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Limerick Ketch Ilen - Her Work in Greenland Completed – Will Soon be Heading Home for Ireland

1st August 2019
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Summer in Greenland is brief but spectacular – the Limerick ketch Ilen in idyllic conditions off the majestic coast near Nuuk Summer in Greenland is brief but spectacular – the Limerick ketch Ilen in idyllic conditions off the majestic coast near Nuuk Photo: Gary MacMahon

The traditional 56ft Limerick trading ketch Ilen will shortly begin her long return voyage from west Greenland to the Shannon Estuary, following the successful completion of the several strands of research and exploration in the Ilen Project’s Salmons Wake programme writes W M Nixon.

After departing from Ireland at Loop Head through some rough coastal conditions on July 1st, the main section of the Atlantic crossing was relatively smooth, but a local area of distinctly rugged weather made the outward passage round Greenland’s most southerly headland of Cape Farewell a real challenge.

It was successfully put astern through 30 hours of very tough going, and after calling at and interacting with several small communities along the southwest coast while continuing the Salmons Wake research, Ilen arrived safely in the Greenland capital of Nuuk in a favourable if cold and strong southerly wind.

ilen arctic circle2A moment for spiritual thought – aboard Ilen at the Arctic Circle with Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, a Director of the Ilen Project since its inception, reflecting on all that has been achieved. Photo: Deirdre Power

However, since then the Arctic summer has arrived to facilitate the implementation of every aspect of the Project’s objectives which included getting north of the Arctic Circle, and with the arrival of August it is now time to put into action the planned second section of the two-way voyage, the return to Limerick.

Ilen routeIlulissat is the most northerly port reached by Ilen, and it will be the turning point for the Salmons Wake voyage

The most northerly port reached by Ilen and her current location is Ilulissat, and it is there that Project Manager Gary MacMahon – having been Ilen’s skipper for the outward passage and the work along the Greenland coast – has as planned now handed over command for the return voyage to renowned long distance and high latitudes sailor Paddy Barry, who is aboard Ilen for the entire sea-time of the Project.

gary in greenland4Gary Mac Mahon at the wheel of Ilen, absorbing the majesty of the Greenland coast. Photo: Deirdre Power

After some mountaineering in the region, Paddy will shortly be starting progress southward back to Nuuk where he and his shipmates will be joined for the main part of the return voyage by noted traditional sailors Dr Mick Brogan and Jarlarth Cunnane. It will be a busy month of August for Mick Brogan, as first he has to oversee the 40th Anniversary Cruinniu na mBad – the Gathering of the Traditional Boats - at Kinvara from 9th to 11th August.

Gary MacMahon himself has returned to Limerick in recent days to meet business requirements and also to put in hand the long work programe which will be involved in the processing of all the information that has been learned – and is still being learned – in the Salmons Wake project.

paddy barry5 Paddy Barry, one of Ireland’s top voyagers and an expert in traditional craft, will be skippering Ilen for the homeward Transatlantic passage. Photo: Deirdre Power

Published in Ilen
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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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.

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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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