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New–Look Historic Irish Ketch Ilen Will Speak Volumes of her Developing Educational Role

22nd May 2018
A ship transformed. While she is still very much a serious seagoing proposition, the restored 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen will take to the waters this weekend in Baltimore with her new and positive educational purposes emphasised by a fresh colour scheme and a brighter style A ship transformed. While she is still very much a serious seagoing proposition, the restored 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen will take to the waters this weekend in Baltimore with her new and positive educational purposes emphasised by a fresh colour scheme and a brighter style

The restoration of the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen by Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan and their team in the boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, working in concert with the Gary Mac Mahon-directed Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick, will be moving into the next stage this weekend when the historic vessel makes her debut afloat in her new colours at the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival on Saturday writes W M Nixon.

ilen 1998 dublin bay2Ilen’s workaday appearance as it was for the first 85 years of her life. She is seen here sailing in Dublin Bay in 1998 after being shipped back to Ireland from her long years as the trading, transport and passenger-carrying ketch in the Falkland Islands. Photo: W M Nixon

As with many thing to do with boats and ships, the nearer you move towards the completion of a major project, the slower the final precise tasks seem to become. The devil is indeed in the details. But in Oldcourt, as memories of the long winter recede, impressive marine machinery - like the bronze windlass re-created by specialist David Webster - gets installed on the ship to add to her sense of purpose.

ilen windlass3Ilen’s windlass, designed and made by David Webster while being developed from Conor O’Brien’s original drawings, is a work of art in itself. Photo: David Webster

At the stern, where an extra flourish has been given to Ilen’s shapely transom with the gold escutcheon crafted from the sound remains of an original hull timber, wood carver James O’Loughlin of Cobh has been painstakingly creating a classic name and port-of-registry configuration that will elegantly tell everything in properly restrained style to complement the ketch’s new image.

Ilen transom4The gold escutcheon on Ilen’s transom is made from saved sound bits of an original timber which otherwise had to be replaced. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Ilen transom5Now she’s official……wood carver James O’Loughlin of Cobh inscribes the classic lettering for name and port of registry on the transom. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Ilen bowsprit6The bowsprit is so long that its staying has to be seen as supporting an almost-horizontal mast. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

And all those bits and pieces which followers of the Ilen project have seen emerging from workshops in Limerick and elsewhere are now in place to take on their specific tasks as Ilen and her highly individual ketch rig – which manages to be both complex and simple – prepare to test themselves at sea.

ilen chainplates7Details of the classic chainplates, mounted on channels to provide a fair lead for the traditional deadeyes and lanyards supporting the main shrouds. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Some of the bits and pieces have a special resonance for those who have been involved with the Ilen Project from its earliest days. When the mainboom gooseneck was unveiled, its simple functionality projected a beauty all of its own. And as for the final spar to be delivered from Limerick down to Oldcourt, that is something very special indeed, as it is the square-sail yard which will do its work well aloft.

Ideally, it should be as light as possible while providing great strength, so the late and much-missed Theo Rye, expert in all to do with classic and traditional restorals and reconstruction, agreed to design a sweetly tapered hollow spar whose creation seriously tested the developing skills of the Ilen Boat-Building School. But now, every time the square sail is up and drawing, Ilen’s crew will fondly remember the many kindnesses of Theo Rye.

ilen gooseneck8Effective functional simplicity – Ilen’s mainboom gooseneck. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

ilen squaresail yard91An eloquent testimonial to the design skills of the late Theo Rye – creating Ilen’s tapered and hollow squaresail yard tested the skills of the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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