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John B Kearney's Mavis – Built Ringsend 1925 - Gets Podium Place in Maine in Her First Race Since Restoration

9th August 2021
The Ringsend-built 1925 J B Kearney 38ft yawl Mavis in her prime, winning Skerries Regatta in 1928
The Ringsend-built 1925 J B Kearney 38ft yawl Mavis in her prime, winning Skerries Regatta in 1928 Credit: Courtesy Ronan Beirne

The noted Irish yacht designer and builder John B Kearney (1879-1968) was a real grafter. His day job was as shipwright and later superintendent of the workshops of the Dublin Port & Docks board. But when he decided to build himself a new cruising yawl in late 1923, he set up the building site in a corner of Murphy's Boatyard in Ringsend, and though much of his day job involved building boats, for the next 18 months he spent every spare minute building his new boat without any power tools, and using oil lamps as much of the work was done at night.

She became the Mavis, famous and much-loved on the Irish coast, but in 1956 she was sold to an Irish doctor who almost immediately was offered an attractive posting in America, so Mavis was taken there by Irish Shipping. She has had mixed fortunes over there ever since, but for many years now she has been in the process of being brought back to life as a personal project by traditional shipwright Ron Hawkins of Brooklin in Maine. 

Mavis in 2021, second in last Saturday's Eggemoggin Reach Race out of Brooklin in Maine - her first race since restoration. In time, the sailplan will be completed in traditional materials to match her 1928 appearance.Mavis in 2021, second in last Saturday's Eggemoggin Reach Race out of Brooklin in Maine - her first race since restoration. In time, the sailplan will be completed in traditional materials to match her 1928 appearance. Photo courtesy Denise Pukas

The years have been many because the demand for quality work by traditional shipwrights is very high indeed in Maine, and unlike John Kearney with his set working days, there are times when Ron's skills seem to be on call on a 24/7 basis for a multitude of clients.

But despite having only limited personal resources, he has been determined to do the job in authentic style with sails made in cotton in the traditional manner in order – eventually - to provide Mavis with the wonderful appearance she showed to such stylish effect at Skerries Regatta in 1928.

This has meant that the sailplan – which had six sails in the original straightforward fore-and-aft form – is being re-created in piecemeal style, and she has been sailing initially with a tanned mizzen and staysail, but with a cream cotton mainsail made in Brooklin by Gambell & Hunter with such devotion that it's a work of art, particularly when allied with the new mast and mast hoops made by Ron, with non-synthetic halyards secured to bronze belaying pins of traditional design.

Traditional skills, traditional materials. Ron Hawkins fitting the classic cotton mainsail to mast-hoops he made himself. Note the complete set of traditional bronze belaying pinsTraditional skills, traditional materials. Ron Hawkins fitting the classic cotton mainsail to mast-hoops he made himself. Note the complete set of traditional bronze belaying pins. Photo: Denise Pukas

A topsail which will take a bit of getting used to has also been provided, but forward of the mast, although the jib topsail has been replicated, a jib is still something for the future. But even without it, Mavis has proven to be keen to sail, and last Saturday she had her first race under Ron's command - Brooklin's renowned Eggemoggin Reach Race - in which she finished second.

Nobody can remember when Mavis last raced, so that second in one of Maine's most significant events for the Golden Oldies has been a major step along the voyage to the complete restoration of a remarkable boat, a classic boat whose exceptional speed and sea-kindliness was noted by noted seamen such as Humphrey Barton, founding Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club.

From another era, yet very much of today – the sailmakers' modest label on Mavis's mainsail bag. Photo: Denise PukasFrom another era, yet very much of today – the sailmakers' modest label on Mavis's mainsail bag. Photo: Denise Pukas

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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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.

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