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Legend of Marilyn Monroe Celebrated in Mystery Crosshaven Racing Skiff  

2nd June 2021
The mystery boat of Crosshaven – whoever built this 30ft racing skiff knew what they were at
The mystery boat of Crosshaven – whoever built this 30ft racing skiff knew what they were at Credit: Darryl Hughes

If you were to bring together even half of the boats built with the involvement of the late great George Bushe of Crosshaven, you'd have the makings of a fascinating maritime museum. The master boatbuilder – whose skills live on nationally and internationally in his sons Mark and Killian – was game for any challenge, whether it was of complex boat engineering, or a world-class yacht finish. And if it came to the pinch, he was more than capable of turning his hand to boat design as well.

It says everything about the quality of George's work that he is still remembered for building a boat too well. In the mid 1950s, he was commissioned to provide one of only two International Dragons ever constructed in Ireland, in this case Melisande for ace Cork Harbour helm Joe FitzGerald.

With Melisande finished and looking exquisite, the Class Surveyor was brought over from Scandinavia to certify her as a true International Dragon. But she was rejected. It seems that George had rounded off the edges of all the bent timbers within the hull when apparently the Dragon small-print rules – in a throwback to the class's origins as an inexpensive weekend cruiser – insisted that the timbers be left basic finish, with angled edges and no fancy smoothing off.

It was quite a challenge to re-frame Melisande without damaging her superbly-finished hull, and by the time she was finally certified as a Dragon, the overall cost was well north of the economy package which had been the thinking at the class's origin in 1929.

The traditional Crosshaven Boatyard setup of camping out in the main boatshed, complete with a small shed shed for your own gear, the spars newly varnished, and a mysterious old boat lurking alongside with a magical little transom that suggests serious ambitions in rowing races. Photo: Darryl Hughes   The traditional Crosshaven Boatyard setup of camping out in the main boatshed, complete with a small shed shed for your own gear, the spars newly varnished, and a mysterious old boat lurking alongside with a magical little transom that suggests serious ambitions in rowing races. Photo: Darryl Hughes

But getting it right was one of the many challenges George took in his stride. Another was the very Corkonian one of a local dinghy sailor ordering a new Bushe-built IDRA 14, with the deal only being finalised and the boat accepted if she had won the up-coming IDRA Nationals on Lough Derg. The word is George built the boat as the ultimate IDRA 14 of that year's crop, and then raced her himself to victory on Lough Derg, with a done deal following immediately afterwards.

With such a talent - whether ashore in the building shed or out on the racecourse – you'd think any way at all of linking a boat to George Bushe is something special. So it has been something of a wonder that in Crosshaven Boatyard, where he has been re-fitting his 1938 43ft Tyrrell classic gaff ketch Maybird, that noted mover and shaker Darryl Hughes has managed to find a very special George Bushe boat called Lorelei of early 1950s vintage, a boat which had more or less slipped away under the radar.

All is revealed as Lorelei is turned for the first time in years – this was George Bushe's 1953 take on a serious racing skiff. Photo: Darryl Hughes   All is revealed as Lorelei is turned for the first time in years – this was George Bushe's 1953 take on a serious racing skiff. Photo: Darryl Hughes  

He'd become curious about a 30ft long and very slim four-oared classic rowing skiff, dusty and hidden in the shed against the wall beside a space where he'd found some room to do the usual wellnigh perfect varnish work on Maybird's already many spars, which seem to double in number whenever varnishing time comes around.

In Crosshaven, where boats are involved, you approach such mysteries as this sidelined skiff with care and diplomacy, and it has been doubly difficult with the pubs being shut. However, eventually, it was revealed that the last known owners were the now non-functional Crosshaven Rowing Club. But the boat hadn't been used for at least twenty years, and if rowing does revive on the Owenabue River, it will more likely be with more modern design concepts which emerged from hotbeds of design development such as the Ron Holland Office.

The old hidden boat was built to race with a class of similar skiffs which were very active up in Cork City at the time, based around Marina. In her day, she must have been quite the hot property, as George incorporated lots of weight-saving techniques such as notably wide plywood planking which was edge-glued, while the reinforcing hull timbers are of minimal size. And as each rowlock had its own reinforced bracket external to the hull, he didn't feel the need to reinforce the entire gunwhale with further weight other than using a slightly heavier gauge of marine ply as the top strake.

Seen from ahead, the lightness of construction is evident, yet there is no sign of it having been too light. Photo: Darryl Hughes   Seen from ahead, the lightness of construction is evident, yet there is no sign of it having been too light. Photo: Darryl Hughes  

This makes you think that the boat must have wriggled along when they were rowing at full power, but the fact that after nearly 70 years, the hull is still in basically good order seems to indicate that George got it right.

After her period up at Marina, she was acquired by the expanding Crosshaven Rowing Club, but for at least two decades, she had become out-of-sight and out-of-mind in this hidden corner of the boatyard until Darryl came poking around.

As it's a time of change at Crosshaven Boatyard, he reckoned that the occasion was ripe for this remarkable boat to find a viable new home and guaranteed future. So having contacted the surviving members of the CRC and Mark Bushe, permission was given for Barry Saunders and the Stella Maris Rowing Club in Ringsend in Dublin to take her over, and now this remarkable craft has a new home on the banks of the Liffey, with her first appearance afloat under the new custodianship a keenly-anticipated event.

Changed circumstances – Lorelei in her new home at the Stella Maris Club in Ringsend, her slim lines much in evidence in her first appearance in sunshine in 20 years.   Changed circumstances – Lorelei in her new home at the Stella Maris Club in Ringsend, her slim lines much in evidence in her first appearance in sunshine in 20 years. Photo: Barry Saunders

Yet what, you might well ask, has all this to do with Tinseltown's blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe? Well, the mystery skiff is very clearly named Lorelei. So it could well be that her early crews were enthusiasts for Germanic mythology and its influence on Wagnerian and other operas through the story of Lorelei, the doomed Rhine maiden.

There's no doubting the boat's name, but why was she so-called? Photo: Darryl HughesThere's no doubting the boat's name, but why was she so-called? Photo: Darryl Hughes

But the smart money bets otherwise. It doesn't see lusty rowing crews as being into opera, notwithstanding the importance of the Cork Opera House. However, at the time Lorelei was built, one of the great new box office movie hits was the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Monroe was on top form as the showgirl Lorelei, she was at her best, and of course if a crewman's missus or girl-friend threw a frost over the boat being name after a Hollywood pin-up, the advantage of a rowing club is that you could say it was nothing to do with you personally, but everyone else seemed to want it……

Whatever, it gives us an opportunity to draw your attention to a YouTube clip which dates from a time when movies were supposed to be totally entertaining, songs were expected to be witty and tuneful, and musicals required a mind-boggling level of choreography:

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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Cork Harbour Information

It’s one of the largest natural harbours in the world – and those living near Cork Harbour insist that it’s also one of the most interesting.

This was the last port of call for the most famous liner in history, the Titanic, but it has been transformed into a centre for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

The harbour has been a working port and a strategic defensive hub for centuries, and it has been one of Ireland's major employment hubs since the early 1900s. Traditional heavy industries have waned since the late 20th century, with the likes of the closure of Irish Steel in Haulbowline and shipbuilding at Verolme. It still has major and strategic significance in energy generation, shipping and refining.

Giraffe wander along its shores, from which tens of thousands of men and women left Ireland, most of them never to return. The harbour is home to the oldest yacht club in the world, and to the Irish Navy. 

This deep waterway has also become a vital cog in the Irish economy.

‘Afloat.ie's Cork Harbour page’ is not a history page, nor is it a news focus. It’s simply an exploration of this famous waterway, its colour and its characters.

Cork Harbour Festival

Ocean to City – An Rás Mór and Cork Harbour Open Day formerly existed as two popular one-day events located at different points on Cork’s annual maritime calendar. Both event committees recognised the synergy between the two events and began to work together and share resources. In 2015, Cork Harbour Festival was launched. The festival was shaped on the open day principle, with Ocean to City – An Ras Mór as the flagship event.

Now in its sixth year, the festival has grown from strength to strength. Although the physical 2020 festival was cancelled due to Covid-19, the event normally features nine festival days starting on the first week of June. It is packed full of events; all made possible through collaboration with over 50 different event partners in Cork City, as well as 15 towns and villages along Cork Harbour. The programme grows year by year and highlights Ireland’s rich maritime heritage and culture as well as water and shore-based activities, with Ocean to City – An Rás Mór at the heart of the festival.

Taking place at the centre of Ireland’s maritime paradise, and at the gateway to Ireland’s Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way, Cork is perfectly positioned to deliver the largest and most engaging harbour festival in Ireland.

The Cork Harbour Festival Committee includes representatives from Cork City Council, Cork County Council, Port of Cork, UCC MaREI, RCYC, Cobh & Harbour Chamber and Meitheal Mara.

Marinas in Cork Harbour

There are six marinas in Cork Harbour. Three in Crosshaven, one in East Ferry, one in Monkstown Bay and a new facility is opening in 2020 at Cobh. Details below

Port of Cork City Marina

Location – Cork City
Contact – Harbour Masters Dept., Port of Cork Tel: +353 (0)21 4273125 or +353 (0)21 4530466 (out of office hours)

Royal Cork Yacht Club Marina

Location: Crosshaven, Co. Cork
Contact: +353 (0) 21 4831023

Crosshaven Boatyard Marina

Location: Crosshaven, Co. Cork
Contact: +353 (0)21 4831161

Salve Marina Ltd

Location: Crosshaven, Co. Cork
Contact: +353 (0) 21 4831145

Cork Harbour Marina

Location: Monkstown, Co. Cork
Contact: +353 (0)87 3669009

East Ferry Marina

Location: East Ferry, Co. Cork
Contact: +353 (0)21 4813390

New Cove Sailing Club Marina

(to be opened in 2020)

Location: Cobh, Co. Cork
Contact: 087 1178363

Cork Harbour pontoons, slipways and ramps

Cork City Boardwalk Existing pontoon

Port of Cork 100m. pontoon

Cork city – End of Cornmarket St. steps and slip;

Cork city - Proby’s Qy. Existing limited access slip

Quays Bar & Restaurant, Private pontoon and ramp for patrons, suitable for yachts, small craft town and amenities

Cobh harbour [camber] Slip and steps inside quay wall pontoon

Fota (zoo, house, gardens) Derelict pontoon and steps

Haulbowline naval basin; restricted space Naval base; restricted access;

Spike Island pier, steps; slip, pontoon and ramp

Monkstown wooden pier and steps;

Crosshaven town pier, with pontoon & steps

East Ferry Marlogue marina, Slip (Great Island side) visitors’ berths

East Ferry Existing pier and slip; restricted space East Ferry Inn (pub)
(Mainland side)

Blackrock pier and slips

Ballinacurra Quay walls (private)

Aghada pier and slip, pontoon & steps public transport links

Whitegate Slip

Passage West Pontoon

Glenbrook Cross-river ferry

Ringaskiddy Parking with slip and pontoon Ferry terminal; village 1km.

Carrigaloe pier and slip; restricted space; Cross-river ferry;

Fountainstown Slip

White’s Bay beach

Ringabella beach

Glanmire Bridge and tide restrictions

Old Glanmire - Quay

Cork Harbour Festival & Ocean to City Race

Following the cancellation of the 2020 event, Cork Harbour Festival will now take place 5 – 13 June 2021, with the Flagship Ocean to City An Rás Mór on 5 June.

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