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.
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.
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.
Photos: Deirdre Power, Dermot Lynch and Gary Mac Mahon