These days, it’s reckoned that chainplates – those vital fittings that attach a sailing boat’s standing rigging to her hull – should be wellnigh invisible writes W M Nixon. Indeed, when you look at some of the latest products of the French marine industry such as Paul O’Higgins’ 2017 Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race winner, the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, the chainplates looks to be so small that you wonder if there isn’t some large hidden structure within to carry the real load.
But modern boat-building in carbon and composites has become so clever and weight-conscious that everything in a new boat is doing at least three things at once. Innovative designers find ways of carrying the loads on sections which also serve as part of the accommodation layout, while hiding the fundamental nature of the real work being done.
However, when the 56ft ketch Ilen was being built by Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights in Baltimore back in 1926, the function of the simple wrought steel chainplates was to transfer the load as visibly as possible over a significant section of the hull, with the chainplates uncompromisingly attached externally to minimise the chance of leaks.
Yacht builders naturally inclined to have their chainplates fitted internally, as that looked so much neater. But Ilen was of a traditional no-nonsense concept, and far from making the chainplates something to be invisible, the blacksmith of Baltimore crafted them to be simple and highly visible works of art.
Yet their seeming simplicity is itself a blind. The chainplates come up over timber channels which guide their load-carrying section clear – though only just – of the bulwarks. It all has to be worked to a very fine tolerance, as Liam Hegarty and his team discovered in recent days in the Old Cornstore at Oldcourt where Ilen’s restoration is shaping up, and the new chainplates – made this time round by specialist Colin Frake – have been fitted in a painstaking process.
Definitely not a job to be rushed. You get only one chance of marrying the chainplates, channels and hull to perfection.