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Historic Ketch Ilen Takes her Departure from Greenland, Bound for Ireland & Limerick

26th August 2019
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The 56ft 1926-built Ilen setting her full traditional rig off the rugged coast of Greenland The 56ft 1926-built Ilen setting her full traditional rig off the rugged coast of Greenland

Limerick’s restored 56ft Conor O’Brien-designed 1926-built traditionally-rigged trading ketch Ilen emerged yesteray evening (Sunday) from the eastern end of Prince Christian Sound to start her passage back to Ireland writes W M Nixon. The magnificent Sound - noted for its dramatic scenery - leads inside the archipelago of steep islands which culminate in Greenland’s most southerly headland of Cape Farewell. By negotiating it safely, the crew of Ilen - under the command of Paddy Barry with traditional west of Ireland boat sailors Jarlath Cunnane and Dr Mick Brogan added to the strength for the return voyage - have brought themselves within 12000 miles of Loop Head and a homecoming in the Shannon Estuary.

While coast-hopping south from the Greenland capital of Nuuk, Ilen’s home-coming crew have learned more about the ship’s handling characteristics, and a favourable wind through some channels has demonstrated how effectively the square-sail – complete with its Salmons Wake logo highlighting the central theme of the voyage – can be conveniently deployed on its own when dead-running, thereby avoiding the challenges of using the heavily-boomed mainsail with its hazards when gybing in stronger and often gusty winds.

squaresail in sunshine2 Running free without the hassle of gybing a heavy-boomed mainsail – Ilen heads comfortably under square-sail into a Greenland channel, Jarlath Cunnane on right.

The crew have taken the opportunity to avail of natural hot spring baths when they’ve been anchored near one, while every option has been taken to get the vessel in compact ocean-going condition and add to ship’s stores to ensure a well-fed homeward passage. The forecast for the coming days in the area of the North Atlantic where Ilen will be voyaging is currently looking quite favourable in terms of wind directions and strength, and the ship and her crew’s many followers worldwide wish her Bon Voyage.

ilen swim pool3 The cleanest clean they’ve ever been……..Ilen’s crew making good use of one of Greenland’s natural hot spring pools. Photo: Mantas Seskauskis

Published in Ilen
WM Nixon

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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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