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Never Mind the Weather, the Historic Ilen Boat Project Sails On

18th March 2018
Journey’s end – the ketch Ilen’s new spars arrive from Limerick at Oldcourt in West Cork Journey’s end – the ketch Ilen’s new spars arrive from Limerick at Oldcourt in West Cork

Much of Ireland may seem to have endured one bout of meteorological mayhem after another for most of the winter, with this weekend being no exception writes W M Nixon. Yet the Guardian Angel of the Ilen Project has always intervened in a very helpful way when this fascinating two-strand restoration of a 1926-built 56ft ketch needs some gentle weather conditions for everything to go according to plan.

Back at the beginning of January, the world watched and waited with bated breath for suitable tidal conditions and a usable weather window to coincide. This was needed to move the 30-ton vessel from her re-build shed to her fit-out berth in the hyper-crowded circumstances of master shipwright Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt in West Cork.

The winter weather onslaught abated for a day, the complex move was made with even a tiny glimpse of January sunshine to brighten its progress, and then with the historic ship secure in her new shore berth, the weather closed in again with renewed vigour for a week, until it relented sufficiently for a robust deck-tent to be erected to allow work to continue.

The presence of the deck tent meant that when the new masts arrived from the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick for almost immediate stepping, gentle conditions were once again required, as the job of craning them in was in effect being done blind.

Ilen mast move2
Ilen’s new mainmast in daylight for first time in Limerick on Thursday
ilen mast move3
On the ground, the mainmast is big, long and heavy
ilen mast move4
Load her up and away we’ll go…..
ilen mast move5
It may seem like just another load trucking down the highway, but for the people at either end of the journey, this is one very important cargo.

This week, everything that could be done to the masts in the Limerick workshop was completed. And the weather portents indicated that a smoothly-executed transport job, with 200 kilometres of trucking for the spars, would do the trick provided they were on their way from Limerick on Thursday, and everything was in place for the main part of the stepping on Friday.

This may all seem fairly straightforward to those accustomed to major industrial projects with abundant resources and every possible sort of equipment. But the Ilen Project is none of these things. It’s more of a wing-and-a-prayer shoestring operation. Yet despite their very limited resources, Gary MacMahon and Liam Hegarty and their teams at both locations have succeeded in restoring a fine little ship, and one of considerable historic significance, thanks to her links with Conor O’Brien.

ilen mast move6
Inside the tent…..will it fit?
ilen mast move7
Already, the mast is looking as though it belongs……..
ilen mast move8
….and yes, it does fit

And as the photos show, once again as soon as it was needed, the weather served up conditions even gentler than the most optimistic forecasts. The entire mast move from Limerick to West Cork, and the blind stepping, went like clockwork.

The process demanded the participation of 14 individuals, two forklifts, a 45ft foot road trailer, and a crane and a shorter trailer on arrival at the boatyard. Today, Ilen has two new masts, a prodigious bowsprit, and a very happy crew.

ilen mast move9
The two masts in place after everything has gone precisely to plan. And the sun is still shining. What on earth could anyone imagine might have gone wrong?

Photos: Deirdre Power, Dermot Lynch and Gary Mac Mahon

Published in Ilen Team

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