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When Irish mountaineer Frank Nugent hiked to the top of a Greenland ice cap last week, he was shocked to observe the extent of the thaw writes Lorna Siggins.

Nugent, who has been to Greenland before, observed rapidly melting ice and snow on the summit of the Disko island ice cap, which is known as one of the top “ice” destinations in Greenland.

Greenland’s once mile-thick ice sheet began melting in the mid 19th century, but scientists reported late last year in the journal Nature that the rate has accelerated by 50 per cent since the start of the industrial era – and 30 per cent since the 20th century alone.

Nugent has been observing the impact at first hand as a member of the crew of the 17m (56 ft) Ilen, Ireland’s oldest sail trading ketch which set sail for Greenland earlier this summer.

The Ilen, now en route home to Ireland, is one of two Irish yachts which have been north of the Arctic Circle and visiting west Greenland coast communities over the past few weeks.

The 15m aluminium Killary Flyer, skippered by Irish adventurer Jamie Young, set sail from the Killary fjord on the Galway-Mayo border in early June as part of a two-year Dutch-Irish film project to document the impact of climate change.

“It is clear from talking to anyone here that the country is adapting to massive changes environmentally, socially and in their drive for independence,” film-maker/sailor Vincent Monahan of Duck Upon Rock productions, who is on board Killary Flyer, says.

While there is a serious concern, there is also “generally a positive outlook as people look for solutions”, he notes.

Since leaving Ireland on June 1st, the Killary Flyer has sailed well over 3,000 nautical miles, visiting towns, villages, outposts, and fjords up as far north as Disko Bay,” Monahan says.

Highlights included tracking humpback whales in the ice fjord at Illulisat on western Greenland, while the crew also witnessed calving glaciers at the end of the 20 nautical mile-long Evighedsfjord, Monahan says.

“The true highlight was simply the people of Greenland,” Monahan says, and their determination to maintain a strong connection with their natural environment.

Coincidentally, the crews of the Ilen and Killary Flyer met each other in mid-July in the Greenland capital of Nuuk.

The crew of the Killary Flyer were “queuing for a Danish pastry” when some lilting Irish accents began drifting across the canteen as the Ilen crew trickled in”, Monahan recalls.

The Killary Flyer crew were struck by how “immaculately restored” the Ilen, built by round-world sailor Conor O’Brien almost a century ago, looks.

“It was quite special having the two Irish boats together in Greenland side by side,” Monahan says.

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The traditional 56ft Limerick trading ketch Ilen will shortly begin her long return voyage from west Greenland to the Shannon Estuary, following the successful completion of the several strands of research and exploration in the Ilen Project’s Salmons Wake programme writes W M Nixon.

After departing from Ireland at Loop Head through some rough coastal conditions on July 1st, the main section of the Atlantic crossing was relatively smooth, but a local area of distinctly rugged weather made the outward passage round Greenland’s most southerly headland of Cape Farewell a real challenge.

It was successfully put astern through 30 hours of very tough going, and after calling at and interacting with several small communities along the southwest coast while continuing the Salmons Wake research, Ilen arrived safely in the Greenland capital of Nuuk in a favourable if cold and strong southerly wind.

ilen arctic circle2A moment for spiritual thought – aboard Ilen at the Arctic Circle with Brother Anthony Keane of Glenstal Abbey, a Director of the Ilen Project since its inception, reflecting on all that has been achieved. Photo: Deirdre Power

However, since then the Arctic summer has arrived to facilitate the implementation of every aspect of the Project’s objectives which included getting north of the Arctic Circle, and with the arrival of August it is now time to put into action the planned second section of the two-way voyage, the return to Limerick.

Ilen routeIlulissat is the most northerly port reached by Ilen, and it will be the turning point for the Salmons Wake voyage

The most northerly port reached by Ilen and her current location is Ilulissat, and it is there that Project Manager Gary MacMahon – having been Ilen’s skipper for the outward passage and the work along the Greenland coast – has as planned now handed over command for the return voyage to renowned long distance and high latitudes sailor Paddy Barry, who is aboard Ilen for the entire sea-time of the Project.

gary in greenland4Gary Mac Mahon at the wheel of Ilen, absorbing the majesty of the Greenland coast. Photo: Deirdre Power

After some mountaineering in the region, Paddy will shortly be starting progress southward back to Nuuk where he and his shipmates will be joined for the main part of the return voyage by noted traditional sailors Dr Mick Brogan and Jarlarth Cunnane. It will be a busy month of August for Mick Brogan, as first he has to oversee the 40th Anniversary Cruinniu na mBad – the Gathering of the Traditional Boats - at Kinvara from 9th to 11th August.

Gary MacMahon himself has returned to Limerick in recent days to meet business requirements and also to put in hand the long work programe which will be involved in the processing of all the information that has been learned – and is still being learned – in the Salmons Wake project.

paddy barry5 Paddy Barry, one of Ireland’s top voyagers and an expert in traditional craft, will be skippering Ilen for the homeward Transatlantic passage. Photo: Deirdre Power

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In recent podcasts I’ve reported on the Cork Harbour T Boats, a Class now extinct apart from the restored original boat, which I highlighted last week here; the successful revival of the Rankins; the restoration underway of the gaff-cutter Lady Min and followed the marvellous restoration of the Ilen, the last Irish trading ketch, now in Greenland's waters.

That was carried out at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard in Oldcourt, Skibbereen, on the River Ilen. It’s not far from there to Baltimore, where that port, a major sailing location these days, was a major builder of fishing boats and Skinner’s yard well-known.

FREE STATE C1 AT HEGARTYS BOATYARD IN OLD COURTFree State C1 at Hegarty's Boatyard in Oldcourt Photo: Tom MacSweeney

Back at Liam Hegarty’s yard, I came across a boat which had been built at Skinner’s and whose connections are historic to the founding of the Irish Republic.

Built in the style of a sailing boat, it became the first-ever boat to be registered as a fishing boat in County Cork, with a name that is outstanding – FREE STATE C1. So named because administrators of the emergent Irish State in 1922 apparently would not register it in Irish! So the family made their point with the unique name.

This is a story that has to be heard in the telling and was told to me by Eoin Ryan, himself a seafarer, whose family owns the boat that was “a super business venture in her time,” as he put it and also the first fishing boat, with sailing boat lines, built with an engine in place.

Listen to the podcast below

Published in Historic Boats
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While the restored 1926-built 56ft traditional trading ketch Ilen of Limerick may have arrived in the Greenland capital of Nuuk last weekend in harsh weather – albeit with a favourable southerly wind – since then conditions have become much gentler, providing ideal opportunities for local coastal exploration and continuation of the research programme into the migratory patterns of the Atlantic salmon writes W M Nixon.

It is this programme which has given the venture the overall title of Salmons Wake, and the arrival of summery conditions in Greenland has facilitated regular deployment this week of Ilen’s distinctive square sail, emblazoned with the distinctive Salmons Wake logo. Skipper Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project reports on a rewarding three days:

ilen greenland2 An iron coast….even in summery conditions, there’s no doubting the sheer ruggedness of the Greenland coast. Photo: Gary MacMahon

"After a magnificent three day trip to Umanap Surdlua and other adjacent fjords, the Limerick ship Ilen and her crew returned to Nuuk, West Greenland this evening (Wednesday). Umanap Surdlua is a vast Fjord area where we find Greenland's only salmon-spawning river, the Kapisillit, a river which is central to the Ilen Project’s Educational Programme - Salmon's Wake.

All on board are delighted with the achievement and results of visiting the Kapisillit River, and discovering at first hand the challenges it shares for the wild salmon with our very own river, the majestic Shannon. The research results and discoveries made will be presented in due course, on return to Limerick.

The Umanap Surdlua trip, in sheltered waters, also provided some excellent sailing and ship handling conditions. conditions which crew of Ilen crew did not waste, taking the opportunity to set every stitch of sail the ship carries”.

Today (Thursday 25th July) Ilen will be sailing north from Nuuk, and in time will cross the Arctic Circle.

ilen greenland3A well-earned spot of gentle cruising for Ilen’s crew. Despite a very rough rounding of Cape Farewell, Greenland’s most southerly headland, the restored 1926-built ship is looking very well indeed. Photo: Gary MacMahon
ilen greenland4 That famously long Ilen bowsprit, made in the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick and installed on the vessel at Hegarty’s Boatyard in Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, finds an appropriately dramatic background with the Greenland coast. Photo: Gary MacMahon

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After a swift but cold 26-hour run up the Labrador Sea along the southwest coast of Greenland from Paamuit, Limerick’s restored 1926-built 56ft ketch Ilen reached her primary destination, the Greenland capital of Nuuk, late this morning (Friday) writes W M Nixon. The crew were cold and tired but happy as they adjusted to the sensory assault of a busy modern port 19 days after leaving Limerick and taking their Irish departure on the afternoon of Monday July 1st from Loop Head, the northern sentinel of the Shannon Estuary.

With the first major stage of this year’s Salmon Wake voyaging now successfully completed, there will be time to further their studies and research into the migratory routes and methods of the threatened Atlantic salmon, whose returning numbers have fallen alarmingly in recent years on nearly all European rivers, including those in Ireland.

ilen tecla nuuk2 Ilen’s berth this morning in Nuuk was found alongside the hefty Dutch ketch Tecla

ilen tecla3 Big town……after 19 days at sea or calling at very small coastal settlements, Nuuk is definitely “big town"

Published in Ilen
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The restored 56ft 1926-built traditional ketch Ilen lingered in the southwest Greenland port of Paamuit for the past couple of days while a vicious southerly gale blew itself out in the Labrador Sea writes W M Nixon. It was an opportunity to make do and mend on board, while onshore the crew of ten continued in their exploration of Greenland and the lives of the people who live in its more remote small ports. The opportunity was taken to re-stock the ship's stores. Ten hungry sailors can get through a prodigious amount of food, though unfortunately, it was impossible to find a local supply of potatoes to match their very best Irish spuds put aboard in Limerick, which the ship’s company had finished in a celebratory feast once Greenland waters were reached.

ilen irish potatoes2The Last Supper (of Irish potatoes on Ilen). And very good they were too...

Project Leader Gary Mac Mahon posted his thoughts as Ilen prepared to depart for her main objective on this Salmons Wake Educational Voyage: "It's time to depart the town and harbour of Paamiut. Simply; a sailor's longing for new places grows exponentially to the length of time spent holed-up at port - regardless of its charms.

Nuuk is next, approximately 150nm downwind and north from Paamiut. Today's southeasterly breeze will be at our backs, so all augurs well for a respectable ship’s speed as Ilen pushes onward north.

Yesterday's low cloud and rain has given way to sporadic sunshine, but the Ilen crew remain wrapped up while moving about the deck or bare streets of Paamiut.

Ilen has seen her Gardner engine enjoy a full service this morning - Mantas and Mike were the men for that vital task. Meanwhile, preparations for the coming run to Nuuk continue - food make-ready, rigging work and the stowing of Ilen's tender and outboard. Also, the anchor will see more robust deck lines embrace it, as we anticipate a rolling run north up the Labrador Sea - with decks awash from time to time.

And so, away we go.”

We wish them the best of luck. And in Nuuk, they will find a different world. Most of Greenland’s population lives in this bustling port town of many amenities provided by generous Danish Government support. Apart from hotels and restaurants, it claims to have three night clubs and there are bars where’s the musicianship of Ilen’s crew will be much appreciated, while they in turn - if seeking a total change - may welcome the fact that Nuuk is particularly proud of its 9–hole golf course……

ilen to nuuk3The final leg to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

Published in Ilen
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The restored 1926 Limerick trading ketch Ilen continues to make steady progress on her Salmons Wake voyage to the Arctic writes W M Nixon.

She is now port-hopping along the southwest coast of Greenland towards Nuuk, with the rough conditions experienced for thirty hours in rounding Cape Farewell last Wednesday increasingly just a part of the many and varied experiences being recalled.

Nevertheless, it was a severe test of ship and crew, and Project Leader Gary Mac Mahon wrote:

“The good ship Ilen made a swift westward passage across the magnificent North Atlantic, arriving in fine shape on Southern Greenland. Crucially, a small sailing vessel approaching this region must have in place a flexible if age-old navigational strategy for a purposeful rounding of the great Cape Farwell.

Although thought of as Greenland’s most southerly point, the Cape is actually the majestic south headland of Egger Island, which in turn is the southern island in the Nunap Isua Archipelago. It’s a very windy and watery world which throws up prodigious seas far out to sea - up to seventy nautical miles offshore on all sides of this vast and icy south-projecting Atlantic cape. Bergs and bergy bits are also a sea phenomenon for navigational consideration and pilotage.

hot springs unartoq2While Ilen’s crew were enduring the rough conditions off Cape Farewell, the thought of a relaxing swim and bath in natural hot springs pools on the island of Unartoq was way beyond their dreams. Yet a couple of days later, it came to pass……renowned musician Brendan Begley is lead swimmer.

The confluence of these elemental forces and topographical features makes for a demanding dual process of navigation and seamanship, a high-latitude cape-rounding process which can be expected to extend for up to two long days and nights.

How it unfolded for the Ilen was quite challenging, finding ourselves amid the seas and winds we had hoped to have had the good fortune to avoid. But an expected easing of conditions had not materialised. Yet such is ocean sailing, and one must be prepared - at many levels - for these seaborn happenstance.

The Ilen and her crew held together nicely, and some mid-gale thoughts of heaving-to for sleep and hot food were eventually to subside in balance with the rising confidence with ship and crew. What’s not good with a life on dry biscuits for a days or two…..?.

Not a little of prayer was heard in the dark gale mumblings of Ilen’s crew on that memorable Cape rounding – the most vivid experience so far registered on this Educational Voyage of extraordinary memories and keen anticipation”. 

off nanortalik3New places call – Ilen ready to depart off Nanortalik, where she was first welcomed to Greenland.

With the business of getting Cape Farewell put safely astern, Ilen and her crew have since been getting to know this vast island of Greenland and its isolated but vibrant little communities, making Nanortalik their first port of call.

In their coast passage-making northward, they have found time to visit remote anchorages on a majestic scale under snow-capped mountains, while a call to the island of Unartoq rewarded the crew with a welcome swim in natural hot spring water,

At the little settlement of Qaqortaq they found it was Festival Day for the local kayaks, deceptively basic craft of an ancient yet sophisticated type which, in skilled hands, can endure a remarkable variety of conditions at sea while the task of fishing continues.

As for Ilen herself, progress continues to be good, and she has now reached Paamiut, halfway between Cape Farewell and Nuuk.

Track chart paamiut4Ilen has now reached Paamiut, halfway from Cape Farewell to Nuuk 
vast anchorage5Solitary splendour. At a time when Dublin Bay was packed with boats in the Dun Laoghaire Regatta, Ilen had this vast bay in southwest Greenland entirely to herself. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

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After an arduous voyage of constant fog and one serious storm en route to Greenland, Ireland’s oldest sailing trading ketch Ilen has encountered its first clear evidence of climate change.

“When our skipper, Paddy Barry, was approaching Cape Farewell on Greenland’s southern tip back in 2001, he was met with ice,” crew member and Kerry musician Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich told Afloat by satellite phone.

“We had no such problems, nor have we seen any snow on any hills – Greenland is purely green,” he said. “If anyone doubted climate change’s impacts, they only have to come north.”

Ilen IcebergSeamus O’Byrne (Ilen Skipper Paddy Barry’s secret twin) in Greenland. Ice and snow much is less than it was on Barry's previous visit in 2001 Photo: Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich

The 1200 nautical mile voyage by the Ilen from the Shannon estuary up the west Greenland coast is intended to follow the migratory route of the wild Atlantic salmon. The restored ketch, originally built over 90 years ago by global circumnavigator Conor O’Brien, from Limerick, had proved its worth since it left the Shannon estuary in late June, Ó Beaglaoich says.

Limerick graphic artist Gary McMahon, who spearheads the community project to rebuild the vessel, is on board, along with Barry, Ó Beaglaoich, Mike Grimes, Mantas Seskanskis, James Madigan, Ronan O Caoimh, Mick Ruane, Seamus O’Byrne and Justin McDonagh.

“We had eight to nine days of fog, and we saw neither sun, moon, stars or any other boat, “Ó Beaglaoich recalls. “One of our crew joked we could have been going around in circles, were it not for our navigation.”

“We were about 300 nautical miles off the Greenland coast when we hit a storm, and I think it was probably the worst seas I have ever experienced,” Ó Beaglaoich, who rowed from Ireland to Spain in a Kerry naomhóg, says.

“At one point, Paddy Barry, who is 76 years of age, sat up in his bunk in the middle of the storm, and exclaimed that it was great to be alive,” Ó Beaglaoich says. “My answer was that it was great to be alive, but I’d prefer to be alive somewhere else! “

Ilen Greenland 2

“When we arrived into Cape Farewell, the Inuit people who welcomed us were so kind and compassionate, and I have discovered that music and being at sea are my two favourite things in life,” he said.

Greenland 3 ilen

“The Ilen hasn’t done a voyage like this since it was built by O’Brien in west Cork back in the 1920s and taken to the Falkland Islands, so the ketch really proved its worth,” he said.

The crew will deliver a traditional Limerick Shannon salmon-fishing cot which the Ilen boatbuilding school constructed, as a gift from Limerick city to the people of Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city.

The ultimate destination is Disko Bay, western Greenland’s largest open bay, which has been gradually warming since 1997.

Last month, Irish adventurer Jamie Young set sail for Greenland onboard his 15m aluminium yacht Killary Flyer, as part of a two-year Dutch-Irish film project to document the impact of climate change.

Published in Ilen
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After experiencing every sort of condition from Force 8 winds to near calms, the 56ft 1926-built restored ketch Ilen of Limerick has reached her first port in Greenland to conclude 11 days of Transatlantic ocean voyaging, having successfully negotiated the challenging waters around the majestic Arctic super-island’s southerly headland of Cape Farewell.

As Afloat previously reported, although Cape Farewell and its surrounding coastline is totally barren, Ilen’s crew are now relaxing on Greenland’s southwest coast in the relative comfort of Nanortalik (it means “Place of the Polar Bears”), a port town with 1,337 inhabitants which is Greenland’s most southerly municipality. The next stage of the voyage will be northwards towards the Greenland capital of Nuuk, but for now the fact that the hazards of Cape Farewell have been successfully put astern through difficult conditions, in which the Conor O’Brien trading ketch handled very well, is a matter for celebration by the crew of ten and their many supports in Ireland and worldwide.

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The Limerick ketch Ilen on her Salmons Wake voyage to southwest Greenland had got to within 200-miles of the huge island’s most southerly headland, Cape Farewell, towards midnight last night (Monday). With her speed held back to 6 knots in order to avoid arriving in the region until a local gale has blown itself out through today, her crew are now considering their options, with the inner channel of Prins Christiansund becoming a favoured choice. Reports indicate that this steep-sided Sound - which can provide safe passage inside the many hazards of Cape Farewell – is reasonably clear of ice, proving much safer access to the coast of southwest Greenland and next stage of the voyage, the passage north to Nuuk.

ilen 08 07 19 trackIlen’s position towards midnight last night, slightly over a week after departing seaward past Loop head

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