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A World War 1 veteran HMS Caroline has according to the BelfastTelegraph, been tipped as favourite to win the prestigious Art Fund Museum of the Year Award.

Bookmaker Sean Graham has given the recently restored Belfast-based ship, which saw service in the First World War, odds of 4-7 in the hotly-contested competition.

The city dock attraction joins four other high-profile venues in the running for the accolade, going up against Nottingham Contemporary, which has been given odds of 2-1, St Fagan's National Museum of History in Cardiff (4-1), V&A Dundee and the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, (both ranked at 6-1).

The winning entrant, announced at a ceremony held in the Science Museum in London this evening, will receive £100,000. The runners-up will each receive £10,000 in recognition of their achievements.

The Art Fund prize aims to champion what museums do and encourage more people to experience what makes a truly outstanding museum.

To read more click here on the last floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland.

Published in Historic Boats

#historicboats - A World War One warship HMS Caroline has been shortlisted for the 2019 Art Fund Museum of the Year award.

The Belfast-based vessel reports BBC News will compete against four other UK museums for the prestigious prize, worth £100,000.

HMS Caroline is the Royal Navy's sole surviving ship from the 1916 Battle of Jutland, the biggest sea battle of the conflict.

The warship opened to the public as a museum on the centenary of the battle.

Built in 1914 in Birkenhead in England, HMS Caroline was one of the fastest warships of its time.

The Battle of Jutland - off the coast of Denmark - involved some 250 ships from the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet.

More than 8,500 sailors lost their lives in the 12-hour battle on 31 May and 1 June 1916.

After the war, HMS Caroline was berthed in Belfast as a training ship, but also saw service in World War Two.

More on this story can be read here.

Published in Historic Boats

#marinescience - RV Corystes, Northern Ireland's research vessel is currently berthed in Belfast Harbour in support of the NI Science Festival.

RV Corystes operated by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) is docked on Queen’s Quay, downriver from central Belfast along the north banks of the River Lagan. The vessel had been open to public visits, however there is so much more involved in the annual NI Science Festival which began events last week and continues until 24 February. 

There is over 180 events (including those for families to enjoy) and spread across more then 50 venues. A wide range of stimulating events will be available to focus on the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Also according to the festival website, during the day there will be a range of workshops, talks and interactive activities for young people, parents and schools. As for evening events, there will be an eclectic mix of scientific debate, talks, theatres, comedy, music and film for adults.

What about the HMS Caroline’s KS2 Schools programme which offers a range of STEM-themed packages throughout the month of February, for more details click here. 

On the festival's final day, 24 February, under the category Natural World, science and wildlife TV presenter Liz Bonnin will present Galapagos: Evolution and Global Change. In addition later that day, Liz will also present: The Problem with Plastics. 

For a list of all categories in the festival programme and events details and how to book click here in addition to visiting their facebook page.

Published in Marine Science

#MaritimeFestivals - A month-long festival in Belfast Harbour is to start in the end of March at the Titanic Quarter.

Dockside Festival runs from 27 March to 20 April and as The Irish News reports the festival will be held in the Alexandra Dock & Wharf and on- board the visitor centre HMS Caroline.

Children can enjoy activity trails, arts and crafts while adults can avail of film screenings in the ship's Drill Hall as well as a series of lectures.

Over the Easter holiday there will be Woolly Workshops where children can make their own pom pom bunnies and carete a Blucher the Rabbit headdress.

Films being shown in HMS Caroline’s Drill Hall will include The Goonies (PG) on Friday April 13 and Piranha (18) on Friday April 20.

Jamie Wilson, General Manager at HMS Caroline, said the Pump House visitor centre "adds to what is already truly a captivating and enjoyable day of maritime adventure”.

HMS Caroline is operated by The National Museum of the Royal Navy and is the world’s last remaining floating survivor from the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Moored in Belfast since 1924, over the past four years HMS Caroline has been fully restored and fitted out with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund in Northern Ireland.

For a list of the festival highlights and dates, click here.

Published in Maritime Festivals

#BelfastLough - A surprise visit by Sir Kenneth Branagh was made to HMS Caroline in Belfast Harbour on Tuesday - surprising a group of movie-goers who were on board to watch his turn in the Oscar nominated Dunkirk.

The actor reports The Belfast Telegraph is in the city to be awarded the Freedom of Belfast at a special ceremony at the Ulster Hall.

Ahead of the event, the Belfast-born star visited the historic vessel which was screening the movie as part of the pop-up Branagh in Belfast film festival.

Mr Branagh enjoyed a short tour of the HMS Caroline, before giving a very special welcome to those on board for the movie screening.

Jamie Wilson, General Manager for HMS Caroline, The National Museum of the Royal Navy spoke of the team’s delight to welcome Mr Branagh to the WW1 vessel.

He said: “It has been a pleasure welcoming Mr Branagh to see this piece of living history, and of course, give our visitors today a fantastic surprise ahead of their special Dunkirk screening.”

The celebration event at the Ulster Hall will highlight Branagh’s long and productive artistic and charitable connection to the city, where he was born and lived until the age of nine.

Writing in the programme for the ceremony, Branagh said: “My Belfast childhood was characterised by Freedom. Here was a city, a big city to my child’s eyes that always felt like a village.

“It seemed like you couldn’t get lost. Everyone knew you or someone who knew you. In the landscape, the Cavehill seemed to wrap itself around you protectively from one side, and the shipyard raised the strong arms of its cranes from the other.

“You could see and feel the limits of where you lived, and you knew exactly who you were – Belfast, working class, proud.”

To read much more on the visit by the actor and film director to his beloved city, click here.

Published in Belfast Lough

#HMScaroline - An historic ship with a wartime past that is a modern day Belfast tourist attraction has had its future secured thanks to a major programme of innovative repairs, safety upgrades and improvements.

As the Belfast Telegraph writes, HMS Caroline, the only survivor of the First World War Battle of Jutland, is now nearly ship-shape and Bristol fashion again and ready to reopen to the public, who visited it in their thousands last year.

The ship underwent extensive repairs over the winter and engineers came up with an ingenious solution to the problem of how to make it even safer for visitors.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy said it was one of the most innovative engineering projects seen in Ireland, and it is nearing completion at Alexandra Dock in Belfast.

The ship was fully restored and opened to the public in May 2016 with £15,086,100 backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £4,518,000 support from Tourism NI.

But repairs were needed to the hull and they have been carried out by Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries.

 At the same time a hugely-complex permanent mooring system to make the ship safe for the public and also to protect it from lateral movements as it floats on the rising and falling tides is now close to completion. For more on the return of the floating tourist attraction, click here.

Published in Historic Boats

#WomenWWI - In partnership, HMS Caroline and the Public Service of Northern Ireland (PRONI) will present an afternoon themed around archive creation and care on 23 March.

The time for the event is 1.00 pm – 3.00 pm and held at the premises of PRONI in the Titanic Quarter, Belfast.

This event is part of Belfast Strategic Partnership's Festival of Learning, 2017.

The Festival of Learning aims to demonstrate learning in all its forms across Belfast, covering;

learning through education

learning for life

learning to live together

learning for and in work

The session will include a tour of PRONI’s archive focusing on aspects that relate to the First World War and Women’s History.

This will be followed be a session led by the Curatorial and Learning Teams at HMS Caroline discussing the approach to building and creating an archive of oral history and ephemeral material related to WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) history at HMS Caroline.

Booking for this event is Free by clicking through Eventbrite here.

On a separate yet related note Afloat advises that HMS Caroline which is located nearby to PRONI, is currently closed for hull conservation work at Harland & Wolff and is due to reopen this Spring.

For further details and updates visit the website of HMS Caroline, the recently restored last floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland.

Published in News Update

#Jutland100th - The last surviving Battle of Jutland naval ship provided a fitting backdrop writes the Belfast Telegraph for a commemoration honouring its centenary and all the Irish sailors who served in the First World War.

The event today at the Belfast dockside adjacent to the freshly refurbished HMS Caroline was attended by Prince Michael of Kent and a host of other dignitaries.

Read WM Nixon's blog on HMS Caroline

The memorial heard poignant testimony from a number of descendants of those who saw action on the high seas during the conflict.

On a glorious sunny afternoon, wreaths commemorating those who died were dropped by Navy officers into the relatively still waters of Belfast Lough.

The commemoration was held a day before the restored HMS Caroline will open to the public as the latest maritime-themed visitor attraction in a redeveloped dockland area that already boasts the award-winning Titanic Belfast centre.

At the close of the event, Prince Michael cut a ribbon to mark the completion of the £15 million-plus lottery-backed restoration project.

For more to read on the story click here.

Published in Historic Boats

#Jutland100th - Descendants of Irish sailors will gather in Belfast at Alexandra Dock on Tuesday for a commemoration marking their role during the First World War.

The event writes the Belfast Telegraph will also mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland - and witness the official opening of HMS Caroline. The cruiser is the last remaining vessel that took part in the pivotal World War I sea battle which saw thousands of sailors lose their lives.

The Battle of Jutland involved 100,000 men in a 36-hour sea battle in which time Britain lost 14 ships and 6,000 sailors and Germany lost 11 ships and 2,500 sailors. More than 350 of the men lost were from Ireland.

Descendants of sailors from the Royal Navy and Mercantile Navy will coming from Australia, America, Canada, Spain, Britain and the rest of Ireland on May 31 for the commemoration.

The Royal Navy and Irish Naval Service will stand side by side to mark all from the island of Ireland who served at sea and wreaths will be laid. (See Afloat’s Sailing on Saturdays with WM Nixon).

Senior political and military representatives from the UK and Ireland will be in attendance, alongside a German Naval Admiral.

The ports of Ireland, Irish Lights and maritime emergency services will also gather with families of those who served, and Belfast City Council will host all attendees for a civic lunch on completion of the ceremony.

Irish Naval Service LE Ciara and the Royal Navy’s HMS Ramsey (see NATO visit to Dublin in April) will be in port this weekend and open to the public as part of Belfast's Titanic Maritime Festival as previously reported on Afloat.ie

For more on this story click here.

Published in Historic Boats

Next Tuesday, May 31st, marks the Centenary of the outbreak of the Battle of Jutland off the northern coast of Denmark, the greatest sea battle of World War I (1914-18). In terms of the fire-power of the 250 vessels in action – many of them the most powerful first class battleships of their time – it may still be the greatest naval battle ever fought, even if its results were not clearcut during the engagement itself. For Jutland subsequently ensured that Imperial Germany’s surface fleet stayed largely in port, thereby closing off seaborne sources of supply. This contributed to the inevitable outcome of the Armistice on November 11th 1918, though not until after there has been much further slaughter on land between the warring armies.

Of the many ships which were present at Jutland, only one has survived. This is the C-class light cruiser HMS Caroline, which from the 1920s onwards served as the Belfast HQ of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. She was decommissioned from this role some years ago, and there was some doubt as to her future. But her unique position as the only survivor of Jutland has seen a flurry of activity on the ship for the past eight months and more, with the Caroline getting the benefit of a €20 million Lottery Heritage grant for her restoration as the centrepiece of a Naval Museum which will start to go public from next Tuesday. W M Nixon takes up the story, and goes on to provide the unexpected follow-up of how a leading player in the Howth gun-running of 1914, a man honoured in Irish history, was last weekend celebrated in Belgium as a great British hero of World War I.

In terms of shared memories handed down through the generations, a hundred years is little enough time. But Centenaries offer an opportunity for taking stock, a time for re-shaping attitudes to acknowledge the fact that combatants in any conflict had a shared humanity, however opposed their views and objectives may have been. The recent unveiling in Glasnevin of the impressive Memorial which lists everyone killed in the Rising of 1916, regardless of which side they were on, was a significant step. And next week’s shared ceremony in Belfast at HMS Caroline, which will include the Irish Naval Service in an official capacity, will acknowledge the many Irish sailors - sailors from what is now the Republic - who lost their lives at Jutland just five weeks after the Easter Rising in Dublin.

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HMS Caroline in her original form – she was commissioned in December 1914

The enormity of the carnage and endless stalemate of the Great War, and the industrialisation of the means of fighting with the institutionalisation of those who found themselves involved, is something almost beyond our grasp today, enjoying as we do our lives of multiple choices and continually available diversions. And when you read the obnoxiously gung-ho editorials of the pro-war newspapers of a hundred years ago, cheerfully exhorting young men to an almost certain and very unpleasant death, it is to realize that the past is indeed a different country.

Yet it’s a country which we have inherited and must try to understand. To do so, perhaps the most helpful way is through a contemplation of the individual stories involved, for in total war individuality is one of the first casualties.

But the individuality of each sailor is quickly lost in the sheer weight of statistics. The death toll at Jutland may have seemed minor by comparison with the wholesale slaughter which occurred when some new army offensive was launched on the Western Front. But the figures are chilling nevertheless, with Royal Navy sustaining more than 6,000 deaths. This was more than twice the German losses, but although Britain had lost such prestige ships as the largest battleship HMS Queen Mary (she blew up with 1266 deaths – only 18 survived), the Royal Navy was still powerful enough after the battle to ensure that the German fleet was confined to port.

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From the 1920s, HMS Caroline served as the Belfast HQ of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Her accommodation was decidedly limited, so later additions included what looked to casual observers to be sheds rather than cabins.

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Work under way restoring and where necessary replacing HMS Caroline’s deck

Of the death toll in the British side at Jutland, at least 350 were from Ireland, and while it’s reckoned that 90 were from what subsequently became Northern Ireland in 1921, recent research suggests that 266 were from what became the Free State and is now the Republic, with nearly half of them being from the great naval port of Cork Harbour.

At Belfast Harbour, the personal touch will be manifest as more than 200 relatives of those from Ireland who were lost at Jutland will be attending next Tuesday’s ceremonies, whose staging will quite rightly cause us to confront yet again the sheer mindless horror of the Great War. But last weekend in Belgium, we were remembering people – sailing people to be precise – who had gone off to the Great War in an almost festive frame of mind.

In my case, involvement came through Asgard and the Howth gun-running of 1914. We all know about Erskine and Molly Childers and Mary Spring-Rice and their professional crew of Charles Duggan and Pat McGinley from Gola Island in Donegal. But it was the sixth member of Asgard’s crew, Gordon Shephard, a keen amateur sailor and personal friend of Erskine and Molly Childers, who remained something of a mystery.

Shephard’s involvement in the gun-running was an even greater mystery to his fellow officers in the British Army, for he was a career soldier of impeccable background, Eton-educated and a product of Sandhurst military academy. But he had a liberal frame of mind which strengthened as he grew older, and he was - like Childers - a strong supporter of the Irish Home Rule movement. So when it was proposed to smuggle a consignment of 1500 German guns into Ireland aboard Childers’ Asgard and Conor O’Brien’s Kelpie in response to the importation into the north in April 1914 of 24,000 German guns by the anti-Home Rule Ulster Volunteer Force, Shephard was very much involved, though he requested he be called “Mr Gordon” during it all, as the name Shephard might have alerted the authorities and jeopardised his military career.

That Shephard was part of an English social elite there is no doubt, and the Irish people involved were definitely pillars of society too. So much so, in fact, that in advance of last night’s 185th Anniversary Dinner of the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, I was told that of all Ireland’s yacht clubs it was the RIYC which was most closely connected to the gun-running. For although Erskine Childers bought his first cruising yacht, the 2.5 Rater Shulah, from G B Thompson of the Royal St George YC in 1892, and subsequently bought a Water Wag for use on Lough Dan in what was then Kingstown in 1894, he never seems to have been a member of any Irish yacht club, whereas Conor O’Brien was to be closely associated with the Royal Irish, and the 600 guns from his old ketch Kelpie were transferred to the auxiliary yacht Chotah owned by Sir Thomas Myles RIYC, who subsequently landed them on the beach at Kilcoole County Wicklow.

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Sir Thomas Myles with friends and crew aboard his sailing cruiser Faith (RIYC) in Dublin Bay in the late 1920s. In 1914, with his 60ft auxiliary-powered Chotah, he took on board the 600 guns brought from the Belgian coast by Conor O’Brien on Kelpie, and landed them on the beach at Kilcoole, County Wicklow. Photo: Courtesy RIYC

Yet apart from the fact that since 1911 this mystery man Gordon Shephard had been a fellow-member with Erskine Childers in the London-based Royal Cruising Club, with his subsequent wartime career with the Royal Flying Corps being one of great distinction, little enough was know about him until enthusiastic amateur historian Michael Branagan discovered that a Memoir of Gordon Shephard, edited by Sir Shane Leslie, had been privately printed in 1924, and a copy of it was in the library at Castle Leslie in County Monaghan.

Michael being Michael, he got himself up to the depths of Monaghan and spent what must have been the most of a day making two good photocopies of it, one of which he gave to me, and thus we both now know more about Gordon Shephard than you’d have thought possible, yet somehow he remains as elusive as ever.

For here was a young Army officer who accidentally shot himself  in the foot during some horseplay in the Mess, yet his charm and abilities were such that he was able to continue his army career despite being described by one fellow soldier as “the least military man I ever met”.

At Eton he’d been criticised by his tutor as being too relaxed in his attitude to discipline, yet when he took up cruising with great enthusiasm around the age of 20, his light hand of authority proved exactly right for getting the best out of his crews. In 1911 he was awarded the world’s premier cruising trophy, the RCC Challenge Cup, for an extraordinary voyage to the furthest point of the Baltic with his 9-ton yawl Sorata. And then in 1913 he was awarded it again for his even more famous Autumnal venture of bringing Erkine and Molly Childers’ Asgard from Norway to Conwy in North Wales via the Shetlands and the Outer Hebrides through severe storms, including a genuine Force 11.

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Gordon Shephard and Erskine Childers aboard Asgard with the Howth guns, July 1914. Although everyone else was keen to have their photo taken, Shephard reckoned that as a serving army officer, it might not be a good career move to appear full face

It was typical of the affection in which Shephard was held by his many friends that, owing to his leave running out, he’d to return to his regiment leaving Asgard in Conwy, yet not once did Childers complain about it. This was despite the fact that Shephard had been meant to deliver Asgard to Southampton. But far from complaining, Childers helped to put together the Shephard log which was awarded the cup.

When the gun-running proposal came up in May 1914, Shephard doesn’t seem to have hesitated at all in volunteering to go along. He was engaging company on board, with a nice line in humour, and in her personal log of the venture, Mary Spring-Rice records how he volunteered to cook the supper in rough weather when Asgard was wellnigh uninhabitable with the cargo of guns stowed everywhere. Shephard gallantly weighed in with the cooking of an enormous omelette. But when it was almost ready, he decided it needed an extra little something. So he tipped in the most of a tin of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. We’re told that Syrup Omelette tastes better than it sounds…..

Shephard played a key role in the actual landing of the guns at Howth, for although he’d to leave Asgard at Milford Haven for a week back on duty with the army, he was one of the few who knew the details of Childers’ berthing plans, and on that breezy July Sunday lunchtime a week later, he was stationed at the end of the East Pier in Howth for the crucial task of taking and securing the lines as Asgard came into port with the fresh wind right up her stern. Molly Childers made a superb job of the helming, but without those lines smartly made fast ashore, it could have gone very wrong. Yet thanks to Gordon Shephard on the quayside, all went like clockwork.

But within a week, the Great War had broken out, and with his military future now in the Royal Flying Corps which he had joined on its formation in 1912, his formerly pedestrian rate of promotion became meteoric. He had a magnificent war - if there is such a thing – and by 1917 at the age of 31 he had become the youngest Brigadier General in the British Army with many decorations including a Legion d’Honneur from the French for heroic service in 1915.

Yet he remained the same unassuming Gordon Shephard, refusing to become a “chateau general” despite his obvious talents in aviation innovation and strategic planning. Instead, he stayed with  his units, and regularly visited each one at their various airfields, flying himself in a little scout plane to make regular personal visits to sort out problems and encourage his pilots.

Nevertheless the war took its severe toll on him. When we look at the photo of Gordon Shephard aboard Sorata in 1911, we’re looking at a photo of a youthful 25-year-old sailing enthusiast. But when we look at the photo of Gordon Shephard when he became a Brigadier-General just six years later, we’re seeing someone who looks about 50, and a badly worn 50 at that.

He died soon afterwards in a flying accident. He’d set out as usual on 19th January 1918 to fly himself to several of his units, but just short of the first airfield on his route, his little plane came spinning out of the clouds, and he suffered ultimately fatal injuries in the crash.

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Without a care in the world. A youthful Gordon Shephard aboard Sorata aged 25 in 1911 Photo courtesy Castle Leslie

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Brigadier-General Gordon Shephard in 1917 – at 31, he was the youngest Brigadier-General in the British Army, but he had pushed himself so hard that he looked more like 50

His funeral was an impressive affair, attended by an awesome array of the top brass, yet in the huge losses of the Great War, the name of Gordon Shephard slipped from view. As he left no family, he would have been forgotten were it not for the Howth gun-running and those two impressive awards of the Royal Cruising Club’s Challenge Cup in 1911 and 1913.

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Belgium’s Royal North Sea Yacht Club at Ostend. While most of its fleet is cruisers and offshore racers, the club also has a class of vintage International Dragons. Photo: W M Nixon

This year, the RCC decided to hold a rally to Ostend to remember its many members who died in the Great War, and visit some of the battle sites of the Western Front over which Gordon Shephard had flown on many of his highly-valued reconnaissance flights. It was last weekend, and there was a gathering in the Royal Nord See Yacht Club, with a goodly part of the assembly was made up of people who’d sailed there. The pace was set by Commodore Henry Clay, who’d voyaged from Chichester Harbour in West Sussex with his wife Louise in Highlander, his little slip of an H Boat. Yet despite their cramped accommodation, the Commodore stepped ashore looking immaculate.

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Dragon manoeuvres in Ostend. Immediately beyond is the H Boat Highlander, which RCC Commodore Henry Clay and his wife Louise had sailed to the Rally from Chichester Harbour in West Sussex. Photo: W M Nixon

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Setting the sartorial example. Despite being aboard the smallest boat in the fleet, the Commodore was the neatest of the lot of us. Photo: W M Nixon

With our trio from Ireland, we’d already done the quintessential Belgian thing with a visit that day to the ancient watery city of Bruges nearby, which is even more wonderful than you’d imagine if approached in the right spirit. And then in the RNSYC we were treated to a classic Belgian fishing port dinner of majestic cod with all the trimmings, and during it those of us with some knowledge of the club’s war heroes talked of them and their eccentricities (of which there were many) and their achievements.

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Bruges evokes a sense of civilisation and peace – it takes an effort to realise that it has frequently been fought over, and the Western Front in the Great War was just up the road. Photo: W M Nixon

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There’s no such thing as OTT in Bruges – some things are just even more normal than others. Photo: W M Nixon

It had been a sweet warm evening of early summer, but next day the rain eventually set in with Belgian thoroughness - probably the best conditions in which to see what’s left of the Western Front and its hundreds of cemeteries and memorial sites and former military installations, for I don’t think you could cope with it in bright sunny weather. But pleasant little houses and hamlets are everywhere - the gallant Belgians are determined to maintain normal life as much as possible after a war which displaced 600,000 of them from their homes, such that it was 1930 before life had returned to anything like normal, and all that with the next World War just nine years down the line…….

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In Flanders Fields…..the former war zone in Belgium has hundreds of immaculately-maintained cemeteries. Every grave is kept to the same high standard, as no-one knows when some relative might call by, though many are the graves of soldiers “Known Only Unto God”. This happens to be the cemetery beside the Dressing Station where Canadian doctor John McCrae was based - he wrote one of the finest poems of the war, “In Flanders Fields”. Photo: W M Nixon 

Our journey had extra specific purposes, as two of the group wished to plant poppied crosses at graves of relatives which the extraordinarily obliging staff had located in a sea of headstones,

Then like so many before us, we ended our tour at the Menen Gate in Ypres, Lutyen’s memorial masterpiece, for the Last Post at 2000 hours on Sunday evening.

In a human and civilising touch, the Last Post is now provided by the local Fire Brigade, as most of the military have moved on, while any remaining units are only on a short posting. For their part, the Ypres Fire Brigade make a very fine job of it. The first call of the bugles came through loud and clear, and then there was a pause while various groups laid wreaths with impressive natural dignity. There followed the second bugle call, resonating majestically in the acoustic perfection of the great arch. Then despite the large crowd, for a while it was so silent all you could hear was the steady fall of the rain. And birdsong. You get a lot of birdsong in Belgium.

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The Menen Gate at Ypres – the little town was obliterated in the Great War, but when the inhabitants were finally able to return, they insisted on re-building it exactly as it had been before. Photo: W M Nixon

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The captains and the kings and their many soldiers have all now gone – and in their absence, the Ypres Fire Brigade does a very good job of sounding the Last Post at the Menen Gate every evening at 2000hrs. Photo: W M Nixon

Having been to Ypres and having seen so much that is utterly moving or numbing in the countryside about it, we wish them well, those who will be gathering at HMS Caroline in Belfast next Tuesday. It is painful to remember. But it is worse to forget.

And then perhaps, as we get used to HMS Caroline being a ship of interest to everyone in Ireland and indeed to people throughout Europe and beyond, would it be too much to hope that she could become the centerpiece of a proper maritime museum? For although the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum along the coast at Cultra do have a small collection of boats of Irish interest, some are kept in store and not displayed at all, while others aren’t looking too happy amidst a maze of agricultural artefacts. Surely a port like Belfast could provide them with a proper home?

Published in W M Nixon
Page 1 of 3

The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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