Displaying items by tag: Ilen
The restoration of the 56ft ketch trading ketch Ilen (1926) and the re-build of world-girdling 42ft Saoirse (1922) at Oldcourt in West Cork has become a focal point of interest of what might seem to an outsider to be a secret brotherhood of the maritime world writes W M Nixon
It’s not that these people set out to be mysterious or secretive. It’s just that they operate on a different level to the rest of us. Typical of them is Jarlath Cunnane of Mayo. He’s always building boats for himself. He built the special aluminium 15 metre (49ft) exploration yacht Northabout with which he and Paddy Barry and a rugged crew transitted both the Northwest and the Northeast passages.
Yet despite Northabout’s alloy build, he’s very much a fan of traditional craft. So when he heard that Gary MacMahon of Limerick and his team were undertaking the ticklish job of stepping Ilen’s new masts in West Cork in a very limited time frame earlier this month, he and frequent shipmate Dr Mick Brogan (he owns the giant Galway Hooker Mac Duach and is much involved in Cruinniu na mBad at Kinvara) simply appeared at just the right time at Oldcourt, and their help was much appreciated.
On the opposite side of the country from Mayo, Wally McGuirk of Howth is another enthusiast for traditional boat-building who nevertheless was not slow in using basic steel construction for his 40ft dream yacht Swallow, the last design by O’Brien Kennedy. Wally built her himself, and since then has introduced all sorts of inventive additions, a notable one being the legs which support the boat if she is going to dry out at low water.
Wally reckoned the traditional legs bolted on to the outside of the hull amidships are an unsightly nuisance. So he built a couple of hefty steel casings at a sight angle inside Swallow, and these neatly house the legs which are retracted virtually out of sight when not in use.
Yet although he enjoys the freedom of innovation which steel construction permits, Wally’s heart is in wood. And as he happens to be a property developer of sorts, quantities of choice vintage timber have come his way over the years. Thus when he was making major alterations to a 1798 building which had once been a brewery in Brunswick Street in old Dublin, he ended up with some lovely perfectly-seasoned pine of hefty proportions which he stored carefully, such that the rain has never fallen on it.
He could never think of a suitably idealistic use for it until the Ilen Project developed, and that hit the target. So last weekend the beautiful timber of 1798 journeyed to West Cork, and in time it will make a characterful cabin sole in the handsome ship.
Meanwhile, Gary MacMahon had sourced some quality Douglas fir of 1831 from a building in Limerick, and that has already been deployed to good effect in Ilen’s cabins, where seven proper seagoing bunks will be provided.
As for the Ilen Project generally, the recent flurry of news about the re-development of the land around the Ted Russell Dock beside the city centre has reminded everyone that Limerick is now Ilen’s home port, and very well it looked too on a mock-up applied to Ilen’s handsome transom this week.
Much of Ireland may seem to have endured one bout of meteorological mayhem after another for most of the winter, with this weekend being no exception writes W M Nixon. Yet the Guardian Angel of the Ilen Project has always intervened in a very helpful way when this fascinating two-strand restoration of a 1926-built 56ft ketch needs some gentle weather conditions for everything to go according to plan.
Back at the beginning of January, the world watched and waited with bated breath for suitable tidal conditions and a usable weather window to coincide. This was needed to move the 30-ton vessel from her re-build shed to her fit-out berth in the hyper-crowded circumstances of master shipwright Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt in West Cork.
The winter weather onslaught abated for a day, the complex move was made with even a tiny glimpse of January sunshine to brighten its progress, and then with the historic ship secure in her new shore berth, the weather closed in again with renewed vigour for a week, until it relented sufficiently for a robust deck-tent to be erected to allow work to continue.
The presence of the deck tent meant that when the new masts arrived from the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick for almost immediate stepping, gentle conditions were once again required, as the job of craning them in was in effect being done blind.
This week, everything that could be done to the masts in the Limerick workshop was completed. And the weather portents indicated that a smoothly-executed transport job, with 200 kilometres of trucking for the spars, would do the trick provided they were on their way from Limerick on Thursday, and everything was in place for the main part of the stepping on Friday.
This may all seem fairly straightforward to those accustomed to major industrial projects with abundant resources and every possible sort of equipment. But the Ilen Project is none of these things. It’s more of a wing-and-a-prayer shoestring operation. Yet despite their very limited resources, Gary MacMahon and Liam Hegarty and their teams at both locations have succeeded in restoring a fine little ship, and one of considerable historic significance, thanks to her links with Conor O’Brien.
And as the photos show, once again as soon as it was needed, the weather served up conditions even gentler than the most optimistic forecasts. The entire mast move from Limerick to West Cork, and the blind stepping, went like clockwork.
The process demanded the participation of 14 individuals, two forklifts, a 45ft foot road trailer, and a crane and a shorter trailer on arrival at the boatyard. Today, Ilen has two new masts, a prodigious bowsprit, and a very happy crew.
Photos: Deirdre Power, Dermot Lynch and Gary Mac Mahon
You might well say that the Ilen Project has been galvanised into further action writes W M Nixon. The historic 1926-built 56ft ketch’s restoration has been a matter of the hull being re-born at Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore, while the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick has moved forward in tandem, building smaller items including deckhouses, which have then been taken to the ship for fitting. And today (Thursday) the mighty mainmast and topmast are being trucked southwestward from the school for early stepping in the ship.
For modern sailors accustomed to silver aluminium extrusions or black carbon fibre, the sight of the beautifully-crafted wooden spars gives pause for thought. But in some ways even more impressive are the traditionally galvanized steel fittings. One upon a time, galvanizing steel fittings for marine use was looked on as something of a luxury. Indeed, it was argued that the “right kind of rust” was in itself a sort of protective coating. But then we went through a stage where galvanizing for everything maritime made in steel was the done thing, while the height of luxury was having bronze fittings in special marine grade.
Quite when stainless steel started to take over is hard to say, but these days grade A316 is the minimum standard stainless steel expected. But traditionalists would have it that if you’re restoring a traditional ship, you must have traditional galvanized fittings. So that was the code followed in assembling the steel bits and pieces which work together to make the Ilen’s mainmast assembly a thing of power and purpose.
Firstly they were made up as naked steel. Then they were given a test fitting. And then when everything had shown itself as right and proper, off they all went went to the nearby galvanizing works, for that’s the way you can do it in the heart of Limerick city.
This week it has all been coming together in its finished form in the boat-building school, and the Thursday journey to far West Cork is a time for mixed feelings. Those spars had become part of the character, the very soul, of the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick. The place won’t seem the same without them, centrally present at some informative stage of their creation. But their departure is part of the continuing creative process. Now, a safe journey is the priority.
Efficient travel between the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick and Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt near Baltimore, where work continues on restoring the 56ft 1926-built ketch Ilen, has been a key factor in progressing the project writes W M Nixon.
All the more detailed parts are assembled in Limerick before being transported to Baltimore for installation in the ship. The recent exceptionally bad winter weather saw the link disconnected for a few days, but now it’s running smoothly again. And next week will see Ilen’s massive mainmast being transported to Oldcourt for early stepping, as her new location in the open – albeit under a special tent structure which withstood the bad weather very well – enables work to proceed in all areas.
The impressive propellor has been fitted, work on the interior has seen Limerick-made tankage of all kinds being installed, and once the mast is in place we’ll be seeing a ship reflecting the Ilen in her working days, though in a much brighter paint scheme to reflect her future educational role.
Once in place, the rig will appear to have it own delicate tracery, but as the images from the Ilen workshop reveal very clearly, the spars and their rigging are on a really heavy and workmanlike scale.
The restoration has been followed with increasing interest by the Falkland Islanders she used to serve, and recently they sent Gary MacMahon in Limerick some photos from the 1970s showing Ilen berthed with the other inter-island communications vessel, the German-built Penelope ex-Feuerland, which like Ilen has been re-patriated to the land of her berth for restoration, in this case in Hamburg.
To the quiet pleasure of the Ilen team, the word from the islands is that Ilen was always the faster of the two, even when her skipper was the youngest commander of all, the recently-recruited 16-year-old Stephen Clifton.
The historic 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen is now comfortably under shelter again after her midwinter adventures (on the Ilen River, naturally) at Oldcourt near Baltimore writes W M Nixon.
With her hull, deck and deckhouses restored in a project shared between Oldcourt and the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick, Ilen had to vacate the top shed (aka the Old Grainstore) to provide space for boat-builder Liam Hegarty and his team, with senior shipwright Fachtna O’Sullivan, to begin work in January on the re-construction of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft Saoirse. She was originally built in Baltimore in 1922, and is now being re-created at Oldcourt for leading Hong Kong sailor Fred Kinmonth.
Space is so limited ashore in the Oldcourt boatyard that the only way Ilen could be moved to her new berth in the yard was by the river, using Vincent O’Driscoll’s West Cork islands ro-ro freight ferry. We’ve detailed all this in recent postings on Afloat.ie, but with the operation being undertaken as December became January, nobody liked to dwell too much on the strong possibility of extreme weather seriously disrupting the various moves, let alone the chances of serious damage to the 30-ton Ilen herself.
With patience, and then remarkable group efforts when brief weather windows occurred, the entire delicate operation was completed in different stages. And if the photos give the impression that West Cork usually enjoys exceptionally balmy and gentle sunny conditions in late December and early January, then that is clear evidence of the shrewd way in which the moving team made their decision day choices.
But West Cork is no stranger to rain even if it seldom sees snow, so it was essential to get a robust tent-style structure erected over the ship in her new berth as soon as possible. The basic of this waited in Limerick where it had all been pre-made in the Ilen School, and then in some gentle weather last week, James Madigan and Tony Daly zapped down to Oldcourt and the new “house” was in place before the weekend’s rain arrived.
It’s provides a bright and airy place that is now one of the workshops for the installation of Ilen’s interior, which will be of a modified design to facilitate her new role as a marine educational centre. And while she won’t have the ancient Raeburn stove which was a feature in her working days in the Falklands, there’ll be a comparable Canadian marine stove which will be the heart of the vessel.
As to the business of starting the project in cramped conditions which have since been had to be vacated for the move to a compromise outside berth, that’s central to the way the Ilen ideal has been moved along. It simply wouldn’t have happened if it had been launched as some grand project, seeking some anonymous place with a huge boatyard shed. But by growing it organically in a crowded little place where the ships of Conor O’Brien have a special meaning, it has now reached a viable stage where the Ilen and the Saoirse have a new international significance, a deeper spirit to which like-minded people worldwide are positively responding.
The east coast of Ireland may have endured vile weather on Saturday, but in West Cork there was almost a touch of sunny spring in the air when the historic restored ketch Ilen completed the final stage of her short but complex journey from the building shed to her shoreside completion berth writes W M Nixon.
Liam Hegarty’s boatyard at Oldcourt is such a crowded place that it required some lateral thinking to work out how to move the Ilen. She weighs well north of 25 tons, and the ultra-simple four wheel trolley ultimately assembled under her is far indeed from the multi-wheel vehicle which had been hinted at as the complex nature of the move became clear.
But doing such things in unusual ways is the norm at Oldcourt, and the absence of a proper slipway to receive Ilen at the access end of the Top Shed had been solved many years ago by bringing her in at high water on Vincent O’Driscoll’s inter-island freight ferry.
It was roll-on, roll-off when Ilen arrived all those years ago, and it was the same again on Saturday. But the old ketch herself has now been born again. And Vincent and his crew have a new ferry, memorably called the Sabrina II.
Having been given full approval by the Top Shed yard cat, the Ilen waited patiently for the right conditions, while inside the shed work got underway on the first stages of the re-build of Ilen’s more famous older but smaller sister, Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling Saoirse.
Came Saturday, the sun rose up, the wind went down, the tide lifted high, and Sabrina II thrust her ramp in under Ilen’s stern and the characterful old ketch was taken on board with style. Then with textbook efficiency, after a very short voyage up the Ilen River, she was taken off the ferry in another part of the yard with the tide at a height that ensured a very smooth progression.
Ilen is now comfortably in the shore berth which she’ll only leave to be put afloat. Meanwhile in Limerick – home base of the Ilen Project – director Gary MacMahon has overseen the assembly of a pre-fabricated roof structure which will be assembled at the yard to protect the Ilen work from the West Cork weather. For even in Oldcourt, the sun doesn’t shine all the time.
The historic 1926-built 56ft trading ketch Ilen has been undergoing a painstaking restoration at Oldcourt near Baltimore in Liam Hegarty's boatyard for several years now for the Ilen Boat-building School, which is directed by Gary MacMahon in Limerick writes W M Nixon. While the heavy boat-building work has been completed in Oldcourt, much else has been built in Limerick, and as December 2017 came to a close, the stage had been reached where it was time to move the historic vessel out of the shed.
A substantial multi-wheel trolley was assembled under the ship – which may weigh as much as 30 tons – and a complicated move to an onshore commissioning berth involving the use of an inter-island ferry was planned for Tuesday January 2nd. But the imminent arrival of Storm Eleanor caused a delay until yesterday (Friday), when the post-storm calm provided ideal conditions, and the slow process finally got under way.
We’ll be carrying a fuller version of this fascinating latest stage in the story of Ilen in the near future on Afloat.ie when the move is completed, but meanwhile here are three photos to show just how very much alive this remarkable new-old ship looked as she emerged into the light from the dark confines of the shed.
When we recall the exposed conditions in which some coastal boat and ship-builders had to work in the days when life and labour were cheap, and health and safety were considered more important for thoroughbred animals than for workers, then it has to be said that that the spar-makers of Limerick assembling the rig for the restoration of the 1926-built 56ft ketch Ilen are creating their finished sections in some comfort in the Ilen Boatbuilding School writes W M Nixon
But though they have a decent amount of space and the benefits of modern equipment, the fact that the Douglas Fir for the new spars has been donated from the stores of the much-lamented Asgard II puts an even greater onus on the team to produce work of world class.
That said, the temptation to stray into the realms of classic yacht style is ever-present when you have wood and facilities of this quality. But it has always to be remembered that Ilen is the sole surviving Irish-built sailing trader of this size and type. Thus Project Director Gary MacMahon has to ensure that the work remains true to traditional workboat style rather than veering towards anything too ornamental.
But as the simple functionality of each spar and fitting which has been made has its own inherent beauty, ornamentation would be superfluous, and as our gallery of photos reveals, in its way each piece is a work of art.
The restoration of classic yachts and traditional craft to the recognised international standard is still relatively new in Ireland writes W M Nixon. In fact, it could be argued that the major project in Dunmore East, completed in 2005 on the 1894 G L Watson-designed 37ft cutter Peggy Bawn, is still the only example we have in Ireland of the painstaking and meticulous research and work of the highest quality that is required on a vessel of this size for total authenticity.
The Peggy Bawn project was for maritime historian Hal Sisk, and while Michael Kennedy was the lead shipwright, many specialist talents were involved in creating a widely-admired masterpiece.
Now Hal Sisk is working on a completely different idea, a revival of the legendary Dublin Bay 21 class, the famous Mylne design of 1902-03. But in this case, far from bringing the original and almost-mythical gaff cutter rig with jackyard topsail back to life above a traditionally-constructed hull, he is content to have an attractive gunter-rigged sloop – “American gaff” some would call it – above a new laminated cold-moulded hull which is 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’s a fascinating and complex project to which we’ll be returning in future postings on Afloat.ie. For now, the first DB 21 to get this treatment is Naneen, originally built in 1905 by Clancy of Dun Laoghaire for T. Cosby Burrowes, a serial boat owner from Cavan who had formerly owned Nance, the 1899 Dublin Bay 25 which was the only DB25 to be built by designer William Fife’s own yard in Fairlie – she still sails in the Mediterranean, now under the name of Iona.
As for Naneen, she was soon under new ownership as Burrowes interests turned elsewhere. She raced with the class in Dublin Bay under the original gaff rig until 1964, and then under the masthead Bermudan sloop rig, which kept these attractive boats going as an active racing class until August 1986.
In that fateful year, the after-effects of Hurricane Charlie in Dun Laoghaire Harbour resulted in their damaged hulls of the Dublin Bay 21s being retrieved and stored in a Wicklow farmyard while everyone worked out various schemes to make good use of this historic flotilla of seven very significant and attractive boats.
Hal Sisk and DB21 “Guardian” Fionan de Barra, after much research, have now developed this moulded hull/simpler rig philosophy which revives the class while retaining its character. And in Steve Morris at Kilrush in County Clare, they have a skilled boat-builder who has already shown with the Shannon cutter Sally O’Keeffe and other projects that he brings very special talents that work well in a wide variety of boat-building challenges.
However, in order to maintain the integrity of the project, the actual design of the Dublin Bay 21 hull had to be agreed to very close limits, far removed from the free-and-easy approach of boat-builders in the early 1900s. For this, they have been able to draw on the highly-trained skills of designer and classics consultant Paul Spooner, who worked with Duncan Walker’s famous Fairlie Restorations company for twenty years, and has seen through some extremely demanding projects thanks to his fully-qualified status as a naval architect and engineer.
Using Paul Spooner’s drawings, the work in Kilrush has been proceeding steadily since late summer, and in recent days a stage had been reached where Paul Spooner’s presence was required on-site in order to finalise some key decisions. But he’s a very busy man, so to optimize his presence here, Hal Sisk linked-up with Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project of Limerick and Baltimore, as the riggers developing the restored sail-plan of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen had also been seeking Paul’s expert advice on their work.
While logistically challenging, it was all just possible in three recent days, and despite freezing damp weather in the west, Paul Spooner put in useful time in Kilrush where Steve Morris’s work is a joy to behold, and then he was transferred to the care of the Ilen team and whisked from Limerick to Baltimore.
There, in The Old Corn Store in Oldcourt Boatyard where Ilen has been re-born, many assembled parts that we’ve seen recently on Afloat.ie being built in the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick has now been fitted in the ship, and here too the Paul Spooner presence brought reassurance that they were working in the right direction.
As for which direction Paul Spooner himself was going, it would have been overly-demanding for any lesser man. But having given advice of gold dust quality to two major restoration projects in Ireland, he then hopped on a plane in Dublin Airport and went to Japan, where he is being consulted on the restoration of a large 1927-vintage Camper & Nicholson ketch. That’s how it is at the leading edge of classic restoration projects.
The process of restoring the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen in Limerick and Baltimore has seen a countrywide network developing, a network in which anyone with access to redundant classic quality timber has been happy to see it finding a new use in the Ilen Boatbuilding School’s very special project writes W M Nixon.
Afloat.ie recently carried the story of how traditional rigging dead-eyes had been crafted from that rare timber lignum vitae, which in this case had been sourced from a former shipyard in Cork.
Now there has been a useful re-direction from nearer home, with teak which had provided slats for the seating in the old Markets Field Gaelic Stadium in Limerick for more than a century finding a new life as slats on the sole of the Ilen helmsman’s footwell.
A hundred and more years ago, teak – the king of timbers - was much more readily available than it is today, and was sometimes used to excess. But modern boat-builders have learned that with the scarcity of this lovely wood, less can be more, and the way that the relatively small amount of teak has been usefully installed in the beautifully finished Ilen footwell certainly bears this out.
Having made a couple of journeys between the Ilen herself in Oldcourt near Baltimore and the boat-building school in Limerick, the elegant footwell will finally be fully installed on the ship within the next week.