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Restored Ketch Ilen Reaches the 'Watch This Space' Stage

29th September 2017
In her original form, Ilen’s midships section was entirely taken up by the cargo hold. But now the challenge is to fill this large space with friendly yet seaworthy accommodation to include seven bunks. In her original form, Ilen’s midships section was entirely taken up by the cargo hold. But now the challenge is to fill this large space with friendly yet seaworthy accommodation to include seven bunks.

With the hull of the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen fully restored in Oldcourt near Baltimore, attention has been turning to detailed items of equipment such as the steering system and the stern gear writes W M Nixon. And the “offering up” of the athwartships cathead, which will support the net under the mighty bowsprit as well as other more traditional functions such as lifting the anchor, has continued the migration of shaped wooden parts from the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick to Liam Hegarty and his shipwrights with the hull in West Cork.

first ilen cathead2Ilen’s new cathead (left), and the original one (right) from 1926. The simplification of the design to make do with one spar, instead of the traditional two at an angle, might have been Conor O’Brien’s own idea. Photo (left) Gary MacMahon

ilen cathead3The new cathead is athwartships, forward of the jaunty little foredeck hatch which originally provided access to the cramped crew accommodation in the eyes of the ship. Photo Gary MacMahon
As the historic photo taken from aloft of Ilen’s foredeck in her original form shows, the simplified cathead was one athwartships spar, whereas in larger vessels it could be two spars, one each side, and angled at about 45 degrees to the fore-and-aft line. In Ilen’s case, it was long enough to help in the business of keeping the bowsprit in place, while maximizing the amount of clear space on the foredeck and over the rail.

Overall, attention is now also well focused on working out a friendly layout in the capacious accommodation. Originally, in her days as the freight vessel in the Falkland Islands, the best part of Ilen’s roomy hull amidships was taken up with the cargo hold. The crew quarters were cramped places, either right forward, or crowded in down aft at the little deckhouse.

ilen wheel4The steering system is introduced to the ship for the first time. Photo Gary MacMahon

sterngear parts5All the hull fittings are in the best marine bronze. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But with the restoration, the deckhouse is enhanced, and though a classic hatchway has been installed right forward, the team have to take decisions on how best to lay out the amidships below-deck area for a vessel which will have to fill several roles

When fully commissioned again, Ilen will be based in Limerick with her programme built around the Shannon Estuary and further afield. But the plan is to have only seven sleeping bunks rather than the twelve which might be possible if she were going to be used only as a sail training vessel.

While the Ilen project may be all about the restoration of a very traditional vessel, doubtless a non-traditional computer will be used to envisage the best possible use of all that lovely space below. And even when CAD facilities have been utilised, the best plan is to make a mock-up before finalising the details, for even the smallest modification of one part of the layout affects the way that everything else falls into place in a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

It’s worth persevering, for a traditionally-styled yet ergonomically friendly and welcoming layout below would make Ilen the little ship that everyone wants to be aboard.

ilen accommodation6An interesting amount of space to be filled. James Madigan of the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick down at Oldcourt in what used to be Ilen’s cargo hold, while behind him is the massive strengthening in the way of the mainmast. And on the left is ship’s dog Luna…… Photo: Gary MacMahon

Published in Ilen Team

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The Ilen is the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships.

Designed by Limerick man Conor O’Brien and built in Baltimore in 1926, she was delivered by Munster men to the Falkland Islands where she served valiantly for seventy years, enduring and enjoying the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties, and Screaming Sixties.

Returned now to Ireland and given a new breath of life, Ilen may be described as the last of Ireland’s timber-built ocean-going sailing ships, yet at a mere 56ft, it is capable of visiting most of the small harbours of Ireland.

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