Displaying items by tag: Historic Boats
In this time of increasing uncertainty with its frustration of sailing plans, we find reassurance in soothing thoughts of well-restored or new-built classic boats. And traditional vessels in handsome and workmanlike order have the same heartening effect. We've an instinct for properly-used and sensibly-deployed timber in our DNA, for in prehistoric times, it was a significant survival asset. Now, it reminds us of the need for patience, and we find comfort in clichés, not least in the old chestnut that when God made time, he made a lot of it.
For time can be a matter of the greatest importance with the restoration of classics. This month, John Kearney's great Mavis – built in Ringsend in Dublin in 1923-25 - is sailing again in Maine, after a restoration which has lasted very many years. And in so doing, she and those who have brought her back to life remind us of how much has been achieved in recent times to preserve and restore Ireland's historical boats. Perhaps most encouragingly of all, they've been restored not as lifeless museum pieces, but rather as vigorous members of the nation's active fleet, providing inspiring sailing and some excellent racing sport.
But before we delve into the new life which is being found for wooden one-design classes and other special vessels of very varying vintages, we must pay our respects to John B Kearney, and to Ron Hawkins and Denise Pukas and their friends and helpers in Camden in Maine, who have patiently brought Mavis back to life. They've progressed the work as time and resources become available, for Ron is a master shipwright from a noted maritime family, and his skills are much in demand by others.
In its Dublin way, John B Kearney's Ringsend background superficially seems not to have been so very different, yet his was a life which would have been remarkable by any standards, in any place, at any time. For in the Dublin of its era, this was a life of astonishing achievement against all the odds in a rigidly structured society made even more conservative by a time of global unrest and national upheaval.
Yet here was a largely self-taught young many who was to design many boats – including the Dublin Bay Mermaid in 1932 – who quietly yet steadily progressed with his zest for life undimmed – he was still designing boats in his eighties – while the respect he received in the sailing world was such that he was a Flag Officer of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire – for he had long since moved from Dublin city to Monkstown – for the last 20 years of his life.
John Breslin Kearney (1879-1967) was born of a longshore family in the heart of Ringsend in Dublin, the eldest of four sons in a small house in Thorncastle Street. The crowded old houses backed onto the foreshore along the River Dodder in a relationship with the muddy inlet which was so intimate that at times of exceptional tidal surges, any ground floor rooms were at risk of flooding.
But at four of the houses, it enabled the back yards to be extended to become the boatyards of Foley, Murphy, Kearney and Smith. Other houses on Thorncastle Street provided space for riverside sail lofts, marine blacksmith workshops, traditional ropeworks, and all the other long-established specialist trades which served the needs of fishing boats, and the small vessels - rowed and sailed - with which the hobblers raced out into Dublin Bay and beyond to provide pilotage services for incoming ships.
And increasingly, as Dublin acquired a growing middle class with the burgeoning wealth of the long Victorian era, the little boatyards along the Dodder also looked after the needs of the boats of the new breed of recreational summer sailors.
The young John Kearney was particularly interested in this aspect of activity at his father's boatyard, where he worked during time away from school. From an early age, he developed a natural ability as a boat and yacht designer, absorbing correspondence courses and testing his skills from 1897 onwards, when he designed and built his first 15ft sailing dinghy, aged just 18.
In adult life, during the day he worked initially as a shipwright in Dublin Port & Docks, but his skills could be so broadly applied that he rose rapidly through the ranks to become involved in the work of many departments, such that by the time of his retiral in 1944, while he was officially the Superintendent of Construction Works, in reality, he was the Harbour Engineer, yet couldn't be so named as he had no university degree.
However, this lack of an official title left him unfazed, for his retirement at the age of 65 meant he could concentrate full-time on his parallel career as a yacht designer, something that was so important to him that when his gravestone was erected in Glasnevin in 1967, it simply stated: John Kearney, Yacht Designer.
That he was also a master boatbuilder who had been able to design and build fine yachts in his spare time isn't stated, but over the years he created many, and the 38ft Mavis for himself in 1925 was a masterpiece, with an astonishingly good performance which was such that after racing unsuccessfully against John Kearney and Mavis in a stormy offshore race in the Irish Sea in 1935, Humphrey Barton – who later founded the Ocean Cruising Club in 1954 - was moved to write an article for Yachting World drawing attention to this relatively unsung sailing star from Dublin Bay.
John Kearney's determination to be a full-time yacht designer after his retirement was such that in 1951 he sold Mavis to Paddy O'Keeffe of Bantry, as his yacht design clients expected him to sail part of each season in their new Kearney-designed boats and Mavis wasn't getting the use she deserved. She returned briefly to Dublin Bay in 1956 in the ownership of Desmond Slevin, a ship's doctor who was given a lucrative posting in the US, so he had Mavis shipped across the Atlantic, and she has been New England-based ever since.
She has been both lucky and unlucky in her time in America. Lucky in that there has always been someone who recognised that there was something special in this characterful boat that made her worth preserving. Yet unlucky in that it was never someone with the substantial resources to restore her completely to the classic yacht standards to which John Kearney has so skillfully and painstakingly built her, for such people put their wealth into recognised brands such as Herreshoff, Fife, Sparkman & Stephens, and John Alden.
Yet the fates were kind in letting Ron Hawkins see the spark that might be found in Mavis, and many years ago he took her over with the intention restoring her as time and funds became available from his work as a master shipwright. It was bound to be a long time, as the rising enthusiasm for classic and traditional craft kept him busy - sometimes until late into the night - at the waterfront boatyards. But he moved Mavis to a workshop on the outskirts of town and started the long process of stripping her out and gradually bringing her back to John Kearney standards, with the supportive arrival of Denise Pukas boosting his enthusiasm for a quality project which at times looked like it might stretch into infinity.
Regular readers of Afloat.ie will know that the restored Mavis was finally put in the water in Camden in 2015. Yet with a boat and rig like this, much remained to be done, and always there were the demands of other income-generating projects. Thus it wasn't until the pandemic loomed over the horizon that boatyard work slackened, and there was an unexpected time in the Spring of 2020 to complete the mast and rigging, and get it stepped.
Even when doing it yourself to the extent – as Ron did – of personally making the gaff-boom leather saddle, it's still costly when you're doing it to top Kearney standards, as the best of materials are expected. And though we were receiving photos through the summer of the mast being stepped and dressed, the cryptic attached message said no more than: "Still waiting for the mainsail".
Thus it seemed that the Mavis sailplan was being assembled from bits and pieces, whereas a full-blown high-budget project would rely for the final effect on a very complete sailplan, such as Mavis was showing in style at Skerries regatta in 1928.
Be that as it may, early in September, we received an untitled snap showing the mainsail finally in place, other photos arrived showing her taking her first tentative steps under main and jib, and then today's header photo arrived showing Mavis making effortless knots under a slightly eccentric rig derived from several sources, with a high-flying jib which in time may well become the jib topsail in the complete version.
When you've been undertaking a major restoration ashore and afloat with close personal involvement at every stage, it's quite a step from working to actually sailing, which is why in the traditional world there was a clear demarcation between builders and sailors. Thus it has taken a little while to become accustomed to the fact that the Mavis which everyone has known for years as something steady and secure in the workshop, or sitting serenely afloat in the Inner Harbor in Camden, is now a living thing which heels as her sails fill with power, and the sound of the sea chuckles past her easily-driven hull as she lifts to the waves.
But in that lovely Fall weather with which Maine is often blessed, they've been getting about, and a visit across to Eggemoggin Reach saw greetings from legendary photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz and a brief vid and immediate fame on his Instagram page. It tells us much about the easily-driven hull that John Kearney gave Mavis, as he gave her the most subtle set of lines with sweeping sheer and double curves in just about every direction to produce the boat that Humphrey Barton particularly recognised as being at one with the sea.
Benjamin Mendlowitz's glimpse of Mavis as published on Instagram
This elevation of the restored Mavis into a place in sailing's Hall of Fame is a timely reminder of the many other Irish projects – accelerating in number in recent years – which have paid the proper respect to Ireland's finest classic yachts and traditional boats by restoring them to full seagoing strength.
It's now a long time since Nick Massey began the restoration of the Howth 17s in 1972, a baton since taken up by Ian Malcolm, while across in Dun Laoghaire Hal Sisk was into an early episode of what has now become an epic tale beginning with the tiny Fife cutter Vagrant of 1884 – he restored her for her Centenary in 1984 – while also being involved with reviving the Water Wags, raising the profile of the Bantry Boat, restoring the 1894 Watson 36-footer Peggy Bawn with Michael Kennedy of Dunmore East for international stardom in 2005, and most recently bringing the Dublin Bay 21s back to life with the hugely-talented Steve Morris of Kilrush, a project also involving Dan Mill.
Other groups had already taken on the very major project of a new life for the Dublin Bay 24s, and while it was a complex scheme which proved painful for some, the innate quality of the original Alfred Mylne design has shone through. Periwinkle is now in pristine restored condition in Dun Laoghaire, Zephyra is nearing re-completion at the ApprenticeShop in Maine (where they're also building a Water Wag), and Arandora is entering a re-build project in St Nazaire where Mike Newmeyer of Skol ar Mor has been commissioned to create a new boat-building school.
But we don't have to go abroad for classic boat-building skills, as Dougal McMahon of Athlone has taken on the mantle of the late Jimmy Furey – legendary builder of Shannon One Designs – and is currently restoring the 1930-built Water Wag Shindilla, a boat with long links to the Falkiner and Collen families, while down in West Cork Rui Ferreira has shown himself on top of the job in building in clinker for the Castlehaven Ette class, the International 12s, and the Water Wags, while being equally adept in putting a new teak deck on the Howth 17 Deilginis.
Nearby, Tiernan Roe has taken on a variety of skilled work and is currently linked to the re-build of the O'Keeffe family's Lady Min (designed and built by Maurice O'Keeffe of Schull in 1902), while round the corner in Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore, Liam Hegarty is the sure and steady presence who restored the Ilen herself through a time-scale which rivals the re-birth of Mavis, and while as ever he's distracted by urgent work needing doing on fishing boats, the re-build of Conor O'Brien's Saoirse is proceeding steadily in the Top Shed with the hull caulked and the spars currently being made.
Along the south coast beyond Kinsale in Nohoval is Cork Harbour sailing's best-kept secret, Walsh Boat Works, where Jim Walsh creates classic finishes to Chippendale standards for quality craft such as Pat Murphy's charming Colleen 23 Pinkeen and the International Dragon Fafner. The latter is currently on the market for anyone seeking a top entry boat to join that special group of classic Dragons in Glandore which, back in July, helped the great Don Street celebrate his 90th birthday.
Jim Walsh is also making input into another significant Cork harbour yacht restoration which will see the light of day in due course, but meanwhile, his involvement with Dragons is a reminder that the interest in restoring them is reflected up north, where a secret workshop near Ballyhornan beside the entrance to Strangford Lough has seen the Dragon Skeia superbly restored, and they're now working on a very special bit of Irish Dragon history, the late great Jock Workman's Dalchoolin which is being restored to former glory after her hull and keel were retrieved from two different locations.
This leap from Cork Harbour to Strangford Lough seems to leave the East Coast and Dublin in particular devoid of the classic skills, but they're there in Arklow if you know whom to seek, while in Dublin, there's Larry Archer's impressive record in restoring boats with Ian Malcolm of the Howth 17s and the Water Wags, particularly impressive in that Larry can somehow find a flicker of life in a very damaged boat which others might have been too ready to write off as a total loss, while in Howth Johnny Leonard worked wonders in bringing the Bourke family's L Class Iduna back to better-than-new condition.
As for traditional craft, the great Clondalkin-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan need skilled work done before she was moved to her new home in Galway city, and the job was done in style in Malahide by Donal Greene whose credentials are unrivalled, as he's from Connemara, he's descended in a long line from natural boatbuilders whose skills he manifests, and yet he has an enviable affinity for working with computers when planning how best to utilise the available amount of timber for a specific job.
We seem to have a come a long and meandering way, travelling from the first sail in decades by John Kearney's Mavis in her new Maine home, to the skills of Larry Archer and others in putting vigorous new life into classic old boats here in Ireland. But the message is that the skills are available, the enthusiasm is there, and when the current pall over all our lives is lifted, the fleet will be there and ready to sail.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to restore a boat built by their grandfather, a gem of a boat whose construction started 70 years ago. But then, not everyone has had a professional seafaring and recreational sailing career to match that of Pat Murphy of Glenbrook on Cork Harbour. His working days at sea in his progression towards becoming a Master Mariner involved some very challenging contracts, while his varied sailing career has included many years at the sharp end of the International Dragon Class.
In fact, it's such a fascinating story that we'll be covering it in much greater detail in a proper feature when the evenings have closed in, and the main part of the sailing in this harshly-compressed season has been completed to provide more time and space. But for now, last Sunday provided the opportunity for Robert Bateman to capture some glorious "essence of summer" photos which will be a tonic for everyone during the current spell of decidedly mixed weather in this national mood of anxiety as we deal with the pandemic.
Pinkeen is an Alan Buchanan-designed 23ft Colleen Class, of which three were built for Kinsale in the 1950s, with one of them – Pinkeen for Knolly Stokes of the distinguished Cork city clock-making firm – being built in Kinsale itself by Pat's grandfather, senior boatbuilder John Thuillier. He started the work in 1950, when he was already having a busy year as he was also founding Commodore of Kinsale YC in 1950, but as he happened to be already 80 years old, the boatbuilding was at a quiet pace, and it was 1952 when he had her completed.
Over the 68 years since, Pinkeen has been here and there, including a stint in Galway. But Pat Murphy was always drawn to her, and when he bought her in 2005, she was back in Cork Harbour and definitely showing her age. He has done some of the restoration work himself and some heavier tasks have been undertaken on a piecemeal basis by professionals.
But in 2018 he got her to Jim Walsh in his international-standard classic boatbuilding and restoration workshops in Nohaval beside that hidden little inlet on the Cork coast between Crosshaven and Oysterhaven, and after Pinkeen had emerged, gleaming in sublime condition, all that was needed was this year's new suit of sails from UK Sailmakers of Crosshaven – also to recognised international classic practice in cream sailcloth – to make the project and the picture complete.
The result is a little boat which truly glows as she sails sweetly along, bringing joy to an exceptional owner-skipper, and great pleasure to the rest of us in a year when such special pleasures are trebly valuable.
In the current wave of revulsion against slavery and its appalling history, no European nation has totally clean hands. For although we might like to think that the huge Caribbean sugar plantations worked by African slaves in the 1800s brought tainted wealth mainly to cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London in Great Britain, with Ireland largely uninvolved, when slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire in 1833 (the Slave Trade having been banned since 1807), all the slave owners were generously recompensed for the loss of their “property”, and a number of them proved to have Irish addresses.
Not that slavery was anything new in Ireland. It was an integral part of the ancient Gaelic economy and culture, and after the Vikings had taken over the little settlement of Baile Atha Cliath in the delta marshes of the River Liffey and turned it into the thriving port and trading hub of Dublin, it quickly reached the decidedly dubious peak around 1000AD of being Europe’s largest slave-trading centre. Captive Irish men and women were sold into a life of complete drudgery in every corner of the Viking Empire, which means that DNA tests can reveal the sometimes significant presence of Irish genes in some remarkably remote places where the longships once prowled.
But while the Dublin slave trading of a thousand years ago was on a then-epic scale, it was decidedly modest by comparison with the Transatlantic trade from West Africa from the 1500s onwards, which was started by the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch, but was then dominated the by the British and turned into people transport – in worse conditions than cattle - on an industrial scale involving millions of human beings.
The perverted ingenuity which went in making the slave ships both efficient and fast meant that the authorities faced an enormous challenge in trying to stamp out the trade after 1807, but once the slavery itself was officially abolished in 1833, those involved in eradicating it were encouraged by having a real chance of reducing the pernicious business. And what they needed more than anything else to continue eradication was fast and nimble warships, for the slaveships – the “blackbirders” - were masterpieces of twisted ingenuity in their superb all round performance and speed, and catching and arresting them required high-speed manoeuvrable sailing warships.
This is where the Earl of Belfast (1797-1883) and his 334-ton brig-rigged “yacht” Waterwitch of 1828 come into the story. Lord Belfast was the heir to the Marquess of Donegall, whose family the Chichesters had done well out of an ancestor, Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1605 to 1615, whose international mercenary experience stood him to good stead in the war-making and conquest aspects of his new official position in Ireland.
In fact, Chichester (whose extended family from North Devon later included pioneer aviator and yacht voyager Francis Chichester) was too successful for his own good in taking over control of vast swatches of south Antrim and East Donegal and other areas, as well as playing a significant role - as the new landowner and charter-holder of Belfast - in turning it from a tiny lough-head village into the makings of a major port, and a commercial and industrial centre of eventually global significance.
For all was not as it seems. Because he’d acquired control over so much land, Chichester had to outsource most of its management to middlemen as he went on to handle other challenges at home and abroad where his military expertise flourished, and as a result, the family seem to have been almost constantly in financial difficulties.
But as was said of the banks and other large enterprises during the economic crash of 2008, the vast and rambling Chichester empire in Ulster was simply too large to fail, and though the land-grabbed rural tenantry in Country Antrim and Donegal, and the industrious rate-paying citizens of the rapidly-growing Belfast, will have had mixed feelings about their strictly-enforced payments pouring into what seemed at a times like a financial black hole, outwardly at least the Chichesters were flying, with Sir Arthur Chichester’s descendants on an upwards trajectory which reached its peak when the head of the family became the Marquess of Donegall, while his son and heir was the Earl of Belfast, their family’s rise and importance being underlined by the rapidly-growing Belfast including Chichester Street, Donegall Place, and Donegall Avenue in its expanding layout.
Yet while their outwards links to the city and other extensive properties in the north of Ireland appeared strong – including the 1830s Earl of Belfast being Westminster MP for Carrickfergus and Belfast and an important figure at the royal court in London - there were new links through marriage to County Wexford, where Dunbrody House (now Kevin Dundon’s renowned gastro-hotel) was to become a later Marquess of Donegall’s main residence, and indeed the family still live nearby.
But the Earl of Belfast of the 1820s and ’30s preferred if at all possible to spend his time in his house in Cowes when not on parliamentary or royal duties in London, for he was mad keen on sailing, an enthusiastic and active member of the recently-formed (1815) Royal Yacht Squadron, and his preferred personal company was with the leading local ship-builder Joseph Samuel White whose family firm had been founded way back in 1694 and continued to build boats yachts and ship until 1974, while the third member of this intriguing and innovative triumvirate was George Ratsey, an early light in the stellar formation which was to become the distinguished Ratsey family, who were noted also for boat-building talents, but became world-beaters in sail-making.
In the 1820s Lord Belfast’s two specialists created him a special racing yacht with the cutter Harriet, which was so successful that his Lordship announced that, having done all he could with fore-and-aft rig, he would in the 1830s turn his attention to square rig with the philanthropic intention of helping to improve the sailing qualities of the ships of the Royal Navy by competition and example.
Joseph White built this 334-ton two-masted brig-rigged ship Waterwitch in Cowes in 1832, while George Ratsey set-to in his lofts nearby to create the finest racing sails money could buy, even if - in the case of the Earl of Belfast - it was all money which came very much under the “future earnings” category, with much of it resulting in time from the sweat off the backs of small farmers in Antrim and Donegal.
Although she had the outward look of a superyacht of the 1830s (had such a term then existed), the Earl of Belfast kept her sparsely fitted in basic navy style, and set about arranging a match against the best navy vessels. Yet the Royal Navy were oddly unenthusiastic about being publicly shown up by such a contest, for by now Lord Belfast had even given his brig a marked naval-style black-and-white stripe along where the gunports were located.
So eventually in exasperation, in 1834 and with the marine painter William John Huggins on hand to record the scene, he sailed the Waterwitch in close company on all points of sailing with the crack Royal Navy Channel Squadron as it made its regular parade of power and sea speed between Dover and the Isles of Scilly, and on every point of sailing and in all strengths of wind, Waterwitch was comfortably the top performer.
But despite a press clamour and public campaign, for a while, the naval authorities behaved as though it had never happened, so in exasperation, Lord Belfast spent more of other people’s money in making Waterwitch more of a yacht, and he won a hundred guineas of it back again after winning a close-fought challenge match race in early September 1834 to the Eddystone Lighthouse and back against the hottest big racing yacht of the day, the schooner Galatea.
It was this match challenge which finally seems to have spurred the Navy to action. The Earl of Belfast may have hoped that the Royal Navy would have been inspired to build their new ships as larger versions of Waterwitch, and to use George Ratsey more extensively as their sailmaker or at least a sailmaking consultant, and in this, he was partially successful. But in a sense, they side-stepped the issue by simply buying the Waterwitch, and almost immediately dispatching her to join the West Africa Squadron where she was seen as ideal for a slave-ship chasing role.
The flyer of Cowes was not even given the distinction of being made HMS – the navy men were rigid in their approach to this cheeky vessel which had so distinctly shown them up, and throughout her successful time with the Royal Navy she was always HMB – Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch.
In its latter days, the final elimination of the West African slave trade was possibly the most demanding phase of all, and until she was taken off the station in 1843, HMB Waterwitch played a key role in freeing more than 25,000 slaves. It was appalling work, as the fast little ship had to overcome the slavers and then put a delivery crew aboard the captured vessel to sail it to some port where the tragic cargo could be humanely dealt with.
The Squadron’s base was at the remote island of St Helena, and the placing of crews on slave ships often meant she returned to the island’s open roadstead with barely enough crew to handle the ship and further burdened with the knowledge that disease was so rife that they would see few enough of their shipmates again.
But in the tiny community on St Helena, they always received a warm and supportive welcome as the most successful slave-trader hunting ship of all, and a Vice-Admiralty Court on the island from 1840 until 1872 meant that those slave-running prisoners with whom they’d returned could be dealt with properly through internationally-recognised law.
So important was the St Helena link to Waterwitch’s crew that when her duties there were concluded, the impressive Waterwitch Memorial was erected in a pleasant spot on the island. Its inscription reads:
“This column was erected by the commander, officers and crew of Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch to the memory of their shipmates who died while serving on the coast of Africa AD 1835-1843. The greatest number died while absent on captured slave vessels. Their remains were either left in different parts of Africa or given to the sea, their graves alike undistinguished. This Island is selected for the record because three lies buried here and because the deceased, as well as their surviving comrades, ever met the warmest welcome from its inhabitants”.
The Earl of Belfast’s very special brig was to survive until 1861 when – tired by her exertion in hostile climates, and out-dated by the arrival of steam vessels - she was quietly broken up. As for his Lordship, he and his father the Marquess of Donegall ran out of road for a while in the 1840s, and they were jointly brought to bankruptcy for 400,000 pounds, which would be squillions today.
But all was not lost. Belfast – then still a town, though a rapidly growing one rising prosperity – was sold out from under them to pay their debts, ad that was one problem solved. Then the Wexford connection injected new resources, and on they went, with the Waterwitch Earl of Belfast – now the Marquess of Donegall – reported as having died in his beloved Cowes in 1883.
It’s a decidedly mixed story. Nevertheless, in the mood of the moment, is it inappropriate to suggest that this might be the time for a second Waterwitch Memorial, this time in Belfast City Hall?
If you’re having trouble processing the full implications of the fascinating new portmanteau ministry which has emerged this week from the formation of our latest government, not to worry. You’d be on your own if you weren’t a little bit bewildered. But as it happens, sailing folk can be of good cheer. When we look at it calmly, there’s good reason to believe that it was all put together in order to meet the needs and achievements of one of the best-known boats in Ireland, the Clondalkin community-built 43ft Galway hooker Naomh Cronan, a classic bad mor or big boat.
Naomh Cronan is in the news this week in any case. After 23 years of great sailing, good racing and some impressive voyaging from Poolbeg in Dublin Port, it’s the end of an era. She has joined the western trek of traditional craft, and is now within the remit of Badoiri an Cladaig, - the Claddagh Boatmen - in their traditional base at the mouth of the River Corrib in the heart of Galway City.
In that picturesque harbour, there used to be a huge fleet of traditional tanned-sail craft at a time when Clondalkin was still mostly just fine farming country, the only nautical connection being the Grand Canal heading west through meadowland from Dublin Bay towards the River Barrow and the lordly Shannon.
So that’s fine and dandy, say you, but what’s this about the new do-everything Department apparently being specifically assembled to meet the historical and present and future needs of the Naomh Cronan? Well, it’s all here in the fresh-minted Department’s title. And we ask our many overseas readers to bear with us, but this really is the name of the Hydra-headed administrative machine which has emerged from the undergrowth of political backroom wheeler-dealing in recent days.
It’s called the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and The Gaeltacht. Seriously. In one of the most sports-mad nations on earth, the greatest passion of the majority of the population seems to be ranked fifth in priority in a wide selection of interests and specialities each of which might well - in a more detailed society - be worth a Department of its own, though we would concede that maybe Arts & Culture might go together in one.
But in any case, all is not as it initially seemed a few days ago, when the new setup was first announced. For as it happens, it may actually be three Departments in one. When the new conglomerate was revealed at the beginning of the week, it had just one Minister, who is a senior member of the Cabinet. But when the supporting Ministers of State were announced later in the week, two of them were allocated areas of interest across the new Department, which made it a much more positive and potentially productive arrangement.
But how on earth is it that this complex new multi-functional department seems to have been created precisely with the story of the Naomh Cronan in mind? Let us count the ways:
MEDIA: Check. Ever since her construction started as a project inaugurated by Muintir Chronain under the auspices of Aras Chronain Ionad Cultuir (the Irish Cultural Centre in Clondalkin, West Dublin) all of 27 years ago, Naomh Cronan has been an item of media interest ashore and afloat, her creation and vibrant existence being of interest both in themselves, and as an exercise for trainee communicators and other media wannabees.
TOURISM: Check. The evocative dark and distinctive sails of the Galway hookers slipping through the myriad waterways of Connemara and Galway Bay may be the ultimate iconic and eternally-remembered vision for visitors to the west - to l’Irelande profonde - yet from her East Coast base of 23 years, the Naomh Cronan has managed to become an Irish eastern ambassador with a western flavour at traditional sailing festivals in Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, England, Brest and Douarnenez in France, and all along the east and south coasts of Ireland too, from Belfast Lough to Glandore.
ARTS: Check. Naomh Cronan was an inspiration for painters and sculptors even before she went afloat, and under sail she has become a continuous source of fresh creative ideas. She brings music with her wherever she goes, indeed for many she is a floating moving symbol of Irish music and dance.
CULTURE: Check. Naomh Cronan could be nothing else except a quintessentially Irish boat telling us what we are and who we are, with the natural expressiveness, creativity, camaraderie and co-operation of her builders and crew translating effortlessly into action as needed, without undue fuss or superfluous seriousness.
SPORT: Check, and check again with emphasis. Racing a bad mor of the Galway Hooker tradition is not a sport for the faint-hearted. Yet although the hottest competition of the traditional boats is to be found in Connemara with stripped-out racing machines, even the Naomh Cronan with her cabin and sea-going accommodation can give a good showing of herself. She was has won several trophies over the year, a particularly memorable performance being put in at the annual Howth Lambay Race of 2013 when – with Paddy Murphy of Renvyle in West Galway, a one-man Irish dance troupe, guesting as helm – Naomh Cronan took second in the classics division despite much more modern-type boats in the competition.
THE GAELTACHT: Check. The Irish-speaking areas in their time-honoured and usually scenic locations may be most readily associated with Gaeltacht ways and language, but in West Dublin people really have to work at it to build up and maintain a living tradition. In Clondalkin and the area around it, they’ve achieved a remarkable level of success in Gaeltacht projects with much use of the language, with the Naomh Cronan being one of its symbols.
There you have it. All the boxes are well and truly ticked. So how is it that this ultimate expression of a fine ideal has now taken her departure from a community and an area and a port where she meant so much?
Well, life moves on. The situation that made Naomh Cronan fit in so well in her times has now changed. When she was built, there were several restored Galway Hookers of the bad mor type based on the East Coast, and their racing at places like Poolbeg and Portaferry and Howth was simply tremendous.
However, maintaining such boats is labour intensive - and hard labour at that - and key people got older. But perhaps most crucially of all, the Dublin to Galway motorway opened, the magic road to the west, so magic that it made it possible for people from Clondalkin and other places in west Dublin to get to the “true” hooker sailing areas on the Atlantic seaboard almost as quickly – and certainly with much less traffic hassle – than they would experience in getting to harbours in the Greater Dublin area.
So it soon got to the stage that the only bad mor in commission on the east coast was the Naomh Cronan of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association at the ever-hospitable Poolbeg Y&BC, to which her crew had a fierce loyalty. But as time went on, increasing prosperity mean that people who in times past would have sought their sailing on the Naomh Cronan began to think of having boats of their own. And sunshine cruising holidays, with charter boats in places like the Greek Isles, also came up on the agenda.
Thus while Naomh Cronan had been great for her times in Dublin, in Dublin, those times were irrevocably changing, whereas in the west a new dawn has ben rising for traditional boats. The opportunity for a neat transfer of Naomh Cronan’s ownership - or more properly her custodianship - from Clondalkin to the Claddagh was there to be taken at exactly the right time.
But before looking to Naomh Cronan’s future now that she has become a welcome arrival in the west, we must acknowledge the enormous contribution made by those far-sighted and dedicated people who – 27 years ago – set about bringing this much-loved vessel into existence, and that at a time long before there seemed to be a government department entirely devoted to helping them fulfil the dream.
When Michael Heffernan and school headmaster Stiofan O Laoire and other key people in the Irish cultural movement in Clondalkin in West Dublin suggested to the likes of Gerry Keane and others in 1993 that Muintir na Chronain in their neighbourhood should add an extra focus to its activities by building a fully-fledged bad mor in the heart of their West Dublin community, it was something of a leap into the unknown. And that can be seen in this As Gaeilge 1996 RTE vid of the building underway, interviewing Michael Heffernan – even if you don’t have the cupla focal, it’s worth watching for the atmospherics alone here
For sure, the population of Clondalkin includes many talented carpenters and other craftsmen whose skills could be re-directed into such a project. But with this ultra-traditional type of boat, there were those who said that building such a craft needed to be done in a place with a long boat-building tradition. And notwithstanding the Grand Canal going through it, and the River Liffey not so very distant, Clondalkin as a boat-building centre didn’t tick any boxes at all..
But they persisted, and were given a boost by the late Joe Murphy of the renowned Ringsend boat-building family, who created a set of hull lines and building details of the standard hookers as they are today. They make for a fascinating comparison with the line drawings which were published by naval architect Dixon Kemp as taken off a champion hooker in 1891. For in 1891, the rudder was less radically raked than it is today, a continuing development which one might have thought has impaired the boat’s steering characteristics.
But as those who know the very small harbours of Connemara have pointed out, in their heartlands the hookers have to dry out in ports with only very small areas of clear sand between rock. Thus for the boats to dry out in comfort at low water, the shorter the keel can be made relative to the boat’s size, the better, for it means you get more boat for your confined berth thanks to the increasing tendency over the years to give the rudders this ferocious rake with the shortest possible length of keel.
Joe Murphy designed the hull and rig with some lovely drawings, but it was left to the folk in Clondalkin to shape their own coachroof and the accommodation they required. In those days, computer-generated imaging was still in its infancy, and the three-dimensional design challenge to provide the optimal accommodation was best done with work in progress.
It was such a clearly-defined and almost exotic project, with something to show for their efforts almost as soon as work had begun, that the building of the Naomh Cronan (she was named for the neighbourhood saint from the time of Ireland being “The Island of Saints & Scholars”) seemed to acquire its own momentum, with useful advice readily forthcoming from the many – experienced boatmen and boatbuilders among them – who wished the project well.
Admittedly it took four years to complete the build, but by this time the shared experience had created such a dedicated and friendly team within the cultural community within its own larger community, that it was almost with sadness they realized the building experience was nearing completion.
Soon, the big boat would be taken away to Dublin docks for launching, and though it was expected that in some winters she’d be back for maintenance work in her birthplace in Clondalkin, the focus inevitably was shifting elsewhere, and quite where and what that elsewhere would be was anyone’s guess.
But basically, the focus afloat from 1997 became Poolbeg, where a highly visible mooring in the River Liffey right beside the busy road to the Eastlink Bridge kept Naomh Cronan in the public eye, while her increasing appearance at sailing festivals near and far provided celebrity status all along the Celtic fringe, with useful experience-enhancing offshore sailing experience in between.
This busy sailing programme had come about through Paul Keogh, an energetic, focused and affable young man who joined the building team in the final year or two of construction and then proved the ideal person to become Naomh Cronan’s skipper, sailing manager and general keeper-of-the-show-on-the-road.
He has been in a leading role ever since, with Naomh Cronan actively sailed for 23 years. But he is nothing if not a realist, and by the time 2020 was upon us, he and other key figures were accepting that Naomh Cronan was reaching the stage that she needed major work to be done, and they had to look seriously at the expressions of interest from the Claddagh boatmen.
A central role in the changeover was filled by Donal Greene, a boatbuilder from Carna in Connemara who teaches woodwork in a school in Meath, and almost as a sideline is a genius with qualifications in computer work. The Naomh Cronan had discovered this when their big mast needed replacing, and Donal produced drawings and then did the new-build work to international standards.
With this link to the West and a high availability of talent in the COVID-19 shutdown, Donal Greene was able to provide Naomh Cronan with a major re-planking job in Malahide shipyard in the healthiest possible open-air conditions during that exceptional period of dry weather which mocked the rest of us in April and May. And with full survey requirements complied with, the easing of Lockdown last weekend saw Peter Connolly and Peter Carpenter of Badoiri an Cladaigh travel to Malahide for an inspection and a formal meeting with the Naomh Cronan team, followed by the signing of documents which saw the much-loved vessel transferred to the custodianship of the Claddagh Boatmen for the princely sum of €100.
It will take a while for it all to sink in, but the process has been aided by efficient logistics ever since, with Kennedy Haulage’s majestic boat-moving low loader sweeping into Malahide Boatyard on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the Naomh Cronan Clondalkin team are accustomed to working with heavy equipment, but even they were impressed by the crisp way in which Malahide Boatyard and the Kennedy setup moved into smoothly co-ordinated action, which saw their beloved bad mor transformed into just another handy little load ready for easy movement westward.
By 4.0pm, it was a case of: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. Naomh Cronan was gone from Malahide, and soon gone from Dublin too, without a thought of sentimentally swinging by Poolbeg or through Clondalkin, gone west and comfortably into Oranmore at the head of Galway Bay that evening.
Naomh Cronan was launched into the waters of the west at the quay at Galway Bay Sailing Club at Rinville on Thursday morning and had her mast stepped before the day was out. This weekend will see her being sorted while the new planking takes up, and then all being well on Tuesday she’ll sail across the upper reaches of Galway Bay and into The Claddagh to begin the latest chapter in a remarkable life story.
But meanwhile, her former sailors on the east coast won’t be at a loss for things to do around boats. While in Malahide working on the ship, Paul Keogh discovered that a hefty big sailing cruiser in the yard, fibreglass built and needing work done, but exuding character nevertheless, was very competitively for sale. Having done his duty and more with wooden construction and its maintenance in his many years with Naomh Cronan, he personally bought the boat in Malahide. For the foreseeable future, the Devil will not be finding work for idle hands.
However, the links with their former ship haven’t been broken entirely, with Paul Keogh and others becoming Trustees of Badoiri an Cladaig with a standing invitation to re-join their former ship at any time. Nevertheless, we are undoubtedly looking at the very clear end of an era.
The complex project of restoring the Alfred Mylne-designed Dublin Bay 21 class – which first raced in 1903 and ceased racing in 1986 – has been in hiatus during the Lockdown. But now Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra have the good news that work has resumed on their Grand Design, with Steve Morris in Kilrush Boatyard moving the 1903-built Garavogue into the painting stage.
The first completed restoration was on Naneen – number 6 - apparently because, although not built until 1905, she was the only one actually constructed in Dun Laoghaire, the builder being James Clancy. The relatively small yacht-building industry of Kingstown - as it then was - had been too busy with adding boats to the Dublin Bay 25 Class to find the space or time for the first five of the new DB21s, of which three were initially built by Hollwey in Ringsend in Dublin, while James Kelly in Portrush on the north coast built two.
Naneen emerged from Dun Laoghaire in 1905, while the final boat in the Dublin Bay group - Geraldine No 7 – was another one from Hollwey, this time in 1908. Whatever about their year of origin, they all looked equally sad lying together in storage in a farmyard in County Wicklow for three decades, so when the miraculous revival finally began, there was a certain logic to start with the most quintessentially Dun Laoghaire boat of all.
It was a major breakthrough when, down at Kilrush, the beautifully re-built Naneen went afloat in September 2019 for the first time since 1986. And it was even more special when some freakishly good weather in early December enabled her to take her first sunlit sail in the Shannon Estuary.
The thinking behind it all is that they’re reviving a class every bit as much as much as they’re re-building individual boats, which means that some aspects of the original design – not least the labour-intensive gaff cutter rigs - have been modified to make the DB21s of 2020 more user-friendly, with reduced maintenance demands. But with a class of only seven boats, one of the features of the DB21s in their original form was that every boat was able to have a different and distinctive colour, and this is being repeated in the re-born flotilla.
With Naneen it was a case of replicating a particular shade of yellow with a hint of green, and it looked a perfect finish as she sailed along inside Scattery Island in December. But with Garavogue No 4 - perhaps the most renowned of all the DB21s through her association with the family of Patrick Campbell the writer – the real challenge has come, as she was always black, which would be the most unforgiving colour of all in revealing any blemishes in the hull of what is still essentially a hand-built boat, albeit with a multi-skin epoxy resinated hull.
So it says much for the Steve Morris approach that, in resuming work in Kilrush, instead of taking on an easy task to get thing moving again, he went straight head-on into the challenge of giving Garavoge three coats of flawless black enamel. They say that striving for perfection is the enemy of the good, but if that’s the case, then this is very, very good unto what looks rather like perfection.
It is hoped that Naneen and Garavogue will both be sailing off Kilrush in July, and then their second debut in Dublin Bay will be in August, while work will be progressing back in Kilrush on Estelle (No 3) and Oola (No 5), with the prospect of four re-built boats forming the nucleus of the re-born class in Dublin Bay in 2021.
Although West Cork is home to several clusters of classic boats and the boatyards of the master-craftsmen who build and maintain them, they’re at scattered locations. Thus it can take quite a bit of encouragement and persuasion, plus much pre-planning and some efficient logistics, to get the fleets together for events like the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival and the Glandore Classics Regatta, both of which have of necessity been COVID-19-cancelled, as they inevitably involve an intensely sociable shoreside element.
Yet there is one place in Ireland where sizeable fleets of classic boats exist within convenient proximity to each other, which should make it possible to stage a pop-up classic regatta at very short notice in a format which nevertheless complies - both afloat and ashore - with the pandemic distancing regulations which are in place at whatever time the regatta is staged.
That place is Dun Laoghaire, and these thoughts were provoked by a couple of photos taken yesterday (Tuesday) in Dublin Bay off the harbour mouth in the last of our early summer weather by classic and traditional boat addict Ian Malcolm of Howth.
Ian and his wife Judith seem to have acquired a personal flotilla of classic boats almost through absent-mindedness, their current line-up including at least one Howth 17 - an original 1898 one at that - a 1915-built Dublin Bay Water Wag, a classic 12ft Beetle Cat, and a tiny lugsail dinghy – Primula - of 1892 origin or even earlier, designed and built in the old Howth House boathouse by Herbert Boyd himself.
When you’re marshalling a little fleet like this, or even looking after the support requirements of just one of them, you might at the very least need quite a substantial RIB. But the Malcolms decided that a classic little fast power-cruiser with a bit of accommodation would be more appropriate, so for the past few days they’ve been testing their newly-acquired Seaward 25 Grebe. And in emerging from Dun Laoghaire after a no-contact spin around the harbour there yesterday, Ian took a couple of photos of boats that interested him as they returned to port in the last rays of a sun which we may not see again with real heat for some time.
For most Dun Laoghaire sailors these boats – the Colleen Class reproduction Colleen Deas (Dermot Flynn & David Williams), and the restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle (David Espey & Chris Craig), are such a familiar sight that they’ll get no more than an admiring glance, though it has to be said that Periwinkle yesterday afternoon was the very essence of the phrase “slipping effortlessly along”.
Yet any newcomer to Dun Laoghaire would immediately be struck by the fact that the Colleen Deas concept dates back to 1896, while Periwinkle dates back to a new One-Design Class idea first put forward by Lord Glenavy in 1934, and eventually brought to reality – after interruption by Word War II – in 1947.
They’re interesting - they’re very interesting - yet they’re only the tip of the Dun Laoghaire classics iceberg. For most people, the essence of that is the Water Wag Class, founded 1887, and now racing in 14ft 3ins boats designed by Maimie Doyle of Dun Laoghaire in 1900. Substantial numbers of them are kept for dry-sailing from the boat decks of the three waterfront clubs, and while the National YC and the Royal St George YC won’t have their decks fully summer-operational for a day or two yet, today (Wednesday) Royal Irish YC Sailing Manager Mark McGibney cheerfully announced: “Bring ’em on, we’re ready and waiting”.
Of course, for the time being it will have to be husband and wife crews, or household compliant groupings, but ways can be found to help these hefty enough little boats into their summer accommodation.
And of course as the days go by and other boat come into commission, other classics will come into play - IDRA 14s and Mermaids and International 12s in dinghies, for instance, and in keelboats the 1947-originating 25ft Glens at the Royal St George YC. Then too, there’s really no reason why the strong Flying Fifteen fleet at the National YC shouldn’t be considered as coming within the classic fold, for although they’re all now fibreglass and even carbon fibre, the quirky Uffa Fox design also originated in 1947, and was originally built in wood.
By the same token I suppose you could argue for the inclusion of the 12ft Fireflies. But as they’re communally-owned and used for team racing, they’ve a different class structure and don’t share the committed pride of ownership which is the glue that holds together the other classic classes, a fellow-feeling which creates a waterborne community of mutual respect which would be the key factor in organising a pop-up regatta.
However, another group which definitely would fit in are the devoted owners of restored one-off classics, such as Guy and Jackie Kilroy with the 1896 Herbert Boyd gaff sloop Marquerite, Robert Bourke with the 1938 L Class Iduna - so perfectly brought back to life by Johnny Leonard of Howth - and the Periwinkle pioneers with their ever-lovely Mylne-designed classic.
For all these people, the boat is every bit as important as the sailing, and racing is much more about expressing joy in their classic boats as it is about winning. Nevertheless there’s nothing like a spot of racing for conveniently bringing boats together, whereas cruises-in-company – even if they’re only for one day - inevitably involve currently unacceptable levels of sociability.
But our pop-up Dun Laoghaire Classics Regatta must not be a complicated affair. Those taking part will have to be prepared to exhibit a bit of give-and-take in accepting ad hoc arrangements. The Water Wags already lead everyone in having a group of husband-and-wife race officer teams who need no more than a RIB to get the show on the road. And if the keelboats seek a mark outside the harbour but the DBSC marks are still unlaid in the bay’s racing area, then a mark boat about halfway out to the shipping channel should be all that is required.
Those who think it’s not proper racing without windward leeward courses, perfectly-laid starting lines, and a committee boat team large enough to form an effective guerilla group…..well – such people really don’t have the right attitude to enjoy taking part in a Classic Classics Pop-up Regatta. But amongst the many classic boats enthusiasts who sail in and from the great harbour of Dun Laoghaire, there should be enough like-minded people to create an instant yet worthwhile event, and they know they’ll be contacted through the usual channels.
When we think of timelessly beautiful yachts, we’ll naturally think of sailing vessels, where beauty is created by a sweet harmony of the hull lines with an elegantly restrained sheer, combined with a rig which is all of a piece both with itself, and with the hull it drives through the water with as little fuss and effort as possible.
Over the years, over the centuries indeed, a small but significant number of such beauties have been built in Ireland to a design standard which matches the international benchmark. That benchmark was set in times past by the designs of Wanhill of Poole and Richardson of Liverpool, of G L Watson, William Fife and Alfred Mylne of Scotland, and Charles E Nicholson of England, together with Nat Herreshoff and John Alden of America.
More recently the baton was taken up by England’s Robert Clark and Arthur Robb and several Scandinavian designers, while in America Phil Rhodes, Olin Stephens, Jim McCurdy and German Frers of Argentina were recognized as the masters.
These are designers whose work still referenced the yacht most often though of as the most beautiful of all, the creation of 1893 which embodied what designer, critic and nautical writer Dixon Kemp described as the “Britannia Ideal” to which he expected all proper yachts to aspire.
This was the Prince of Wales’ own 122ft cutter Britannia, designed by G L Watson and built on the Clyde by D & W Henderson, with top amateur sailing skipper Willie Jameson of Portmarnock in Dublin - a member of the noted Irish whiskey distilling family - acting as owner’s executive agent throughout the design, build and commissioning project, which was arguably the high point of the Golden Age of Scottish yacht building.
Britannia certainly set a high standard for what was thought of in 1893 as “the new look” for yachts, though for some her curved stem was just too much, and they stayed with more traditional clipper bows.
In Ireland from time to time creations of the highest standard appeared from local builders to the plans of international design talent, notable clipper-bowed examples still very healthily in existence being Hal Sisk’s superbly-restored G L Watson-designed 36ft cutter Peggy Bawn, built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus in 1894, and the 43ft Fife cutter Pen Duick, built to a William Fife design in Carrigaloe on Cork Harbour in 1898, and best-known for her long association with Eric Tabarly.
At the same time “spoon-bowed” yachts to Fife’s designs were also appearing, with the Cork Harbour One Designs in 1895, and a series of Belfast Lough One designs from both Fife and Alfred Mylne from 1896 to 1910.
Alfred Mylne became the “go to” designer for good-looking Irish One Designs with the Belfast Lough Stars in 1900 and the Dublin Bay 21s in 1902, then came the 39ft Island Class cruiser-racer yawls in 1910, while in more modern times he was still on the pace with the introduction of Bermudan rig with the 28ft 6ins River Class – now all in Strangford Lough – in 1921, the Dublin Bay 24s in 1938, and the 25ft Glens in 1947.
These were One Design racers, but after World War II in 1945, Crosshaven Boatyard began to function in various forms with fast cruisers and offshore racers, and from it - under Denis Doyle’s stewardship - there emerged some notably handsome craft, particularly the “white Moonduster”, a Robert Clark 47-footer from 1965, the very elegant and successfully functional Gypsy Moth V (also from Robert Clark) for Francis Chichester in 1970, the ruggedly good-looking Sparkman & Stephens 49ft “Blue Moonduster” of 1973, and arguably the star of them all, the handsomely varnished Frers 51 Moonduster of 1981, a yacht with such presence that she seemed to glow.
The fastidious New Zealand-born designer Arthur Robb also had his adherents, with the elegant 37ft yawl Verve (now owned by the Comerford family of Dun Laoghaire) built for Paul Campbell by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow in 1964, while at the same time at Bangor Shipyard in the shores of Ballyholme Bay, the long task of building the 42ft Jaynor was under way for Ivan Selig of Belfast with Admiral's Cup prospects for 1965 in mind.
In fact, Jaynor was built with such total attention to detail (the designer provided a total of 64 exquisitely-finished drawings) that she was barely ready for the 1967 Admiral’s Cup, but she is still very much in existence, a credit to the skills of the Bangor shipwrights, and a worthy addition to the list of beautiful world-standard sailing yachts built in Ireland.
Yet in looking for beautiful yachts with Irish links, should we restrict ourselves to sailing boats? In one of those burrowing searches which have played such a useful role in getting us through the Lockdown, we were looking for one particular black and white photo, and instead came across something else altogether.
This image of John and Sandra Lefroy’s Killaloe-based 58ft 6in Phoenix steaming briskly at full chat across Lough Derg just for the hell of in the Autumn of 1982 brings back memories and then some. It was taken after Phoenix provided Committee Boat services at the Helmsman’s Championship at Dromineer in Shannon One Designs, with Dave Cummins of Howth – crewed by Gordon Maguire and Mossy Shanahan - successfully defending the title he’d won in Squibs at Howth in 1981.
“Steaming” isn’t quite the word, as Phoenix is diesel-powered and at season’s end her injectors needed a little attention. But as she happened to have been built way back in 1872, this impression of a steam-ship at speed was just what was needed, and in a flash of brief Autumn sunshine we also got a colour version of this photo which graced the cover of Motorboat & Yachting, where the plume of funnel smoke was just the job to emphasise that Phoenix was already 110 years old, and now she is within two years of her 150th anniversary.
Although in the brisk breeze there was quite a lively Lough Derg chop running, with her beam of only 10ft, heavy displacement and hollowish waterlines forward, the Phoenix is steady as a rock nd slicing through it with ease, with her bow-wave well aft from the sharp straight stem, for this is one classy yacht. And just seeing her again was a reminder that while G L Watson made his name in superb sailing yachts, the bread-and-butter income from his design practice came from creating large, luxurious and extremely elegant steam yachts for the ludicrously wealthy industrialists and railroad barons to be found on both sides of the Atlantic in the final decades of the 1900s.
In doing this, Watson was emulating the path set by an almost-forgotten Irish yacht designer, St Clare John Byrne (1831-1915), the son of a ship owner from Ireland who had settled in Birkenhead across from Liverpool with his Scottish wife, where the son soon became a rising star in the design offices of the busy shipyards. He proved to have an exceptional talent for creating large (some of them extremely large) steam yachts, but he was also the designer of the steam-and-sail 152ft barquentine Sunbeam of 1874, which the global railway engineer Thomas Brassey cruised round the world with his family.
Like Watson a decade or so later, Byrne could create steam yachts which combined classic beauty with on-board comfort and sea-going power, works of art which could match any sailing yacht for beauty, and this was something which came very much to mind in delving back into the origins of Phoenix. She was designed and built in the Waterford region, using quarter inch Lowmoor iron, by the Neptune Shipyard to the designs of Andrew Horn, yet according to some records she was built by the Malcolmson Brothers of Portlaw.
“Waterford region” is used advisedly, for we’re into complex territory here. Portlaw is that extraordinary 19th Century “model village” 19 km upstream of Waterford city on the River Suir, built up as a planned industrial unit from 1825 onwards by the Malcolmson family to such a state of prosperity that, by its peak, it was employing 1800 people – with housing provided – at a time when much of rural Ireland was in grinding poverty.
It seemed the Malcolmson brothers could turn their hand to anything, and their development of steamships in tandem with the growth of their conglomerate meant that at one stage, they actually owned more steamships in vessel numbers than any other single company in the world.
But what goes up eventually comes down, and by the 1870s cracks were beginning to appear, so although the Phoenix may have been built in Portlaw, as the industrial edifice created there began to crumble, the ship-building seems to have been hived off to this Neptune Shipbuilding company more directly linked to Waterford city, although the Neptune Ironworks had been associated with Portlaw since 1840.
Whatever the story – and it’s surely worthy of a TV drama series, for there were all sorts of family tensions involved – Andrew Horn, the in-house yacht designer who drew the plans for Phoenix, has emerged in the 1880s as the designer to the Neptune Shipbuilding Company in Waterford, and in 1882 with some input from St Clare Byrne, he designed and oversaw the building in iron of the 77ft steam yacht Maritana, all of 30 tons in deadweight and 56 tons TM, but skinny like a greyhound in the Phoenix style.
Maritana was built for Thomas St Leger Atkins of Waterford, and the photo of her in her first year afloat says everything, elegantly posed as she is at anchor in the river off Reginald’s Tower as a proud statement of Waterford’s achievement. In design terms, Andrew Horn has moved on from Phoenix’s straight stem and has given Maritana a clipper-bowed look which to my mind, when combined with a sheerline of saintly restraint and the neatly-tucked counter stern, makes her the best-looking yacht – sail or power - to have ever come out of Ireland, and the fact that she was both Irish-designed and built is a bonus.
Waterford’s high opinion of her was shared in Cowes, where she was awarded the Concours d’Elegance at the regatta in 1884. But it couldn’t be an Irish story without the inevitable serving of sadness to round it out. Maritana was the last vessel created by the Neptune Shipbuilding Company. It followed the Malcolmson conglomerate into oblivion soon after her completion.
As for what happened subsequently to the exquisite Maritana, according to the ever-helpful USB of all Lloyd’s Registers (assembled from its foundation in 1878 to the final edition in 1980 by the Association of Yachting Historians), after some years in Waterford, she was sold to Milford Haven in Wales, and by the turn of the century she was in Belfast Lough ownership before returning to southwest Wales, but with an owner based in Sunderland. Eventually, she disappears from the records. Some well-resourced research department may wish to follow the trail. But for the rest of us, that captured moment of the most beautiful Irish yacht of all, anchored off Waterford in 1882, is enough to be going on with.
The accepted and popular shapes of boats and yachts in different ages changes so much that you’d be forgiven for thinking that their functions also change completely to suit the requirements of each new era. Of course, design development, measurement rule changes, and new ways of construction are major contributing factors in re-configured appearance from one period to the next. But beyond that, there’s the matter of taste and what people have become accustomed to - the Beauty of one age can be the Beast of the next.
8 Metre Class
Eddie English of Cobh sent us wandering along a picturesque section of memory lane the other day when he came up with a collection of photos by Pascal Roche showing the quartet of International 8 Metres which were very much the style-setters on Cork Harbour in the 1950s and 1960s, and a quickfire exchange of thoughts about them and the people in them was just the job for some diversion from the inevitable contemplation of the ill-effects of The Enemy of the People, aka Covid-19.
For by classic standards, every one of those Cork “straight Eights” was a beauty, dating as they did from the vintage years of the class in the 1930s. We hasten to say they weren’t eight metres long - they were designed to a formula in which, once the maths were completed, the answer was eight metres, and the result was boats of long and stylish overhangs which were in the 47ft to 50ft overall length range.
As it happened, the Cork group encompassed both extremes, with Sam Thompson’s Wye being a slip of a thing with minimal headroom, while Tom Crosbie’s If was one of the heftiest International Eights ever built, and even managed standing headroom. Needless to say, Wye was a flyer in lighter winds, but was remarkably wet offshore, as I discovered when delivering her from Cork with new owners to the Clyde at Easter 1968, when the wind remained very determinedly brisk and cold out of the east.
By contrast, If could give a good account of herself offshore and in a breeze racing out of Crosshaven. She was thus a regular star in the West Cork Regattas when they were still known as the West Cork Regattas and people didn’t feel the need to call them Calves Week. But it was Denis Doyle with Severn II who was the most determined RORC campaigner. This resulted in a memorable (or perhaps better forgotten) experience in the RORC’s Beaumaris to Cork Race, which started in the Menai Straits in North Wales.
As the Coningbeg Lightvessel off the Saltee Islands was a mark of the course, there was a tradition on Irish cruising and offshore racing boats of carrying up-to-date newspapers which could then be chucked aboard the manned lightship as they went past. With Severn II in the lead, her distinguished visiting helmsman (who had better remain anonymous) was so determined to complete this manoeuvre in close style that he failed completely to notice that the lightship’s boom, to which service boats would be secured, was slightly extended. The result that while Severn did indeed sweep beautifully alongside and neatly deposit the newspapers, there was a crash from aloft, and there was her mast – gone.
The great Denis, who’d been off watch, took it all in his usual phlegmatic style, and they cleared the wreckage away and set off under the little auxiliary engine for the slow haul to the nearest port at Dunmore East, for in those days Kilmore Quay was a very primitive place with no berthing of any kind for yachts. Denis then retired below again to resume his sleep, but was awakened some time later by suspicious-sounding noise and kerfuffle in the cockpit.
He erupted on deck (in his pyjamas, mark you) to find that the mast-breaking helmsman had observed that a ship was about to pass nearby, and as they’d no means of signalling, he was trying to set off a flare in order to get a tow, as he was convinced the little engine would never get them to port.
That did it for Denis. “My God,” says he, “You break my mast. And now you’re trying to set my boat on fire. We’ll get to Dunmore East or somewhere else under our own power. And that’s the end of it”.
With boats so beautiful in the classic style, while the 8 Metre class have long gone from Crosshaven, they’ve been revived in restored or even new-build form all over the world. But as they’re specialist craft totally at variance with the modern boats of extremely short ends and straight or even reverse stems, the contemporary world of the long and elegant International 8 Metre Class is a very private place in which the strongest fragrance is the reassuring aroma of wealth.
As for the design preferences which set the shape of the Cork-based 8 Metres, it is also seen in another 1930s creation, the Dublin Bay 24s, which lasted more than fifty years and have since seen restorations at various stages, the most complete being Periwinkle based in Dun Laoghaire.
Meanwhile, in mainstream sailing, we’ve now entered an era in which even Superyachts seem determined to mimic the trend in the most advanced offshore racers in having vertical or even reverse stems. You can understand the dictates of fashion (however odd) pushing their way through even into superyacht design, so all power to Ron Holland, who has tried to design his superyachts so that they look elegant in the classic style, with matching overhangs fore and aft.
This is something of which seasoned professional crews heartily approve, for as one of them said with some vehemence: “If you’re trying to get some work done right on the stemhead in a rough seaway in a superyacht with a vertical stem, you’ll find you’re being power-hosed all the time, and can regularly expect to be washed like a rag doll – sometimes with painful consequences - back along the deck. But when you’re right forward in one of Ron’s boats, the seas are sweeping across the deck safely astern of you, and all’s well with the world”.
Superyacht Sea Eagle II
Despite that, there are already superyachts sailing with reverse stems, which may ultimately mean that they’ll have to devise ways of doing any necessary work at the stemhead from a special compartment inside the hull. But that is not a problem most of us will ever have to deal with, although it will be a thought for an Irish professional sailor who is on the commissioning crew of the latest mega-blast on the Superyacht scene, the 81 metre aluminium-hulled Dykstra-designed Sea Eagle II (that’s 266ft in old money) which emerged with inches to spare from the enormous Royal Huisman construction sheds in The Netherlands on January 8th, the largest yacht ever built by the company.
Owing to the pandemic lockdown, work is currently on hold in the completion process. But with a vessel this size (properly speaking, she’s a ship) they’ve a shore-based caretaker crew of six including our Irish sailor, of whom four are always on board while the others are in dedicated accommodation ashore. There, all enjoy the services of the crew chef, so the biggest problem may well be keeping the personal weight down.
Keeping weight down in the ends of his yacht has always been one of the priorities of Gerry Dykstra, who founded the design company in 1969. Thus although his own much-voyaged 53ft Bestevaer 2 is completely straight-stemmed with a short stern to match, within the accommodation there is virtually nothing in the forward and aft sections.
Intriguingly, however, Dykstra says that his own yacht design heroes are Scotland’s G L Watson and America’s Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, who were in the vanguard in the introduction of bows with long overhangs in the 1890s. But in order to grasp that and how it came about, maybe we should take a quick canter through stem development in the 1800s.
Fishing boats always tended to have short overhangs forward, for several reasons, not least of them being the fact that their crowded harbours meant that with bowsprits raised, they could pack more boats in. Many yachtsmen felt that the straight stem type was also best for their needs, but the great sail trading ships and naval vessels gradually developed bowsprits which set so many multiple headsails that they became spars within their own right, and were best supported by the development of the clipper bow. It looked just right as it combined elegance with functionality, and by the time the schooner America arrived across the Atlantic in 1851, clipper bows seemed as popular as straighter stems.
This became even more the case in the 1860s, the great era of the racing schooners, which is when Ireland comes in on the story in a significant way, as the most successful schooner was linen magnate John Mulholland of Belfast’s “wonderful Egeria” of 1865, winner of many trophies during a long career.
Yet in time, design developments and new rating rules saw a revival of cutters, and straight-stemmed ones at that, and this time the Irish input was by whiskey king John Jameson of Dublin, whose Irex of 1884 (designed by Alexander Richardson of Liverpool) was in the trophy lists for the rest of the 1880s.
Everyone thinks that it was uber-grocer Thomas Lipton of Monaghan and Glasgow who first demonstrated the commercial benefits of high profile yachting campaigns with his publicity-laden America’s Cup challenges. But it was the notoriously shy John Jameson who was ahead of the curve in this area, for every time Irex won a trophy, as she did the classic regatta circuit right through the season at many venues, the name John Jameson would appear in the sports pages, and up and up went the sales of his Irish whiskey.
But while John Jameson was shy, his brother Willie was an exuberant extrovert who was recognized as one of the best amateur sailors of his generation, and through his association with the success of Irex he became part of the Prince of Wales’s sailing set. So much so, in fact, that when the Prince ordered the construction of the new royal racing yacht Britannia in the late Autumn of 1892 to designs to G L Watson, it was Willie Jameson who was appointed Owner’s Representative for the project.
But there was even more of an Irish element to it than that, as Britannia was generously commissioned in order to provide a training partner for Valkyrie II, the Watson-designed America’s Cup challenger ordered a few weeks earlier from Watson by Lord Dunraven of Adare, Co Limerick.
All of that’s as may be, but in terms of our story about the development of bow shapes, the fact is that both Valkyrie II and Britannia had the new-look long overhang bows, and though in time Britannia came to be thought of as the perfect ideal of what a classically good-looking yacht should look like, when she and her near sister Valkyrie II appeared in the Spring of 1893, they were many who didn’t like the looks of the stems at all, and described them somewhat disparagingly as “spoon bows”.
Yet today Gerry Dykstra of the vertical stems is enthusiastic in his admiration of the work of G L Watson (who of course introduced many other performance-enhancing design concepts) and he’s equally admiring of Nat Herreshoff, whose successful America’s Cup defenders if anything went even further in extending the bow overhang.
The idea underlying it all was that when the yacht was sailing, the long overhangs effectively lengthened the working waterline length thereby increasing the boat’s speed potential, and in practice, this was so evidently true that within three decades the RORC Rule for providing a handicap rating for the newly-developing sport of offshore racing was punitive in its treatment of long overhangs.
Myth of Malham
So much so, in fact, that some very odd boats soon began to appear, with their ultimate expression coming in 1947 with John Illingworth’s 40ft Myth of Malham, which won everything on this side of the Atlantic, but didn’t do so well in America, where they reckoned that they should have rating rules which encouraged the success of yachts that reflected the priorities of classic nautical design beauty.
Such yachts still appear, but they’re always designated as “Spirit of the Classics”, for in yacht design generally, things are moving so fast that straight stem on a new-build has long ceased to be a matter of comment, and the aspiration now is to create a bow shape which can somehow furrow the briny deep without leaving any foaming furrow marks at all. Strange times indeed. Stay safe.
There are many definitions and a lot of disagreement about that. There is no disagreement, though, about how they look on the water amongst the boating fraternity.
As put to me by that great authority on historic boats, Hal Sisk of the famous Cork building family: “They are drop-down gorgeous.”
Classic boats are often believed to be only of wooden construction, but that definition has changed over recent years as the GRP – glass fibre – designs have aged and become regarded as ‘vintage’ and allowed take part in classic regattas.
Dealing purely with sail, as we do in this column, classic boats in historical terms come for the most famous of the all Ships, to the most mundane of designs and down to the humblest of the first plywood cruisers that enabled many people to get into the sport of sailing in the Sixties.
Amongst the classic boats of sailing are Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters, the earliest Vertues; Maurice Griffith’s first designs, Bermudan-rigged, like the classic Camper & Nicholson craft, Falmouth Oyster Dredgers, West Country Smacks, the sailing workboats of Europe, the double-enders based on the Colin Archer designs, Drascombe Luggers.
There are racing craft from J-class to Flying Fifteens and all the diverse classes of one-design keelboats, racing dinghies from the designs of Uffa Fox to the ubiquitous Mirror and so on. The range is massive, all of which come to mind this week with the announcement that entry has opened for the biennial Glandore Class Boat Regatta in July.
It is being scheduled this year so that classic boats can sail in the beautiful West Cork Harbour as well as participating in the gathering of these boats planned for the 300th anniversary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven. The organisers say their planning will allow for visiting classic yachts to go onto the Cowes Classic Regatta in the UK.
So there should be a lot of ‘Classics’ in Cork waters this Summer.
July 18 to 25 is the week set for the JPF 2020 Glandore Regatta, “open to all classic sailing boats,” says Glandore Harbour Yacht Club, organisers of the event.
The Regatta will be sailed in the waters of Glandore Harbour and Glandore Bay, between Galley Head and Toe Head. There will be a Parade of Sail at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 19, around marks laid in the harbour. Classic boat owners who don’t want to participate in the racing can enter for the parade only. The detailed Notice of Race and the costs of entry have been published on the Glandore Club’s website with a discount of 20 per cent on the fee until the end of April.
Classic dinghies have been invited to participate, as well as one-design yachts and the widest of the classic fraternity.
The club tells me that, even before the formal announcement of the opening of the entry list this week, applications were being made for participation.
GHYC was founded in 1985 and has developed steadily. Prior to the Club being set up there are historical references to sailing events in the harbour in the 1830’s when a Glandore Regatta was held. The first Classic Boats Regatta was run in 1992. I have taken part in it a number of times, sailing the late Guy Perrem’s beautiful Mab from Monkstown Bay Sailing Club with a club crew, to compete - and win prizes several times! It was always a good event in which to participate.
Glandore Harbour YC membership’s own cruisers, Dragons, Squibs and dinghies. Its clubhouse was opened in 2013. “Thanks to the continued fund-raising efforts of our committee and members we were able to purchase the adjoining yard in 2015. With a lot of work, it was cleared out, concreted over and a workshop/store constructed in 2016. The addition of a roof created an all-weather space, the new Pavilion, in 2018,” the club says.
The legendary Don Street is one of the club’s members. There are club racing fixtures from May to September. The highlights of these are the At Home Regatta on the June Bank Holiday Weekend, Glandore Regatta in mid-August, and a Dragon Championship every few years. The club runs an extensive training programme which includes the national sailing organisation’s training courses. A sailing programme for local schools is also run each summer.
Eamon Timoney is Commodore. Sally Fegan-Wyles is Regatta Director.; Hal Andrews, the Sailing Secretary. John Williams will lead the Race Committee and Bill Sandberg is the Principal Race Officer.
Listen to the podcast below:
There is enormous interest in the revival of the International 12 Foot Dinghy Class both in Ireland and abroad, in advance of the 250th centenary regatta at Athlone Yacht Club/ Lough Ree Yacht Club at the end of May 2020.
In Cork Harbour, John Murphy and Tom Kirby are renovating Caubeen which was once owned by Captain Jimmy Payne of Royal Munster Yacht Club. It was Caubeen which won the Dinghy World Championships for Ireland in 1924 against Mr Watney of England, Mr Bokre of The Netherlands, and Mr Van Haltern of Belgium. After the programme of races was complete, Bokre and Payne were still on equal points. In the sail-off, Payne and Caubeen won by 29 seconds. Caubeen was probably built in 1923 by James Pluck of Cobh, as one of fifteen dinghies built for £47 2s. 6d. each. In addition to the renovation, a new sail has been ordered for Caubeen from Germany, which should ensure that she is able to compete with the best. Also in Cork, we understand that a Co. Cork boatbuilder has received an order to build a new 12-foot dinghy from scratch in time for the event.
"a Co. Cork boatbuilder has received an order to build a new 12-foot dinghy from scratch in time for the event"
In Dublin, plans are well progressed for the relaunch of Elf which was built in 1931 for a Howth Sailing Club owner and spent much of her racing life in Dublin Bay
In Tralee, 1944 built Sgadan, has been stripped down to her bare timbers and will be varnished ready to defend the Irish Championship which she won in 2018. She also won most of the championships between 1960 and 1970 in the hands of Keith Collie. The Dun Laoghaire and Sutton based boats, Pixie, Albany, Calypso and Dorado which competed in the 2019 Championship are all planning to compete in Lough Ree.
In Germany, Reinhard Schroeder has encouraged up to four boats to take the long journey including two ferries and to compete at Athlone. This is the first time ever that German 12 Foot Dinghies have come to Ireland to compete against Irish boats in a major regatta.
Also in Uganda, Bert Hemminga is preparing a 12-foot dinghy, probably No 112 Anneke from 1924 in which he won the Bosham(UK) Classic Boat Regatta in 2019. She will be ready for the Athlone Clinkerfest.
In the Netherlands, there are up to 8 boats including Pieter Bleeker of V.W.D.T.P. being prepared for their very first 250th centenary regatta.
Wisely the Canadian, Nicolette Aronldus of Soilspring Sailing Club, already has her 1944 built dinghy Albatros in Europe and is getting ready for racing.
Another visitor from abroad has already been delivered to Ireland, she is the beautiful Scythian from Australia.
Despite Brexit, all the known English boats currently in commission including Doug Branson from Bosham Sailing Club, Colin Blewett from Poole Yacht Club, Margaret Delany and Gerry Murray will be travelling to Athlone to compete.
At the regatta there Dublin Bay 12 foot dinghy with mainsail and jib and the International rig with a single sail will race against each other. Lough Ree Yacht Club Clinkerfest promises to be a great party!