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Sprit Sails & Clinker Boats on Lough Erne

12th February 2018
The last island boat builder on Lower Lough Erne was Douglas Tiernan of Owl Island who built his last boats there in the 1960s prior to his death The last island boat builder on Lower Lough Erne was Douglas Tiernan of Owl Island who built his last boats there in the 1960s prior to his death

In the 1800s and into the 1930s, double ended Clinker built boats, yawls, were seen and used on Lower Lough Erne. These historic boats were about 17 or 18 feet in length and about 5 feet wide and were propelled by oars or a Sprit sail writes Fred Ternan of Lough Erne Heritage.

They were very similar to the Drontheim used around the North coast and as far south as Donegal Bay. Drontheims would have been seen by the people from Lough Erne when trading with Ballyshannon and this may have brought about the introduction of a similar boat to Lower Lough Erne, albeit on a smaller scale than the 27–footers used on the sea. There are records in the local papers of Donegal men coming to Lough Erne for rowing races in 1824. The shape of the stem used by some of the builders on Lough Erne and the sail plan was very similar and many of the Lough boats were built using a hog.

Gradually the shape of the yawl changed to a boat with a transom which was a better load carrier and was also a little simpler to build. The Sprit sail continued to be used and clinker boats continued to be built on and around Lough Erne into the 1960s and 1970s when wood was replaced by GRP. The Sprit sail was occasionally used into the 1960s by which time outboard engines had become more reliable. Another reason for its use on the long journeys on Lower Lough Erne was economy.

The moulds he used were retained and recently the first clinker boat built to those moulds since the 1960s, approximately 50 years ago has been built by George and Fred Ternan, cousins of Douglas Tiernan and members of Lough Erne Heritage. Using memories of the build and use of those wooden boats and the moulds, this boat when completed and launched will hopefully be as capable in the waves of the large expanse of Lower Lough Erne as the boats built by Douglas.

sprit sail lough erneAn original Sprit Sail

It will be fitted out with a Sprit sail, originally made from calico and two pairs of oars and these methods of propulsion will be demonstrated on the day of the launch and afterwards. At least five or six clinker boats on Lower Lough Erne were still using the Sprit sail as a method of propulsion in the 1960s. The boats did not require the installation of a rudder as one of the oars was used to steer, being placed in a rowlock positioned in the stern crutch or quarter knee, all in all a very simple method of boat propulsion and steerage.

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