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It’s as if it were a mirage. For the last three days, Drogheda’s Town Quays have been lined with four Tall Ships, tugs, lifeboats and yachts while Tom Roe’s Point hosted three French Naval Vessels. For one weekend every year, Drogheda’s busy working port is converted into a festival site and is festooned with colour and buzzes with excitement. The annual Irish Maritime Festival runs from Friday to Sunday and by Monday morning, it has all disappeared and Drogheda Port returns to business as usual.

The visiting vessels mustered at the mouth of the Boyne before noon on Friday and what followed was a beautiful parade of sail. 

The banks of the Boyne were lined with people of all ages waiting to welcome the ships. Social media in the region was flooded with images of the river and the ships with people wanting to share the experience.

8. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 2Parade of Sail at the Viaduct at Drogheda Port

Friday night saw the deck of the Earl of Pembroke transformed into a stage for the Stowaway Sessions. The intimate sold-out gig featured Eve Belle and The Lost Brothers performing to 100 lucky guests at sunset with the Boyne Viaduct as the backdrop. The format was repeated on Saturday night to another 100 guests with Pilgrim St supporting headliner Declan O’Rourke.

images/banners/6.-Irish-Maritime-Festival---The-Stowaway-Sessions.jpgThe Stowaway Sessions

8. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 28. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 28. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 28. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 28. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 28. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 2

The festival proper, hosted by Louth County Council and Drogheda Port Company, kicked off on Saturday morning with visits to all of the ships inc. The Phoenix, The Earl of Pembroke, The Johanna Lucretia, The Brian Boru and the beloved motor tug Brocklebank. Crews happily welcomed visitors aboard and told the stories of each of the respective vessels. An Irish Coast Guard helicopter flyover caused surprise and delight all round.

On-shore the festival offered 2 live music stages, artisan local food and loads of family-friendly activities. The Maritime Education Zone included displays by The Irish Coastguard, Inland Waterways Ireland, RNLI, Seastainability, Education through Recreation, Boyne Boats and the Irish Power Kite and Sand Yachts.

8. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 2Sand yachts were on display

The Water Wags sailed by on Saturday morning on a visit to the historic Oldbridge House, mooring at the lock gates of the Boyne Canal. After being obsolete for over 80 years, the Boyne Canal is being painstakingly and beautifully restored by the volunteers of the Inland Waterways Association Boyne Navigation Branch. Following their visit to Oldbridge, the Water Wags delighted festival goers with a display on the water on Saturday afternoon.

Water Wag racing on the BoyneWater Wag racing on the Boyne

Over 200 participants in the annual Boyne Swim competed for glory on Saturday afternoon. The 2.7km course starts at Mell, passes the Irish Maritime Festival site at Drogheda Port and concludes at the Boyne Fisherman’s Rescue. The 2018 winner was Isaac Fitzmaurice finishing in 32 minutes and 23 seconds. The other winners were Colin Lowth (32 minutes and 52 seconds, male, wetsuits category), Rosie Giglia (37 minutes and 12 seconds, female, skins category) and Lauren Archer (37 minutes and 21 seconds, female, wetsuit category). The competition was fierce with a mere 29 seconds between the male first and second place and just 9 seconds between the female first and second.

The Festival's Colette Moss and Capt Martin Donnelly of Drogheda PortThe Festival's Colette Moss and Capt Martin Donnelly of Drogheda Port

The Boyne was a hive of activity both days with the rescue services and lifeboats on the river throughout. The Howth-Drogheda Yacht Regatta saw yachts racing up the Boyne on Saturday afternoon, mooring for the weekend at Drogheda’s Fiddle Case Pier, opened in June 2017.

After the Festival Gates closed for the day on Saturday evening, the Mariners Shindig saw 200+ visiting crews enjoy dinner, drinks and live music on the Port. The late night was followed by an early start as Piper Paul McGowan visited the Port at 08.00hrs to rouse everyone from their slumber. He led a procession to the Mission to Seafarers Church (St. Peter’s Church of Ireland) for a beautiful service. 

The Mission-to-Seafarers March at Drogheda Port (Above and below) The Mission-to-Seafarers March at Drogheda Port

Presentations to the Mayor of Drogehda

It was followed by official presentations to the French Navy by Mayor of Drogheda Cllr. Frank Godfrey on behalf of Louth County Council and Drogheda Port.

The final day of the festival started with drizzle but soon cleared to be a bright dry day and families flocked to the festival to enjoy all it had to offer. Visits to the 3 French Minesweepers, M770 Antares, M771 Altair and M772 Aldebaran were hugely popular, over-subscribed on both days. On Sunday afternoon, to mark the first visit of the French Navy to Drogheda, the Alliance Francais choir sang on the deck of The Phoenix.

8. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 2(Above and below) French Navy visitors to Drogheda

8. Irish Maritime Festival 2018 Mission to Seafarers 2

The Festival closed on Sunday evening with the second crew of trainees coming aboard The Brian Boru. The award-winning Drogheda Sail Training Bursary each year offers 20 local young people the life-changing opportunity to learn to sail. The first crew departed on 10th June and sailed into Drogheda on Friday as part of the Irish Maritime Festival. The second crew depart Monday 18th and head north for Warrenpoint, Portaferry, Ardglass and Kilkeel before returning to Drogheda.

The festival may be over for another year, but the work continues in Drogheda Port to make the River Boyne an integral part of daily life in the town and an attractive destination for leisure sailors and commercial operators.

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A flotilla of yachts and pleasure craft including sailing dinghies, RIBs and angling craft gathered off Dun Laoghaire Harbour today to wish Bon Voyage to 16 Tall Ships who visited Dublin Bay over the Bank Holiday weekend and are now en route to France.

As Afloat.ie reported earlier, a Parade of Sail of Tall Ships came down the River Liffey and out into Dublin Bay under full sail in light winds to be the final spectacle in a festival that has attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors to the Port area over the 4-day stopover in Dublin.

Organised by Sail Training International the stopover in Dublin was hosted by Dublin City Council, Waterways Ireland & Dublin Port Company. 450 crew, 50 of whom were Irish trainees, took part in GAA games, Water kayaking, paddle boarding, as well as turning their boats out in ship shape for public visits.

"Up to 100,000 visitors came into Dublin Docklands; Grand Canal Dock and Sir John Rogersons Quay"

Up to 100,000 visitors came into Dublin Docklands; Grand Canal Dock and Sir John Rogersons Quay to visit the splendid ships over Saturday and Sunday.

With temperatures soaring, visitors enjoyed free public tours of the ships, street animation and got to know their capital city a little better. 

See our gallery of Tall Ship Photos departing Dublin below: 

Tall Ship Lord Nelson 3147Tall Ship Lord Nelson Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship Belle Poule 3169Tall Ship Belle Poule Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship DeGallant 3231Tall Ship DeGallant Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship Morgenster 3256Tall Ship Morgenster Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship Maybe 3261Tall Ship Maybe Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship Pelican of London 3284Tall Ship Pelican of London Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship johanna lucretia 3316Tall Ship Johanna Lucretia Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship arawak 3332Tall Ship Arawak Photo: Afloat.ie

Tall Ship Atyla 3360Tall Ship Atyla Photo: Afloat.ie

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After a successful three day Tall Ship festival of sail in Dublin Port, up to 17 Tall Ships will depart as a fleet this morning, raising the prospect of a spectacular sight off Dun Laoghaire on the south side of Dublin Bay.

Earlier this week, organisers advised that a planned Tall Ships Parade of Sail would not take place but, according to Afloat.ie sources this morning, it is now the intention for all the Tall Ships presently in the Port to 'depart at 12:00 hours and proceed south-west towards Dun Laoghaire Harbour'. 

This means the fleet should be off the Pier about 13:00 hours, subject to weather.

On Thursday last, Southsiders were treated to views of the Tall Ship fleet anchored in the Bay prior to the festival, albeit shrouded in fog.

The Navy ship LE Orla will anchor off the East Pier (approx one mile off ) and the Tall Ships will round her before proceeding South.

UPDATE: Click to see the Parade of Sail Gallery on Dublin Bay

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The Tall Ships that have been anchored in Dublin Bay and Dun Laoghaire since Thursday have arrived in Dublin City Centre this evening for the start of the Tall Ships Regatta. Read more about the event here

The Sail Training International regatta is hosted by Dublin City Council with support from Dublin Port Company.

This two-leg event sees a fleet of 17 ships sail from Liverpool to Dublin, and then to Bordeaux in an exciting passage race through the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay.

The ships will be berthed in Grand Canal Dock and on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay over the bank holiday weekend, and maritime enthusiasts and members of the public are welcome to visit some of the ships on Saturday and Sunday.

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Up to five Tall Ships arrived into Dublin Bay overnight and are moored off Dun Laoghaire this morning in anticipation of this weekend's Dublin Tall Ships Regatta on the River Liffey at Dublin Port.

As Afloat.ie previously reported, the regatta sails into Dublin Port today and runs until to Monday, 4th June.

Organised by Sail Training International, the stopover in Dublin is hosted by Dublin City Council & Dublin Port Company. This year, the Regatta features seventeen ships racing from Liverpool to Dublin. They will then continue on to the historic Bay of Biscay, finishing up in Bordeaux, France. While this event is not on the scale of the Tall Ships Races of the past, it will give maritime enthusiasts a flavour of what these majestic ships are like, up close.

Over the June Bank Holiday weekend, the smaller ships can be viewed in Grand Canal Dock and the larger ships will be berthed on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The public is welcome to visit some of the ships on Saturday and Sunday.

Read more about the Tall Ship visit here

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The hoped-for Parade of Sail at the end of Dublin's Tall Ships Regatta on the June Bank Holiday weekend will not be taking place. Instead, the ships will leave earlier on Bank Holiday Monday Morning. 'The Ships will leave together from Dublin but a parade of sail is unlikely and low key', according to a spokesperson.

As Afloat.ie reported earlier, the Tall Ships Regatta sails into Dublin Port from Friday, 1st June to Monday, 4th June. Organised by Sail Training International, the stopover in Dublin is hosted by Dublin City Council & Dublin Port Company.

This year, the Regatta features seventeen ships racing from Liverpool to Dublin. They will then continue on to the historic Bay of Biscay, finishing up in Bordeaux, France. While this event is not on the scale of the Tall Ships Races of the past, it will give maritime enthusiasts a flavour of what these majestic ships are like, up close.

More information here

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If you have been bitten by the Tall Ships bug, here is the opportunity to get your ‘fix’ - The Tall Ships Regatta sails into Dublin Port from Friday, 1st June to Monday, 4th June. Organised by Sail Training International, the stopover in Dublin is hosted by Dublin City Council & Dublin Port Company. This year, the Regatta features seventeen ships racing from Liverpool to Dublin. They will then continue on to the historic Bay of Biscay, finishing up in Bordeaux, France. While this event is not on the scale of the Tall Ships Races of the past, it will give maritime enthusiasts a flavour of what these majestic ships are like, up close. 

Over the June Bank Holiday weekend, the smaller ships can be viewed in Grand Canal Dock and the larger ships will be berthed on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The public is welcome to visit some of the ships on Saturday and Sunday.

"The larger ships will be berthed on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay"

Welcoming the Tall Ships to Dublin, Ardmhéara Bhaile Átha Cliath/ Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha said “As Admiral of Dublin Port, I would like to welcome the Tall Ships and their crews to Dublin city. I am delighted that over 50 trainees from the North East Inner City have been given the opportunity to take part in the race with the support of Sail Training Ireland. Events like the Tall Ships Regatta help to showcase the River Liffey as an amenity for leisure and recreation activities and strengthen the links between Dublin city and the port. Cuirim fáilte roimh na longa seoltóireachta go Baile Átha Cliath agus ta súil agam go mbainfidh daoine taithneamh as an chúirt.”

A planned highlight of the event, a Parade of Sail when the ships will sail out of Dublin Port will, however not now take place, according to organisers. See update here.

Eamon O’Reilly, Chief Executive, Dublin Port Company said: Dublin Port Company is proud to welcome the Tall Ships Regatta to Dublin. “We’re passionate about celebrating Dublin as a port city and supporting leisure and recreation on the River Liffey. Our Masterplan 2040 includes a commitment to greater port-city integration and initiatives such as Tall Ships Regatta reminds us all of Dublin’s rich maritime past and continued relevance today”.

He added “This is the perfect time to discover the wonderful opportunity Sail Training provides for the 50+ Dublin crew participating in this race that range in age from 19 to 67. They are testament to how appealing this activity is to all ages! Sail Training Ireland works closely with youth organisations and, this time worked directly with the North East Inner City (NEIC) Taoiseach’s Task Force, to provide life-changing experiences for people of all ages”.

Also welcoming the ships to Dublin, Terre Duffy, Development Manager of Waterways Ireland said “As the custodians of over 1,000km of Ireland's navigable waterways, we especially welcome the Tall Ships Regatta to Grand Canal Dock. This stopover will inspire people to discover and enjoy recreational activities on the water, thus optimising the opportunity for growth in this important area of Ireland's heritage.”

Paul Bishop, Race Director, Tall Ships Regatta Dublin 2018 said, “It’s great to come to a city where Tall Ships and their trainees are the key element of the event. The Tall Ships visit to Dublin in June presents a great opportunity to support the development of young people through sail training and Dublin Port will be the perfect host for our international crews.”

This year the Tall Ships Regatta replaces the Dublin Port Riverfest which, historically, has taken place on the June bank holiday weekend.

In addition to the regular water based activities that take place in the Docklands, such as City Kayaking, Viking Splash Tours, Dublin Bay Cruises, Surf Dock and Wakeboarding in Grand Canal Dock, this weekend will also feature the colourful ‘Old Gaffers’ race, as well as some animated street performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

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Sail Training Ireland (STIRL) held their sixth Annual Prize Giving and Season Launch event on Saturday 27th January 2018, in the Oak Room at the Mansion House in Dublin, courtesy of Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha.

The event was a celebration of Sail Training in Ireland involving those involved in every aspect of Sail Training, Port companies, City and County Councils, sponsors, vessel operators, nominating organisations, mentors and trainees. These diverse groups are all blended together with the support of Sail Training Ireland to produce something very special. The stars of the show were as ever the trainees and their fantastic stories of how their sail training experience has such a significant impact on their lives.

We heard from Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha and from Sail Training Ireland Chairman Seamus Mc Loughlin. Daragh Sheridan, CEO of Sail Training Ireland also announced the launch of the 2018 Voyage Schedule. The highlights of which will be:

Sail Training Ireland 2018 Awards

  • the Tall Ships Regatta from Liverpool – Dublin – Bordeaux
  • A Voyage for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
  • The Ability Voyage which will see six wheelchair users take part in a tall ship adventure
  • An Asgard II Reunion Voyage and Ball
  • The prize giving followed featuring seven very deserving and popular winners. (full details of prize winners below).

Then to the highlight of the afternoon as we heard the stories of three trainees.

Roisin Hackett a self-confessed Tall Ship addict who having suffered a spinal cord injury told us how she counted on the fantastic friendships established on previous voyages to get through her ordeal including an extended stay in hospital. She told us of her latest voyage, which she went on this Summer thanks to support from Spinal Injuries Ireland, The Irish Cruising Club and Sail Training Ireland.

Richard Pepper Mentor of The Year AwardRichard Pepper won the Mentor of The Year Award

We also heard from Conor Keogh who told of his trans-Atlantic adventure on board the Tall Ship Blue Clipper. It was of great interest to all present how he explained that the experience allowed him to disengage from screens and other modern distractions and to really connect with himself and his crew mates aboard. He also expressed his belief that the experience had a big impact on his success in gaining a place on a course in Colaiste Dhulaigh.

The third trainee we heard from was Faye Kennedy. Fay’s amazing story had many reaching for the tissues as she spoke from the heart of her invisible disability and how Sail Training Ireland had accepted her for who she was and enabled her to fully partake in the experience.

Nessa Lally awardNessa Lally won a special contribution award

Sail Training Ireland is a charity that promotes youth development and education from all backgrounds and abilities on the island of Ireland by providing access to sail training voyages. In this challenging environment the trainees learn about themselves, leadership, communication, responsibility, team work, overcoming adversity, friendship and cooperation. As a bonus almost, they learn about sailing and the sea.

Chatting to the various participants at an event like these you hear just how powerful a vehicle for change sail training can be.

“We sailed alongside dolphins as we learnt how to navigate, all the time growing in confidence in our own abilities, not disabilities. If we continue to define ourselves by what we cannot do or where we cannot travel, we will destroy our spirit” commented seventeen year old trainee Faye Kennedy.

Sail Training Ireland Host Annual Awards

1. Youth Ambassador 2018 Dylan Nelson

2. Watch Leader/ Mentor of the Year Richard Pepper

3. Special Contribution Award: Nessa Lally

4. Volunteer of the Year: Nathan Shivers

5. Outstanding Achievement Award: Killian Borland

6. Perpetual Asgard Award: Manor St John Youth Service

7. Trainee of the year: Eoghan Spillane

8. Overcoming Adversity: Amy Kinsella

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In 2017 over 300 trainees went to sea on Tall Ships from Ireland and across Europe. Sail Training Ireland aim to fund a similar number of trainees in 2018. These numbers have not been seen since the loss of Ireland’s National Tall Ship Asgard II in 2008. 

On Saturday 27th January 2018, Sail training Ireland will hold their sixth Annual Prize Giving and Season Launch event at the Mansion house in Dublin, courtesy of Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha, who will be in attendance.

Sail Training Ireland funds young people from all backgrounds and abilities to sail on Tall Ship voyages at sea. Their work has resulted in over sixteen hundred young people going to sea since 2011. These numbers have not been seen since the loss of Ireland’s National Tall Ship Asgard II in 2008. The 2017 trainees included young people from residential care homes, Garda Diversion Projects, Sea Scouts, Youth and Community groups and Schools, asylum seekers and immigrants and young people with visual, hearing and physical impairments from across Ireland and Northern Ireland. The purpose of the sail training experience is a change in direction, perspective, attitude, and behaviour leading to self-confidence, motivation and new skills acquired.

The highlight of the 2018 season will be the Tall Ships Regatta being run from Liverpool – Dublin – Bordeaux. This will be a fantastic opportunity for young people to get involved as there are several different bursary funds available to reduce the cost to the trainees.

We are also delighted to be involved once again with “The Voyage” an initiative between the Cities of Dublin, Belfast and Liverpool which, includes Sail Training voyages between the three cities. The project celebrates the historical, cultural, and maritime links between the cities. These voyages benefit from E.U. Erasmus + funding. 

Daragh Sheridan, the CEO of Sail Training Ireland will announce a voyage programme for 2018 including several very exciting funded programmes. The regional sail training schemes in Drogheda, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Waterford are well established while Derry, and Galway are at various stages of development. 2018 will also see the Spirit of Asgard Voyage reuniting former Asgard trainees on a voyage in the Irish sea. This year will also see 6 wheelchair users go on board the tall ship Lord Nelson as part of the Ability Voyage project. The Lord Nelson is a ship built specifically to cater to those with disabilities. The Dublin City Council/Dublin Port Company Legacy project continues to build on the legacy of Tall Ships 2012.

For anyone with an interest in partaking in a voyage or organisations that work with young people that may benefit, they should contact Sail Training Ireland Phone: 01 816 8866.

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Tony McLoughlin, owner and operator of the ketch Brian Ború, recounts an epic series of sail training voyages that took the “fantastic little ship” on a circumnavigation of Ireland last summer

The sailing ship Brian Ború is a beautiful wooden-hulled, traditionally built and rigged gaff ketch. Descended from the legendary sailing drifters of the late 19th century, she is a roomy and powerfully built vessel of 40 tons displacement and 20 metres overall length, originally launched in 1961. Following a Leader-funded restoration and conversion project in 2014, she now operates under Irish licence as the sole passenger and sail training vessel of her type around the island of Ireland, carrying up to 12 passengers and three crew – a sturdy and able ‘small tall ship’ in the true spirit of our much loved Asgard 2.

Following an appearance at the Cobh Traditional Boat Festival in June 2015, I (the operator) was approached by Michael Byrne of Sail Training Ireland to undertake sail training voyages administered by them on the Brian Ború around the Irish coast. After an upgrade of her accommodation and licence over the winter of 2015, the ketch commenced sail training voyages in June 2016, carrying young Irish people from 15 to 30 years of age. The vessel was an immediate success, providing a safe yet challenging experience for young people from all backgrounds, irrespective of class or gender. The 2016 season was a good start for the Brian Ború as a sail training ship.

brian boru traineesTrainees take a break on board the Brian Boru ketch Photo: Traditional Boat Charters/Facebook

The first of June 2017 saw the mighty Brian Ború set out on the first leg of an eventual circumnavigation of the island of Ireland. Departing at 4am from her home port of Waterford, the vessel and delivery crew quickly settled into the four-hour watch routine on a ‘shakedown’ cruise up to Dublin.

The secret of making a safe, swift and comfortable trip eastwards from Hook Head, past Kilmore Quay and the Saltee Islands, around Carnsore Point, and then northwards to Dublin, is in the passage planning. Skipper Peter Scallan of Wexford knew this very well and timed the voyage to perfection. On a broad reach eastwards, the tide helped pull us around Carnsore Point, then a gentle gybe allowed the Brian Ború to run ahead of the wind northeastwards past Rosslare and then further north along the Wexford coast towards Wicklow Head, still with a good tide in our favour.

Running before the wind in a gaff-rigged, canoe-sterned, heavy displacement wooden ketch can be a joyous experience. The long keel and easy run aft combine to allow the vessel to steer comfortably, with little giddiness or shearing away. This is particularly true when the wind is slightly on the quarter, which it was. When you happen to look up at the massive sheeted out main and mizzen sails, you get a true feeling of the power of a gaff rig, with the maze of sheave blocks and running rigging suddenly making sense. The backstays, the peak halliards, the topping lifts, the throat halliards, the preventers, the mainsheets all working in harmony to support the great bellies of the main and mizzen sails. The easy yet continuous swaying motion against the backdrop of the blue summer sky, could hypnotise you into believing that you were back in the Age of Sail, where engines were unknown.

Following a stop-off in Wicklow Harbour, we sailed again with the tides along the coast inside the Arklow Banks, with their impressive stand of wind turbines; north past Bray Head; through the gorgeous Dalkey Sound; and into the historic and picturesque Dublin Bay.

With logical and clear instructions from Dublin Port control, we took our place in the Parade of Sail among the tall ships coming into Dublin Port for the city’s annual Riverfest. In bright sunshine, it was a magnificent feeling to be part of a great display of seamanship as these beautiful vessels made their way under sail right into the Liffey. The skill of the captains and crews of these traditional vessels was evident as, one after another, we dropped sail and went alongside to our allotted berths on the North Wall. No showmanship, just good solid maritime teamwork.

Dublin Riverfest was host to a selection of traditional sailing vessels and classic tall ships, from the magnificent Earl of Pembroke to the pirate ship Phoenix to the classic ketch Maybe, with many more vessels in between, and with the Brian Ború proud to be present as the sole Irish-flagged sail training vessel. Another Irish vessel present was the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s ketch Celtic Mist. The Oliver Hart-operated Spirit of Oysterhaven was sadly missed, but she was otherwise engaged in an Atlantic crossing.

On the Sunday afternoon we welcomed onboard our group of trainees from Sail Training Ireland’s Drogheda Bursary Scheme. Following introductions, safety procedure instructions, accommodation and watch assignments, our 10 new crew members relaxed and happily made themselves at home, initial shy nerves quickly dissipating. Sunday evening was devoted to enjoying the last night of the Dublin Riverfest, and fun was had by all.

Monday morning and normal sail training ship routines kicked in: breakfast, then ‘happy hour’ cleanup, then captain’s inspection were completed. Our allotted time for departing the port with the other tall ships was noon, so the intervening time was used to refresh safety procedures, hoist and lower sails, and generally introduce the trainees to as much as possible on the vessel in the calm waters of the berth 

We departed the River Liffey under engine, joining the exiting parade of ships. As we passed Poolbeg Marina, the sails were hoisted by our trainee crew in the following order: Mizen; Main; Staysail; and Jib. Already, the looks on the faces of these 10 young people showed how self-confidence, of the best kind, is immediately instilled through teamwork on a sail training vessel, as the red canvas sails billowed powerfully out to starboard. On reaching clearwater we bade farewell to the fleet and set a course southwards. 

Changeable weather was forecast for the week, northerlies for the early part and westerlies for the latter expected. Accordingly, our passage plan needed some changes. But this is the real beauty and pleasure of coastal voyaging in a sail training vessel like the Brian Ború. Her moderate draft of 2.5 metres allows the vessel to access most Irish ports, big and small, and so we chose to visit the very pleasant and welcoming port of Wicklow once again. A freshening northeasterly wind allowed the Ború to really ‘lift her skirts’ on a broad reach down to Wicklow.

Brian boru wexfordYoung trainees on the Brian Boru ketch

Our young crew were excited and exhilarated by such a fantastic first day at sea. To really cap it off we were invited to join an ‘open mic’ evening in Wicklow Sailing Club, with three of our trainees delighting the audience with songs.

Next morning, an invitation to visit the Wicklow RNLI station was eagerly accepted and enjoyed by everybody. The weather had badly deteriorated and so the day was spent in port. But boredom was never an issue with swimming in the harbour, diving from the bowsprit, fishing for mackerel, learning to row the ship’s boat, learning basic navigation, knot-tying, engine maintenance, cooking, and generally ‘chilling’ being the main occupations.

What many of us take for granted — being used to the sea, sailing, or boating in general — is often totally unknown and fascinating for these young sail trainees from all backgrounds. Sail Training Ireland is to be complimented on its current policy of making voyages accessible to all young people, of carefully choosing a cross section of the population for its trips at sea, and ensuring inspirational social integration.

Under Asgard 2 in WicklowUnder Asgard 2 in Wicklow Harbour

The rest of the weeks’ voyage proved to be exceptional, with the vessel sailing back northwards exploring Ireland’s Eye, Lambay, Howth, and finally entering the ancient River Boyne, dividing the counties of Meath and Louth, and up to the historic Port of Drogheda.

Midday Friday saw our trainees packing up and leaving the vessel, but only temporarily. RTÉ Nationwide programme was filming the Irish Maritime Festival being held over the weekend in Drogheda and the Brian Ború had been asked to sail down the Boyne Estuary with the film crew on board. What an opportunity for the young trainees to return to the ship early on Saturday morning, to cast off the lines and raise the sails whilst being filmed for a national television show. They expertly raised, then lowered and furled the sails, then took the mooring lines and efficiently tied the vessel back alongside. In a short sail training week, these young people had not only learned the basics of sailing the ship, but also experienced real teamwork first-hand, and consequently gained hugely in self-esteem, self-confidence and social skills. Every young person should have such an opportunity.

The ‘little ship’ Brian Ború was kept busy during the weekend in Drogheda plying up and down the estuary, bringing various groups out on the river for a traditional sail experience. For many, it was their first time to see their hometown from the water. Great hospitality was shown to the crew by the festival organisers as we thoroughly enjoyed the festivities on Saturday evening and had the opportunity to reunite with the crews of many of the ships from the Dublin Riverfest. A hard life!

Lunch at Lambay IslandLunch at Lambay Island

Sunday afternoon saw the arrival of the next group of trainees from the Drogheda Bursary Scheme and our crew, now with Captain Victor Whitty in command, kicked into action once again with our introduction procedures. On Monday, we cast off yet again and sailed down the river with the fleet to cross out over the Boyne Bar on the high tide. All sails set we turned southwards in a good fresh westerly breeze. The week flew by, with the vessel adventuring down to the magnificent Dublin Bay area, overnighting at Poolbeg Marina; anchoring off Lambay Island; thundering up to Carlingford Lough, overnighting in Warrenpoint, and finishing finally in Carlingford Marina on Friday 16 June. Another fantastic week with inspired young Irish trainees, albeit in very changeable weather.

In Carlingford MarinaIn Carlingford Marina

The next ‘job’ for the ship was on Belfast Lough at its own Maritime Festival, starting on Saturday morning 17 June. With no time to lose, we departed Carlingford Lough, the magnificent scenery of the Mournes on the northern shore and the legendary Cooley Mountains to the south, and headed up along the Co Down coastline, past Strangford Lough and towards the mouth of Belfast Lough. Night had fallen, but we decided to proceed right in to the Port of Belfast. A well-lit channel and a decent Raymarine plotter on board allowed us to confidently proceed up the Lagan to our berth in the Titanic Quarter. We swung around to starboard and went portside alongside on the pontoon. We smiled to find ourselves astern of the pirate ship Phoenix once again – truly déjà vu!

Two days of taking young people out on Belfast Lough for a traditional sail experience, socialising with the organisers and with our friends on the other ships, and it was time to set sail once again for our next charter in Sligo. With a delivery crew of three, the Brian Ború motored gently off her berth in the Titanic Quarter and downriver past the busy commercial docks. It was inspiring to see massive conical sections of giant wind turbines being carefully loaded on to waiting ships. Nowadays, instead of shipbuilding, the well known Harland and Wolff company is engaged, apparently, in the building of these columns for wind turbines. A sign of the times, for sure.

Down the estuary, leaving Bangor on our portside, we rounded northeast and then north. The sun was shining and a nice Force 4 to 5 was blowing, but from right ahead. We accepted our fate and resigned ourselves to motoring along the coast at six knots, with our trusty Volvo Penta 6 cylinder diesel thumping out her steady rhythm. Checking our position on the chart, we grinned to find ourselves 11 nautical miles from Rathlin Island and just 10 from the Mull of Kintyre and Scottish shores. It is no wonder that the traditional links between Ireland’s orthern counties and Scotland are so close. A strong giant could nearly hurl a rock from one shore to the other. 

Having made good time along the ruggedly beautiful Antrim and Derry coastlines and with darkness falling, we overnighted and refuelled in Greencastle, Co Donegal. The wind was still not co-operating as we turned to the northwest next morning; it stayed steadily on our bows. But we pushed on towards Tory Island. Alas, even with the wind gradually coming around in our favour, we had the misfortune of running over a long floating potting rope. Our delivery skipper Oisín Cahill immediately slammed into neutral, but the rope was well and truly wrapped on our propeller shaft. The culprit fishing vessel came to help us and managed to get a large quantity of the rope out. Nevertheless we had an uneasy feeling about what possible damage had been done.

We gingerly motor-sailed ahead under mizzen and staysail until a second mishap befell us. The motor began to lose revs for no reason. We stopped it and sailed on while checking for an airlock or other possible explanation. Diesel engines need only air and fuel to keep running and our experience told us to check for these – no apparent fault. We tried the ignition again and she started up as normal, but when she seemed to slightly stall again we decided to call for assistance. Mevagh inshore RNLI rib and Lough Swilly all-weather RNLI vessel came rapidly alongside and advised us to proceed in to Mevagh Boatyard to check things out. This was, of course, the perfect course of action, and both vessels accompanied us as we motored gently up the winding creek to the safety of a calm anchorage just off the boatyard.

The friendly welcome we received from both lifeboat crews was a real credit to the RNLI and to the Donegal people. Tea, coffee, biscuits and even a tour of the most up-to-date offshore lifeboat imaginable was given to us in the Mevagh RNLI station, before we were ferried back to welcoming bunks on the Brian Ború.

A diver and a mechanic rowed out to us first thing in the morning from the boatyard. The diver reported no apparent damage to the stern gear or rudder, but the mechanic reported a faulty connection on the fuel line which was air-locking the system. This replaced, he waved us off on the high tide back out of the channel. The wind had rounded once more into the west and therefore onto our bows and so we motored on westwards through Tory Sound, past the Bloody Foreland, and eventually round the coast of Donegal to the Port of Sligo and new adventures.

Sunday afternoon, 25 June, and a group of young people from the Safehaven Ireland organisation joined the ship. Yet again, the crew kicked into gear with the essential introductory procedures. We were honoured to welcome the excellent Captain Liam Keating as guest captain for the two upcoming West Coast voyages. A native of Waterford, Liam has been a true inspiration to the sail training world ever since his early days as mate on Asgard 2, then captain of the Prince William, and for many years captain of the Stavros Niarchos. Needless to say, the Brian Ború performed admirably under the command of Capt Keating, and he was heard to mutter to himself “What a fantastic little ship.” Keeping a close eye on the weather, we explored the coast right down into Galway Bay.

Hugely memorable was our visit to Clare Island, formerly home to the ‘pirate queen’ Grainne Uaile, whose castle still stands in the lee of the hill just beyond the harbour. Such was our welcome that the community hall was opened for us to use showers and laundry facilities, and play billiards. Crystal-clear seawater and a genuine smiling welcome are the author’s memories of Clare Island.

brian boru sail trainingThe ketch Brian Boru under full sail

With deteriorating weather, we sailed into Arranmore and found a good sheltered berth for the night. While it would have been fun and interesting to explore the area the next day, the weather dictated that we should sail for Galway City without delay. So we said ‘slán’ to the island, hoisted the sails and ran before the mounting wind into Galway.

What a busy scene awaited us, as the Port of Galway was already into the colourful early stages of the SeaFest weekend. Capt Keating showed us great seamanship as he manoeuvred the vessel, in a tightly packed harbour, using the gusting wind to our berth alongside the Celtic Mist. A bowsprit is a wonderful spar and adds great beauty to a vessel, but sometimes in a crowded port it would be useful if it could be retracted, or pivoted up from its inboard end, as is very common in French traditional vessels.

SeaFest in Galway was a colourful and informative gathering, and our crew had the pleasure of resting and enjoying the festival. But Sunday afternoon came quickly and the new trainees for the week arrived on board. Monday morning saw the Brian Ború sailing out through the lock gates of Galway Port and heading west towards Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. A large group of dolphins had been sighted there a few days beforehand and we were hoping to sail with them as well as visiting the island. However, our plans had to change once again due to an approaching weather front. With darkening skies, we sailed into sheltered waters in Blacksod Bay and dropped anchor for the night. With first light, our young crew winched in the anchor and we set a southerly course for Loop Head and the Shannon Estuary.

Discretion was the better part of valour and Capt Keating’s decision to sail directly down past Loop Head and across the mouth of the Shannon to the shelter of Fenit Harbour was exactly the right one, with heavy southwesterly seas developing overnight. The ensuing days were like pages from a tourist brochure, with us swimming, mackerel fishing, sailing around Brandon Bay, dolphin watching, exploring the hinterland, and anchoring overnight against a backdrop of stunning Kerry scenery. The final leg of our passage took us back over towards Loop Head and along the ancient cliffs, up the Shannon to the lock-gated Kilrush Marina, and Friday 7 July marked the end of yet another sail training adventure.

Our young trainees departed, and a group of friends of the Brian Ború found their way to Kilrush to help sail the ship back, once more under Capt Whitty, to her home berth in Waterford. What a stunning voyage, across the turbulent seas which greeted us at the Shannon mouth, through the Blasket Sound and into the calm waters of Dingle Harbour. The following morning, Fungie the famous dolphin swam to our bows as we departed on our way east. Our decision to ‘heave to‘ for lunch at the Skelligs was a great one. It was truly a spiritual feeling to drift gently in the lee of Skellig Michael. On again to an overnight stay in Castletownbere Harbour – good food and a boisterous sing-song!

We continued eastwards the following day, past the Fastnet Rock to anchor with a glorious setting sun off Glandore. Our final day saw the mighty Brian Ború surging along in bright sunshine and a fine southerly breeze past Cork Harbour and on to Dunmore East. The wind gradually swung to the west and carried us on a broad reach upriver past Hook Head, Creadon Head and up to Duncannon on the Wexford shore. Sails lowered and furled, we motored gently upriver past Passage East, Ballyhack and Cheekpoint to our home berth on the marina in Waterford City. By 13 July, our circumnavigation of the island of Ireland was completed.

The 2017 sail training season had other adventures in store for the Brian Ború, bringing two further weeks of voyages with trainees from Sail Training Ireland’s Waterford Bursary Scheme, plus a late season three-day voyage from Dublin to Warrenpoint and back. This latter voyage was a charter for The Atlantic Youth Trust, whose director Neil O’Hagan had managed to organise a voyage socially integrating young people from both sides of the border. The BBC series Songs of Praise also spent a day filming the young crew as they sailed aroundngford Lough on the Brian Ború which, when not on voyages around the coast, was kept busy taking groups out on the historical waters of the Waterford Estuary.

Looking back on 2107 and on the year before, it really has been a great privilege to introduce young Irish people to the beauty of our coasts, to the supreme emotion of living and sailing in a powerful traditional vessel, and to the self-discovery which is an automatic result of the sail training experience. In this author’s humble opinion, this type of sail training is about much more that skills learning, it is about giving young people an opportunity to express themselves, discover themselves, and to develop themselves in an atmosphere which removes much of the normal peer group pressure, and which promotes respect for themselves and others. All this in a short five- or six-day voyage which can be really challenging, but which has been shown to change lives, in the very best way.

Sail Training Ireland for Youth Development is working hard to develop bursary schemes around the country, securing funding from port authorities, city and county councils, corporate and many other sources, so that more and more young people can avail of this fantastic experience. Such a positive educational opportunity should definitely be recognised for Government funding.

The current CEO of Sail Training Ireland, Daragh Sheridan, is working tirelessly with his team of Sindy and Judy to organise as many voyages as possible with a range of big and small tall ships for the 2018 season. Please support them in any way you can. Fair winds in 2018, and hopefully you too will get a chance to sail on the mighty Brian Ború.

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