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Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

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Displaying items by tag: Historic Boats

“There was a lot of work, hull planking, fitting the stem post, caulking, filling, fairing, sanding, priming and painting. We lost over two years on the project due to Covid and this old girl was in a worse condition than we initially realised. It was a big undertaking for us but we have got there.”

So say the members of Allihies Men’s Shed on the western tip of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, who will launch the ‘Dursey Clipper’ this weekend.

It is a seine boat, sixty to seventy years old, which had lain unused for about eleven years on nearby Dursey Island. It was given to them by the oldest resident of the island, Jimmy Harrington, who will be 81 years old next month.

Dursey is the island which made headlines earlier this year when Ireland’s only cable car service there had to be halted for maintenance works. This led to controversy as the island had two permanent residents and farms owned by mainland residents. After discussion, the cable car was replaced by a State-funded ferry.

Allihies Men’s Shed is a strong part of the Beara community. From its maritime tradition, former fishermen are among its members.

Putting the final touches to the Dursey Clipper Seine Boat in the Allihies mens shed in West CorkPutting the final touches to the Dursey Clipper Seine Boat in the Allihies mens shed on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork

“We were looking for a project and the boat was given to us. We have members who are former fishermen and were delighted to get it,” David Dudley of the Shed told me on my maritime programme/podcast, Maritime Ireland. “Seine boats were used extensively around West Cork for netting, potting and other traditional fishing activities.

The boats would have been up to 27 feet long. This one is shorter at 18 feet. Inshore fishing was strong when they were in use. Herring and mackerel were caught.”

Historical records describe “huge shoals of pilchards that came to the comparatively warm, sheltered waters of West Cork islands during the summer months. There were curing stations in villages to prepare the fish for sale. There was a lot of employment in a vibrant fishing industry and there could be two boats using a seine net, such were the catches.”

Painted in blue with a topside broad, black line. the restored boat is impressive and will be launched this Sunday at 2 pm at a community gathering on Garnish Pier.

It took a bit of discussion to decide on the name!

“We pondered and mulled over the name for the past month and couldn't agree. Then we whittled it down to a shortlist and put it to a vote. ‘Dursey Clipper’ won out,” David Dudley told me. “All are welcome at the launch.”

Listen to him on the Podcast here.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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Two classic designs with strong Dublin Bay links have been nominated for major prizes in the annual international Classic Boat Awards. Master boat-builder Steve Morris of Kilrush will of course be personally in line for the prize for his work in re-building the Dublin Bay 21 cruiser-racers, originally conceived as a class to Alfred Mylne’s design in 1902. But it is Dublin Bay’s own Fionan de Barra and Hal Sisk who have put together this complex project that currently sees the fourth DB 21 undergoing the process in Kilrush, which involves building a new boat on top of the original lead ballast keel. This fourth re-birth is Geraldine – “the white boat” - for long associated with the Johnston family of Dun Laoghaire.

“Work of international standard” – a recent photo of the Geraldine re-build under way in Kilrush. Photo Steve Morris“Work of international standard” – a recent photo of the Geraldine re-build under way in Kilrush. Photo Steve Morris

However, in the 2022 Classic Boat Awards the Dublin-Bay-to-Scotland links go beyond the DB21/Afred Mylne connection, as the 47ft McGruer of Clynder-designed-and-built yawl Rinamara of 1968 vintage, originally created in response to a detailed brief from Peter Odlum of the Royal Irish YC, is nominated for Best Restoration in a project by Stirling & Sons of Plymouth..

For many years Peter Odlum was a mainstay of the International 8 Metre Cruiser/Racer Class, with his Cruisers Eights Nahmara (1955) and Inishmara (1963). Both were designed and built by McGruer, and both were keenly campaigned in the Clyde, at Dublin Bay regattas, and occasionally in the West Cork regattas.

The restored Rinamara of 1968 vintage. When sailed by first owner Peter Odlum of Dublin Bay, her hull was dark green. Photo: SandemanThe restored Rinamara of 1968 vintage. When sailed by first owner Peter Odlum of Dublin Bay, her hull was dark green. Photo: Sandeman

The Cruiser Eights were around 42ft in overall length. But for his dream cruiser – created after a long racing career which had included the Dublin Bay 21s where he’d campaigned Maureen - the 47ft yawl Rinamara for 1968 gave so much more in comfort and speed, and for many years he cruised her extensively in Europe.

Subsequent owners if anything accelerated the pace, as Rinamara’s CV now includes a global circumnavigation. So if you’re posting a vote for Steve Morris and the DB 21s, you’re also entitled to post one in the separate category which includes Rinamara – let’s hear it for Dublin Bay….

Vote here

Published in Historic Boats

To say that Rob Mason of Milford Haven has an eye for a boat is a bit like saying that the late Vincent O’Brien was quite a good judge of horseflesh. The retired Milford Haven tugboat skipper turned up from southwest Wales at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 with his newly-restored 1897-vintage Alexander Richardson-designed cutter Myfanwy, and this classic’s sweeping lines of elegant double curves, allied to a formidable performance, was a reminder that though the Liverpool-based designer’s most famous boat was the all-conquering Irex of 1884 for John Jameson of Dublin, Myfanwy was the real masterpiece, the unexpected gem of his later years.

She won all hearts in Dublin Bay, and she won the overall champion trophy too, in what was the main celebration of Dun Laoghaire Harbour’s Bicentennial. Not surprisingly, she was soon snapped up by a discerning buyer for the Mediterranean Classics circuit, as Rob already had his eye on another boat which neatly filled the eternal requirement of “a motor-cruiser suitable for a dedicated sailing enthusiast”, and here too there is special Irish interest.

John Jameson’s 88ft Irex RStGYC of 1884 vintage, seen here after winning the Royal Harwich YC regatta in Essex in 1888.John Jameson’s 88ft Irex RStGYC of 1884 vintage, seen here after winning the Royal Harwich YC regatta in Essex in 1888.

Rob Mason’s restored 1897 Richardson design Myfanwy on her way to becoming overall champion at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienRob Mason’s restored 1897 Richardson design Myfanwy on her way to becoming overall champion at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienRob Mason’s restored 1897 Richardson design Myfanwy

He found the 42ft Blue Hills in a place called Hayle on the north coast of Cornwall. Although Hayle is just across the bay from picturesque St Ives, it’s not one of those cute places you’ll see on Rick Stein’s Cornwall-promoting television shows. On the contrary, it’s a nondescript estuary port where boats go to die, and that seemed the future for Blue Hills when Rob and his shipmates rescued her, and road-trailed her the hundreds of miles round to Milford Haven, for she wasn’t fit to attempt the direct crossing of the Bristol Channel.

But after they had her hauled on the foreshore at his house in the sheltered upper reaches of Milford Haven, he was able to confirm his reckoning that most of the boat was directly restorable, although some timber would need renewed. But it was the engine and auxiliary rig and other gear that really needed lengthy attention or replacement, and every job completed was another step towards a new life for a seriously interesting boat with history to match.

Blue Hills in Mulroy Bay in Donegal in 1938. Photo courtesy RCC.Blue Hills in Mulroy Bay in Donegal in 1938. Photo courtesy RCC

Blue Hills was originally created in 1938 by noted fishing boat builder William Weatherhead of Cockenzie on Scotland’s east coast for Frank Gilliland of Derry, who sought a motorised trawler yacht after many years of cruising the 17-ton Mylne-designed McGruer-built sailing ketch Melmore. But as a leading figure in the Royal Naval Reserve, Gilliland only had a year or so of cruising in Donegal and the Hebrides with his new boat before he persuaded the Admiralty that she would be ideal for conversion for use in conveying spies and resistance fighters to Norway and Denmark after World War II broke out in 1939. 

The big tidal range of Milford Haven enabled Blue Hills to be hauled into a drying restoration berth beside Rob Mason’s house where Myfanwy was also given new life. Photo: Andy WhitcherThe big tidal range of Milford Haven enabled Blue Hills to be hauled into a drying restoration berth beside Rob Mason’s house where Myfanwy was also given new life. Photo: Andy Whitcher

Consequently, she spent much of the 1940s back on the east coast of Scotland with all sorts of secret compartments being installed, though whether or not she was ever used on the famous Shetland Bus clandestine route across the North Sea to Norway has never been completely clarified. However, by the time she was decommissioned from Admiralty use, Frank Gilliland was so advanced in years that she went to another owner, and she worked her way south to become a familiar sight on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, eventually assuming semi-houseboat status in Hayle.

But now she is alive again, and while the summer of 2021 saw her afloat and under way for sufficient time to demonstrate her elegant sea-keeping qualities, this current winter has been devoted to completing the many interior jobs which will make her fit for longer passages. With any luck in the summer of 2022, we in Ireland will again be able to see that Rob Mason has a great eye for a boat.

 

A hull so graceful she scarcely disturbs a calm sea

Published in Historic Boats
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Now hear this, all you sailors or rowers of Greencastle Yawls, Dublin Bay Water Wags, Foyle Punts, International 12s, Shannon One Designs, Castlehaven Ettes, Strangford Lough Clippers, Coastal Hobbler Rowing Skiffs, Dublin Bay Mermaids, Mayfly-Fishing Lakeboats, IDRA 14s, Ballyholme Insects, Classic Ramelton Folkboats and any other boats constructed in what our American cousins would more elegantly describe as the lapstrake method, but we know rather prosaically as clinker-built.

That may sound to the totally uninitiated as something you’d put together from the leftovers in the ashtray of that old heroically-polluting kitchen coke stove upon which the Granny was accustomed to burn the Christmas sprouts long before charred vegetables became – for some inscrutable reason – a favoured item of gourmet dining.

Thus the alternative “clench-built” may be a more accurately descriptive if less-used term to describe this boat-building technique. But either way, the news is that those of you who go afloat in craft built in this way are no longer just going for a race or a sail or a bit of leisurely rowing. On the contrary, you will be engaged in Curating an Item of World Heritage.

This is serious stuff, and Ireland is very much involved in it both through our Dublin Viking boat-building links, and through the Greencastle yawls of the north coast, which were based in the “Drontheim Boats” which were built in Trondheim in Norway – it was the furthest-north Norwegian port with ready access to forest timber - and exported to many northwest Europe ports.

The classic McDonald-built Greencastle Yawl James Kelly, owned by Robin Ruddock of Portrush and seen here sailing under sloop rig on Belfast Lough. She is named in honour of the renowned Portrush boatbuilder James Kelly, who built many traditional clinker yawls in addition to yachts for the Howth 17 and Dublin Bay 21 classes. Photo: W M NixonThe classic McDonald-built Greencastle Yawl James Kelly, owned by Robin Ruddock of Portrush and seen here sailing under sloop rig on Belfast Lough. She is named in honour of the renowned Portrush boatbuilder James Kelly, who built many traditional clinker yawls in addition to yachts for the Howth 17 and Dublin Bay 21 classes. Photo: W M Nixon

According to the Press Release from our friends in the Viking Ship Museum of Roskilde in Denmark who led the UNESCO campaign, the official story is that:

“The clinker-built boats of the North – and the traditions associated with them – have now been officially acknowledged by UNESCO as living cultural heritage, which must be safeguarded and preserved for future generations”

So far, so good. But if we go further into the Danish release, that all-embracing term “clinker-built boats of the north” very quickly becomes slightly but significantly re-shaped as “Nordic clinker boats”. It’s true enough up to a point. But the reason we’re so familiar with the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde is because it was they who achieved the re-creation of one of the largest clinker-built boats ever built, the 100ft Viking ship Sea Stallion, which voyaged from Scandinavia for a year-long visit to Dublin in 2007, and picked up awards for our “Sailors of the Month” while they were at it, but that’s another story.

The fact is the original Sea Stallion was actually built in Dublin around 1042, using timber sourced in Glendalough in County Wicklow, which suggests a very real Irish input. Since then, the clinker-built inheritance has been maintained on our north and northwest coasts, where it goes about as far south as Milk Harbour in County Sligo on the West Coast. Meanwhile, on the East and South Coasts, it continued as the preferred method of construction for smaller fishing craft and – in due course – for leisure dinghies and small yachts.

Back where she belongs……the 30 metre Viking ship Sea Stallion on display in Collins Barracks in Dubin in 2007.Back where she belongs……the 30 metre Viking ship Sea Stallion on display in Collins Barracks in Dubin in 2007.

You only have to look at the beautifully-traditional clinker construction of craft like the McDonald of Greencastle-built yawl James Kelly of Portrush, or a Jimmy Furey of Lough Ree-built Shannon One Design, or a West Cork-built Rui Ferreira of Ballydehob Water Wag, to realise that today, some of the best classic clinker-built construction is happening in Ireland.

We may not have invented clinker boat-building, for no one would argue other than that the classic Viking ship is one of mankind’s most remarkable creations. But we can reasonably claim that in awarding global Heritage Recognition to clinker construction, UNESCO is simply catching up with a state of affairs that has existed in Ireland for very many years. Welcome aboard.

Published in Historic Boats

The charity Silvery Light Sailing based in Newry at the head of Carlingford Lough is passionate about the refurbishment of old boats. One of these is now temporarily berthed in Carlingford Marina on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough. She's a 40-foot naval Torpedo Recovery Boat used during World War 11 on Lough Neagh.

Since the Joyce was sold out of Navy service in 1960, the vessel remained in the same ownership. Gerry Brennan, Chairman of Silvery Light Sailing, was alerted to its Lough Neagh connection by National Historic Ships. The Joyce was built in 1943, and according to the National Historic Ships Register, she was designed by the Admiralty and built by Percy M See at Fareham on Portsmouth Harbour on the south coast of England.

The Joyce during WW2 The Joyce during WW2

The Joyce operated on Lough Neagh from 1943 as a retrieval boat, used during test firing of torpedoes. Since The Joyce was decommissioned, it had been a working boat in Weymouth. She has been refurbished by volunteers at Silvery Light’s Community Workshop at the Greenbank Industrial Estate in Newry.

Gerry explains, "The Joyce was used during World War Two on Lough Neagh to retrieve torpedoes made and tested by the torpedo factory. It will go back to Lough Neagh as part of the Heritage Centre, showing the history and heritage of the Lough. We contacted Lough Neagh Partnership and Antrim Newtownabbey Council, who put it to Councillors who agreed that we secure it for inclusion as an exhibit in the Lough Neagh Heritage Centre". He continued;" Torpedoes were manufactured at the factory at Masserene on the site of a former Army barracks on the northeast corner of Lough Neagh, near Antrim town, and then test-fired from a platform on the Lough. The Joyce would recover them when the engine stopped".

Torpedo Platform Lough Neagh Photo: Tripadvisor Torpedo Platform Lough Neagh Photo: Tripadvisor

The Torpedo Platform can be seen from the car park at the Lough Neagh Marina in Antrim. It was constructed early in the Second World War so that the torpedoes from the nearby factory could be tested for accuracy of direction and depth. In addition to the launching platform, there were sleeping quarters, a kitchen and food stores in case of weather conditions prevented personnel from returning to their land base. Today the only 'lodgers' are birds such as the common tern and the cormorant.

The Joyce at the Community WorkshopThe Joyce at the Community Workshop

Silvery Light Sailing arranged the transport logistics from the UK to the workshop where repairs were carried out and the vessel wholly refurbished. She is fitted with the not so standard Kitchen steering gear, which makes her highly manoeuvrable.
Interestingly Torpedo Recovery boats were also built at Bangor Shipyard on Belfast Lough. During the war, the yard was very busy with Admiralty work and maintained a large fleet of patrol boats and trawlers.

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Davaar is the conspicuous island at the entrance to Campbeltown Loch on Scotland's Mull of Kintyre, so it was entirely logical that when the local shipping company began to augment their fleet with steamships, the best-known became the Royal Mail vessel Davaar. She was the pride of the fleet and of Campbeltown, but around midday on June 6th 1895, as the morning's thick fog began to lift, the small but well-established maritime community of Groomsport on the south shore of Belfast Lough looked out beyond the low and rocky little Cockle Island which shelters their boats, and found that they seemed to have acquired Davaar.

Had it been the eponymous island, the improvement to the overall shelter of the drying harbour at Groomsport would have been such that it might have been long-since been developed to outperform nearby Bangor. But it was the ship they'd temporarily acquired, and as sailors themselves, the people of Groomsport were entirely in sympathy with the crew of RMS Davaar, as her passenger list seemed to include just about everyone from Cambeltown, all of them - until the impact - happily involved in a much-heralded one-day community holiday outing across the North Channel to Belfast.

Fortunately, they built ships tough in those days. Though the photo by Robert Welch (later to become renowned as the visual recorder of the building of the Titanic) clearly shows that the overall hull structure of the Davaar was undergoing quite severe stress as the tide ebbed, she survived relatively undamaged, while no-one was injured in any way And subsequently – looking as good as new – she continued in the configuration shown here for many years of service under her popular commander, Captain Thomas Muir, who'd been in charge at Groomsport but was later exonerated by an official enquiry.

In fact, Davaar had been so well built that she finished her long life with a newly-fashionable straight stem and just one funnel. But never again did she come a-visiting at Groomsport.

Published in Historic Boats

Where else in the world would you hear yourself being addressed as Loveen but in Galway - and that's the name of a 96-year-old gleoiteog which is being blessed today (Oct 16) in the Claddagh Basin.

The historic vessel which was built by the Reaneys of Galway’s Spanish Arch was bought from the late Nicky Dolan in 2011 with the support of the former mayor and Labour councillor Niall MacNelis.

It was presented to the Port of Galway Sea Scouts, to help continue the culture and tradition of hooker sailing into the next generation

It has been restored, plank by plank, by expert boatbuilders Coilín Hernon, Ciarán Oliver and a large team from the Galway Hooker Sailing Association (GHSA).

The association, which has over 100 volunteers, began the project in 2019 and continued with careful restrictions through last year’s Covid-19 pandemic.

The Lovely Anne, a late 19th-century gleoiteog, already restored by the GHSA, will join a flotilla today to welcome the Loveen on to the water.

The Port of Galway Sea Scouts and the GHSA are hosting this afternoon’s celebration at Nimmo’s Pier on the Claddagh basin from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Free ticket admission can be obtained on this link here

Published in Historic Boats

American sailing photographer Ben Mendlowitz of Maine has been recording classic and traditional wooden boats and their world with an unerring eye for forty years and more now. Apart from regularly contributing to leading magazines, he has had ten books of peerless nautical colour images published. But of all his works, the collection which enthusiasts most eagerly anticipate and treasure is his wall calendar of specially picturesque wooden boats, each recorded with that extra something that gives it the Mendlowitz touch.

The calendar for 2022 is a real milestone, as it's his 40th, and as with the other 39, the stylish matching words are by Maynard Bray. The boats are many and varied, and back in 2009 one of those featured for immortality within the calendar was Hal Sisk's 1894 cutter Peggy Bawn from Dun Laoghaire, recorded in the unmistakable Mendlowitz evening sunlight style during the Sisk crew's visit to the American classic scene in 2008.

However, in the 40th calendar for 2022, Irish classic boat-building has moved up a notch or two. For although Peggy Bawn was Irish-built by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus, she was designed by G L Watson of Scotland. But the November 2022 calendar star is also featured on the cover, and she is Mavis, the 39ft yawl designed and built by John B Kearney in Dublin in 18 very concentrated months in 1923-25 in a corner of Murphy's Boatyard in Ringsend, working in his spare time by the light of oil lamps with no access to power tools.

"From the moment she was launched, it was clear that Mavis was very special…." Mavis winning Skerries Regatta in 1928 with John B Kearney in command. Photo: Courtesy Ronan Beirne"From the moment she was launched, it was clear that Mavis was very special…." Mavis winning Skerries Regatta in 1928 with John B Kearney in command. Photo: Courtesy Ronan Beirne

From the moment she was launched, it was clear that Mavis was a very special classic. And with her Centenary approaching, classic and traditional boat-builder Ron Hawkins of Brooklin in Maine has somehow carved out enough of his own time to do her justice with a 15-year-restoration which has brought the Mavis spirit back to life.

For in her days of John B Kearney ownership from 1925 until 1952, no regatta on the East Coast of Ireland was complete unless Mavis was present. And her performance as an offshore racer was so impressive that in 1935, Humphrey Barton – the founder in 1954 of the Ocean Cruising Club – applied his engineering and naval architectural skills to analysing the performance of Mavis, and concluded that she sailed above everything that the theories of the day would have expected of her.

John B Kearney (1879-1968) working on the designs of the 57ft Helen of Howth at the age of 83 in 1963. Photo: Tom HutsonJohn B Kearney (1879-1968) working on the designs of the 57ft Helen of Howth at the age of 83 in 1963. Photo: Tom Hutson

That said, there is one unmeasurable aspect of sailing Mavis that Ben Mendlowitz has successfully captured. It's the sheer exuberant joy of being aboard her in a breeze she likes, and it's clear from the photo that in the cockpit, Ron Hawkins and his shipmate Denise Pukas are in a seventh heaven as Mavis gives of her best.

"A lot done, a lot more to do" – Ron Hawkins in the stripped-out Mavis at mid-restoration. Photo: Tim Magennis"A lot done, a lot more to do" – Ron Hawkins in the stripped-out Mavis at mid-restoration. Photo: Tim Magennis

That said, there's a certain sweet sadness in this image, as the boat abeam to weather - the traditional 50ft cutter Vela of 1996 vintage - was designed and sailed for 25 years by Ron's brother, Captain Havilah Hawkins Jnr.

In addition to introducing people to classic sail, Vela did much good work in strengthening the links between sailing and mental health programmes. But now with the passage of the years, she has been sold to Portland, a hundred miles away. This is therefore one of the last times Vela and Mavis were together, so visibly sharing the joy of sailing. Yet there's something that suggests that with Vela now beyond the horizon, Mavis will find an additional and very worthwhile purpose in her remarkable life.

Secret of speed? As Ron Hawkins' restoration of Mavis nears completion, it's clear that her stern - while apparently of canoe form - is in fact a skilfully-disguised and very swift classic counter. Photo: Denise PukasSecret of speed? As Ron Hawkins' restoration of Mavis nears completion, it's clear that her stern - while apparently of canoe form - is in fact a skilfully-disguised and very swift classic counter. Photo: Denise Pukas

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You might well think that trying to stage the annual sailing classics megafest of the Voiles de Saint-Tropez without the usual razzmatazz is about as likely to succeed as an attempt to stage Wagnerian Grand Opera in a low key manner. But what with pandemic restrictions and the recent ferociously destructive and sometimes fatal storms in southeast France and northwest Italy, the mood in the area was distinctly subdued. So as several sailing events have already discovered in this annus horribilis, the best thing to do was to simply quietly stage the event, and then let the photos circulate gently afterwards.

With some quality and very expensively restored classics being sold off this year at knockdown prices, it was feared that the sailing world might have passed Grand Classics peak, something exacerbated by the fact that the vital charter market is barely ticking over, if at all.

après sailing in St TropezWhile the tone was muted, the mood of après sailing in St Trop was still to be found. Photo: Gillles Martin_Raget

But despite that, there was a varied showing at St Trop, the always impressive images capture the flavour of it all, and while the après sailing was discreet and sometimes socially distanced, it was après sailing nevertheless. And in a year starved for the sight of sails, the boats looked lovelier than ever, while those who incline towards something more modern were also well catered for, with the latest designs of Wicklow-based mark Mark Mills featuring as usual at the front of the fleet.

One local claimed that the controlled but undoubted success of the event for the times that are in it was due to some very earnest praying to St Tropez himself on his feast day, September 31st, around which time the Voiles dates were centred.

To those pernickety folk who would point out that there's no such date as September 31st, we can only respond by saying that there's no such holy man as St Tropez either. Nevertheless, you can find his image in positions of veneration on some of the walls around an entertaining little port which more often than not seems itself to be a figment of the imagination.

Back to the classic sailing, and a decent breeze making in from seaward. Photo Gilles Martin-RagetBack to the classic sailing, and a decent breeze making in from seaward. Photo Gilles Martin-Raget

Published in Historic Boats

When we contemplate the 56ft 1926-vintage Limerick ketch Ilen today in her superbly-restored form, making her stylish way along rugged coastlines and across oceans on voyages of cultural and trading significance between places as evocative as Nuuk in West Greenland and Kilronan in the Aran Islands, we tend to forget that for 64 years this Conor O'Brien-designed Baltimore-built ketch worked very hard indeed as an unglamorous yet vital inter-island link in the Falklands archipelago.

In that rugged environment, she was, of course, the inter-island passenger boat. But she could also be relied on to bring urgently-needed supplies - including medicines - to some very remote settlements, and a regular commuter on board was the "travelling schoolteacher", who was the only link to structured education for the children of families running distant island sheep-stations.

With many islands lacking proper quays, the Ilen's punt was an essential part of the sheep delivery routeWith many islands lacking proper quays, the Ilen's punt was an essential part of the sheep delivery route. Here, it's 1974, and Ilen skipper Terry Clifton starts the Seagull outboard while Gerald Halliday (forward) holds Ilen's chain bobstay, and third crew Stephen Clifton finds it is standing room only among the paying passengers. Photo courtesy Janet Jaffray (nee Clifton).

But while the people were important, ultimately the sheep were what it was all about, such that from time to time Ilen Project Director Gary Mac Mahon receives historic photos which underline this aspect of Ilen's working life.

And in case there had been any doubt about it, after Ilen was shipped back to Ireland in November 1997, she spent the winter in the Grand Canal Basin in Dublin being prepared to sail back to Baltimore in the early summer of 1998, a target which was met.

But, as ruefully recalled by Arctic ocean circumnavigator and traditional boat enthusiast Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo, one of the volunteers who worked on Ilen through that winter, the toughest and most necessary job had nothing to do with setting up the rig. On the contrary, it was the removal of the accumulated and impacted evidence of 64 years of ovine occupation from the hold.

Ilen in the Falklands at George Island jetty in 1948Ilen in the Falklands at George Island jetty in 1948, with the punt astern. The photo is by John J Saunders, who was the "Travelling Teacher" among the islands

Ilen as we know her today, stylishly restored and seen here sailing off the coast of Greenland, July 2019Ilen as we know her today, stylishly restored and seen here sailing off the coast of Greenland, July 2019. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Yet being in that hold or on deck was only part of it for the sheep in their travelling around the islands, for many of those islands lacked proper quays. So in getting the sheep ashore, it was often vital to have a handy, robust and seaworthy ship's punt which – like Ilen herself - had to be versatile in moving easily when lightly laden, while still being more than capable when heavily laden with stores and sheep and people, and often all three together.

Ilen and her punt, with a float of kelp drifting past in classic Falklands styleIlen and her punt, with a float of kelp drifting past in classic Falklands style. While the little boat may look ruggedly workaday, there's real functional elegance here, with the transom well clear of the water to allow ease of progress when un-laden, allied to proper load-carrying power

Among the islands of West Cork, traditional punts like this were developed to a high standard, their basic design modified in line with their planned purpose. Thus when Darryl Hughes with the restored Tyrell of Arklow 1937-built 43ft gaff ketch Maybird sought an elegant yacht's tender, he took Maybird to Oldcourt so that boatbuilder Liam Hegarty – the restorer of Ilen – could create a bespoke punt in the classic Hegarty style to fit Maybird's available deck space.

In going to such trouble to get the ideal boat, Darryl Hughes was in a sense following in the footsteps of Erskine Childers back in 1905, when Colin Archer was building Asgard for Erskine & Molly Childers. Childers went into extraordinary detail about the final form they required for Asgard's tender, as he felt that he and Molly would want to sail the 10ft boat on mini-expeditions in remote anchorages.

The resulting little charmer of a boat had such character – judging by the historical photos - that after John Kearon had completed the conservation of Asgard in Collins Barracks, round the world sailor and former dinghy champion Pat Murphy said she needed her dinghy, and he raised funds around Howth so that Larry Archer of Malahide could re-create the Colin Archer dinghy, which now nestles under Asgard herself in the museum.

Molly and Erskine Childers in Asgard's specially-designed 10ft tender.Molly and Erskine Childers in Asgard's specially-designed 10ft tender

The Larry Archer-built replica of the Asgard dinghy nestles under the ship herself in Collins BarracksThe Larry Archer-built replica of the Asgard dinghy nestles under the ship herself in Collins Barracks, as conservationist John Kearon explains how the preservation work was done to a group of cruising enthusiasts. Photo: W M Nixon

But while Asgard and Maybird's dinghies are fairly light little things which wouldn't be expected to carry excessively heavy loads, when Ilen headed south for the Falklands in 1926, it seems that she took with her a classic working version of the West Cork punt, robust yet sweet of line.

As with all working boats, the ultimate secret is in the stern and the basic hull sections. A straight-stem bow is a fairly straightforward design challenge, but the hull sections amidships have to resist the temptation to be completely round – you need a bit of floor for stability – while most importantly of all, the transom has to sit well clear of the water when the boat is lightly laden, as this makes her easy to row at a reasonable speed with just one or two onboard.

In fact, purists would argue that in a rowing dinghy as in a sailing boat, any immersion of the transom when un-laden is a design fault, as it results in a wake like a washing machine when the boat is moving, instead of letting her slip effortlessly along leaving barely a trace.

Ilen's punt gets a brief rest on deck as the mother-ship powers through a typically blustery Falklands dayA very hard-worked little boat. Ilen's punt gets a brief rest on deck as the mother-ship powers through a typically blustery Falklands day in the 1940s.

The most remarkable example of a successful achievement of this is with the traditional Thames sailing barge whose hull, in the final analysis, is simply a rectangular box pointed at the front, but with an exceptionally clever transom at the stern which takes shape as the hull lines rise at an optimum angle.

The Ilen work tender had no need of such sophistication in its lines, but nevertheless, there's a rightness about the way that transom sits clear of the water, the half-moon out of the top telling us that once upon a time it was handled by someone who knew how to scull, even if in later years the preferred means of propulsion was with a vintage Seagull outboard motor.

Either way, those hardy sheep eventually reached their destination, and the Ilen continued to work her way into the hearts of the islanders such that today, the former members of her crew and their descendants, and those who travelled among the islands aboard this versatile ketch, continue to find old photos that remind us and them of her past life, emphasising how remarkable it is that she has been able to take up her current role as Ireland's only example of a former sail trading ketch.

With sheep, stores and people delivered to the islands, Ilen with her punt aboard heads through Falklands SoundHomeward bound. With sheep, stores and people delivered to the islands, Ilen with her punt aboard heads through Falklands Sound under the late Terry Clifton's command. Photo courtesy Janet Jaffrey (nee Clifton).

Published in West Cork
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