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Danú of Galway's Return to Parkmore Pier

3rd August 2020
Vera and Peter Quinlan-Owens with Lilian and Ruairí on board Danú of Galway after berthing at Parkmore pier, near Kinvara, Co Galway yesterday after 14 months at sea Vera and Peter Quinlan-Owens with Lilian and Ruairí on board Danú of Galway after berthing at Parkmore pier, near Kinvara, Co Galway yesterday after 14 months at sea

When two Galway children set sail with their parents for a circuit of the North Atlantic last summer, little did they know they wouldn’t be homeschooling on their own.

Nor was “pandemic” on the list of potential hazards as Lilian (12) and Ruairí (10) Quinlan-Owens, and their parents Vera and Peter, headed south in heavy winds from Kinvara, Co Galway all of 14 months ago.

Brighter sunshine, a westerly wind and an effervescent welcome greeted the family of four on Monday as they sailed their 13m yacht Danú of Galway into Parkmore several hours before high tide.

To the strains of The Ships are Sailing, played by Josephine Boland and PJ Howell, they threw a line ashore and wiped away a tear or two, in between wide smiles.

Navigating the rain forest on the Maroni river in French Guiana and collecting rock from Dominica island’s famous Boiling Lake in the Caribbean were among highlights recounted by Lilian on deck.

Reaching the Sahara desert before sunrise after a seven-day trek across the Atlas mountains in Morocco, and swimming with sharks, stingrays, eagle rays and other coral reef fish were some of her brother Ruairí’s best memories.

“I did miss my friends, “Lilian said.

When they had to quarantine after the full impact of Covid-19 hit, it was off the small island of Barbuda north of Antigua, where islanders left fresh vegetables and fruit for them on the beach.

They had undergone several quarantines by the time they sailed in yesterday, after a ten-day trip from the Azores north to the Aran islands.

The family had been en route from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to the island of Montserrat when they heard about Covid-19 lockdowns.

At that stage, Danú had taken them to northern Spain, where they walked in the Picos de Europa mountain range, and to Morocco, where they trekked across the Atlas mountains to ride camels in the Sahara desert.

The couple are both scientists, and Vera is a hydrographer for Infomar, the national seabed mapping programme jointly managed by the Marine Institute and Geological Survey Ireland.

Vera, Lilian (12), Ruairí (10) and Peter Quinlan-Owens on their arrival into the Aran islands after 14 months in the Atlantic on their yacht, Danú of Galway. The family arrived home to Kinvara on MondayVera, Lilian (12), Ruairí (10) and Peter Quinlan-Owens on their arrival into the Aran islands after 14 months in the Atlantic on their yacht, Danú of Galway. The family arrived home to Kinvara on Monday Photo: Vera Quinlan-Owens

On passage from the Cape Verde Islands to French Guiana last December, they deployed an Argo float which sinks to 2,000m to collects ocean data for climate change research.

The float had already been signed before departure by classmates of Lilian and Ruairí at Kilcolgan Educate Together primary school, some of whom were on hand for yesterday’s (mon) homecoming.

En route home via the Azores, they had to ration their water and ask for a top-up of fuel from a passing tanker.

After leaving that Portuguese archipelago, Danú was almost 400 nautical miles south of the Irish coast when the family had to “hove to” or take down all the sails, secure the tiller and batten down the hatches as they were hit by 35-knot winds.

“We rode out the conditions over ten hours, and were hit by two “growlers” where a huge wall of water swept over Danú, knocking the rails right down under before she came back up,” Vera Quinlan-Owens said.

“The boat was brilliant, but my heart did flutter a bit – thankfully, the kids slept right through it all,” she said.

They hit another system of force six to seven winds when closer to the Aran Islands, making it impossible to navigate the Gregory sound.

Vera’s father, Fergus and his wife Kay Quinlan on their 12m cutter, Pylades and the Minogue family from Kinvara had sailed out to meet them on Inis Mór.

Participating craft in the “Lambs weekend” cruise in company hosted by Galway Bay Sailing Club also celebrated their adventure.

Yesterday’s final leg home under sail was marked by a large banner held by school friends at Parkmore pier, welcoming the “gallant crew”.

Published in Cruising
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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