The complex project of restoring the Alfred Mylne-designed Dublin Bay 21 class – which first raced in 1903 and ceased racing in 1986 – has been in hiatus during the Lockdown. But now Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra have the good news that work has resumed on their Grand Design, with Steve Morris in Kilrush Boatyard moving the 1903-built Garavogue into the painting stage.
The first completed restoration was on Naneen – number 6 - apparently because, although not built until 1905, she was the only one actually constructed in Dun Laoghaire, the builder being James Clancy. The relatively small yacht-building industry of Kingstown - as it then was - had been too busy with adding boats to the Dublin Bay 25 Class to find the space or time for the first five of the new DB21s, of which three were initially built by Hollwey in Ringsend in Dublin, while James Kelly in Portrush on the north coast built two.
Naneen emerged from Dun Laoghaire in 1905, while the final boat in the Dublin Bay group - Geraldine No 7 – was another one from Hollwey, this time in 1908. Whatever about their year of origin, they all looked equally sad lying together in storage in a farmyard in County Wicklow for three decades, so when the miraculous revival finally began, there was a certain logic to start with the most quintessentially Dun Laoghaire boat of all.
It was a major breakthrough when, down at Kilrush, the beautifully re-built Naneen went afloat in September 2019 for the first time since 1986. And it was even more special when some freakishly good weather in early December enabled her to take her first sunlit sail in the Shannon Estuary.
The thinking behind it all is that they’re reviving a class every bit as much as much as they’re re-building individual boats, which means that some aspects of the original design – not least the labour-intensive gaff cutter rigs - have been modified to make the DB21s of 2020 more user-friendly, with reduced maintenance demands. But with a class of only seven boats, one of the features of the DB21s in their original form was that every boat was able to have a different and distinctive colour, and this is being repeated in the re-born flotilla.
With Naneen it was a case of replicating a particular shade of yellow with a hint of green, and it looked a perfect finish as she sailed along inside Scattery Island in December. But with Garavogue No 4 - perhaps the most renowned of all the DB21s through her association with the family of Patrick Campbell the writer – the real challenge has come, as she was always black, which would be the most unforgiving colour of all in revealing any blemishes in the hull of what is still essentially a hand-built boat, albeit with a multi-skin epoxy resinated hull.
So it says much for the Steve Morris approach that, in resuming work in Kilrush, instead of taking on an easy task to get thing moving again, he went straight head-on into the challenge of giving Garavoge three coats of flawless black enamel. They say that striving for perfection is the enemy of the good, but if that’s the case, then this is very, very good unto what looks rather like perfection.
It is hoped that Naneen and Garavogue will both be sailing off Kilrush in July, and then their second debut in Dublin Bay will be in August, while work will be progressing back in Kilrush on Estelle (No 3) and Oola (No 5), with the prospect of four re-built boats forming the nucleus of the re-born class in Dublin Bay in 2021.