When the 1937-vintage Tyrrell of Arklow-built 43ft gaff ketch Maybird (Darryl Hughes) finally crossed the line at Wicklow last week to record the longest-ever time for a Volvo Round Ireland Race, little did her crew of eight expect that their unique achievement would bring them popular fame writes W M Nixon.
But the fact that they kept gamely battling on against a wide variety of difficult sailing conditions, which had made the 704 miles course very challenging for even the most modern racing machines, gave the Maybird finish a special appeal. During the race, as the newer faster boats slipped away, Maybird was soon sailing a challenge of her own. Where the leaders had fair winds, she eventually found calm or headwinds. Where they’d had strong winds, by the time Maybird got there, conditions had become light – particularly off the West Coast, putting frustration amidst all the extra difficulties of sailing the Atlantic.
But Maybird’s crew of Noeleen Hurley, Darryl Hughes, Michael Clear and Eoin Quinn in what became known as the Tyrrell Watch, and Irene Reidy, Liam Quinn, Paul Carroll and Pete Brennan in the Asgard Watch – they just kept going, and took it as it came, fair wind or foul, calm or strong.
The distinctive blue mizzen staysail – the lightest sail, in the ship – was up and down so many times that owner Darryl Hughes, who personally Project Managed the Maybird Restoration in 1909-1911, reckons that if he got €1 for every time it was set or stowed, he could buy a whole new set of sails. They also had plenty of work to use the floater set forward of the mainmast. But the real progress was made when Maybird was lucky enough to experience a good reaching breeze. She burned off the miles in style.
Shipboard routine set in. As anyone who has ever been aboard Maybird will attest, normally she is the very essence of style and tidiness below. But with eight people to be fed and slept, sometimes life became quite basic, but they fed well and as they settled down, slept well too when off watch.
And as they gradually ticked off the major headlands and getting back to Wicklow became a realisable dream, spirits continued to rise and they found a splendid and sunny fair wind from the northeast to sweep them towards the finish, coming into the most hospitable port of Wicklow town to find that the entire Round Ireland Race Committee, many WSC member, and an additional host of family and well-wishers, were all there to greet them.
As the reality of what had been achieved began to be fully realised, the celebrations and acknowledgement came thick and fast. Maybird is the oldest boat and the only gaff-rigged vessel ever to complete the Round Ireland course. And as she also completed the Fastnet Race in 2011, she has now registered a remarkable double.
Very soon word came that Pat the Postie, Wicklow’s waterfront artist who provides a painting of every visiting boat of special significance on the pier wall, was adding Maybird to the collection. And meanwhile, Arklow Sailing Club, based in Maybird’s birthplace and the provider of half of her Round Ireland crew, has been putting together a programme of celebration which gets underway this weekend.
Maybird’s achievement could not have been more timely, as the Tyrrell of Arklow Archives – collected by the late Michael Tyrrell – are currently being scanned in UCD for Criostoir Mac Carthaigh, Director of the Irish Folklore Commission, with the encouragement of maritime historian Hal Sisk.
"There’ll be the mother of all celebratory parties in Arklow Sailing Club"
This new focus on Arklow’s maritime traditions will be highlighted by Maybird’s time in the south Wicklow port next week. She’ll be in Arklow from Monday, July 23rd to Thursday, July 26th, and in addition to providing time for visitors, she’ll be taking Sea Scouts and other junior groups out sailing. But the highlight of the week will be on the evening of Wednesday, July 25th, when she’ll sail with the Arklow SC fleet in their weekly evening race, and afterwards, there’ll be the mother of all celebratory parties in the ASC clubhouse from 7.30pm onwards, when all will be welcome.
For those members of Maybird’s crew who were thinking that everything - the race completed and the celebrations planned - all seemed just too good to be true, this week’s Wicklow People – published on Wednesday – gives a big spread to the story, giving it added reality. And the true story is that Maybird and all the great seafaring and boat-building traditions of Arklow are indeed coming home.