Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Pandemic Preservation Projects Save Sailors' Sanity

11th March 2021
The newly-restored 1969 Nich 43 Hunza being sailed by Andrew Wilkes in Arrecife Harbour in the Canaries
The newly-restored 1969 Nich 43 Hunza being sailed by Andrew Wilkes in Arrecife Harbour in the Canaries Credit: Maire Breathnach

A busy ship, the old saying goes, is a happy ship. And a sailor in enforced idleness can be – at the very least - one decidedly grumpy so-and-so. Thus the multiple limitations of pandemic lockdowns have posed a challenge to people who are only kept happy by having at least one project on the go. But it has taken some ingenuity for normally active out-and-about sailing types to find an absorbing task that enables them to stay within the walls without going up those same walls.

The regulations are often so complex that you have to find a job such as a boat restoration that you can be doing on your own, and preferably within the limits of your own house and grounds. That's no problem if your "house and grounds" happens to be a farm with some handy sheds with spare space and worthwhile headroom. But in today's world, we're often dealing with matchbox houses with postage-stamp gardens, yet with just a little bit more space and a choice of the right project, it's intriguing what can be fitted in.

One of the first out of the box – or rather, into the box - was Simon Knowles of Howth, who normally sails in the hyper-sociable atmosphere of his J/109 Indian. But as the first lockdown closed in exactly a year ago, he took over the task of restoring a very tired Puppeteer 22 which had been donated to Howth YC. With some shoehorn skills he managed to fit the boat into his garden, and after 300 hours of solitary toil, she was looking as good as new, but he was unable to sail her himself, as the summer easing of restrictions was beginning, and it was soon time to take Indian out racing with her full crew bubble.

Puppeteer 22 Nationals 2020 at HowthPuppeteer 22 Nationals 2020 at Howth. The restoration of the winner, the 1978 vintage No 1 (foreground) by Paul McMahon, was accelerated by the enforced focus of lockdown. Photo: Brian Maguire

However, it was another Puppeteer 22 restoration which was rewarded by winning the class Nationals in August. Paul McMahon had been working at bringing the prototype Puppeteer 22 Shiggy-shiggy of 1978 vintage back to life, but the lockdown concentrated attention and the work-rate increased something wonderful, yet even so Puppeteer No 1 was still having bits attached when she made her re-born debut with a killer crew who went on to win the title.

Meanwhile across country in Mayo, the summertime easing of restrictions meant that Jarlath Cunnane could travel to England and measure the Shackleton lifeboat James Caird on permanent display in Dulwich College. Jarlath's lockdown task was in the wellnigh perfect setting of his own boat-building workshop on the inner shores of Clew Bay, where he was creating yet another replica of the James Caird, in this case out of respect for the memory of shipwright Henry McNeish.

McNeish had converted the little open lifeboat into a decked seagoing vessel capable of making Shackleton's famous voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. But despite several replicas being made since it all first happened in 1916, none of the accounts agreed on the James Caird's precise dimensions, so a trip to Dulwich with Mick Brogan was the only answer for putting what was then to become a winter's work properly on track.

Happy in his work. Jarlath Cunnane's lockdown project of building a replica of Shackleton's lifeboat James Caird has been an absorbing taskHappy in his work. Jarlath Cunnane's lockdown project of building a replica of Shackleton's lifeboat James Caird has been an absorbing task

Being under effective house arrest is bad enough, but imagine being caught by COVID in a marina where the authorities insist you can only take exercise on the short piece of main walkway adjacent to your boat? Yet that's what happened to ICC Honorary Editor Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan and her husband Andrew Wilkes with their 64ft gaff cutter Annabel J as they waited in Arrecife in the Canaries for the materials to make a mast repair, and subsequently were then caught up in further lockdowns.

However, within his limited exercise area, Andrew noticed a very tired and apparently abandoned Nich 43 of 1969 vintage called Hunza, which had been Swedish-owned by the time somebody's dream cruise came to an end in Arrecife. For most of us, the thought of taking on a Nich 43 restoration even in ideal working conditions would be beyond expectation, but when you're accustomed to keeping a big beast like Annabel J on the go, a Nich 43 must seem like a handy little knockabout cruiser, and the technicalities of purchase were executed with commendable speed.

With a job in hand, Andrew Wilkes has the focus of a turbo-powered laser beam on steroids. In an email last week, I asked Maire out in the Canaries how things were going with that crazy notion of restoring an abandoned Nich 43 in order to pass the time. The immediate and eloquent answer was a photo of Hunza having her first sail in Wilkes-restored form a couple of days earlier. With a fresh suit of sails, she really will look the business, but even as it is, she looks very crisp indeed.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

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.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Irish Sailing & Boating

Since restrictions began in March 2020, the Government is preparing for a 'controlled and gradual return to sport' and the 2020 sailing fixtures are being tentatively redrafted by yacht clubs, rowing clubs angling and diving clubs across Ireland as the country enters a new phase in dealing with the Coronavirus. The hope is that a COVID-19 restrictions might be eased by May 5th as Sport Ireland has asked national governing bodies for information on the challenges they face. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) everyone has been asked to stay at home. But some people may need to do more than this.

You may need to either:

You do these things to stop other people from getting coronavirus.

Read advice for people in at-risk groups

Read advice about cocooning.

Restricted movements

Everybody in Ireland has been asked to stay at home. You should only go out for a few reasons, such as shopping for food.

But you need to restrict your movements further if you: 

  • live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, but you feel well
  • are a close contact of a confirmed case of coronavirus
  • have returned to Ireland from another country

You need to restrict your movements for at least 14 days.

But if the person you live with has had a test and it is negative, you don't need to wait 14 days. You should still follow the advice for everyone - stay at home as much as possible.

Close contact

This is only a guide but close contact can mean:

  • spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within 2 metres of an infected person
  • living in the same house or shared accommodation as an infected person

How to restrict your movements 

Follow the advice for everybody - stay at home.

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating