The annual Baltimore Wooden boat Festival this weekend (full dates are Friday 26th to Sunday 28th May) provides the perfect setting for a remarkable range of craft of all shapes, sizes and rigs writes W M Nixon. It brings with it all sorts of celebrations and activities afloat and ashore to match an occasionally – indeed, frequently – eccentric gathering of traditional and wooden boat fans.
Scroll down this story to read the full programme below.
In fact, there’s noting quite like it on sea or land anywhere in Ireland, as it’s a heady mixture of craft of types sometimes half as ancient as time itself, testing themselves afloat and against each other, with all of it including the inter-boat banter which is so much part of the sport.
Best of all, the meteorological portents are good - it looks as though it is going to happen in what might well be a weekend of better than reasonably good summer weather, so we can expect the hospitable sea-minded West Cork port to be totally en fete afloat and ashore.
They’ll be coming from all over Ireland and beyond, and a significant presence will be the Ilen Boat Building School from Limerick. Not only is their 57ft ketch Ilen nearing restoration near Baltimore at Oldcourt, but they will be bringing a collection of craft built by trainees in the school, where they also built the deckhouses and spars for the Ilen.
A focus of close attention will be one of the smallest boats of all, the 10ft Valentine Punt, which is assembled from a laser-cut kit based on marine plywood. The basic design used is a 10ft dinghy built in the 1920s in Passage West on Cork Harbour for John Valentine Sisk, and it his grandson, maritime historian Hal Sisk, who vividly remembers what a special pleasure it was to row this elegant yet practical little boat.
Thus he got the idea of making building kits available, using edge-glued (with epoxy) plywood “planks” to emulate the original’s traditional clinker construction, thereby providing a boat which is lighter yet more durable with much less maintenance.
When Hal heard the Ilen people were looking for a dinghy to act as tender for their vessel, he donated one of the kits to the school. And this newest Valentine Punt, which will debut in Baltimore at the weekend, has been built in the Limerick school by Elan Broadley from Donegal.
He had no experience of boatbuilding when he started, yet with patience he has learned as he worked, under instruction when needed. It may have taken 500 hours in all for him to complete the job, but the result is a lovely little boat. Among those there to celebrate with her proud builder at Baltimore this weekend will be his mother down from Donegal, and Hal Sisk, who learned to row in the original boat more than sixty years ago.
So in Baltimore this weekend, the mood in the sunshine will be of nostalgia and anticipation. Soon, the Ilen will launch. And once she is in full commission, the focus will turn to building a re-creation of Conor O’Brien’s famous world-girdling 40ft ketch Saoirse, originally built in Baltimore 95 years ago. Her re-birth comfortably in advance of her Centenary in 2022 is a very worthy target.