes. When she was eventually finished after four years with Dan being responsible for virtually every bit of skilled work in her complex construction and superb finish, he was exhausted, but his reputation in Galway was well established at a very high level, and he’s now the man to go to with boat maintenance needs and problems. He’s not above undertaking a mid-level job such as putting a new deck and coachroof on an older fibreglass hull, but as for launching another project on the Nimmo scale, that would require some thinking about.
Nevertheless, talking with the man who built Nimmo was an eloquent reminder that there’s a lot more to sailing in the West than Galway Hookers and other traditional craft. But equally it was a reminder that the traditional skills are still being maintained and indeed nourished out beyond the Pale. So after a leisurely breakfast next morning with Pierce and Susan Purcell in their dream house in Clarinbridge, with a busy red squirrel feasting on the bird table close outside the generous window, there was time to inspect Pierce’s boatshed out the back, one of those green steel sheds which sit so well in the Irish countryside, particularly when – like Pierce – you have your 26-footer comfortably winterised in it, and a fine well-equipped workbench right to hand.
It’s the sort of ideal setup very few can manage on the over-crowded East Coast, and I headed south musing on the east-west imbalance, and readying the thinking for something entirely different - the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick. This started as the backup service for the restoration of the Conor O’Brien 57ft ketch Ilen by Liam Hegarty at Oldcourt near Baltimore, and recently in the Ilen School they’ve produced deckhouses for Ilen to the highest standard, and are currently finishing the last of the new spars.
But under the inspiration of Gary MacMahon (who personally was responsible for bring Ilen home from the Falklands) and others such as Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, the Ilen School has become a remarkable educational and training resource undertaking a wide variety of projects such as creating replicas of the traditional Shannon Estuary gandelows, and building a class of the very handy CityOne sailing dinghies to a design by the late Theo Rye, a successful project which further revealed the multiple talents of that much-mourned expert in every aspect of naval architecture.
Another handy course which the Ilen School offers is through building traditional Grand Banks dories, simple yet effective boats which must have seemed very small indeed as you were left behind in the Grand Banks fog by the Bluenose fishing schooners to get on with the day’s business of ling-lining for cod. By the time the schooner found you again towards evening, your little dory would be dangerously laden with a great catch of wet and scaly silvery wealth.
In fact, the Ilen School is a whole host of experiences, for there in the main work-space were the mighty new spars for Ilen together with the distinctly aged original gaff which goes all the way back to Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights in Baltimore 91 years ago. And in another workspace, the Ilen team are building two very able little dinghies to the Valentine type from dimensions supplied by Hal Sisk, and they will in time be Ilen’s boats. But before you get to these sensibly–shaped little dinghies, you’ve to take on board the Hildasay, the Ilen school’s latest acquisition.
We all know that Limerick is a Viking city, in fact there are those who would argue that it still is, and in its rawest state too. But nevertheless it takes a while to get your head round how a boat like Hildasay, of the very purest Viking descent, should have ended up in a big shed in a trading estate in Limerick.
Hildasay was built in Shetland as a sailing development of the traditional clinker-built sixareen (six oars) in 1951, and is such a sweet little 26-footer that your heart falls for her, even if your head tells you that the slim Viking stern mean there’s very little space just where you most need it most, while the classic clinker construction poses its own special maintenance problems in a vessel which is a semi-keelboat.
She has been in and around the Shannon Estuary for abut 15 years, but owner Jack Hawks was recently seriously ill, and though he has fully recovered he felt the demands of Hildasay were getting a little too much for him, and wondered if the Ilen Boat Building School would be interested in her as a gift.
She’s an ideal gift, as she’s of a size to be very manageable, she provides special maintenance problems which, while not enormous, are very educational as part of the school’s courses, and each summer when she’s in commission she could be based either on Lough Derg, or somewhere down the Estuary.
The problem in Limerick is that though the Shannon is very much in the midst of it, access to it in the heart of town is limited, and in any case below the weir the big tides are a problem. But up on Lough Derg or further down the Estuary, there are all sorts of opportunities to get conveniently afloat, and having the use of an interesting sailing boat which is bigger than a CityOne or a gandelow is a natural add-on to the Ilen School’s activities, providing a broadening of the mind for some young would-be boatbuilders who may have spent too much time solely at the workbench without seeing what the resulting use of the end product is all about. And who knows, but they might even manage a race with the lovely gaff cutter Sally O’Keeffe built by Steve Morris of Kilrush with the community team from nearby Querrin as a replica of the traditional Shannon Estuary trading hooker.
Having seen the possibilities of mind-broadening in Limerick, the final part of this western tour took in a project which is mind-blowing. Admittedly the good people of the townland of Skenakilla would never for a minute think of themselves as being in the west, but for the rest of us this hidden spot beyond Mitchellstown in North Cork seems to be in the middle of nowhere. But then when you’ve found it, and spent a bit of time with the ebullient Bill Trafford in his remarkable Alchemy Marine boat workshop in Skenakilla, you feel you’re at the hub of the universe.
Bill is another case of Mna na hEireann reeling them in – a classic yachtbuilder and particularly an enthusiast for the International 6 Metre Class, he met an Irish girl and that was that. He made a living plying his highly specialized trade the length and breadth of our island working from a van, and then discovered his own niche in doing interesting, indeed extraordinary things, with old fibreglass boats.
He’s unusual in that he’s as enthusiastic about the wide potential of glassfibre construction as he is profoundly satisfied by working in wood to the highest classic yacht standards. While his special abilities were well known to a select few, he came to international notice last year when one of his masterpieces, the complete re-working of a seemingly tired little Elizabthan 23 into an elegant 26ft sloop with a classic New England style, was awarded a top prize in the Classic Boat annual competition.
His current project for a Cork owner is even more intriguing, the transformation of an ordinary and no longer young Etchells 22 into a 34ft LOA day cruiser of unique appearance. He has raised the topsides using glassfibre moulding to give her a completely fresh sheerline, he has transformed the stern by giving it a new-look counter with a curving transom which gives more than a nod in the direction of the unique sterns of the Friendship sloops of Maine, and he has built the most beautiful coachroof in the best Knud Reimers style to provide a boat which comes with a heady combination of Down East and Scandinavia to her.
The stern is lengthened such that the LOA is now 34ft instead of the original 30.5ft, and the possibilities this has provided for a large cockpit to match the very pleasant accommodation (including a proper toilet compartment and a Beta diesel auxiliary) have been met by moving the entire rudder half a metre aft.
With his experience of tweaking boats this way and that, Bill reckons the sailing balance will if anything be improved by this re-location of the rudder. Personally, in the standard Etchells I’d always thought it too far forward anyway, so I could live with this change, yet found it entertaining to note that while he talked of moving the rudder aft by half a metre, when I asked him how he calculated the perfect-looking camber in the new deck, he said his rule of thumb is one inch for every four feet of beam. This is as near as dammit one in fifty, but his mixture of measurement systems makes him just like the rest of us who are mere bodgers, for when we’re measuring something we just use the side of the steel rule which comes up first, be it metric or imperial…….
This is very much a bespoke project, so Bill has been able to introduce all sorts of quirky little features, a very attractive one being the ports for the navigation lights, which are set well into the hull either side of the stemhead, and look for all the world like the eyes put in Mediterranean boats to ward off evil spirits. In fact, they give such an appearance of good cheer to this new-old boat that when you see her from ahead, she looks for all the world as though she is smiling so much that she’s about to burst out laughing.
There’s still quite a bit to do before she’s ready for the water, but Bill is now in such a rhythm of working on his own that he can put in long productive hours without really noticing it, so we hope to get back to Skenakilla sooner rather than later. As for those around him, one unexpected advantage of being near Mitchellstown is you’re right in the heart of the dairy engineering industry, where the use and working of stainless steel is second nature. In fact, down there they sometimes use stainless steel which is of a superior grade to the 316 which is usually good enough for the rest of us.
Truth to tell, I didn’t know there were types of stainless steel superior to 316, but you learn many things down in Skenakilla, and it was encouraging to hear that the best workers in the stainless steel fabricating shops are happy to lend their skills in their spare time to bring Bill’s self-made stainless steel fittings up to professional standards of finish.
All being well, the new boat will be a star at the 25th Anniversary Glandore Classics Regatta from July 23rd to 29th, in fact Bill rather hopes the owner might consider taking her to the Classics Regatta celebrating the Bicentenary of Dun Laoghaire Harbour from July 6th to 9th as part of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta.
The good news here is that Cathy MacAleavey, chair of the Dun Laoghaire Classics organising committee, and Sally Wyles, who heads up the Glandore organisation, got together last weekend to see about selling their two events as a sort of package, as the clear fortnight between them makes participation in both a very realistic proposition.
Certainly the Dun Laoghaire Classics is beginning to look impressive, particularly if you go by the measuring method of counting the number of famous designers involved. The recent interest shown by Rob Mason of Milford Haven to come over with his newly-restored 36ft Alexander Richardson-designed 36ft Myfanwy brings a once-famous Liverpool designer back into the limelight. It’s where he deserves to be, for Richardson designed John Jameson’s all-conquering Irex in 1884.
In Dublin Bay, Myfanwy would see this Richardson creation shaping up to designs by G L Watson, Alfred Mylne, William Fife, John Kearney, O’Brien Kennedy, Arthur Robb and others, and that’s the list already with the net only newly cast.
As for what Glandore can offer, there’s at least one unique proposition. A special race will be sailed to honour the memory of Theo Rye, the fleet including the CityOnes from Limerick and a host of other boats, new and old. On each and every one of them, Theo would have had something new and of real interest to say, for that’s the kind of devoted student of naval architecture he was throughout his far-too-short life. He is much missed.
There could well be as many opinions as to what constitutes a true classic or traditional boat as there are owners of these often highly individual craft. As part of the celebration of the Bicentenary of Dun Laoghaire Harbour – where the first stone was officially laid by the Viceroy on 31st May 1817 - the organisers of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 (it’s from July 6th to 9th) will be including a Classics, Traditional and Old Gaffer section. This will, in addition to putting extra emphasis on older classes already regularly involved such as the Glens, the Mermaids, the Howth 17s, the IDRA 14s and the Water Wags, be extending a welcome to older boats of other types, and to classic classes from Ireland and around the Irish Sea. W M Nixon reports on progress in this special feature of a very attractive new dimension to Ireland’s biggest sailing event.
If you want anything done in introducing a new twist to sailing, make Cathy MacAleavey the organiser of the special sub-committee in charge of moving things along. And if you want to be sure things are going in the right direction as regards classics and traditional craft, make sure that that Hal Sisk is being consulted and will be personally involved in one or maybe all of his classic craft, for the contribution he has made to the appreciation of our boat heritage in Ireland is unmatched.
Former Olympic sailor and round Ireland record holder Cathy is now herself very much a mover and shaker in the classics, as she has built a Water Wag and a Shannon One Design working alongside the great Jimmy Furey of Leecarrow in Roscommon, and races regularly in both classes.
On being appointed to this completely new post last Autumn by top honcho Tim Goodbody, Chair of the overall Organising Committee, one of the first things she remembered was that while taking part in the Glandore Classics some years ago, she’d been much taken with the Fife One Designs from the Menai Straits, little gems some 24ft 6ins LOA whose design origins go back to 1926, and have been thriving as a class since the 1930s.
These days they hunt as a pack and many of them are well organised for road trailing, so on the assumption that they would be heading to the Glandore Classics 2017 on July 23rd, she sent an email to class chairman Richard Tudor suggesting that they might like to take in Dun Laoghaire on the way. It turns out that they won’t be at Glandore in late July as they’re expected to take part in the four yearly Celtic Festival in the Menai Straits at much the same time. But their diary was reasonably clear for the 6th to 9th of July and the Dun Laoghaire festivities, and they’re coming to race for the new Kingstown Cup big time.
This is doubly interesting, for they’re very much a William Fife design and only six inches shorter than the Alfred Mylne-designed Glens, yet the two comparable classes have never raced in the same event. Needless to say the chances of an inter-fleet race in Dun Laoghaire is now high on the agenda.
So at a stroke, Cathy had given wings to the new event. But at the same time she was casting a fly over Hal Sisk, against whom she regularly races in the Water Wags, but who had his 1894 Watson-designed, Hilditch-built 36ft classic gaff cutter Peggy Bawn on the market, as more than ten years have elapsed since his team completed the wellnigh perfect restoration of this boat in 2005.
Peggy Bawn had been based in Dun Laoghaire Harbour continuously since 1919, and then after her restoration, she became a much-admired feature in classic regattas on both sides of the Atlantic. To say that Hal Sisk has done his duty by her is under-stating the case, yet when Cathy approached him about making Peggy Bawn the centrepiece of the VDLR Classics Regatta, he said he’d already decided to do so, and was looking forward to it very much.
While all this was going on in the background, one of the members of Cathy’s sub-committee, Guy Kilroy, was constructing a database of all the classic and traditional classes within Ireland or within reasonable reach. Although most of them are very location-specific and few have the trailers for a long road journey, you just never know who might be swept up in the general enthusiasm for an event which is really beginning to buzz, and certainly the exotic Shannon One Designs will be turning up in strength.
Meanwhile, there’s the mysterious territory which is the Old Gaffer’s Association, which came into being in 1963 when people realised there wasn’t any organisation looking after the needs of boats which weren’t really classics in the strictest sense, yet fitted into so many other categories that they almost defied definition.
Ironically, the OGA was founded in the very year that Dublin Bay’s perfect exemplars of the gaff-rigged racing cutter, the Dublin Bay 21s, changed over to Bermudan rig. Yet as the 2013 Golden Jubilee Round Britain and Ireland cruise of the OGA showed, the Old Gaffers thrive as never before. And as it happened, in 2015 and 2016 the President of the overall Old Gaffers Association was Dun Laoghaire’s own Sean Walsh, owner-skipper of the very gaff-rigged Heard 28 Tir na nOg.
But Sean was due to stand down as President in London in January 14th 2017 – last weekend, in other words. Fortunately, there was just time to convene a meeting of key people before that happened, and a gathering in the NYC of Sean Walsh, Dublin Bay OGA President Denis Aylmer, Ian Malcolm of the Howth Seventeen and Water Wag classes, and Cathy MacAleavey and her husband Con Murphy, did a lot to improve mutual understanding and clarify the in-port needs of Old Gaffers, which are different from those of Classics, which are in turn very different from those of easily-manoeuvred modern craft with auxiliary engines.
Even before Sean and his team had left for London for the OGA changeover, the word had come through from Paul Keogh, skipper of the Clondalkin community-owned-and-built full-size Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan, that he and his crew would be delighted to take part in Dun Laoghaire in July.
This was another key decision, for the Naomh Cronan is now the only full-sized traditional Galway type on the Irish Sea. But while the great hooker voyager Paddy Barry now sails the seas in a 45ft Frers-designed cutter, it was also confirmed that he too would be taking part, as crew aboard Sean Walsh’s Tir n nOg.
So the main building blocks of a great event are now going into place, and it’s a matter of building on this sound foundation. With the organisers fully aware of the need to provide proper liaison officers for each special group or class, the need for designated berthing between the Carlisle Pier and the East Pier is also being addressed, as it is the most suitable space, and has the bonus of providing the best possible public view of some of the most interesting-looking boats around.
Thus invitations are on their way to the likes of Scott and Ruth Metcalfe with their characterful schooner Vilma on the Menai Straits, and Mike Clark with his traditional Manx nobby White Heather at Peel in the Isle of Man.
At the other end of the Isle of Man is Joe Pennington with his restored Manx longliner Master Frank, an asset to any regatta, while across in Strangford Lough Dickie Gomes may have his 1912-built 36ft Kearney yawl Ainmara on the market after 51 years of ownership, but if she doesn’t move he says he is on for Dun Laoghaire.
For several years. Ainmara was Dun Laoghaire-based, but the Dun Laoghaire class which everyone would most particularly welcome back would be the Dublin Bay 24s which raced in the bay from 1947 to 2004. Here’s a rough-cut vid from their final race in the bay in 2004, since then they’ve been taken to Brittany in hope of restoration, but only one has had the complete job done. Originally called Periwinkle, she is now re-named Grace, and is based at Douarnenez, but if she could be persuaded back to Dublin Bay for July 2017, who knows what doors might be opened.
Boats of a very different kind came centre stage many years ago in another Hal Sisk initiative, the Bantry Boats built to the design of the ship’s longboat left behind in Bantry after the unsuccessful French invasion of 1796. From the new involvement came the Atlantic Challenge, and you’ll find Bantry Boats at many ports, though there are few enough of them in Ireland. But the Dun Laoghaire festivities would provide an ideal opportunity for them, as the final day of the regatta, Sunday 9th July, is also being pencilled in for a full-on traditional rowing competition for the East Coast Skiffs.
In fact, with so much effort being made to provide proper waterfront facilities in Dun Laoghaire, it’s a case of the more the merrier, and another interesting vessel whose management have indicated positive interest is the Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen, currently nearing completion of her restoration through the Ilen Boat Building School of Limerick at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore.
Ilen is due to be launched in April and will be in full commission by July. The very fact of having a complete suit of new sails will make her look better than she ever has since she was built in 1927, and if she does turn up to Dun Laoghaire welcome, it will be a very different boat from the tired-looking vessel at the end of her working days in the Falkands, the vessel which was finally, thanks to Gary MacMahon’s initiative, returned to Ireland in 1998.
In other words, so many ideas are flying around about the fresh shapes and new vitality that the Kingstown Bicentenary can add to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta that all things are possible.
Although this year's 38th Galway Hooker racing at Cruinniú na mBád was cut short due to the high winds there was still plenty of activity at Galway's maritime sailing festival.
'Aisling Geal', Bob Quinn's original 1979 film of the first Cruinniu festival, got an airing on Sunday in the Courthouse and festival goers got a glimpse of how it all began.
This historic boat, Galway Hooker Festival, which has been held in Kinvara each year since '79, celebrates the village's heritage of using turf boats to transport turf from Connemara to south Galway and north Clare.
Crinniu na mBad Currach Race results
Men's and Women's Race
1st Niamh Folan & Jason Folan
2nd Bernie Joyce & Joe Joyce
3rd Nora McDonagh & Michael Folan
4th Georgina Folan & Michael Mulkerins
1st Charlotte Hannon, Bronagh Brennon & Mary McCarthy
2nd Tim Hannon, Georgina Folan & Hayley Folan
Three Men's Final
1st Joe Joyce, Martin Mulkerins & Micheal Mulkerins
2nd John Joe Donoghue, Seanin Honan & Padraig Canavan
Three Ladies Final
1st Leah O'Sullivan, Trish Ward & Annie Lee
2nd Máire Bríd Breathnach, Nora McDonagh & Georgina Folan
3rd Charlotte Hannon, Bronagh Breannan & Mary McCarthy