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Dublin Bay 21s’ Original Rudderheads Are Now Coveted Collectibles

19th May 2022
“The Special One” – the DB21 Geraldine arrives for restoration in Kilrush in July 2021. For members of the Queens University Belfast SC team of 1963, she holds cherished memoriest
“The Special One” – the DB21 Geraldine arrives for restoration in Kilrush in July 2021. For members of the Queens University Belfast SC team of 1963, she holds cherished memories Credit: Steve Morris

The continuing restoration of the Mylne-designed Dublin Bay 21 class of 1902-1908 origins, undertaken by Steve Morris of Kilrush Boatyard for Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra, has deservedly won several awards, including recognition for the project’s use of modern techniques and materials to re-create different parts of the original detail designs.

A particular case in point is the rudders, where the plain wooden stock of the original design was simply topped by a bronze rudderhead which incorporated the tiller fitting. But in the new version, the stocks are epoxy-laminated iroko, topped by a greenheart button or cap above the Marine Grade 316 stainless steel sleeve about a foot long, and running very smoothly on a Delrin bearing just under the deck.

The new rudderhead on Naneen incorporated the use of epoxy, top-grade stainless steel, and a Delrin bearing.The new rudderhead on Naneen incorporated the use of epoxy, top-grade stainless steel, and a Delrin bearing.

Thus the original rudderheads are now surplus to utilitarian requirements. Yet they’re eminently collectable. Not all had been accounted for as the fleet and its equipment were itemised before the move westward for restoration to Kilrush, and this now explains how an Afloat.ie reader recently came upon Naneen’s original rudderhead, apparently long-stored on a dusty shelf in a renowned Dublin salvage yard 

Naneen’s original rudderhead as discovered this month in a Dublin salvage yard, and here scaled by a pintNaneen’s original rudderhead as discovered this month in a Dublin salvage yard, and here scaled by a pint

However, an original rudderhead which did make it to Kilrush is the only one with which I have had any direct personal contact, and that is the white boat Geraldine’s original piece of tiller-controlling kit. Steve Morris has sent along a photo, as Geraldine is currently undergoing re-creation in Kilrush, and it all brings back memories of 1963 when the DB21s were making what was their last stand under their original rather demanding jackyard-toting gaff cutter rig, for the remorseless process of changing to Bermudan rig was about to begin.

Geraldine’s original rudderhead, first personally studied in detail in 1963, and seen here this week in Kilrush. Photo: Steve MorrisGeraldine’s original rudderhead, first personally studied in detail in 1963, and seen here this week in Kilrush. Photo: Steve Morris

Back in 1963, there was a long weekend of universities team racing under way in Dun Laoghaire, and sailing magazine editor Hugh Somerville was also in town. So the DB21 class deployed their generous hospitality and entire fleet of seven boats on the Friday night to give all the sailing student teams and the lone journo what looked like being a last chance to race the DB21s as originally conceived.

At the time I was much involved with the Queens University Belfast SC team, a group of which it might be said that while a whiff of Asperger’s was not mandatory, it was regarded as normal. Notwithstanding this, our very tolerant host-owner Paul Johnston gave us the free run of Geraldine – the white boat - and we managed to finish second, close astern of Hugh Somerville.

Tactician (left) and helmsman of the QUBSC 1963 DB21 Campaign Crew. While a whiff of Asperger’s wasn’t mandatory, it certainly helped. Photo: Russell O’Neill Tactician (left) and helmsman of the QUBSC 1963 DB21 Campaign Crew. While a whiff of Asperger’s wasn’t mandatory, it certainly helped. Photo: Russell O’Neill 

This meant we became Old Original Dublin Bay 21 Intervarsity World Champions for Life, and while it was not enough to inspire us in preventing UCD from becoming the Irish Intervarsities Team Racing Champions next day, it seemed to do something for us in Sunday morning’s two very special back-to-back team races in Fireflies against TCD.

This was for the Elwood Salver, donated back in the 1920s for TCD-v-QUB sailing competition by a distinguished Belfast sailing family, the Elwoods, whose links with TCD went back several generations. Despite its lengthy history, the Elwood Salver – which has probably long since disappeared into a cupboard of traded antiques – had never ever been won by QUB.

Until 1963, that is. Which explains why, for all that Naneen is the only DB21 actually built in Dun Laoghaire, as far as the QUBSC Class of ’63 is concerned, it is Geraldine – built by Hollweys of Ringsend – that is The Special One, for she is the most tangible reminder of one of the most extraordinary weekends that our little club ever experienced.

Published in Dublin Bay 21
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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

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Dublin Bay 21s

An exciting new project to breathe life into six defunct 120-year-old Irish yachts that happen to be the oldest intact one-design keelboat class in the world has captured the imagination of sailors at Ireland's biggest sailing centre. The birthplace of the original Dublin Bay 21 class is getting ready to welcome home the six restored craft after 40 years thanks to an ambitious boat building project was completed on the Shannon Estuary that saved them from completely rotting away.

Dublin Bay 21 FAQs

The Dublin Bay 21 is a vintage one-design wooden yacht designed for sailing in Dublin Bay.

Seven were built between 1903 and 1906.

As of 2020, the yachts are 117 years old.

Alfred Mylne designed the seven yachts.

The total voting population in the Republic's inhabited islands is just over 2,600 people, according to the Department of Housing.

Dublin Bay Sailing Club (DBSC) commissioned the boat to encourage inexpensive one-design racing to recognise the success of the Water Wag one-design dinghy of 1887 and the Colleen keelboat class of 1897.

Estelle built by Hollwey, 1903; Garavogue built by Kelly, 1903; Innisfallen built by Hollwey, 1903.; Maureen built by Hollwey, 1903.; Oola built by Kelly, 1905; Naneen built by Clancy, 1905.

Overall length- 32'-6', Beam- 7'-6", Keel lead- 2 tons Sail area - 600sq.ft

The first race took place on 19 June 1903 in Dublin Bay.

They may be the oldest intact class of racing keelboat yacht in the world. Sailing together in a fleet, they are one of the loveliest sights to be seen on any sailing waters in the world, according to many Dublin Bay aficionados.

In 1964, some of the owners thought that the boats were outdated, and needed a new breath of fresh air. After extensive discussions between all the owners, the gaff rig and timber mast was abandoned in favour of a more fashionable Bermudan rig with an aluminium mast. Unfortunately, this rig put previously unseen loads on the hulls, resulting in some permanent damage.

The fleet was taken out of the water in 1986 after Hurricane Charlie ruined active Dublin Bay 21 fleet racing in August of that year. Two 21s sank in the storm, suffering the same fate as their sister ship Estelle four years earlier. The class then became defunct. In 1988, master shipwright Jack Tyrrell of Arklow inspected the fleet and considered the state of the hulls as vulnerable, describing them as 'still restorable even if some would need a virtual rebuild'. The fleet then lay rotting in a farmyard in Arklow until 2019 and the pioneering project of Dun Laoghaire sailors Fionan De Barra and Hal Sisk who decided to bring them back to their former glory.

Hurricane Charlie finally ruined active Dublin Bay 21 fleet racing in August 1986. Two 21s sank in the storm, suffering the same fate as a sister ship four years earlier; Estelle sank twice, once on her moorings and once in a near-tragic downwind capsize. Despite their collective salvage from the sea bed, the class decided the ancient boats should not be allowed suffer anymore. To avoid further deterioration and risk to the rare craft all seven 21s were put into storage in 1989 under the direction of the naval architect Jack Tyrrell at his yard in Arklow.

While two of the fleet, Garavogue and Geraldine sailed to their current home, the other five, in various states of disrepair, were carried the 50-odd miles to Arklow by road.

To revive the legendary Dublin Bay 21 class, the famous Mylne design of 1902-03. Hal Sisk and Fionan de Barra are developing ideas to retain the class's spirit while making the boats more appropriate to today's needs in Dun Laoghaire harbour, with its many other rival sailing attractions. The Dublin Bay 21-foot class's fate represents far more than the loss of a single class; it is bad news for the Bay's yachting heritage at large. Although Dún Laoghaire turned a blind eye to the plight of the oldest intact one-design keelboat fleet in the world for 30 years or more they are now fully restored.

The Dublin Bay 21 Restoration team includes Steve Morris, James Madigan, Hal Sisk, Fionan de Barra, Fintan Ryan and Dan Mill.

Retaining the pure Mylne-designed hull was essential, but the project has new laminated cold-moulded hulls which are being built inverted but will, when finished and upright, be fitted on the original ballast keels, thereby maintaining the boat’s continuity of existence, the presence of the true spirit of the ship.

It will be a gunter-rigged sloop. It was decided a simpler yet clearly vintage rig was needed for the time-constrained sailors of the 21st Century. So, far from bringing the original and almost-mythical gaff cutter rig with jackyard topsail back to life above a traditionally-constructed hull, the project is content to have an attractive gunter-rigged sloop – “American gaff” some would call it.

The first DB 21 to get the treatment was Naneen, originally built in 1905 by Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for T. Cosby Burrowes, a serial boat owner from Cavan.

On Dublin Bay. Dublin Bay Sailing Club granted a racing start for 2020 Tuesday evening racing starting in 2020, but it was deferred due to COVID-19.
Initially, two Dublin Bay 21s will race then three as the boat building project based in Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary completes the six-boat project.
The restored boats will be welcomed back to the Bay in a special DBSC gun salute from committee boat Mac Lir at the start of the season.
In a recollection for Afloat, well known Dun Laoghaire one-design sailor Roger Bannon said: "They were complete bitches of boats to sail, over-canvassed and fundamentally badly balanced. Their construction and design was also seriously flawed which meant that they constantly leaked and required endless expensive maintenance. They suffered from unbelievable lee helm which led to regular swamping's and indeed several sinkings.

©Afloat 2020

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