The restoration of classic yachts and traditional craft to the recognised international standard is still relatively new in Ireland writes W M Nixon. In fact, it could be argued that the major project in Dunmore East, completed in 2005 on the 1894 G L Watson-designed 37ft cutter Peggy Bawn, is still the only example we have in Ireland of the painstaking and meticulous research and work of the highest quality that is required on a vessel of this size for total authenticity.
The Peggy Bawn project was for maritime historian Hal Sisk, and while Michael Kennedy was the lead shipwright, many specialist talents were involved in creating a widely-admired masterpiece.
Now Hal Sisk is working on a completely different idea, a revival of the legendary Dublin Bay 21 class, the famous Mylne design of 1902-03. But in this case, far from bringing the original and almost-mythical gaff cutter rig with jackyard topsail back to life above a traditionally-constructed hull, he is content to have an attractive gunter-rigged sloop – “American gaff” some would call it – above a new laminated cold-moulded hull which is being built inverted but will, when finished and upright, be fitted on the original ballast keels, thereby maintaining the boat’s continuity of existence, the presence of the true spirit of the ship..
It’s a fascinating and complex project to which we’ll be returning in future postings on Afloat.ie. For now, the first DB 21 to get this treatment is Naneen, originally built in 1905 by Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for T. Cosby Burrowes, a serial boat owner from Cavan who had formerly owned Nance, the 1899 Dublin Bay 25 which was the only DB25 to be built by designer William Fife’s own yard in Fairlie – she still sails in the Mediterranean, now under the name of Iona.
As for Naneen, she was soon under new ownership as Burrowes interests turned elsewhere. She raced with the class in Dublin Bay under the original gaff rig until 1964, and then under the masthead Bermudan sloop rig, which kept these attractive boats going as an active racing class until August 1986.
In that fateful year, the after-effects of Hurricane Charlie in Dun Laoghaire Harbour resulted in their damaged hulls of the Dublin Bay 21s being retrieved and stored in a Wicklow farmyard while everyone worked out various schemes to make good use of this historic flotilla of seven very significant and attractive boats.
Hal Sisk and DB21 “Guardian” Fionan de Barra, after much research, have now developed this moulded hull/simpler rig philosophy which revives the class while retaining its character. And in Steve Morris at Kilrush in County Clare, they have a skilled boat-builder who has already shown with the Shannon cutter Sally O’Keeffe and other projects that he brings very special talents that work well in a wide variety of boat-building challenges.
However, in order to maintain the integrity of the project, the actual design of the Dublin Bay 21 hull had to be agreed to very close limits, far removed from the free-and-easy approach of boat-builders in the early 1900s. For this, they have been able to draw on the highly-trained skills of designer and classics consultant Paul Spooner, who worked with Duncan Walker’s famous Fairlie Restorations company for twenty years, and has seen through some extremely demanding projects thanks to his fully-qualified status as a naval architect and engineer.
Using Paul Spooner’s drawings, the work in Kilrush has been proceeding steadily since late summer, and in recent days a stage had been reached where Paul Spooner’s presence was required on-site in order to finalise some key decisions. But he’s a very busy man, so to optimize his presence here, Hal Sisk linked-up with Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project of Limerick and Baltimore, as the riggers developing the restored sail-plan of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen had also been seeking Paul’s expert advice on their work.
While logistically challenging, it was all just possible in three recent days, and despite freezing damp weather in the west, Paul Spooner put in useful time in Kilrush where Steve Morris’s work is a joy to behold, and then he was transferred to the care of the Ilen team and whisked from Limerick to Baltimore.
There, in The Old Corn Store in Oldcourt Boatyard where Ilen has been re-born, many assembled parts that we’ve seen recently on Afloat.ie being built in the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick has now been fitted in the ship, and here too the Paul Spooner presence brought reassurance that they were working in the right direction.
As for which direction Paul Spooner himself was going, it would have been overly-demanding for any lesser man. But having given advice of gold dust quality to two major restoration projects in Ireland, he then hopped on a plane in Dublin Airport and went to Japan, where he is being consulted on the restoration of a large 1927-vintage Camper & Nicholson ketch. That’s how it is at the leading edge of classic restoration projects.