Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Displaying items by tag: Historic Boats

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 Ilen
Tagged under

In this time of increasing uncertainty with its frustration of sailing plans, we find reassurance in soothing thoughts of well-restored or new-built classic boats. And traditional vessels in handsome and workmanlike order have the same heartening effect. We've an instinct for properly-used and sensibly-deployed timber in our DNA, for in prehistoric times, it was a significant survival asset. Now, it reminds us of the need for patience, and we find comfort in clichés, not least in the old chestnut that when God made time, he made a lot of it.

For time can be a matter of the greatest importance with the restoration of classics. This month, John Kearney's great Mavis – built in Ringsend in Dublin in 1923-25 - is sailing again in Maine, after a restoration which has lasted very many years. And in so doing, she and those who have brought her back to life remind us of how much has been achieved in recent times to preserve and restore Ireland's historical boats. Perhaps most encouragingly of all, they've been restored not as lifeless museum pieces, but rather as vigorous members of the nation's active fleet, providing inspiring sailing and some excellent racing sport.

It is 1928, Mavis has been completed for three years, and she is seen here with Skipper Kearney in full commandMavis as she will be when her sails have become a complete suit. It is 1928, Mavis has been completed for three years, and she is seen here with Skipper Kearney in full command, sweeping into the finish before an appreciative audience to win Skerries Regatta. For twenty-five years, Skipper Kearney and Mavis were regarded as star turns on Ireland's East Coast, with a formidable record in both inshore and offshore racing. Photo: Courtesy Ronan Beirne

But before we delve into the new life which is being found for wooden one-design classes and other special vessels of very varying vintages, we must pay our respects to John B Kearney, and to Ron Hawkins and Denise Pukas and their friends and helpers in Camden in Maine, who have patiently brought Mavis back to life. They've progressed the work as time and resources become available, for Ron is a master shipwright from a noted maritime family, and his skills are much in demand by others.

In its Dublin way, John B Kearney's Ringsend background superficially seems not to have been so very different, yet his was a life which would have been remarkable by any standards, in any place, at any time. For in the Dublin of its era, this was a life of astonishing achievement against all the odds in a rigidly structured society made even more conservative by a time of global unrest and national upheaval.

Yet here was a largely self-taught young many who was to design many boats – including the Dublin Bay Mermaid in 1932 – who quietly yet steadily progressed with his zest for life undimmed – he was still designing boats in his eighties – while the respect he received in the sailing world was such that he was a Flag Officer of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire – for he had long since moved from Dublin city to Monkstown – for the last 20 years of his life.

John B Kearney, aged 83, at work in 1963 on the plans of his largest yacht, the 53ft Tyrrell of Arklow-built Helen of HowthThe eternal enthusiast. John B Kearney, aged 83, at work in 1963 on the plans of his largest yacht, the 53ft Tyrrell of Arklow-built Helen of Howth

John Breslin Kearney (1879-1967) was born of a longshore family in the heart of Ringsend in Dublin, the eldest of four sons in a small house in Thorncastle Street. The crowded old houses backed onto the foreshore along the River Dodder in a relationship with the muddy inlet which was so intimate that at times of exceptional tidal surges, any ground floor rooms were at risk of flooding.

But at four of the houses, it enabled the back yards to be extended to become the boatyards of Foley, Murphy, Kearney and Smith. Other houses on Thorncastle Street provided space for riverside sail lofts, marine blacksmith workshops, traditional ropeworks, and all the other long-established specialist trades which served the needs of fishing boats, and the small vessels - rowed and sailed - with which the hobblers raced out into Dublin Bay and beyond to provide pilotage services for incoming ships.

And increasingly, as Dublin acquired a growing middle class with the burgeoning wealth of the long Victorian era, the little boatyards along the Dodder also looked after the needs of the boats of the new breed of recreational summer sailors.

The young John Kearney was particularly interested in this aspect of activity at his father's boatyard, where he worked during time away from school. From an early age, he developed a natural ability as a boat and yacht designer, absorbing correspondence courses and testing his skills from 1897 onwards, when he designed and built his first 15ft sailing dinghy, aged just 18.

In adult life, during the day he worked initially as a shipwright in Dublin Port & Docks, but his skills could be so broadly applied that he rose rapidly through the ranks to become involved in the work of many departments, such that by the time of his retiral in 1944, while he was officially the Superintendent of Construction Works, in reality, he was the Harbour Engineer, yet couldn't be so named as he had no university degree.

However, this lack of an official title left him unfazed, for his retirement at the age of 65 meant he could concentrate full-time on his parallel career as a yacht designer, something that was so important to him that when his gravestone was erected in Glasnevin in 1967, it simply stated: John Kearney, Yacht Designer.

John Kearney, in the companionway of MavisThe Skipper – John Kearney, in the companionway of Mavis, keeps an eye on the making breeze in Dun Laoghaire on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1950. Photo: Richard Scott

The restored Mavis at anchor in Maine, September 2020Born again. The restored Mavis at anchor in Maine, September 2020. Photo: Denise Pukas

That he was also a master boatbuilder who had been able to design and build fine yachts in his spare time isn't stated, but over the years he created many, and the 38ft Mavis for himself in 1925 was a masterpiece, with an astonishingly good performance which was such that after racing unsuccessfully against John Kearney and Mavis in a stormy offshore race in the Irish Sea in 1935, Humphrey Barton – who later founded the Ocean Cruising Club in 1954 - was moved to write an article for Yachting World drawing attention to this relatively unsung sailing star from Dublin Bay.

John Kearney's determination to be a full-time yacht designer after his retirement was such that in 1951 he sold Mavis to Paddy O'Keeffe of Bantry, as his yacht design clients expected him to sail part of each season in their new Kearney-designed boats and Mavis wasn't getting the use she deserved. She returned briefly to Dublin Bay in 1956 in the ownership of Desmond Slevin, a ship's doctor who was given a lucrative posting in the US, so he had Mavis shipped across the Atlantic, and she has been New England-based ever since.

She has been both lucky and unlucky in her time in America. Lucky in that there has always been someone who recognised that there was something special in this characterful boat that made her worth preserving. Yet unlucky in that it was never someone with the substantial resources to restore her completely to the classic yacht standards to which John Kearney has so skillfully and painstakingly built her, for such people put their wealth into recognised brands such as Herreshoff, Fife, Sparkman & Stephens, and John Alden.

Ron Hawkins in the stripped-out hull of MavisA lot done, and much more still to do. Ron Hawkins in the stripped-out hull of Mavis. Photo: Tim Magennis

Yet the fates were kind in letting Ron Hawkins see the spark that might be found in Mavis, and many years ago he took her over with the intention restoring her as time and funds became available from his work as a master shipwright. It was bound to be a long time, as the rising enthusiasm for classic and traditional craft kept him busy - sometimes until late into the night - at the waterfront boatyards. But he moved Mavis to a workshop on the outskirts of town and started the long process of stripping her out and gradually bringing her back to John Kearney standards, with the supportive arrival of Denise Pukas boosting his enthusiasm for a quality project which at times looked like it might stretch into infinity.

The restored Mavis, newly-launched in 2015, with Don O'Keeffe (nephew of Paddy O'Keeffe) on the tiller in the cockpit with Denise Pukas, and Ron Hawkins in the inflatableThe restored Mavis, newly-launched in 2015, with Don O'Keeffe (nephew of Paddy O'Keeffe) on the tiller in the cockpit with Denise Pukas, and Ron Hawkins in the inflatable

Mavis awaiting her spars and sailsThe inevitable hiatus. Mavis awaiting her spars and sails

Regular readers of will know that the restored Mavis was finally put in the water in Camden in 2015. Yet with a boat and rig like this, much remained to be done, and always there were the demands of other income-generating projects. Thus it wasn't until the pandemic loomed over the horizon that boatyard work slackened, and there was an unexpected time in the Spring of 2020 to complete the mast and rigging, and get it stepped.

Even when doing it yourself to the extent – as Ron did – of personally making the gaff-boom leather saddle, it's still costly when you're doing it to top Kearney standards, as the best of materials are expected. And though we were receiving photos through the summer of the mast being stepped and dressed, the cryptic attached message said no more than: "Still waiting for the mainsail".

In late summer 2020, the new mainsail finally arrivedIn late summer 2020, the new mainsail finally arrived. Photo: Denise Pukas

Thus it seemed that the Mavis sailplan was being assembled from bits and pieces, whereas a full-blown high-budget project would rely for the final effect on a very complete sailplan, such as Mavis was showing in style at Skerries regatta in 1928.

Be that as it may, early in September, we received an untitled snap showing the mainsail finally in place, other photos arrived showing her taking her first tentative steps under main and jib, and then today's header photo arrived showing Mavis making effortless knots under a slightly eccentric rig derived from several sources, with a high-flying jib which in time may well become the jib topsail in the complete version.

When you've been undertaking a major restoration ashore and afloat with close personal involvement at every stage, it's quite a step from working to actually sailing, which is why in the traditional world there was a clear demarcation between builders and sailors. Thus it has taken a little while to become accustomed to the fact that the Mavis which everyone has known for years as something steady and secure in the workshop, or sitting serenely afloat in the Inner Harbor in Camden, is now a living thing which heels as her sails fill with power, and the sound of the sea chuckles past her easily-driven hull as she lifts to the waves.

But in that lovely Fall weather with which Maine is often blessed, they've been getting about, and a visit across to Eggemoggin Reach saw greetings from legendary photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz and a brief vid and immediate fame on his Instagram page. It tells us much about the easily-driven hull that John Kearney gave Mavis, as he gave her the most subtle set of lines with sweeping sheer and double curves in just about every direction to produce the boat that Humphrey Barton particularly recognised as being at one with the sea. 

Benjamin Mendlowitz's glimpse of Mavis as published on Instagram

This elevation of the restored Mavis into a place in sailing's Hall of Fame is a timely reminder of the many other Irish projects – accelerating in number in recent years – which have paid the proper respect to Ireland's finest classic yachts and traditional boats by restoring them to full seagoing strength.

It's now a long time since Nick Massey began the restoration of the Howth 17s in 1972, a baton since taken up by Ian Malcolm, while across in Dun Laoghaire Hal Sisk was into an early episode of what has now become an epic tale beginning with the tiny Fife cutter Vagrant of 1884 – he restored her for her Centenary in 1984 – while also being involved with reviving the Water Wags, raising the profile of the Bantry Boat, restoring the 1894 Watson 36-footer Peggy Bawn with Michael Kennedy of Dunmore East for international stardom in 2005, and most recently bringing the Dublin Bay 21s back to life with the hugely-talented Steve Morris of Kilrush, a project also involving Dan Mill.

Hal Sisk's 1894-built Peggy Bawn – seen here sailing at Glandore ClassicsHal Sisk's 1894-built Peggy Bawn – seen here sailing at Glandore Classics - set a new standard for authentic restoration in 2005

Other groups had already taken on the very major project of a new life for the Dublin Bay 24s, and while it was a complex scheme which proved painful for some, the innate quality of the original Alfred Mylne design has shone through. Periwinkle is now in pristine restored condition in Dun Laoghaire, Zephyra is nearing re-completion at the ApprenticeShop in Maine (where they're also building a Water Wag), and Arandora is entering a re-build project in St Nazaire where Mike Newmeyer of Skol ar Mor has been commissioned to create a new boat-building school.

But we don't have to go abroad for classic boat-building skills, as Dougal McMahon of Athlone has taken on the mantle of the late Jimmy Furey – legendary builder of Shannon One Designs – and is currently restoring the 1930-built Water Wag Shindilla, a boat with long links to the Falkiner and Collen families, while down in West Cork Rui Ferreira has shown himself on top of the job in building in clinker for the Castlehaven Ette class, the International 12s, and the Water Wags, while being equally adept in putting a new teak deck on the Howth 17 Deilginis.

the Dublin Bay Water Wags currently number 50 registered boats in racing conditionThriving in various forms since their foundation in 1887, the Dublin Bay Water Wags currently number 50 registered boats in racing condition

Nearby, Tiernan Roe has taken on a variety of skilled work and is currently linked to the re-build of the O'Keeffe family's Lady Min (designed and built by Maurice O'Keeffe of Schull in 1902), while round the corner in Oldcourt on the Ilen River above Baltimore, Liam Hegarty is the sure and steady presence who restored the Ilen herself through a time-scale which rivals the re-birth of Mavis, and while as ever he's distracted by urgent work needing doing on fishing boats, the re-build of Conor O'Brien's Saoirse is proceeding steadily in the Top Shed with the hull caulked and the spars currently being made.

Irish craftsmanship sails the Arctic….the Baltimore-built Trading Ketch Ilen of Limerick in Greenland, July 2019.  Photo: Gary Mac MahonIrish craftsmanship sails the Arctic….the Baltimore-built Trading Ketch Ilen of Limerick in Greenland, July 2019. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Conor O'Brien's world-girdling SaoirseThe distinctive shape of Conor O'Brien's world-girdling Saoirse continues to re-emerge at Oldcourt in West Cork, as seen yesterday (September 18th). The poop deck and the familiar main deck and coachroof are taking shape, while the hull has already been caulked. Photo: Paddy Hegarty

Along the south coast beyond Kinsale in Nohoval is Cork Harbour sailing's best-kept secret, Walsh Boat Works, where Jim Walsh creates classic finishes to Chippendale standards for quality craft such as Pat Murphy's charming Colleen 23 Pinkeen and the International Dragon Fafner. The latter is currently on the market for anyone seeking a top entry boat to join that special group of classic Dragons in Glandore which, back in July, helped the great Don Street celebrate his 90th birthday.

The immaculate deck of the restored classic Dragon FafnerHow about that then? The immaculate deck of the restored classic Dragon Fafner as she emerged from Walsh Boatworks of Nohoval. Photo Dan O'Connell

Jim Walsh is also making input into another significant Cork harbour yacht restoration which will see the light of day in due course, but meanwhile, his involvement with Dragons is a reminder that the interest in restoring them is reflected up north, where a secret workshop near Ballyhornan beside the entrance to Strangford Lough has seen the Dragon Skeia superbly restored, and they're now working on a very special bit of Irish Dragon history, the late great Jock Workman's Dalchoolin which is being restored to former glory after her hull and keel were retrieved from two different locations.

legendary International Dragon Class DalchoolinYou wouldn't expect to find worthwhile restoration projects in a shiny showroom – this is the legendary International Dragon Class Dalchoolin being unearthed in multi-purpose premises on the Ards Peninsula in County Down. Photo: James Nixon

Dalchoolin proved to be eminently restorableOn closer examination, Dalchoolin proved to be eminently restorable, and the work is now under way. Photo: James Nixon

This leap from Cork Harbour to Strangford Lough seems to leave the East Coast and Dublin in particular devoid of the classic skills, but they're there in Arklow if you know whom to seek, while in Dublin, there's Larry Archer's impressive record in restoring boats with Ian Malcolm of the Howth 17s and the Water Wags, particularly impressive in that Larry can somehow find a flicker of life in a very damaged boat which others might have been too ready to write off as a total loss, while in Howth Johnny Leonard worked wonders in bringing the Bourke family's L Class Iduna back to better-than-new condition.

The L Class Iduna's restoration by Johnny LeonardThe L Class Iduna's restoration by Johnny Leonard created a little classic glowing with health. Photo: W M Nixon

As for traditional craft, the great Clondalkin-built Galway Hooker Naomh Cronan need skilled work done before she was moved to her new home in Galway city, and the job was done in style in Malahide by Donal Greene whose credentials are unrivalled, as he's from Connemara, he's descended in a long line from natural boatbuilders whose skills he manifests, and yet he has an enviable affinity for working with computers when planning how best to utilise the available amount of timber for a specific job.

Guy & Jackie Kilroy's Marguerite, a Herbert Boyd design built in Malahide in 1896Guy & Jackie Kilroy's Marguerite, a Herbert Boyd design built in Malahide in 1896, is a restoration by Larry Archer

We seem to have a come a long and meandering way, travelling from the first sail in decades by John Kearney's Mavis in her new Maine home, to the skills of Larry Archer and others in putting vigorous new life into classic old boats here in Ireland. But the message is that the skills are available, the enthusiasm is there, and when the current pall over all our lives is lifted, the fleet will be there and ready to sail.

Published in W M Nixon

Not everyone gets the opportunity to restore a boat built by their grandfather, a gem of a boat whose construction started 70 years ago. But then, not everyone has had a professional seafaring and recreational sailing career to match that of Pat Murphy of Glenbrook on Cork Harbour. His working days at sea in his progression towards becoming a Master Mariner involved some very challenging contracts, while his varied sailing career has included many years at the sharp end of the International Dragon Class.

Slipping sweetly along, leaving scarcely any wake – this is classic sailing at its best. Photo: Robert BatemanSlipping sweetly along, leaving scarcely any wake – this is classic sailing at its best. Photo: Robert Bateman

In fact, it's such a fascinating story that we'll be covering it in much greater detail in a proper feature when the evenings have closed in, and the main part of the sailing in this harshly-compressed season has been completed to provide more time and space. But for now, last Sunday provided the opportunity for Robert Bateman to capture some glorious "essence of summer" photos which will be a tonic for everyone during the current spell of decidedly mixed weather in this national mood of anxiety as we deal with the pandemic.

Pinkeen is an Alan Buchanan-designed 23ft Colleen Class, of which three were built for Kinsale in the 1950s, with one of them – Pinkeen for Knolly Stokes of the distinguished Cork city clock-making firm – being built in Kinsale itself by Pat's grandfather, senior boatbuilder John Thuillier. He started the work in 1950, when he was already having a busy year as he was also founding Commodore of Kinsale YC in 1950, but as he happened to be already 80 years old, the boatbuilding was at a quiet pace, and it was 1952 when he had her completed.

Pat Murphy is particularly appreciative of the pleasure of restoring and sailing the boat his grandfather built Happy man. Having had a maritime career which included some very challenging work in distant places, Pat Murphy is particularly appreciative of the pleasure of restoring and sailing the boat his grandfather built. Photo: Robert Bateman

Over the 68 years since, Pinkeen has been here and there, including a stint in Galway. But Pat Murphy was always drawn to her, and when he bought her in 2005, she was back in Cork Harbour and definitely showing her age. He has done some of the restoration work himself and some heavier tasks have been undertaken on a piecemeal basis by professionals.

But in 2018 he got her to Jim Walsh in his international-standard classic boatbuilding and restoration workshops in Nohaval beside that hidden little inlet on the Cork coast between Crosshaven and Oysterhaven, and after Pinkeen had emerged, gleaming in sublime condition, all that was needed was this year's new suit of sails from UK Sailmakers of Crosshaven – also to recognised international classic practice in cream sailcloth – to make the project and the picture complete.

The result is a little boat which truly glows as she sails sweetly along, bringing joy to an exceptional owner-skipper, and great pleasure to the rest of us in a year when such special pleasures are trebly valuable.

The effortless way in which Pinkeen slips cleanly through the water "Leave no trace". The effortless way in which Pinkeen slips cleanly through the water is an example which can be usefully transferred to others areas of activity, while her sweetly-fitting classic-style sails from UK Sailmakers of Crosshaven demonstrate how important it is to get the complete look for the most satisfying and authentic overall result. Photo: Robert Bateman

The complete picture, with a recollection of times past. The elegant new sails from UK Crosshaven Sailmakers include the Colleen Class symbol first promoted in Kinsale in 1952. Photo: Barry Hayes

Published in Historic Boats

In the current wave of revulsion against slavery and its appalling history, no European nation has totally clean hands. For although we might like to think that the huge Caribbean sugar plantations worked by African slaves in the 1800s brought tainted wealth mainly to cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London in Great Britain, with Ireland largely uninvolved, when slavery itself was finally abolished in the British Empire in 1833 (the Slave Trade having been banned since 1807), all the slave owners were generously recompensed for the loss of their “property”, and a number of them proved to have Irish addresses.

Not that slavery was anything new in Ireland. It was an integral part of the ancient Gaelic economy and culture, and after the Vikings had taken over the little settlement of Baile Atha Cliath in the delta marshes of the River Liffey and turned it into the thriving port and trading hub of Dublin, it quickly reached the decidedly dubious peak around 1000AD of being Europe’s largest slave-trading centre. Captive Irish men and women were sold into a life of complete drudgery in every corner of the Viking Empire,  which means that DNA tests can reveal the sometimes significant presence of Irish genes in some remarkably remote places where the longships once prowled.

The 100ft Viking ship Sea StallionThe 100ft Viking ship Sea Stallion may symbolise the freedom of the seas for her rugged crew. But when the original was built in Dublin a thousand years ago of timber from Glendalough, its Norse rulers had made the port the largest slave-trading centre in their widespread empire, and possibly in the entire world

But while the Dublin slave trading of a thousand years ago was on a then-epic scale, it was decidedly modest by comparison with the Transatlantic trade from West Africa from the 1500s onwards, which was started by the Portuguese, the Spaniards and the Dutch, but was then dominated the by the British and turned into people transport – in worse conditions than cattle - on an industrial scale involving millions of human beings.

The perverted ingenuity which went in making the slave ships both efficient and fast meant that the authorities faced an enormous challenge in trying to stamp out the trade after 1807, but once the slavery itself was officially abolished in 1833, those involved in eradicating it were encouraged by having a real chance of reducing the pernicious business. And what they needed more than anything else to continue eradication was fast and nimble warships, for the slaveships – the “blackbirders” - were masterpieces of twisted ingenuity in their superb all round performance and speed, and catching and arresting them required high-speed manoeuvrable sailing warships.

This is where the Earl of Belfast (1797-1883) and his 334-ton brig-rigged “yacht” Waterwitch of 1828 come into the story. Lord Belfast was the heir to the Marquess of Donegall, whose family the Chichesters had done well out of an ancestor, Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1605 to 1615, whose international mercenary experience stood him to good stead in the war-making and conquest aspects of his new official position in Ireland.

In fact, Chichester (whose extended family from North Devon later included pioneer aviator and yacht voyager Francis Chichester) was too successful for his own good in taking over control of vast swatches of south Antrim and East Donegal and other areas, as well as playing a significant role - as the new landowner and charter-holder of Belfast - in turning it from a tiny lough-head village into the makings of a major port, and a commercial and industrial centre of eventually global significance.

Arthur Chichester was effectively the founder of BelfastArthur Chichester was effectively the founder of Belfast, but though he was successful as a warlike land-grabber, he was not so good at land management, and his financial abilities were woeful

For all was not as it seems. Because he’d acquired control over so much land, Chichester had to outsource most of its management to middlemen as he went on to handle other challenges at home and abroad where his military expertise flourished, and as a result, the family seem to have been almost constantly in financial difficulties.

But as was said of the banks and other large enterprises during the economic crash of 2008, the vast and rambling Chichester empire in Ulster was simply too large to fail, and though the land-grabbed rural tenantry in Country Antrim and Donegal, and the industrious rate-paying citizens of the rapidly-growing Belfast, will have had mixed feelings about their strictly-enforced payments pouring into what seemed at a times like a financial black hole, outwardly at least the Chichesters were flying, with Sir Arthur Chichester’s descendants on an upwards trajectory which reached its peak when the head of the family became the Marquess of Donegall, while his son and heir was the Earl of Belfast, their family’s rise and importance being underlined by the rapidly-growing Belfast including Chichester Street, Donegall Place, and Donegall Avenue in its expanding layout.

Yet while their outwards links to the city and other extensive properties in the north of Ireland appeared strong – including the 1830s Earl of Belfast being Westminster MP for Carrickfergus and Belfast and an important figure at the royal court in London - there were new links through marriage to County Wexford, where Dunbrody House (now Kevin Dundon’s renowned gastro-hotel) was to become a later Marquess of Donegall’s main residence, and indeed the family still live nearby.

The Earl of Belfast (1797-1883) was an exceptionally good judge of yacht and sail designThe Earl of Belfast (1797-1883) was an exceptionally good judge of yacht and sail design, but his high level of enthusiasm for the sport didn’t help his perilous finances

But the Earl of Belfast of the 1820s and ’30s preferred if at all possible to spend his time in his house in Cowes when not on parliamentary or royal duties in London, for he was mad keen on sailing, an enthusiastic and active member of the recently-formed (1815) Royal Yacht Squadron, and his preferred personal company was with the leading local ship-builder Joseph Samuel White whose family firm had been founded way back in 1694 and continued to build boats yachts and ship until 1974, while the third member of this intriguing and innovative triumvirate was George Ratsey, an early light in the stellar formation which was to become the distinguished Ratsey family, who were noted also for boat-building talents, but became world-beaters in sail-making.

In the 1820s Lord Belfast’s two specialists created him a special racing yacht with the cutter Harriet, which was so successful that his Lordship announced that, having done all he could with fore-and-aft rig, he would in the 1830s turn his attention to square rig with the philanthropic intention of helping to improve the sailing qualities of the ships of the Royal Navy by competition and example.

The racing cutter Harriet with which the Earl of Belfast first made his mark in the 1820s.The racing cutter Harriet with which the Earl of Belfast first made his mark in the 1820s

Joseph White built this 334-ton two-masted brig-rigged ship Waterwitch in Cowes in 1832, while George Ratsey set-to in his lofts nearby to create the finest racing sails money could buy, even if - in the case of the Earl of Belfast - it was all money which came very much under the “future earnings” category, with much of it resulting in time from the sweat off the backs of small farmers in Antrim and Donegal.

Although she had the outward look of a superyacht of the 1830s (had such a term then existed), the Earl of Belfast kept her sparsely fitted in basic navy style, and set about arranging a match against the best navy vessels. Yet the Royal Navy were oddly unenthusiastic about being publicly shown up by such a contest, for by now Lord Belfast had even given his brig a marked naval-style black-and-white stripe along where the gunports were located.

On every point of sailing, brig Wayerwotch out-peformed the crack vessels of the Royal Navy’s Channel SquadronOn every point of sailing, Wayerwotch out-performed the crack vessels of the Royal Navy’s Channel Squadron

So eventually in exasperation, in 1834 and with the marine painter William John Huggins on hand to record the scene, he sailed the Waterwitch in close company on all points of sailing with the crack Royal Navy Channel Squadron as it made its regular parade of power and sea speed between Dover and the Isles of Scilly, and on every point of sailing and in all strengths of wind, Waterwitch was comfortably the top performer.

But despite a press clamour and public campaign, for a while, the naval authorities behaved as though it had never happened, so in exasperation, Lord Belfast spent more of other people’s money in making Waterwitch more of a yacht, and he won a hundred guineas of it back again after winning a close-fought challenge match race in early September 1834 to the Eddystone Lighthouse and back against the hottest big racing yacht of the day, the schooner Galatea.

It was this match challenge which finally seems to have spurred the Navy to action. The Earl of Belfast may have hoped that the Royal Navy would have been inspired to build their new ships as larger versions of Waterwitch, and to use George Ratsey more extensively as their sailmaker or at least a sailmaking consultant, and in this, he was partially successful. But in a sense, they side-stepped the issue by simply buying the Waterwitch, and almost immediately dispatching her to join the West Africa Squadron where she was seen as ideal for a slave-ship chasing role.

In the Hundred Guinea Match of September 1834, the schooner Galatea may have been first away, but Wayerwitch In the Hundred Guinea Match of September 1834, the schooner Galatea may have been first away, but Wayerwitch (left, and now modified back to yacht style) was to win

The flyer of Cowes was not even given the distinction of being made HMS – the navy men were rigid in their approach to this cheeky vessel which had so distinctly shown them up, and throughout her successful time with the Royal Navy she was always HMB – Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch.

In its latter days, the final elimination of the West African slave trade was possibly the most demanding phase of all, and until she was taken off the station in 1843, HMB Waterwitch played a key role in freeing more than 25,000 slaves. It was appalling work, as the fast little ship had to overcome the slavers and then put a delivery crew aboard the captured vessel to sail it to some port where the tragic cargo could be humanely dealt with.

The Squadron’s base was at the remote island of St Helena, and the placing of crews on slave ships often meant she returned to the island’s open roadstead with barely enough crew to handle the ship and further burdened with the knowledge that disease was so rife that they would see few enough of their shipmates again.

But in the tiny community on St Helena, they always received a warm and supportive welcome as the most successful slave-trader hunting ship of all, and a Vice-Admiralty Court on the island from 1840 until 1872 meant that those slave-running prisoners with whom they’d returned could be dealt with properly through internationally-recognised law.

So important was the St Helena link to Waterwitch’s crew that when her duties there were concluded, the impressive Waterwitch Memorial was erected in a pleasant spot on the island. Its inscription reads:

“This column was erected by the commander, officers and crew of Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch to the memory of their shipmates who died while serving on the coast of Africa AD 1835-1843. The greatest number died while absent on captured slave vessels. Their remains were either left in different parts of Africa or given to the sea, their graves alike undistinguished. This Island is selected for the record because three lies buried here and because the deceased, as well as their surviving comrades, ever met the warmest welcome from its inhabitants”.

The Earl of Belfast’s very special brig was to survive until 1861 when – tired by her exertion in hostile climates, and out-dated by the arrival of steam vessels - she was quietly broken up. As for his Lordship, he and his father the Marquess of Donegall ran out of road for a while in the 1840s, and they were jointly brought to bankruptcy for 400,000 pounds, which would be squillions today.

But all was not lost. Belfast – then still a town, though a rapidly growing one rising prosperity – was sold out from under them to pay their debts, ad that was one problem solved. Then the Wexford connection injected new resources, and on they went, with the Waterwitch Earl of Belfast – now the Marquess of Donegall – reported as having died in his beloved Cowes in 1883.

It’s a decidedly mixed story. Nevertheless, in the mood of the moment, is it inappropriate to suggest that this might be the time for a second Waterwitch Memorial, this time in Belfast City Hall?

Waterwitch memorial in St HelenaThe Waterwitch Memorial on St Helena recalls a special Belfast link to suppression of the international slave trade

This article was first published 7th July 2020

Published in Superyachts

If you’re having trouble processing the full implications of the fascinating new portmanteau ministry which has emerged this week from the formation of our latest government, not to worry. You’d be on your own if you weren’t a little bit bewildered. But as it happens, sailing folk can be of good cheer. When we look at it calmly, there’s good reason to believe that it was all put together in order to meet the needs and achievements of one of the best-known boats in Ireland, the Clondalkin community-built 43ft Galway hooker Naomh Cronan, a classic bad mor or big boat.

Naomh Cronan is in the news this week in any case. After 23 years of great sailing, good racing and some impressive voyaging from Poolbeg in Dublin Port, it’s the end of an era. She has joined the western trek of traditional craft, and is now within the remit of Badoiri an Cladaig, - the Claddagh Boatmen - in their traditional base at the mouth of the River Corrib in the heart of Galway City.

In that picturesque harbour, there used to be a huge fleet of traditional tanned-sail craft at a time when Clondalkin was still mostly just fine farming country, the only nautical connection being the Grand Canal heading west through meadowland from Dublin Bay towards the River Barrow and the lordly Shannon.

Badoiri an Cladaig’s leath bad Lovely Anne sailing in the CorribTraditional sail at The Claddagh, home of Badoiri an Cladaigh. This is Ross Forde’s 25ft gleoiteog mor Lady Anne of 1882 vintage sailing into the Corrib - she is used by the Galway Hooker Sailing Club as a sail training vessel

So that’s fine and dandy, say you, but what’s this about the new do-everything Department apparently being specifically assembled to meet the historical and present and future needs of the Naomh Cronan? Well, it’s all here in the fresh-minted Department’s title. And we ask our many overseas readers to bear with us, but this really is the name of the Hydra-headed administrative machine which has emerged from the undergrowth of political backroom wheeler-dealing in recent days.

It’s called the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and The Gaeltacht. Seriously. In one of the most sports-mad nations on earth, the greatest passion of the majority of the population seems to be ranked fifth in priority in a wide selection of interests and specialities each of which might well - in a more detailed society - be worth a Department of its own, though we would concede that maybe Arts & Culture might go together in one.

Naomh Cronan at Portaferry for the Sails & Sounds FestivalCarrying the message – Naomh Cronan at Portaferry for the Sails & Sounds Festival
Naomh Cronan on Strangford LoughNew waters – Naomh Cronan on Strangford Lough

But in any case, all is not as it initially seemed a few days ago, when the new setup was first announced. For as it happens, it may actually be three Departments in one. When the new conglomerate was revealed at the beginning of the week, it had just one Minister, who is a senior member of the Cabinet. But when the supporting Ministers of State were announced later in the week, two of them were allocated areas of interest across the new Department, which made it a much more positive and potentially productive arrangement.

But how on earth is it that this complex new multi-functional department seems to have been created precisely with the story of the Naomh Cronan in mind? Let us count the ways:

MEDIA: Check. Ever since her construction started as a project inaugurated by Muintir Chronain under the auspices of Aras Chronain Ionad Cultuir (the Irish Cultural Centre in Clondalkin, West Dublin) all of 27 years ago, Naomh Cronan has been an item of media interest ashore and afloat, her creation and vibrant existence being of interest both in themselves, and as an exercise for trainee communicators and other media wannabees.

TOURISM: Check. The evocative dark and distinctive sails of the Galway hookers slipping through the myriad waterways of Connemara and Galway Bay may be the ultimate iconic and eternally-remembered vision for visitors to the west - to l’Irelande profonde - yet from her East Coast base of 23 years, the Naomh Cronan has managed to become an Irish eastern ambassador with a western flavour at traditional sailing festivals in Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, England, Brest and Douarnenez in France, and all along the east and south coasts of Ireland too, from Belfast Lough to Glandore.

Naomh Cronan at the Festival of Traditional Sail at Peel in the Isle of MaNaomh Cronan at the Festival of Traditional Sail at Peel in the Isle of Man. Photo: W M Nixon

Joe Pennington’s restored Manx fishing cutter Master Frank and the Naomh CronanJoe Pennington’s restored Manx fishing cutter Master Frank and the Naomh Cronan racing for the DBOGA’s Leinster Trophy in Dublin Bay. Photo: Dave Owens

ARTS: Check. Naomh Cronan was an inspiration for painters and sculptors even before she went afloat, and under sail she has become a continuous source of fresh creative ideas. She brings music with her wherever she goes, indeed for many she is a floating moving symbol of Irish music and dance.

CULTURE: Check. Naomh Cronan could be nothing else except a quintessentially Irish boat telling us what we are and who we are, with the natural expressiveness, creativity, camaraderie and co-operation of her builders and crew translating effortlessly into action as needed, without undue fuss or superfluous seriousness.

SPORT: Check, and check again with emphasis. Racing a bad mor of the Galway Hooker tradition is not a sport for the faint-hearted. Yet although the hottest competition of the traditional boats is to be found in Connemara with stripped-out racing machines, even the Naomh Cronan with her cabin and sea-going accommodation can give a good showing of herself. She was has won several trophies over the year, a particularly memorable performance being put in at the annual Howth Lambay Race of 2013 when – with Paddy Murphy of Renvyle in West Galway, a one-man Irish dance troupe, guesting as helm – Naomh Cronan took second in the classics division despite much more modern-type boats in the competition.

Dennis Aylmer’s “plastic classic” Mona and Naomh CronanShaping up for a bit of sport – former DBOGA President Dennis Aylmer’s “plastic classic” Mona and Naomh Cronan in pre-start manoeuvres in Scotsman’s Bay off Dun Laoghaire: Photo: Dave Owens

THE GAELTACHT: Check. The Irish-speaking areas in their time-honoured and usually scenic locations may be most readily associated with Gaeltacht ways and language, but in West Dublin people really have to work at it to build up and maintain a living tradition. In Clondalkin and the area around it, they’ve achieved a remarkable level of success in Gaeltacht projects with much use of the language, with the Naomh Cronan being one of its symbols.

There you have it. All the boxes are well and truly ticked. So how is it that this ultimate expression of a fine ideal has now taken her departure from a community and an area and a port where she meant so much?

Well, life moves on. The situation that made Naomh Cronan fit in so well in her times has now changed. When she was built, there were several restored Galway Hookers of the bad mor type based on the East Coast, and their racing at places like Poolbeg and Portaferry and Howth was simply tremendous.

However, maintaining such boats is labour intensive - and hard labour at that - and key people got older. But perhaps most crucially of all, the Dublin to Galway motorway opened, the magic road to the west, so magic that it made it possible for people from Clondalkin and other places in west Dublin to get to the “true” hooker sailing areas on the Atlantic seaboard almost as quickly – and certainly with much less traffic hassle – than they would experience in getting to harbours in the Greater Dublin area.

Joe Murphy of the renowned Ringsend boat-building family drew the plans for Naomh CronanJoe Murphy of the renowned Ringsend boat-building family drew the plans for Naomh Cronan in 1993. Photo courtesy Cormac Lowth

traditional plans with the boat levelled along the line of the keelJoe Murphy produced traditional plans with the boat levelled along the line of the keel, and the rudder markedly angled in the style of most contemporary hookers, but he left the design of the cabin top and accommodation to the building team. Courtesy Cormac Lowth

So it soon got to the stage that the only bad mor in commission on the east coast was the Naomh Cronan of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association at the ever-hospitable Poolbeg Y&BC, to which her crew had a fierce loyalty. But as time went on, increasing prosperity mean that people who in times past would have sought their sailing on the Naomh Cronan began to think of having boats of their own. And sunshine cruising holidays, with charter boats in places like the Greek Isles, also came up on the agenda.

Thus while Naomh Cronan had been great for her times in Dublin, in Dublin, those times were irrevocably changing, whereas in the west a new dawn has ben rising for traditional boats. The opportunity for a neat transfer of Naomh Cronan’s ownership - or more properly her custodianship - from Clondalkin to the Claddagh was there to be taken at exactly the right time.

Stiofan O Laoire, Paul Keogh, and Johnny Wedick of Naomh Cronan, Poolbeg Y&BC and DBOGAPeople involved – Stiofan O Laoire, Paul Keogh, and Johnny Wedick of Naomh Cronan, Poolbeg Y&BC and DBOGA. Photo: Dave Owens

But before looking to Naomh Cronan’s future now that she has become a welcome arrival in the west, we must acknowledge the enormous contribution made by those far-sighted and dedicated people who – 27 years ago – set about bringing this much-loved vessel into existence, and that at a time long before there seemed to be a government department entirely devoted to helping them fulfil the dream.

When Michael Heffernan and school headmaster Stiofan O Laoire and other key people in the Irish cultural movement in Clondalkin in West Dublin suggested to the likes of Gerry Keane and others in 1993 that Muintir na Chronain in their neighbourhood should add an extra focus to its activities by building a fully-fledged bad mor in the heart of their West Dublin community, it was something of a leap into the unknown. And that can be seen in this As Gaeilge 1996 RTE vid of the building underway, interviewing Michael Heffernan – even if you don’t have the cupla focal, it’s worth watching for the atmospherics alone here

For sure, the population of Clondalkin includes many talented carpenters and other craftsmen whose skills could be re-directed into such a project. But with this ultra-traditional type of boat, there were those who said that building such a craft needed to be done in a place with a long boat-building tradition. And notwithstanding the Grand Canal going through it, and the River Liffey not so very distant, Clondalkin as a boat-building centre didn’t tick any boxes at all..

A traditional boat takes shape in the heart of Clondalkin – Naomh Cronan in frame in 1995A traditional boat takes shape in the heart of Clondalkin – Naomh Cronan in frame in 1995. Photo: Brian O Gaibhin

But they persisted, and were given a boost by the late Joe Murphy of the renowned Ringsend boat-building family, who created a set of hull lines and building details of the standard hookers as they are today. They make for a fascinating comparison with the line drawings which were published by naval architect Dixon Kemp as taken off a champion hooker in 1891. For in 1891, the rudder was less radically raked than it is today, a continuing development which one might have thought has impaired the boat’s steering characteristics.

But as those who know the very small harbours of Connemara have pointed out, in their heartlands the hookers have to dry out in ports with only very small areas of clear sand between rock. Thus for the boats to dry out in comfort at low water, the shorter the keel can be made relative to the boat’s size, the better, for it means you get more boat for your confined berth thanks to the increasing tendency over the years to give the rudders this ferocious rake with the shortest possible length of keel.

boat cantedSome of the work was more easily done with the boat canted. The coachroof and accommodation were designed by the building team. Photo: Brian O Gaibhin

Joe Murphy designed the hull and rig with some lovely drawings, but it was left to the folk in Clondalkin to shape their own coachroof and the accommodation they required. In those days, computer-generated imaging was still in its infancy, and the three-dimensional design challenge to provide the optimal accommodation was best done with work in progress.

It was such a clearly-defined and almost exotic project, with something to show for their efforts almost as soon as work had begun, that the building of the Naomh Cronan (she was named for the neighbourhood saint from the time of Ireland being “The Island of Saints & Scholars”) seemed to acquire its own momentum, with useful advice readily forthcoming from the many – experienced boatmen and boatbuilders among them – who wished the project well.

Massive timbers of the foc’s’le framingMassive timbers of the foc’s’le framing. Photo: Brian O Gaibhain

building of Naomh Cronan When things were going well and completion was in sight, the building of Naomh Cronan was a good-humoured affair. Photo: Brian O Gaibhain

Admittedly it took four years to complete the build, but by this time the shared experience had created such a dedicated and friendly team within the cultural community within its own larger community, that it was almost with sadness they realized the building experience was nearing completion.

Soon, the big boat would be taken away to Dublin docks for launching, and though it was expected that in some winters she’d be back for maintenance work in her birthplace in Clondalkin, the focus inevitably was shifting elsewhere, and quite where and what that elsewhere would be was anyone’s guess.

Naomh Cronan emerges new-built from her shedAt last – the Naomh Cronan emerges new-built from her shed. Photo: Brian O Gaibhin

The first taste of salt water in Dublin Port in 1997The first taste of saltwater in Dublin Port in 1997. Photo: Brian O Gaibhin

But basically, the focus afloat from 1997 became Poolbeg, where a highly visible mooring in the River Liffey right beside the busy road to the Eastlink Bridge kept Naomh Cronan in the public eye, while her increasing appearance at sailing festivals near and far provided celebrity status all along the Celtic fringe, with useful experience-enhancing offshore sailing experience in between.

This busy sailing programme had come about through Paul Keogh, an energetic, focused and affable young man who joined the building team in the final year or two of construction and then proved the ideal person to become Naomh Cronan’s skipper, sailing manager and general keeper-of-the-show-on-the-road.

He has been in a leading role ever since, with Naomh Cronan actively sailed for 23 years. But he is nothing if not a realist, and by the time 2020 was upon us, he and other key figures were accepting that Naomh Cronan was reaching the stage that she needed major work to be done, and they had to look seriously at the expressions of interest from the Claddagh boatmen.

Naomh Cronan sailing on a perfect summer’s dayA long way from a dusty shed and a demanding boat-building schedule – Naomh Cronan sailing on a perfect summer’s day. Photo: W M Nixon

A central role in the changeover was filled by Donal Greene, a boatbuilder from Carna in Connemara who teaches woodwork in a school in Meath, and almost as a sideline is a genius with qualifications in computer work. The Naomh Cronan had discovered this when their big mast needed replacing, and Donal produced drawings and then did the new-build work to international standards.

The boatbuilder from Carna – shipwright Donal Greene The boatbuilder from Carna – shipwright Donal Greene is a man of many talents. Photo: Cormac Lowth

Built with precision – the new mastBuilt with precision – the new mast created by Donal Greene. Photo: Brian O Gaibhain

Classic belaying pins for the new mastClassic belaying pins for the new mast. Photo: Brian O Gaibhain
The new planking fitted on Naomh Cronan The new planking fitted on Naomh Cronan by Donal Greene in this Spring’s good weather. Photo: Cormac Lowth

With this link to the West and a high availability of talent in the COVID-19 shutdown, Donal Greene was able to provide Naomh Cronan with a major re-planking job in Malahide shipyard in the healthiest possible open-air conditions during that exceptional period of dry weather which mocked the rest of us in April and May. And with full survey requirements complied with, the easing of Lockdown last weekend saw Peter Connolly and Peter Carpenter of Badoiri an Cladaigh travel to Malahide for an inspection and a formal meeting with the Naomh Cronan team, followed by the signing of documents which saw the much-loved vessel transferred to the custodianship of the Claddagh Boatmen for the princely sum of €100.

signing over of the Naomh Cronan at Malahide last weekend were (left to right) John Wedick (DBOGA), Peter Redmond (DBOGA), Peter Carpenter (Badoiri an Cladaigh), Brian O Gabhain (Aras Chronain Clondalkin), Peter Connolly (Badoiri an Cladaigh), Negley Groome (DBOGA), Gerry Keane (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), John Elston (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), Paul Keogh (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), Mark Sweetnam (DBOGA), Cormac Lowth (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA) and Donal Greene (Naomh Cronan & Badoiri an Cladaigh & DBOGA).  At the signing over of the Naomh Cronan at Malahide last weekend were (left to right) John Wedick (DBOGA), Peter Redmond (DBOGA), Peter Carpenter (Badoiri an Cladaigh), Brian O Gabhain (Aras Chronain Clondalkin), Peter Connolly (Badoiri an Cladaigh), Negley Groome (DBOGA), Gerry Keane (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), John Elston (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), Paul Keogh (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA), Mark Sweetnam (DBOGA), Cormac Lowth (Naomh Cronan & DBOGA) and Donal Greene (Naomh Cronan & Badoiri an Cladaigh & DBOGA). Photo courtesy Cormac Lowth.

It will take a while for it all to sink in, but the process has been aided by efficient logistics ever since, with Kennedy Haulage’s majestic boat-moving low loader sweeping into Malahide Boatyard on Wednesday afternoon. Many of the Naomh Cronan Clondalkin team are accustomed to working with heavy equipment, but even they were impressed by the crisp way in which Malahide Boatyard and the Kennedy setup moved into smoothly co-ordinated action, which saw their beloved bad mor transformed into just another handy little load ready for easy movement westward.

By 4.0pm, it was a case of: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. Naomh Cronan was gone from Malahide, and soon gone from Dublin too, without a thought of sentimentally swinging by Poolbeg or through Clondalkin, gone west and comfortably into Oranmore at the head of Galway Bay that evening.

Naomh Cronan was smoothly in Oranmore by Wednesday eveningQuick work. Naomh Cronan was smoothly in Oranmore by Wednesday evening. Photo: Pierce Purcell

Naomh Cronan was launched into the waters of the west at the quay at Galway Bay Sailing Club at Rinville on Thursday morning and had her mast stepped before the day was out. This weekend will see her being sorted while the new planking takes up, and then all being well on Tuesday she’ll sail across the upper reaches of Galway Bay and into The Claddagh to begin the latest chapter in a remarkable life story.

But meanwhile, her former sailors on the east coast won’t be at a loss for things to do around boats. While in Malahide working on the ship, Paul Keogh discovered that a hefty big sailing cruiser in the yard, fibreglass built and needing work done, but exuding character nevertheless, was very competitively for sale. Having done his duty and more with wooden construction and its maintenance in his many years with Naomh Cronan, he personally bought the boat in Malahide. For the foreseeable future, the Devil will not be finding work for idle hands.

However, the links with their former ship haven’t been broken entirely, with Paul Keogh and others becoming Trustees of Badoiri an Cladaig with a standing invitation to re-join their former ship at any time. Nevertheless, we are undoubtedly looking at the very clear end of an era.

Naomh Cronan already rigged at Renville Quay at GBSC The new era. Naomh Cronan already rigged at Renville Quay at GBSC on Friday, with a weekend for sail fitting and other jobs planned, and then a sail across to The Claddagh on Tuesday. Photo: Pierce Purcell

Published in W M Nixon

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.

Portrush 1903, and proud owner W R Richardson has travelled by train from Dublin with many friends for the launching of his new DB21 Garavogue Portrush 1903, and proud owner W R Richardson has travelled by train from Dublin with many friends for the launching of his new DB21 Garavogue by boatbuilder James Kelly. Photo courtesy Robin Ruddock

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 re-built Naneen has her first sail in 33 years in the special sunshine of early December on the Shannon EstuaryThe re-built Naneen has her first sail in 33 years in the special sunshine of early December on 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.

Even with finishing trim still required, the classic quality of Garavogue glows through her newly-applied topside finish. Photo: Steve Morris Even with finishing trim still required, the classic quality of Garavogue glows through her newly-applied topside finish. Photo: Steve Morris

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.

If this isn’t perfection then it’s something very like itIf this isn’t perfection then it’s something very like it. Photo: Steve Morris
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.

Published in Historic Boats

Although West Cork is home to several clusters of classic boats and the boatyards of the master-craftsmen who build and maintain them, they’re at scattered locations. Thus it can take quite a bit of encouragement and persuasion, plus much pre-planning and some efficient logistics, to get the fleets together for events like the Baltimore Woodenboat Festival and the Glandore Classics Regatta, both of which have of necessity been COVID-19-cancelled, as they inevitably involve an intensely sociable shoreside element.

Yet there is one place in Ireland where sizeable fleets of classic boats exist within convenient proximity to each other, which should make it possible to stage a pop-up classic regatta at very short notice in a format which nevertheless complies - both afloat and ashore - with the pandemic distancing regulations which are in place at whatever time the regatta is staged.

That place is Dun Laoghaire, and these thoughts were provoked by a couple of photos taken yesterday (Tuesday) in Dublin Bay off the harbour mouth in the last of our early summer weather by classic and traditional boat addict Ian Malcolm of Howth.

Ian and his wife Judith seem to have acquired a personal flotilla of classic boats almost through absent-mindedness, their current line-up including at least one Howth 17 - an original 1898 one at that - a 1915-built Dublin Bay Water Wag, a classic 12ft Beetle Cat, and a tiny lugsail dinghy – Primula - of 1892 origin or even earlier, designed and built in the old Howth House boathouse by Herbert Boyd himself.

When you’re marshalling a little fleet like this, or even looking after the support requirements of just one of them, you might at the very least need quite a substantial RIB. But the Malcolms decided that a classic little fast power-cruiser with a bit of accommodation would be more appropriate, so for the past few days they’ve been testing their newly-acquired Seaward 25 Grebe. And in emerging from Dun Laoghaire after a no-contact spin around the harbour there yesterday, Ian took a couple of photos of boats that interested him as they returned to port in the last rays of a sun which we may not see again with real heat for some time.

Ian & Judith Malcolm’s newly-acquired Seaward 25 Grebe on test off The BallyAn ideal Classics Support Vessel – Ian & Judith Malcolm’s newly-acquired Seaward 25 Grebe on test off The Bally. Photo: Tom Ryan

For most Dun Laoghaire sailors these boats – the Colleen Class reproduction Colleen Deas (Dermot Flynn & David Williams), and the restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle (David Espey & Chris Craig), are such a familiar sight that they’ll get no more than an admiring glance, though it has to be said that Periwinkle yesterday afternoon was the very essence of the phrase “slipping effortlessly along”.

Yet any newcomer to Dun Laoghaire would immediately be struck by the fact that the Colleen Deas concept dates back to 1896, while Periwinkle dates back to a new One-Design Class idea first put forward by Lord Glenavy in 1934, and eventually brought to reality – after interruption by Word War II – in 1947.

Dublin Bay 24 PeriwinkleThe Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle in Scotsman's Bay at Dun Laoghaire Regatta July 2019 and (inset) slipping effortlessly along Periwinkle enjoying the last of the good weather yesterday (Tuesday). Photo: Ian Malcolm

They’re interesting - they’re very interesting - yet they’re only the tip of the Dun Laoghaire classics iceberg. For most people, the essence of that is the Water Wag Class, founded 1887, and now racing in 14ft 3ins boats designed by Maimie Doyle of Dun Laoghaire in 1900. Substantial numbers of them are kept for dry-sailing from the boat decks of the three waterfront clubs, and while the National YC and the Royal St George YC won’t have their decks fully summer-operational for a day or two yet, today (Wednesday) Royal Irish YC Sailing Manager Mark McGibney cheerfully announced: “Bring ’em on, we’re ready and waiting”.

Of course, for the time being it will have to be husband and wife crews, or household compliant groupings, but ways can be found to help these hefty enough little boats into their summer accommodation.

Water Wags flocking to the Boat Deck at the Royal Irish YC“Bring ’em on…” Water Wags flocking to the Boat Deck at the Royal Irish YC. Photo: W M Nixon

And of course as the days go by and other boat come into commission, other classics will come into play - IDRA 14s and Mermaids and International 12s in dinghies, for instance, and in keelboats the 1947-originating 25ft Glens at the Royal St George YC. Then too, there’s really no reason why the strong Flying Fifteen fleet at the National YC shouldn’t be considered as coming within the classic fold, for although they’re all now fibreglass and even carbon fibre, the quirky Uffa Fox design also originated in 1947, and was originally built in wood.

Alfred Mylne-designed Glen Class at the Royal St George YCWith their origins in 1947, the Alfred Mylne-designed Glen Class at the Royal St George YC are now regarded as Classics

Flying Fifteens which focus on the National YCThe Flying Fifteens which focus on the National YC may now be built with advanced materials. But they rate as a classic design from 1947, although they might need to modify their flat-out racing approach to make a proper contribution to a Pop-up Classics Regatta in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: O’Brien
By the same token I suppose you could argue for the inclusion of the 12ft Fireflies. But as they’re communally-owned and used for team racing, they’ve a different class structure and don’t share the committed pride of ownership which is the glue that holds together the other classic classes, a fellow-feeling which creates a waterborne community of mutual respect which would be the key factor in organising a pop-up regatta.

However, another group which definitely would fit in are the devoted owners of restored one-off classics, such as Guy and Jackie Kilroy with the 1896 Herbert Boyd gaff sloop Marquerite, Robert Bourke with the 1938 L Class Iduna - so perfectly brought back to life by Johnny Leonard of Howth - and the Periwinkle pioneers with their ever-lovely Mylne-designed classic.

Guy & Jackie Kilroy on their restored 1896 gaff sloop Marguerite. Photo: Ian MalcolmGuy & Jackie Kilroy on their restored 1896 gaff sloop Marguerite. Photo: Ian Malcolm

Marguerite was originally built in 1896 in Malahide by Jack Wellington to a Herbert Boyd designThe Kilroy family’s Marguerite was originally built in 1896 in Malahide by Jack Wellington to a Herbert Boyd design, and was restored last year by Malahide’s Larry Archer. Photo: David Williams

For all these people, the boat is every bit as important as the sailing, and racing is much more about expressing joy in their classic boats as it is about winning. Nevertheless there’s nothing like a spot of racing for conveniently bringing boats together, whereas cruises-in-company – even if they’re only for one day - inevitably involve currently unacceptable levels of sociability.

But our pop-up Dun Laoghaire Classics Regatta must not be a complicated affair. Those taking part will have to be prepared to exhibit a bit of give-and-take in accepting ad hoc arrangements. The Water Wags already lead everyone in having a group of husband-and-wife race officer teams who need no more than a RIB to get the show on the road. And if the keelboats seek a mark outside the harbour but the DBSC marks are still unlaid in the bay’s racing area, then a mark boat about halfway out to the shipping channel should be all that is required.

Robert Bourke’s 1938 L Class Iduna as restored in 2018 by Johnny Leonard of HowthThe glow of a successful restoration. Robert Bourke’s 1938 L Class Iduna as restored in 2018 by Johnny Leonard of Howth. Photo: W M Nixon

Those who think it’s not proper racing without windward leeward courses, perfectly-laid starting lines, and a committee boat team large enough to form an effective guerilla group…..well – such people really don’t have the right attitude to enjoy taking part in a Classic Classics Pop-up Regatta. But amongst the many classic boats enthusiasts who sail in and from the great harbour of Dun Laoghaire, there should be enough like-minded people to create an instant yet worthwhile event, and they know they’ll be contacted through the usual channels.

Published in Historic Boats

When we think of timelessly beautiful yachts, we’ll naturally think of sailing vessels, where beauty is created by a sweet harmony of the hull lines with an elegantly restrained sheer, combined with a rig which is all of a piece both with itself, and with the hull it drives through the water with as little fuss and effort as possible.

Over the years, over the centuries indeed, a small but significant number of such beauties have been built in Ireland to a design standard which matches the international benchmark. That benchmark was set in times past by the designs of Wanhill of Poole and Richardson of Liverpool, of G L Watson, William Fife and Alfred Mylne of Scotland, and Charles E Nicholson of England, together with Nat Herreshoff and John Alden of America.

More recently the baton was taken up by England’s Robert Clark and Arthur Robb and several Scandinavian designers, while in America Phil Rhodes, Olin Stephens, Jim McCurdy and German Frers of Argentina were recognized as the masters.

These are designers whose work still referenced the yacht most often though of as the most beautiful of all, the creation of 1893 which embodied what designer, critic and nautical writer Dixon Kemp described as the “Britannia Ideal” to which he expected all proper yachts to aspire.

2 britannia 1893 dun laoghaire2It’s May 1893, and Dublin yachtsmen get a first chance to see the new Britannia as she calls to Kingstown on Dublin Bay under a very shortened passage-making rig, with owner’s representative Willie Jameson on board during the maiden voyage in rugged weather from the builders in the Clyde to the Solent

This was the Prince of Wales’ own 122ft cutter Britannia, designed by G L Watson and built on the Clyde by D & W Henderson, with top amateur sailing skipper Willie Jameson of Portmarnock  in Dublin - a member of the noted Irish whiskey distilling family - acting as owner’s executive agent throughout the design, build and commissioning project, which was arguably the high point of the Golden Age of Scottish yacht building.

3 britannia racing3The “Britannia Ideal” as seen under full power while racing during Cowes Week

Britannia certainly set a high standard for what was thought of in 1893 as “the new look” for yachts, though for some her curved stem was just too much, and they stayed with more traditional clipper bows.

In Ireland from time to time creations of the highest standard appeared from local builders to the plans of international design talent, notable clipper-bowed examples still very healthily in existence being Hal Sisk’s superbly-restored G L Watson-designed 36ft cutter Peggy Bawn, built by Hilditch of Carrickfergus in 1894, and the 43ft Fife cutter Pen Duick, built to a William Fife design in Carrigaloe on Cork Harbour in 1898, and best-known for her long association with Eric Tabarly. 

4 peggy bawn cotton4Hal Sisk’s Peggy Bawn - designed G L Watson, built Hilditch of Carrickfergus 1894 - setting a suit of virtually unused cotton sails. They were found among the store of equipment when he bought the classic cutter for a restoration which was completed in 2005. Photo: O’Brien

5 pen duick5The 43ft Pen Duick of Eric Tabarly fame is a William Fife design built at Carrigaloe on Cork Harbour in 1898

At the same time “spoon-bowed” yachts to Fife’s designs were also appearing, with the Cork Harbour One Designs in 1895, and a series of Belfast Lough One designs from both Fife and Alfred Mylne from 1896 to 1910.

Alfred Mylne became the “go to” designer for good-looking Irish One Designs with the Belfast Lough Stars in 1900 and the Dublin Bay 21s in 1902, then came the 39ft Island Class cruiser-racer yawls in 1910, while in more modern times he was still on the pace with the introduction of Bermudan rig with the 28ft 6ins River Class – now all in Strangford Lough – in 1921, the Dublin Bay 24s in 1938, and the 25ft Glens in 1947.

These were One Design racers, but after World War II in 1945, Crosshaven Boatyard began to function in various forms with fast cruisers and offshore racers, and from it - under Denis Doyle’s stewardship - there emerged some notably handsome craft, particularly the “white Moonduster”, a Robert Clark 47-footer from 1965, the very elegant and successfully functional Gypsy Moth V (also from Robert Clark) for Francis Chichester in 1970, the ruggedly good-looking Sparkman & Stephens 49ft “Blue Moonduster” of 1973, and arguably the star of them all, the handsomely varnished Frers 51 Moonduster of 1981, a yacht with such presence that she seemed to glow.

6 gypsy moth V building6Francis Chichester’s Robert Clark-designed Gypsy Moth V building at Crosshaven Boatyard, January 1970.

7 gypsy moth V crosshaven7Gypsy Moth V newly-launched at Crosshaven, July 1970. Photo: W M Nixon

The fastidious New Zealand-born designer Arthur Robb also had his adherents, with the elegant 37ft yawl Verve (now owned by the Comerford family of Dun Laoghaire) built for Paul Campbell by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow in 1964, while at the same time at Bangor Shipyard in the shores of Ballyholme Bay, the long task of building the 42ft Jaynor was under way for Ivan Selig of Belfast with Admiral's Cup prospects for 1965 in mind.

8 Jaynor Glandore8 The Arthur Robb-designed Jaynor, built at Bangor Shipyard on Ballyholme Bay in 1967, racing at the Glandore Classics under the ownership of the late Dickie Brown in 2003.

In fact, Jaynor was built with such total attention to detail (the designer provided a total of 64 exquisitely-finished drawings) that she was barely ready for the 1967 Admiral’s Cup, but she is still very much in existence, a credit to the skills of the Bangor shipwrights, and a worthy addition to the list of beautiful world-standard sailing yachts built in Ireland.

Yet in looking for beautiful yachts with Irish links, should we restrict ourselves to sailing boats? In one of those burrowing searches which have played such a useful role in getting us through the Lockdown, we were looking for one particular black and white photo, and instead came across something else altogether.

9 Phoenix 1982 l derg9The 58ft Phoenix – built in Waterford of Lowmoor iron in 1872 - in fine “steaming” form on Lough Derg, September 1982. Photo: W M Nixon

This image of John and Sandra Lefroy’s Killaloe-based 58ft 6in Phoenix steaming briskly at full chat across Lough Derg just for the hell of in the Autumn of 1982 brings back memories and then some. It was taken after Phoenix provided Committee Boat services at the Helmsman’s Championship at Dromineer in Shannon One Designs, with Dave Cummins of Howth – crewed by Gordon Maguire and Mossy Shanahan - successfully defending the title he’d won in Squibs at Howth in 1981.

“Steaming” isn’t quite the word, as Phoenix is diesel-powered and at season’s end her injectors needed a little attention. But as she happened to have been built way back in 1872, this impression of a steam-ship at speed was just what was needed, and in a flash of brief Autumn sunshine we also got a colour version of this photo which graced the cover of Motorboat & Yachting, where the plume of funnel smoke was just the job to emphasise that Phoenix was already 110 years old, and now she is within two years of her 150th anniversary.

10 phoenix aura dromineer10 1Golden Oldies Triumphant…..The 1872-vintage Phoenix on Committee Boat duty at a Classics Regatta at Dromineer on Lough Derg with the 1898-built Howth 17 Aura in the foreground, and the lake filled with boats of the Water Wag class (1887 & 1900) and the Shannon One Designs (1922). The combined age of the boats in this photo exceeds 2,000 years. Photo: Gerardine Wisdom

Although in the brisk breeze there was quite a lively Lough Derg chop running, with her beam of only 10ft, heavy displacement and hollowish waterlines forward, the Phoenix is steady as a rock nd slicing through it with ease, with her bow-wave well aft from the sharp straight stem, for this is one classy yacht. And just seeing her again was a reminder that while G L Watson made his name in superb sailing yachts, the bread-and-butter income from his design practice came from creating large, luxurious and extremely elegant steam yachts for the ludicrously wealthy industrialists and railroad barons to be found on both sides of the Atlantic in the final decades of the 1900s.

In doing this, Watson was emulating the path set by an almost-forgotten Irish yacht designer, St Clare John Byrne (1831-1915), the son of a ship owner from Ireland who had settled in Birkenhead across from Liverpool with his Scottish wife, where the son soon became a rising star in the design offices of the busy shipyards. He proved to have an exceptional talent for creating large (some of them extremely large) steam yachts, but he was also the designer of the steam-and-sail 152ft barquentine Sunbeam of 1874, which the global railway engineer Thomas Brassey cruised round the world with his family.

11 thomas brasseys sunbeam11 Thomas Brassey’s world-girdling 152ft auxiliary barquentine Sunbeam of 1874 was St Clare Byrne’s most famous design

Like Watson a decade or so later, Byrne could create steam yachts which combined classic beauty with on-board comfort and sea-going power, works of art which could match any sailing yacht for beauty, and this was something which came very much to mind in delving back into the origins of Phoenix. She was designed and built in the Waterford region, using quarter inch Lowmoor iron, by the Neptune Shipyard to the designs of Andrew Horn, yet according to some records she was built by the Malcolmson Brothers of Portlaw.

“Waterford region” is used advisedly, for we’re into complex territory here. Portlaw is that extraordinary 19th Century “model village” 19 km upstream of Waterford city on the River Suir, built up as a planned industrial unit from 1825 onwards by the Malcolmson family to such a state of prosperity that, by its peak, it was employing 1800 people – with housing provided – at a time when much of rural Ireland was in grinding poverty.

It seemed the Malcolmson brothers could turn their hand to anything, and their development of steamships in tandem with the growth of their conglomerate meant that at one stage, they actually owned more steamships in vessel numbers than any other single company in the world.

12 waterford 1900 quays12The busy quays in Waterford around 1900. The Malcolmsons had been so successful in pioneering steamship building and development in the middle decades of the 19th Century that at one stage they had the numerically-largest fleet of steam-driven vessels in the world

But what goes up eventually comes down, and by the 1870s cracks were beginning to appear, so although the Phoenix may have been built in Portlaw, as the industrial edifice created there began to crumble, the ship-building seems to have been hived off to this Neptune Shipbuilding company more directly linked to Waterford city, although the Neptune Ironworks had been associated with Portlaw since 1840.

Whatever the story – and it’s surely worthy of a TV drama series, for there were all sorts of family tensions involved – Andrew Horn, the in-house yacht designer who drew the plans for Phoenix, has emerged in the 1880s as the designer to the Neptune Shipbuilding Company in Waterford, and in 1882 with some input from St Clare Byrne, he designed and oversaw the building in iron of the 77ft steam yacht Maritana, all of 30 tons in deadweight and 56 tons TM, but skinny like a greyhound in the Phoenix style.

Maritana was built for Thomas St Leger Atkins of Waterford, and the photo of her in her first year afloat says everything, elegantly posed as she is at anchor in the river off Reginald’s Tower as a proud statement of Waterford’s achievement. In design terms, Andrew Horn has moved on from Phoenix’s straight stem and has given Maritana a clipper-bowed look which to my mind, when combined with a sheerline of saintly restraint and the neatly-tucked counter stern, makes her the best-looking yacht – sail or power - to have ever come out of Ireland, and the fact that she was both Irish-designed and built is a bonus.

Waterford’s high opinion of her was shared in Cowes, where she was awarded the Concours d’Elegance at the regatta in 1884. But it couldn’t be an Irish story without the inevitable serving of sadness to round it out. Maritana was the last vessel created by the Neptune Shipbuilding Company. It followed the Malcolmson conglomerate into oblivion soon after her completion.

As for what happened subsequently to the exquisite Maritana, according to the ever-helpful USB of all Lloyd’s Registers (assembled from its foundation in 1878 to the final edition in 1980 by the Association of Yachting Historians), after some years in Waterford, she was sold to Milford Haven in Wales, and by the turn of the century she was in Belfast Lough ownership before returning to southwest Wales, but with an owner based in Sunderland. Eventually, she disappears from the records. Some well-resourced research department may wish to follow the trail. But for the rest of us, that captured moment of the most beautiful Irish yacht of all, anchored off Waterford in 1882, is enough to be going on with.

Published in Historic Boats
Tagged under

The accepted and popular shapes of boats and yachts in different ages changes so much that you’d be forgiven for thinking that their functions also change completely to suit the requirements of each new era. Of course, design development, measurement rule changes, and new ways of construction are major contributing factors in re-configured appearance from one period to the next. But beyond that, there’s the matter of taste and what people have become accustomed to - the Beauty of one age can be the Beast of the next.

2 sun fast 3300 dun laoghaire2Take a bow today….the new-style stem on the MGM Boats-imported Sun Fast 3300 Cinnamon Girl as seen last month in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: O’Brien

8 Metre Class

Eddie English of Cobh sent us wandering along a picturesque section of memory lane the other day when he came up with a collection of photos by Pascal Roche showing the quartet of International 8 Metres which were very much the style-setters on Cork Harbour in the 1950s and 1960s, and a quickfire exchange of thoughts about them and the people in them was just the job for some diversion from the inevitable contemplation of the ill-effects of The Enemy of the People, aka Covid-19.

For by classic standards, every one of those Cork “straight Eights” was a beauty, dating as they did from the vintage years of the class in the 1930s. We hasten to say they weren’t eight metres long - they were designed to a formula in which, once the maths were completed, the answer was eight metres, and the result was boats of long and stylish overhangs which were in the 47ft to 50ft overall length range.

3 christina dognose3All four Cork Harbour International 8 Metres were built in different countries – this is the longest of them, Perry Goodbody’s 50ft Christina of Cascais, designed by Tore Holm and built in Sweden in 1936. Photo: Pascal Roche

As it happened, the Cork group encompassed both extremes, with Sam Thompson’s Wye being a slip of a thing with minimal headroom, while Tom Crosbie’s If was one of the heftiest International Eights ever built, and even managed standing headroom. Needless to say, Wye was a flyer in lighter winds, but was remarkably wet offshore, as I discovered when delivering her from Cork with new owners to the Clyde at Easter 1968, when the wind remained very determinedly brisk and cold out of the east.

4 wye cobh4The little one…..Sam Thompson’s Wye was designed by Charles E Nicholson and built by Camper & Nicholson in 1935. Her first owner requested that she be as much as possible like a miniature of Thomas Sopwith’s almost-successful Nicholson-designed America’s Cup Challenger Endeavour of 1934.

By contrast, If could give a good account of herself offshore and in a breeze racing out of Crosshaven. She was thus a regular star in the West Cork Regattas when they were still known as the West Cork Regattas and people didn’t feel the need to call them Calves Week. But it was Denis Doyle with Severn II who was the most determined RORC campaigner. This resulted in a memorable (or perhaps better forgotten) experience in the RORC’s Beaumaris to Cork Race, which started in the Menai Straits in North Wales.

As the Coningbeg Lightvessel off the Saltee Islands was a mark of the course, there was a tradition on Irish cruising and offshore racing boats of carrying up-to-date newspapers which could then be chucked aboard the manned lightship as they went past. With Severn II in the lead, her distinguished visiting helmsman (who had better remain anonymous) was so determined to complete this manoeuvre in close style that he failed completely to notice that the lightship’s boom, to which service boats would be secured, was slightly extended. The result that while Severn did indeed sweep beautifully alongside and neatly deposit the newspapers, there was a crash from aloft, and there was her mast – gone.

The great Denis, who’d been off watch, took it all in his usual phlegmatic style, and they cleared the wreckage away and set off under the little auxiliary engine for the slow haul to the nearest port at Dunmore East, for in those days Kilmore Quay was a very primitive place with no berthing of any kind for yachts. Denis then retired below again to resume his sleep, but was awakened some time later by suspicious-sounding noise and kerfuffle in the cockpit.

5 severn ii cobh5Denis Doyle’s Severn II off the original Royal Cork YC clubhouse at Cobh. Designed by Alfred Mylne and built in Scotland in 1934, Severn II was the second international metre-style boat Denis Doyle raced offshore, as he started his RORC career with the Thirty Square Metre Vanja IV. Photo: Pascal Roche

He erupted on deck (in his pyjamas, mark you) to find that the mast-breaking helmsman had observed that a ship was about to pass nearby, and as they’d no means of signalling, he was trying to set off a flare in order to get a tow, as he was convinced the little engine would never get them to port.

That did it for Denis. “My God,” says he, “You break my mast. And now you’re trying to set my boat on fire. We’ll get to Dunmore East or somewhere else under our own power. And that’s the end of it”.

With boats so beautiful in the classic style, while the 8 Metre class have long gone from Crosshaven, they’ve been revived in restored or even new-build form all over the world. But as they’re specialist craft totally at variance with the modern boats of extremely short ends and straight or even reverse stems, the contemporary world of the long and elegant International 8 Metre Class is a very private place in which the strongest fragrance is the reassuring aroma of wealth.

As for the design preferences which set the shape of the Cork-based 8 Metres, it is also seen in another 1930s creation, the Dublin Bay 24s, which lasted more than fifty years and have since seen restorations at various stages, the most complete being Periwinkle based in Dun Laoghaire.

6 dublin bay 24s racing6Classic good looks. Dublin Bay 24s racing in their Golden Jubilee regatta in 1997. Photo: W M Nixon
7 dublin bay 24 periwinkle7The restored Dublin Bay 24 Periwinkle. In addition to providing more than fifty years of great racing in Dublin Bay, the boats were cruised extensively, and in 1963 one of them won the RORC Irish Sea Race

Meanwhile, in mainstream sailing, we’ve now entered an era in which even Superyachts seem determined to mimic the trend in the most advanced offshore racers in having vertical or even reverse stems. You can understand the dictates of fashion (however odd) pushing their way through even into superyacht design, so all power to Ron Holland, who has tried to design his superyachts so that they look elegant in the classic style, with matching overhangs fore and aft.

8 golden opus8Ron Holland’s personal dreamship, the 73ft Golden Opus, shows his preference for classical elegance

This is something of which seasoned professional crews heartily approve, for as one of them said with some vehemence: “If you’re trying to get some work done right on the stemhead in a rough seaway in a superyacht with a vertical stem, you’ll find you’re being power-hosed all the time, and can regularly expect to be washed like a rag doll – sometimes with painful consequences - back along the deck. But when you’re right forward in one of Ron’s boats, the seas are sweeping across the deck safely astern of you, and all’s well with the world”.

Superyacht Sea Eagle II

Despite that, there are already superyachts sailing with reverse stems, which may ultimately mean that they’ll have to devise ways of doing any necessary work at the stemhead from a special compartment inside the hull. But that is not a problem most of us will ever have to deal with, although it will be a thought for an Irish professional sailor who is on the commissioning crew of the latest mega-blast on the Superyacht scene, the 81 metre aluminium-hulled Dykstra-designed Sea Eagle II (that’s 266ft in old money) which emerged with inches to spare from the enormous Royal Huisman construction sheds in The Netherlands on January 8th, the largest yacht ever built by the company.

9 royal huisman9The big one. The new 81m Sea Eagle II emerges with inches to spare from the Royal Huisman sheds in The Netherlands with inches to spare on January 8th. At 266ft and built in aluminium, she is the largest vessel ever completed by the firm.
Owing to the pandemic lockdown, work is currently on hold in the completion process. But with a vessel this size (properly speaking, she’s a ship) they’ve a shore-based caretaker crew of six including our Irish sailor, of whom four are always on board while the others are in dedicated accommodation ashore. There, all enjoy the services of the crew chef, so the biggest problem may well be keeping the personal weight down.

10 sea eagle 1110More of a ship than a yacht, Sea Eagle II is privately owned but may be available for charter.
11 sea eagle ii rig11Although she has substantial twin engines, Sea Eagle II is designed as a serious sailing proposition
Keeping weight down in the ends of his yacht has always been one of the priorities of Gerry Dykstra, who founded the design company in 1969. Thus although his own much-voyaged 53ft Bestevaer 2 is completely straight-stemmed with a short stern to match, within the accommodation there is virtually nothing in the forward and aft sections.

12 bestevaer 2 svalbard12Gerry Dykstra’s 53ft Bestevaer 2 in Svalbard. All accommodation and weight is concentrated as much as possible towards the centre of the boat

13 gerry dykstra13Innovative designer Gerry Dykstra – his personal heroes are G L Watson and Nat Herreshoff
Intriguingly, however, Dykstra says that his own yacht design heroes are Scotland’s G L Watson and America’s Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, who were in the vanguard in the introduction of bows with long overhangs in the 1890s. But in order to grasp that and how it came about, maybe we should take a quick canter through stem development in the 1800s.

Fishing boats always tended to have short overhangs forward, for several reasons, not least of them being the fact that their crowded harbours meant that with bowsprits raised, they could pack more boats in. Many yachtsmen felt that the straight stem type was also best for their needs, but the great sail trading ships and naval vessels gradually developed bowsprits which set so many multiple headsails that they became spars within their own right, and were best supported by the development of the clipper bow. It looked just right as it combined elegance with functionality, and by the time the schooner America arrived across the Atlantic in 1851, clipper bows seemed as popular as straighter stems.

This became even more the case in the 1860s, the great era of the racing schooners, which is when Ireland comes in on the story in a significant way, as the most successful schooner was linen magnate John Mulholland of Belfast’s “wonderful Egeria” of 1865, winner of many trophies during a long career.

Egeria sailingThe triumph of the clipper bow – John Mulholland’s schooner Egeria was the top performer in the 1860s and ’70s.
Yet in time, design developments and new rating rules saw a revival of cutters, and straight-stemmed ones at that, and this time the Irish input was by whiskey king John Jameson of Dublin, whose Irex of 1884 (designed by Alexander Richardson of Liverpool) was in the trophy lists for the rest of the 1880s.

Everyone thinks that it was uber-grocer Thomas Lipton of Monaghan and Glasgow who first demonstrated the commercial benefits of high profile yachting campaigns with his publicity-laden America’s Cup challenges. But it was the notoriously shy John Jameson who was ahead of the curve in this area, for every time Irex won a trophy, as she did the classic regatta circuit right through the season at many venues, the name John Jameson would appear in the sports pages, and up and up went the sales of his Irish whiskey.

15 irex sailing15Back to the straight stem – John Jameson’s Irex was the most successful cutter racing in the 1880s
But while John Jameson was shy, his brother Willie was an exuberant extrovert who was recognized as one of the best amateur sailors of his generation, and through his association with the success of Irex he became part of the Prince of Wales’s sailing set. So much so, in fact, that when the Prince ordered the construction of the new royal racing yacht Britannia in the late Autumn of 1892 to designs to G L Watson, it was Willie Jameson who was appointed Owner’s Representative for the project.

But there was even more of an Irish element to it than that, as Britannia was generously commissioned in order to provide a training partner for Valkyrie II, the Watson-designed America’s Cup challenger ordered a few weeks earlier from Watson by Lord Dunraven of Adare, Co Limerick.

All of that’s as may be, but in terms of our story about the development of bow shapes, the fact is that both Valkyrie II and Britannia had the new-look long overhang bows, and though in time Britannia came to be thought of as the perfect ideal of what a classically good-looking yacht should look like, when she and her near sister Valkyrie II appeared in the Spring of 1893, they were many who didn’t like the looks of the stems at all, and described them somewhat disparagingly as “spoon bows”.

16 britannia sailing16The new G L Watson-designed Britannia developing power and speed in 1893, when her innovative stem was disparaged as “a spoon bow”. For her first four very successful seasons, the Royal Sailing Master was Willie Jameson of Portmarnock, and in time her hull shape became accepted as classically elegant.
Yet today Gerry Dykstra of the vertical stems is enthusiastic in his admiration of the work of G L Watson (who of course introduced many other performance-enhancing design concepts) and he’s equally admiring of Nat Herreshoff, whose successful America’s Cup defenders if anything went even further in extending the bow overhang.

The idea underlying it all was that when the yacht was sailing, the long overhangs effectively lengthened the working waterline length thereby increasing the boat’s speed potential, and in practice, this was so evidently true that within three decades the RORC Rule for providing a handicap rating for the newly-developing sport of offshore racing was punitive in its treatment of long overhangs.

Myth of Malham

So much so, in fact, that some very odd boats soon began to appear, with their ultimate expression coming in 1947 with John Illingworth’s 40ft Myth of Malham, which won everything on this side of the Atlantic, but didn’t do so well in America, where they reckoned that they should have rating rules which encouraged the success of yachts that reflected the priorities of classic nautical design beauty.

17 myth of malham17John Illingworth’s Myth of Malham, built in 1947 to designs by Laurent Giles with very considerable input by the owner. As the RORC rating rule penalized long and elegant overhangs, Myth was built (by Hugh McLean in Scotland) just about as short-ended as possible.18 bolero sailing18The successful Sparkman & Stephens-designed 73ft Bolero of 1949 vintage. The American offshore rule made no secret of the fact that they wanted to encourage good-looking boats of classic elegance
Such yachts still appear, but they’re always designated as “Spirit of the Classics”, for in yacht design generally, things are moving so fast that straight stem on a new-build has long ceased to be a matter of comment, and the aspiration now is to create a bow shape which can somehow furrow the briny deep without leaving any foaming furrow marks at all. Strange times indeed. Stay safe.

Published in W M Nixon
Page 1 of 8

The Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) Information

The creation of the Irish Cruiser Racing Association (ICRA) began in a very low key way in the autumn of 2002 with an exploratory meeting between Denis Kiely, Jim Donegan and Fintan Cairns in the Granville Hotel in Waterford, and the first conference was held in February 2003 in Kilkenny.

While numbers of cruiser-racers were large, their specific locations were widespread, but there was simply no denying the numerical strength and majority power of the Cork-Dublin axis. To get what was then a very novel concept up and running, this strength of numbers had to be acknowledged, and the first National Championship in 2003 reflected this, as it was staged in Howth.

ICRA was run by a dedicated group of volunteers each of whom brought their special talents to the organisation. Jim Donegan, the elder statesman, was so much more interested in the wellbeing of the new organisation than in personal advancement that he insisted on Fintan Cairns being the first Commodore, while the distinguished Cork sailor was more than content to be Vice Commodore.

ICRA National Championships

Initially, the highlight of the ICRA season was the National Championship, which is essentially self-limiting, as it is restricted to boats which have or would be eligible for an IRC Rating. Boats not actually rated but eligible were catered for by ICRA’s ace number-cruncher Denis Kiely, who took Ireland’s long-established native rating system ECHO to new heights, thereby providing for extra entries which brought fleet numbers at most annual national championships to comfortably above the hundred mark, particularly at the height of the boom years. 

ICRA Boat of the Year (Winners 2004-2019)


ICRA Nationals 2021

The date for the 2021 edition of the ICRA National Championships is 3-5 September at the National Yacht Club on Dublin Bay.

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 Associations

isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

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

Please show your support for Afloat by donating