Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Bray's Droleen Dinghy Will Sail Again from Jurassic Coast Boat-Building School

30th September 2020
 Floating on air…..the new 12ft Bray Droleen, built to a design of 1896, is of a remarkably powerful shape - with 6ft beam, her width is half of her length Floating on air…..the new 12ft Bray Droleen, built to a design of 1896, is of a remarkably powerful shape - with 6ft beam, her width is half of her length

When small boat sailing enthusiast W Ogilvy of Bray in County Wicklow persuaded seven of his friends to join him in 1896 in creating a new 12ft sailing dinghy class to his own design for local beach use, even the most casual observer could see that the eight Droleens ("Wrens") that resulted diverged significantly from the world-pioneering Water Wag One-Design dinghies.

The Water Wags had first made their appearance nine years previously a couple of miles to the north, sailing off the beach at Shankill. But by the time the Droleens were having their first full season in 1897, the Wags had long since moved their focus to Kingstown Harbour, where by this time they were numbered in the dozens.

The nearest they now got to Bray was an annual picnic cruise to Dalkey Island. Yet for those who had an opportunity to compare each boat type, it looked as though Ogilvy had set out to create a boat as different as possible from that specified by the Wags' founding father, Ben Middleton.

Water Wag pioneers launching off Shankill BeachHang on to your hats, we have lift-off – Water Wag pioneers launching off Shankill Beach. Photo courtesy Vincent Delany

Middleton's original Water Wag was a fairly slim double-ender some 13ft long, with a beam of 4ft 10ins, and stern quarters so narrow that the helmsman tended to locate amidships. The new Droleens were slightly shorter at only 12ft long, but with an extraordinary beam of half that, their hull volume may well have been twice as much as the Water Wags. And the Droleen's remarkable width of 6ft is put into further perspective when it's realized that the International 12, a transom-sterned design of 1913 still popular in many places and recently revived as a class in Dun Laoghaire, makes do with a beam of 4ft 8ins.

Droleens on the beach in Bray"Broad in front, and broad behind…." Droleens on the beach in Bray

Ogilvy had said that he wanted to create a roomy and robust boat that would be well able for launching from the beach at Bray, which reputedly was occasionally prone to be even rougher than Shankill. Maybe so, but a beach-kept boat has to think in terms of retrieval as much as launching, and it could well be that during their brief sojourn in Shankill, the pointed stern of the Water Wags was a more manageable proposition in surf when being brought hurriedly ashore, whereas the broad transom of the Droleens was just asking to have breaking waves crash very wetly against and over it.

Once out at sea, however, the Droleen was in a league of her own for spaciousness and comfort, so much so that the one photo we have of a Droleen sailing shows the helmsman to be luxuriating right aft in such comfort that he is utterly destroying the competitive sailing trim of the boat. Perhaps when racing they did a little more to get crew weight amidships and lift the transom clear of the water. But as no record exists of there ever having been a match between a Wag and a Droleen, we can only guess that the Wag's austere imposition of optimised crew location would have provided a superior performance.

The Droleen's roomy shape provided too much temptation for the helmsman to luxuriate aft in comfortThe Droleen's roomy shape provided too much temptation for the helmsman to luxuriate aft in comfort

 the original 1887 Water WagsBy contrast with the Droleens, the original 1887 Water Wags provided so little space down aft that the crew were obliged to be amidships in the optimum racing position.

As it is, Droleen numbers never got above eight boats, but they certainly had local racing until World War I came along in 1914. Yet although the class became only a memory after that, some of the boats were still around to remind people of their existence. And the plans had survived in a couple of ancient publications, such that when local sailing in Bray received a boost with the formation of Bray Sailing Club in 1958, there were those who suggested it would be strengthened by reviving the long gone Droleens.

The suggestion was reinforced by the fact that the "new" club's selection of trophies soon included an antique engraved silver ice bucket called the Droleen Cup which someone had retrieved from the back of a cabinet or attic. But despite that, when Frank de Groot and a couple of friends started pushing the Droleen idea with some seriousness as the 21st Century got under way, the club felt it was in no position to get financially involved, and it became a voluntary group effort, with two boats being built by Frank and his friends with a view to community use.

Sadly Frank died in 2014, but though he'd seen the first boat afloat with a suit of sails gallantly provided by the local fabric shop, the spirit had gone out of the project despite the group's best efforts, and the two Bray-based Droleens are now moth-balled.

One of the Droleens built by the late Frank de GrootOne of the Droleens built by the late Frank de Groot and his group sailing off Bray in 2014. The sails had been provided by the local fabric shop

Yet the efforts of Frank de Groot and his friends were noticed in other places, and the design of the Bray Droleens became a source of interest. That said, the unusual boat was so unlike all other Irish sailing dinghies in its extremely beamy form that it began to be known for convenience as the Droleen Beetle Cat. But as the first Beetle Cat didn't appear in America until 1921, this was a bit unfair – Ogilvy's Droleen design may have owed something to early American cat boats, but it's brimful of his own ideas.

Jim Horgan of Furbo in Galway in the workshop with his "Droleen Beetle Cat"Jim Horgan of Furbo in Galway in the workshop with his "Droleen Beetle Cat". Photo: W M Nixon

Be that as it may, that busy boat-building teacher of Connemara, Jim Horgan of Furbo, included modified versions of the plans in his range, as he reckoned the Droleen's shape provided useful power for sailing, together with welcome stability when being used as a workboat. In other words, the Droleen is versatile, and this – in addition to its classic clinker construction – is what attracted retired schoolteacher Michael Weed of Gweedore in Donegal as he sought a challenging project to take up with a boat-building school.

Jim Horgan's Droleen demonstrating the sail-carrying capacity of this beamy boatSail power. Jim Horgan's Droleen demonstrating the sail-carrying capacity of this beamy boat. Photo: Caroline Walsh

He is a Murray of Inisbofin on his mother's side, and grew up on that enchanted island of West Galway from the age of two until mainland boarding school took him away from the island during the winters from the age of 13. Like all islanders, Michael is a man of many skills, but after a working life as a teacher with retirement to Donegal with his Gweedore wife Fionnuala Bonner, he felt it was time to learn clinker boat-building, a skill which is notably absent in Connemara and its islands.

While boat-building courses are on offer in Ireland, there may be too many distractions, whereas the breadth and depth of experience available at the 1997-founded Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis in the middle of the south of England's Jurassic Coast provided a 40-week course of almost monastic dedication.

There, the system is that a year's class is put together from 18 applicants, and each student brings along the boat design (under 16ft) which he or she hopes to be taught to build in a very hands-on tuitional style.

Beginnings. Somewhere in there is a 12-footer designed in Bray in 1896.Beginnings. Somewhere in there is a 12-footer designed in Bray in 1896.

But it's a tough selection process, for only six boats are going to be built. That's where Michael found himself on a winner with the Bray Droleen, as they'd never seen anything quite like it, yet were always especially keen for classic clinker construction. Thus the Droleen was one of the six chosen in a semi-democratic process among staff and trainees, and she started to take shape with the combined efforts of an international trainee workforce, for in addition to the man from Donegal there were hopeful tyro boatbuilders from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and the Philippines in addition to all parts of England.

The Droleen takes shape in an ideal environment for learning about clinker boat-buildingThe Droleen takes shape in an ideal environment for learning about clinker boat-building

The halfway stage in the fitting of the ribs is reached The halfway stage in the fitting of the ribs is reached

The photos tell us of the progress on a project which has been interrupted by the pandemic, yet despite lost time has drawn to a successful conclusion thanks to arduous 12-hour working days in recent weeks. Traditionally, the launching of each year's production is a mid-August maritime mini-festival in Lyme Regis. But in these difficult times, the 2020 launching will be a quiet affair at 8 o'clock on the morning tide this Thursday (October 1st), with only those directly involved taking part.

The beaminess of the Droleen is most evident from asternThe beaminess of the Droleen is most evident from astern

We have a boat…..with six very different boats being built together by 18 trainees, the cross-fertilisation of ideas is an essential part of the programmeWe have a boat…..with six very different boats being built together by 18 trainees, the cross-fertilisation of ideas is an essential part of the programme

The Jurassic Coast Donegal Bray Droleen will be setting a classic tanned sail in traditional Connemara style, which will make her even more exotic in a very eclectic flotilla of new-built boats. And as to what you do after a job like this, it seems to be something similar only different - Michael Weed now has it in mind to learn how to build an Achill currach.

The sweet harmony of a classic clinker-built boat as she is coated  her paint and varnishThe sweet harmony of a classic clinker-built boat as she is coated in her paint and varnish

Published in Historic Boats
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating