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Displaying items by tag: Conor O'Brien

While everyone else was staring goggle-eyed at rapidly-changing and decidedly hostile weather charts last Thursday, and wondering whether the weekend's racing was going to be possible at all, in typical style the always-amazing Gary MacMahon was at sea off our most exposed southwest coast in the lovingly-restored 56ft Conor O'Brien ketch Ilen, homeward bound to Limerick after the annual overhaul with Liam Hegarty at Oldcourt above Baltimore.

Since her very special Limerick to West Greenland voyage in 2019, the pandemic has meant the Ilen has been largely Kinsale-based in summer, sailing as much as was permissible for the Sailing into Wellness programme and other worthwhile causes. And her passage home after the annual check-up at Oldcourt – where she was painstakingly restored – has tended to involve freakishly gentle Autumn weather.

When the going was gentler, and full sail could still be carried. Photo: Gary Mac MahonWhen the going was gentler, and full sail could still be carried. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Weathering Cape Clear, with the end of the Mizen Peninsula fine on the starboard bow. Photo: Gary MacMahonWeathering Cape Clear, with the end of the Mizen Peninsula fine on the starboard bow. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But this year, needs must when the devil drives. For whatever reason, the enigmatic Director of The Ilen Marine School found he was obliged to make the passage in the latter half of last week, and come hell or high water – literally – he did so. He admitted to it being a "wild ride", but the gallant 1926 Conor O'Brien creation – Ireland's only surviving traditional trading ketch – came through it with style, arriving into the Ted Russell Dock in Limerick without a feather out of place.

The highest ocean swells on the West Coast of Ireland come in to the north of the Dingle Peninsula. Photo: Gary MachonThe highest ocean swells on the West Coast of Ireland come in to the north of the Dingle Peninsula. Photo: Gary Machon

Gary is a very visual person in his way of thinking, and we've received a sheaf of un-captioned photos and a couple of anonymous vid clips sent to tell the story. Thus we're winging it with the captions, but so what? – he and his shipmates did it, and did it with style. And there's a special unity to our Great Southwestern Seaboard which makes precision of location of secondary importance,

The Ilen sailing well in more sedate conditions. Photo: Gary Mac MahonThe Ilen sailing well in more sedate conditions. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

Published in Ilen
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Most people’s memories of the already pandemic-constricted Bank Holiday Weekend will be of Monday's wet and windy storm. But the training crew on the restored Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen of Limerick have only pleasant memories, as a fair weather passage around Ireland's magnificent southwestern seaboard from Winter Quarters in Kinsale saw them well ahead of the bad weather when they came into port at lunchtime Sunday, having rested until the tide made fair with the by-now traditional stopover at Carrigaholt.

The brief feeling of it being high summer already was emphasised by a Women’s Four racing shell from St Michael’s Rowing Club heading downriver with a welcoming eave from the cox. And by the time the storm struck, Ilen was safely and snugly in dock, and the racing shell was comfortably back in the boathouse. With Ilen now positioned in her home port, she is strategically located to swing into further action as soon as the easing of restrictions permits a further broadening of her activities.

Published in Ilen

Global circumnavigator and sailing ship designer Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) inevitably saw his most noted vessels, the 42ft world-girdler Saoirse and the 56ft trading ketch Ilen, being closely associated by the rest of the world with their birthplace in Baltimore. But much and all as he liked West Cork, he always insisted that ultimately his heart was in the Shannon Estuary on Foynes Island, where he was living when designed both vessels, and so he made a point of ensuring that they spent some time in the Foynes anchorage before going off on their great voyages. Thus although Saoirse’s pioneering cruise round the world south of the great Capes is generally thought to have started from Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923, O’Brien secretly reckoned it had got going from Foynes some weeks earlier. And equally, while the official records show that Ilen’s voyage to the Falkland Islands started from Avonmouth near Bristol on the 26th August 1926, as far as her skipper was concerned, the voyage had got under way from Foynes on the 28th July 1926.

There’s charming proof of this in the Foynes Harbour Master’s personal log from the 1920s. At the time, the HM was Hugh O’Brien, who was Conor O’Brien’s brother-in-law through marriage to one of the voyager’s sisters, while sharing his surname through being distantly related as a de Vere O’Brien of Curragh Chase. As Harbour Master, Hugh O’Brien was wont to embellish his records book with drawings of visiting vessels of special interest, and naturally, the new Ilen got the complete treatment in July 1926, resulting in very tangible evidence of Conor O’Brien’s assertion that this was the ship’s spiritual home port.

Now that Ilen has passed her biennial Department of Transport survey (as recently reported in Afloat.ie), the coming easing of pandemic restrictions means that plans are being firmed up for her programme in May, and she will shortly leave her winter berth in Kinsale to make the familiar passage round Ireland’s majestic southwestern seaboard towards Foynes, where Foynes Yacht Club have generously allocated a berth. This will enable the Ilen Marine School to implement as full a programme as the regulations at the time will permit, and the fact that it will see Ilen spend a longer period at her spiritual home than she ever has in her 95 years of existence will be a salute to the faithfully-kept records of Hugh O’Brien.

Published in Ilen

Ireland's Conor O'Brien was the first amateur skipper to circumnavigate the globe by the classic sailing ship route south of the great Capes, running down his easting in the big winds of the Great Southern Ocean which blow unhindered round the globe. But although his 42ft ketch Saoirse – which he'd designed himself – was often described as a "little ship", she was tiny by comparison with the enormous square-riggers which regularly plied this route.

Those majestic wind-jammers were already in decline as a commercial and maritime force by the time Saoirse and her owner-skipper from Limerick achieved their clear-cut "first", with the smallness of the vessel adding to the lustre of its unique glory. And now the Centenary is approaching, for Saoirse took her departure from Dun Laoghaire on the 20th June 1923, and returned on 20th June 1925, with a whole new generation of O'Brien admirers emerging to emphasise the importance of marking this very special achievement in as many appropriate ways as possible.

It is a real curiosity of Conor O'Brien's unique place in Irish life - and in our own and world maritime history - that enthusiasm for his achievements seems to come in such distinct generational waves. Every so often, somebody "discovers" O'Brien all over again, and the rest of us - who are already quietly but fully aware of the exceptionality of his achievement - get berated for not honouring his memory as it should be. So maybe the best thing at this stage is to attempt a timeline-factsheet to put some sort of Conor O'Brien memory structure in place.

Why do we remember Conor O'Brien?

In 1923-25, he became the first amateur skipper to circle the world south of the Great Capes.

What was his family background?

He was from a County Limerick land-owning family whose main home was the mansion of Cahirmoyle at Ardagh, 15 kilometres inland from the port of Foynes on the Shannon Estuary, and now better known as the place where the Ardagh Chalice was found.

His immediate family history?

His grandfather was William Smith O'Brien, the Young Ireland leader. His father – who rejected the Young Ireland policies – was married twice, and Conor O'Brien's older half brother was the artist Dermod O'Brien (1865-1945), who was President of the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1910 to 1945.

Conor O'Brien: Portrait by Kitty Clausen Conor O'Brien: Portrait by Kitty Clausen

When and where was Conor O'Brien born?

He was born on 3rd November 1880 in his mother's house in Kensington in London. His mother, of the Marshall family of Yorkshire, had a house in Kensington and a country place in Surrey, so Conor's boyhood saw winters in England and summers in Ireland, the Irish summers being spread between Cahirmoyle in Ardagh, a family property on Foynes Island, and summer holidays staying at Keatinge's Hotel at Derrynane in West Kerry where he learned to sail, though for many years his main sport was mountaineering, but he did compete successfully in rowing at school

Conor O'Brien's first command, the 27ft former Naval whaler Mary Brigid at DerrynaneConor O'Brien's first command, the 27ft former Naval whaler Mary Brigid at Derrynane 

Which school did he attend?

Winchester College in England – he seems to have been a diligent enough pupil, but although he'd gone there as a scholar, he did not emerge with any special awards.

His university career?

Trinity College, Oxford, where he did a four-year course in chemistry, which he seems to have found increasingly uninteresting as he graduated with a Fourth Class Degree.

Further education?

A long-established interest in architecture was growing, and in 1903 he was apprenticed to a conservation architect in London, but somehow seems have been able to spend expanding amounts of his time in Dublin, where his brother has set up his increasingly successful artist's studio in 1901.

What did he work at in Dublin?

He did some architectural work for the Co-Op movement, mostly on new creameries, but was also involved in projects for St Mary's Cathedral in Limerick, where he was home as often as possible.

What was his Dublin life like?

It was one of contrasts, as he moved in artistic and creative circles, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Arts & Crafts Movement. He was a founder member in 1907 of the United Arts Club, along with WB Yeats, George Russell, Constance Markievicz and many others in an eclectic group.

Yet at the same time, he was much involved in mountaineering, particularly in North Wales with a group that occasionally included Mallory and Irvine of Everest fame.

Holidays in Derrynane now included the 27ft former naval whaler Mary Brigid, which he sailed one summer round the coast to Dublin Bay, and then returned west via the Grand Canal and the Shannon.

When did he buy his first proper seagoing cruiser?

In 1910 he sold the Mary Brigid and a share in a house he had in Dublin, and bought the 17-ton 1871-built gaff cutter Kelpie, a hefty 46-footer, in Dun Laoghaire. In order to give himself a proper grounding in navigation, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and in 1911 he cruised Kelpie round Ireland.

Conor O'Brien and his sister Kitty aboard Kelpie off the west coast of Ireland, 1913.Conor O'Brien and his sister Kitty aboard Kelpie off the west coast of Ireland, 1913.

The boat's enormous cutter rig had been problematic, so by the 1911 cruise he'd reduced it to ketch rig, and by 1913 he preferred to keep her if at all possible in Foynes, which he reckoned to be his true home.

How did he get involved with the gun-running with Erskine Childers and Asgard in 1914?

His cousin Mary Spring Rice was a participant in the pro-Home Rule gun-running planning by Alice Stopford Green, Erskine Childers and others in response to the industrial-scale gun-running by the Ulster Volunteers into Larne in April 1914, and she had hoped to bring her Foynes-based former sailing trawler Santa Cruz in support of Erskine & Molly Childers' Asgard to collect the German arms shipment at a rendezvous at the Ruytigen Lightship at the south end of the North Sea.

But her vessel was unready and probably unsuitable, and knowing that Conor O'Brien was now strongly sympathetic to the Home Rule movement, she asked if he would like to get involved with Kelpie. His reply was that he always got special enjoyment out of a cruise with added purpose, and as a result, in July 1914, Kelpie and her skipper waited with increasing (and noisy) frustration for the delayed Asgard to make the rendezvous in Cowes.

Molly and Erskine Childers with Asgard's dinghy during a Baltic cruise in the early years of their marriageIn time of peace – Molly and Erskine Childers with Asgard's dinghy during a Baltic cruise in the early years of their marriage.

Eventually, they met up, then despite fog, the lightship was found, and the two gun-laden vessels headed for Ireland. But although Asgard was able to make her famous entrance to Howth on Sunday, July 24th and unload all her guns in two hours, it was reckoned that the other landing on the beach at Kilcoole in County Wicklow would benefit from the services of a yacht with an auxiliary engine, and thus the Kelpie's guns were transferred to Sir Thomas Myles' auxiliary cutter Chotah in the shelter of St Tudwal's island on the Welsh coast, and successfully landed at Kilcoole next day.

The Great War broke out almost immediately, and the leading players in the gun-running went straight into service with the allies, Conor O'Brien getting through the war in mine-sweeping with the RNVR, with his unconventional attitude to life in general occasionally ruffling feathers. 

What's the story about Conor O'Brien working for Michael Collins?

O'Brien returned from war service to find Ireland in increasing turmoil after the Easter Rising of 1916, and particularly after the massive pro Sinn Fein vote in the General Election of 1918. This led to the meeting of the First Dail, and the establishment of an alternative Irish government which ran in opposition yet parallel to the British administration headquartered in Dublin Castle. O'Brien offered the services of himself and the Kelpie to this alternative Government in which Michael Collins was the administrative and financial mastermind, and in 1919-1920 Conor O'Brien patrolled with Kelpie as a Fisheries Inspector & Advisor off the northwest and west coasts.

Michael Collins' Fisheries Inspector helming Kelpie…….At sea, Conor O'Brien thought that wearing shoes of any kind was an affectationMichael Collins' Fisheries Inspector helming Kelpie…….At sea, Conor O'Brien thought that wearing shoes of any kind was an affectation

What happened to Kelpie?

With the War of Independence being fought with increasing violence as 1920 drew on, O'Brien had mixed feelings about the way things were going, yet in 1919 despite the turmoil, he had managed to get himself elected a member of the Royal Cruising Club, proposed by the very unionist Commander Frank Gilliland of Derry, whom he'd met through the RNVR, and seconded by Erskine Childers, who was by that time a total independence republican.

The RCC membership was subsequently to serve O'Brien very well, and as a keen new member at a loose end when everyone in Ireland seemed to be on one side or another in a sort of war, he went cruising such that, in the summer of 1921, Kelpie was to be seen of the coast of Scotland while her owner and some mountaineering friends conquered every significant peak and cliff face in the Cuillins of Skye.

The Mountaineers weren't sailors, and anyway their leave had run out, so having departed towards Scotland from Dublin Bay at the beginning of the cruise, O'Brien decided to return to Foynes single-handed via Ireland's west coast. But persistent headwinds made him change plan and head for Dublin Bay instead.

The Cullins of Skye provided a superb objective for what proved to be Kelpie's last cruiseThe Cullins of Skye provided a superb objective for what proved to be Kelpie's last cruise

However, the wind headed again and lightened, and in beating slowly through the North Channel at night, he set an alarm clock to allow himself a brief sleep, but managed to sleep right through the alarm. In classic O'Brien style, he subsequently placed all blame on the German-made alarm clock. But either way, while her exhausted skipper slept deeply, the poor old Kelpie came gently ashore in the dark and fog on the rocky Scottish coastline close south of Portpatrick, and with the tide ebbing, Conor O'Brien realised he was watching the slow death of his ship. At dawn, he put everything he could find space for into Kelpie's dinghy while leaving just enough room for himself, and rowed away into the fog towards Portpatrick's little harbour.

If you were making a movie about Conor O'Brien's great round the world voyage, this would be where you'd start. Early morning. The fog still heavy on the calm sea, though with the first hint of sunlight. The only noise the sound of rowing. Out of the fog appears a man on his own in an incongruously over-laden dinghy. He rows past, and heads into the barely visible harbour entrance. We see him clamber ashore in the harbour, and walk up the quayside and on past the Portpatrick Inn. Conor O'Brien's life, though he doesn't quite realize it at the time, has changed in a way that will ultimately make him a legend among sailors.

What did the loss of Kelpie ultimately mean for Conor O'Brien?

With landed family fortunes declining as a result of the actions of the Land League and the Land Commission, he only had a very small private income, and little or no personal property. By the summer of 1921, Kelpie had become in effect his home. But in time he secured the insurance money for her loss, and he retreated to Foynes Island where he'd the use of a cottage, Barneen. There, he designed his ideal for an ocean-going long-distance vessel, and this was to become the 42ft Saoirse.

When and where was Saoirse built?

She was built by Tom Moynihan and his shipwrights and trainees in the Fisheries School Boatyard in Baltimore, West Cork in 1922. O'Brien had experience of the high quality of Moynihan's work through repairs made to Kelpie in his Fisheries Inspector days.

Was Ireland not engaged in Civil War in 1922?

Yes, and West Cork was one of the more active theatres, yet the boat-building continued, and after Saoirse was launched and sailing, O'Brien claims to have carried the mails for the Irish Post Office as their links ashore had been broken.

Was there anything seen by the sailing community as unusual about Saoirse's appearance in 1922?

Just about everything. O'Brien deliberately went for an archaic hull and rig using long-proven equipment. But the accommodation was ahead of its time. While he once claimed that Saoirse was in effect a seagoing Art & Crafts cottage, she certainly was cosy down below, and he ensured that unlike Kelpie, the galley was right aft in the location of minimal movement at sea, very much ahead of the times in 1922.

Saoirse on the slipway is revealed to have as simple a hull as possibleSaoirse on the slipway is revealed to have as simple a hull as possible

Had Conor O'Brien any significant ocean-voyaging experience under sail before he created Saoirse?

No. But he reckoned his time with Kelpie on Ireland's west coast - week in, week out - had taught him much about the needs of a vessel suitable for many ocean conditions, and this experience had been augmented by his time mine-sweeping with trawlers on a year-round basis during the Great War. In addition, the hugely experienced Tom Moynihan quietly persuaded him to make design modifications which improved Saoirse in many ways.

How long had he had the notion of a Round the World Voyage in mind?

We don't know, for initially, he would only admit that he was voyaging to New Zealand to join a climbing expedition. But he didn't deny the logic of coming home by way of Cape Horn.

Why did his voyage start from the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire?

He'd been associated with the club since at least 1910, and knew that it would provide the ideal setting for the highly-publicised departure of the first vessel to undertake an ocean voyage under the Tricolour ensign of the Irish Free State, with the name Saoirse celebrating both the freedom of the seas, and the new independence of Ireland. But in his heart of hearts, he reckoned all his voyages ultimately began and ended at Foynes.

O'Brien had Saoirse rigged as a proper little ship, with her offwind rig including stun'sailsO'Brien had Saoirse rigged as a proper little ship, with her offwind rig including stun'sails.

Did Saoirse's departure garner significant attention?

Yes. The going-away party seems to have begun at the United Arts Club in Dublin, and then became a moveable feast to the RIYC in Dunleary (as O'Brien called it), and then on to Saoirse herself before she finally managed to getaway.

How was public interest maintained?

One of his crew members for the early stages was contracted to file reports to the Irish Times from each port visited, and O'Brien himself had a natural talent for writing. Thus while Saoirse was away for only two years, he managed to get extensive logs into three consecutive annual editions of the Royal Cruising Club Journal, which in a sense gave his voyage official sailorly approval at a very senior level.

What were Saoirse's crewing arrangements?

Difficult. O'Brien was notorious for his impatient and outspoken bad temper. He only settled down as he got far out to sea, and in some ways was the living embodiment of Dr Johnson's comment that when a man gets to like a sea life, then he is not fit to live on land.

"Not fit to live on land……" Conor O'Brien happy at the helm in a good breeze far at sea, and so sure of Saoirse's sea kindliness that he's dressed as though for a summer's day in Ireland"Not fit to live on land……" Conor O'Brien happy at the helm in a good breeze far at sea, and so sure of Saoirse's sea kindliness that he's dressed as though for a summer's day in Ireland

It's reckoned that he'd got through something like 18 different crew-members by the time Saoirse returned to Dublin Bay, and when he got a compatible and able shipmate, events conspired to make it a short relationship.

The classic instance of this was in the Southern Indian Ocean, which – like many others subsequently following the same route – O'Brien found to be the roughest part of the entire voyage. Saoirse was running before "a moderate gale", and to his satisfaction, this excellent shipmate was making as good a job of the helming as O'Brien would have expected of himself.

Then they both noticed that somewhat over a mile away, a pinnacle wave was forming, with the three-way ocean swell building into an Everest of the ocean which eventually collapsed on itself in an enormous roar of hundreds of thousands of tons of breaking water. Neither of the two on deck said anything, but O'Brien was soon noting in the log that if Saoirse had been caught up in that, she wouldn't have had a chance. As for the highly-regarded sailor, when they reached Adelaide in Australia, he simply disappeared ashore with all his belongings and papers, and wasn't seen again.

When did Saoirse round Cape Horn?

"On the evening of Tuesday, December 2nd 1924, a small bluff-bowed 42ft gaff-rigged ketch of antique appearance approached Cape Horn from the west. The weather had been unsettled with winds from several directions, and two days previously, squalls from the northeast had brought flurries of snow, despite it being early in the southern summer. But conditions were improving as the Horn came abeam around 2200hrs in the last of the daylight.

With the onset of the short southern summer night with its brief token darkness, the wind settled in the north, and the little ship made steady progress. By noon on Wednesday in fine conditions, she had made good 140 miles in 24 hours, aided by a favourable current of at least one knot.

Superb visibility enabled the ketch's crew to admire the massive scenery along the rugged coast as they shaped their course to pass eastward of Staten Island. The wind then drew fresh and favourably from the southwest, and despite progress being slowed by their vessel's fouled bottom - for they had been at sea for more than 40 days since leaving New Zealand – by Saturday, December 6th they were moored in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands."

"This bluff-bowed little ship". Saoirse's lines as taken off by Uffa Fox in 1927"This bluff-bowed little ship". Saoirse's lines as taken off by Uffa Fox in 1927

Why did it take Saoirse nearly six months to finish the global voyage from the Falklands back to Dun Laoghaire?

They stayed for six very hospitable weeks in the Falklands, and finally departed with the possibility of two useful contracts. One of the crew had formed a close relationship with an Islands woman, and took his departure from Saoirse in a South American port to return to the Falklands and marry her. As for his skipper, the islanders were so impressed by Saoirse that they started planning how best to persuade the rather economically-minded Falklands Islands Company to commission Conor O'Brien to design and organize the building of a larger sister to serve as the inter-island ferry.

What happened when Saoirse returned to Dublin Bay on Saturday, June 20th 1925?

Dublin Bay Sailing Club cancelled their racing for the day so that their fleet could provide a Guard of Honour. There was a boisterous initial welcome at the Royal Irish YC, and then a public parade into Dublin – reputedly watched by at least ten thousand cheering spectators - with O'Brien travelling in a ceremonial pony-drawn carriage to the United Arts Club, which provided a Gala Dinner on the Saturday night.

What happened then?

Fortunately, O'Brien had much to keep him busy. Before the year was out, the contract for the building of a 56ft trading ketch for the Falkland Islands had been finalized. The Ilen was under construction in Baltimore by1926, and in late summer O'Brien himself – crewed by cousins Con and Denis Cadogan from Cape Clear – sailed her out to the Falklands, with the Ilen registered as a yacht in the RIYC listing, as that was the only way her delivery skipper could get insurance.

The restored Ilen at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire in May 2019, before her voyage to West GreenlandFull circle. The restored Ilen at the Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire in May 2019, before her voyage to West Greenland. Photo: W M Nixon

When did his major book of the voyage, Across Three Oceans, first get published?

Early in 1927, by Edward Arnold of London, and it was a publishing success. Apart from the engaging style of O'Brien's writing, it showed how cleverly he had placed himself through his link to the Royal Cruising Club, set up in the unlikely year of 1919 by the even more unlikely combination of Frank Gilliland and Erskine Childers.

Joining the RCC meant he came to the notice of the Club's Vice Commodore, Claud Worth. Worth was the undisputed guru of British cruising at the time, and his reach was such that his encouragement played a significant role in persuading Bill Nutting to bring the Cruising Club of America into being in 1922.

For much of the 1920s, Worth was the adjudicator for the Royal Cruising Club's annual awards, and despite the fraught situation in relations between Ireland and England, he awarded Conor O'Brien the RCC's premier trophy the Challenge Cup - which dated from 1896 – three years in a row in 1923, '24 and '25.

Subsequently, the ultimate supportive gift from Claud Worth was the foreword he provided for Across Three Oceans, in which two of his thoughtful paragraphs defined Conor O'Brien's achievement:

"…anyone who knows anything of the sea, following the course of the vessel day by day on the chart, will realize the good seamanship, vigilance and endurance required to drive this little bluff-bowed vessel, with her foul uncoppered bottom, at speeds of 150 to 170 miles a day, as well as the weight of wind and sea which must sometimes have been encountered…..

….. however common long ocean voyages in small yachts may become, Mr O'Brien will always be remembered for his voyage across the South Pacific and round the Horn."

What happened to Conor O'Brien after 1927?

Buoyed by the success of Across Three Oceans and with additional funds from the fulfilment of the Ilen contract, he made a very clever job of converting Saoirse to set more canvas in a sort of schooner rig while still using the original masts, and he entered her for the 1927 Fastnet Race. He was feted in Cowes, with Uffa Fox slipping Saoirse in order to taking off her lines, while Maurice Griffiths, Editor of Yachting Monthly, joined the crew for a Fastnet Race which Saoirse didn't actually finish as her new schooner rig didn't suit the endless windward work which prevailed, but the experience of sailing with O'Brien was further immortalised by Griffiths.

Had he any family life after 1927?

Yes, on October 10th 1928, soon to be 48, he married the 42-year-old Kitty Clausen, daughter of the artist George Clausen. She looked younger then her years, and although not a sailor, she genuinely shared Conor's enthusiasm for the nomadic lifestyle on Saoirse. Her family's summer life was centred around Cornwall, and Conor was happy to be based there at St Mawes on the east side of Falmouth Harbour, as he was finding the new inward-looking Ireland which was emerging after Independence to be claustrophobic, something which was unpleasantly exemplified in his beloved Baltimore, where the Fisheries School – formerly an exemplary charitable institution - had been taken under the notoriously harsh remit of the Industrial Schools.

The newly-weds. Conor and Kitty hoisting sail aboard Saoirse – in best big ship style, he was happy to incorporate chains in his halyardsThe newly-weds. Conor and Kitty hoisting sail aboard Saoirse – in best big ship style, he was happy to incorporate chains in his halyards

Domesticity below – Conor in Saoirse's homely saloonDomesticity below – Conor in Saoirse's homely saloon

Where did Conor and Kitty cruise in Saoirse?

For much of the early 1930s, they were in the Mediterranean, based for some time in the Balearics, and one year getting as far east as Greece. They wrote books together about it, Conor doing the writing and Kitty the sketches. But in time, Kitty was showing signs of developing illness, and they returned to Cornwall in 1935 and she died there in 1936, it is believed of leukaemia. Conor designed her headstone for a grave he and the Clausen family had managed to secure under an impressive pine tree in the beautiful waterside churchyard of St Just-in-Roseland - it is a peaceful place.

"A peaceful place" – Kitty Clausen's headstone in St Just in Roseland, one of the last architectural design tasks undertaken by Conor O'Brien "A peaceful place" – Kitty Clausen's headstone in St Just in Roseland, one of the last architectural design tasks undertaken by Conor O'Brien

Conor O'Brien died in 1952 aged 72 on Foynes Island – what had he been doing since becoming a widower in 1936?

He continued to live on Saoirse in Falmouth, but his heart was no longer in sailing her, and an Irish crew who called there on a cruise in 1937 found Saoirse to be hauled into the shed in Falmouth Boatyard with Conor still living onboard, seemingly sustained largely by tins of baked beans. However, among those who appreciated it, his writings on voyaging were still appreciated, and small books about yacht design and equipment still appeared – published by Oxford University Press - together with magazine articles which added to a set of works which included a couple of adventure books aimed at a younger readership

How did he become involved with a World War II posting in New York?

He finally sold Saoirse to English owner Eric Ruck in 1940, thus although he is completely identified with the boat, he only owned her for 18 years. In 1940, through old RNVR contacts from World War I, he got a posting as Dispatch Officer in New York for ferry crews delivering American-supplied vessels for the Royal Navy across the Atlantic, and while this programme lasted until 1944, he enjoyed himself hugely, stimulated by the city's new architecture and can-do attitude to life, and re-vitalised by having a clearcut job to do.

Saoirse sailing in Eric Ruck's ownership, with the formerly loose-footed mainsail now fitted with a boomSaoirse sailing in Eric Ruck's ownership, with the formerly loose-footed mainsail now fitted with a boom.

His final years?

In 1944, aged 64, he returned to Ireland and up-graded the cottage of Barneen at the west end of Foynes Island to be his home, though he shared the day's main meal with relatives who lived in the island's main house. He produced occasional writings and technical drawings and built at least one elegant clinker punt which he would row across to Foynes for some surprisingly convivial pints of Guinness.

He died on Foynes Island of congestive heart failure in 1952 aged 72, and after a well-attended funeral in Foynes, was buried at nearby Loghill Church, overlooking his beloved Shannon Estuary.

What has happened to Ilen and Saoirse?

Ilen was brought back to Ireland under the inspiration and hands-on leadership of Gary MacMahon of Limerick in 1997, and in 2018 a major restoration was completed in a joint project between the Ilen Boat-Building School of Limerick and Liam Hegerty's boatyard at Old Court upriver from Baltimore in West Cork. In 2019 she voyaged to East Greenland, and has worked extensively with the Sailing Into Wellness programme, and several educational and environmental projects.

Gary MacMahonGary MacMahon

The spirit of Conor O'Brien lives on – Ilen in Greenland, July 2019The spirit of Conor O'Brien lives on – Ilen in Greenland, July 2019. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon

The Saoirse came ashore on a beach in Jamaica in the aftermath of a hurricane in 1979, but enough of her and her Ship's Papers were saved for Gary Mac Mahon to buy the rights to the registered vessel, and she is now being re-built by Liam Hegarty in Old Court.

How has the memory of Conor OBrien and his achievements been commemorated?

In 1929 he as made the first Honorary Member of the newly-formed Irish Cruising Club, and attended some of its functions in the late 1940s. And there are several memorials in the Foynes area and a model of Saoirse.

In 1998, to mark the 75th Anniversary of Saoirse's global circumnavigation, the Irish members of the Royal Cruising Club funded the sculpting of a bust of Conor O'Brien, carved by West Cork sculptor Danny Osborne (he created the Oscar Wilde reclining statue in Merrion Square) from a single vertebra of a giant blue whale which had been found on a beach on Ireland's Atlantic coast.

Conor O'Brien discovered in the single vertebra of a blue whale, as carved by Danny Osborne to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of his completed circumnavigation in 1998Conor O'Brien discovered in the single vertebra of a blue whale, as carved by Danny Osborne to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of his completed circumnavigation in 1998

The O'Brien bust was presented to the RIYC at a 75thAnniversary memorial lunch in October 1998, attended by many members of his family and others from Limerick and elsewhere who have kept the Conor O'Brien name and achievements prominent.

As it happens, there is a prominently-placed O'Brien statue in Dublin, but it is in memory of his grandfather William Smith O'Brien. Having originally been first placed on the South Quays in 1870, in 1929 it was moved to its current position of considerable honour in O'Connell Street. Yet even in this age when the political correctness or deeper significance of statuary can be a matter of heated debate, it is doubtful if many of those who hurry past the O'Brien statue in non-pandemic times have the slightest awareness of what it signifies. So in trying to provide a meaningful memorial to Conor O'Brien of Saoirse and what he achieved, perhaps the best place is right here, online.

The William Smith O'Brien monument in its place of prominence in Dublin's O'Connell Street. But in today's rushed and screen-dominated world, does anybody really appreciate the full meaning of another piece of urban statuary?The William Smith O'Brien monument in its place of prominence in Dublin's O'Connell Street. But in today's rushed and screen-dominated world, does anybody really appreciate the full meaning of another piece of urban statuary?

Published in W M Nixon
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On most coastlines in the world, you’ll invariably hear of some challenging nearby headland being referred to as “the local Cape Horn” writes W M Nixon

No other promontory worldwide has the same global image. It tells us much about the fearsome reputation of South America’s most southerly point, jutting as it does into the turbulent waters of the Great Southern Ocean where it becomes the Drake Passage, with Antarctica itself not so very far away across some of the roughest seas on the planet.

Cape Horn is always on the oceanic sailing agenda. And at the moment it is top of the list, with 73-year-old Jean-Luc van den Heede of France, leader in the Gold Globe Golden Jubilee Race, rounding it a week ago, while second-placed 41-year-old Dutchman Mark Slats (in a much-depleted fleet) will soon be there, albeit more than a thousand miles astern of van den Heede.

They and the remaining sailors in this challenging re-enactment are following in the wake of solo skipper Robin Knox-Johnston fifty years after he became the first man to sail round the world non-stop in Suhaili, with Knox-Johnston and his little ketch undoubtedly achieving one of world sailing’s truly great firsts.

knox johnston suhaili2One of world sailing’s most enduring images – Robin Knox-Johnston aboard Suhaili in 1969, approaching the conclusion of his non-stop global circumnavigation

But by the time Suhaili rounded Cape Horn on 17th January 1969, a number of small sailing boats had done so before her, though none in the same epic non-stop world-girdling style. However, some 45 years had elapsed since the first rounding of Cape Horn by a small cruising boat which had crossed the southern reaches of the South Pacific to get there. But though it was hailed afterwards as the great pioneering achievement it genuinely was, at the time those involved seemed to handle it in an almost low key way, however much it may have meant to them personally.

It was the evening of Tuesday, December 2nd 1924 (94 years ago this Sunday) when the small bluff-bowed 42ft gaff-rigged Irish ketch Saoirse, a craft of antique appearance, approached Cape Horn from the west. The weather had been unsettled with winds from several directions, and two days previously, squalls from the northeast had brought flurries of snow despite it being early in the southern summer. But conditions were improving as the Horn came abeam around 2200hrs in the last of the daylight.

saoirse departs3Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse departing Dun Laoghaire for her global circumnavigation, June 20th 1923. She returned precisely two years later on June 20th 1925, after becoming the first small craft to run down her easting in the Great South Ocean from New Zealand to round Cape Horn. Photo: Irish Times

With the onset of the short southern summer night with its brief darkness, the wind settled in the north, and the little ship made steady progress. By noon on Wednesday in fine conditions, she had made good 140 miles in 24 hours, aided by a favourable current of at least one knot. Superb visibility enabled the ketch’s crew to admire the massive scenery along the rugged coast as they shaped their course to pass eastward of Staten Island. The wind then drew fresh and favourably from the southwest, and despite progress being slowed by their vessel’s fouled bottom - for they had been at sea for more than 40 days since leaving New Zealand – by Saturday December 6th they were moored in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

cape horn map4By being so far south in totally exposed waters, Cape Horn is often a huge challenge for small sailing craft

In rounding Cape Horn, the ketch’s amateur skipper Conor O’Brien (1880-1952) of Foynes Island on the Shannon Estuary had made the breakthrough towards becoming the first to take a small yacht around the world south of the Great Capes, running down his easting across the full width of the far Southern Pacific through everything that the Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties could throw at him.

He faced it with some confidence, as his little vessel had successfully negotiated several ocean storms during her long passage from Dublin Bay. Ironically, it was in the warm and sunny latitudes of the Canary Islands that they had experienced one of their most severe tests, logging a day’s run of 185 miles while driving hard in rough seas in a sharp gale of the northeast trade winds. 

conor obrien at sea5Conor O’Brien was at his most content far at sea, helming Saoirse in markedly relaxed style. Although a “bluff-bowed little vessel”, as indicated here, Saoirse was well capable of good speeds with comfort
But O’Brien’s own-designed little ship, soundly built by Tom Moynihan and his craftsmen at the Fisheries School in Baltimore in 1922, proved well able, and continued to log many excellent 24-hours runs. The most severe conditions were experienced between southern Africa and Australia, yet the ketch seemed to lead a charmed life. Although he and his shipmates observed several huge pinnacle breakers caused by intersecting wave patterns which he felt sure would have overwhelmed his vessel had she been caught up in one of those mega-breakers, it never happened, and the long haul across the southern Pacific to curve southward to round Cape Horn was subsequently recounted in an under-stated tone. But then, that was the style of the era and the milieu from which Conor O’Brien had emerged.

O’Brien may have been rewarded with a fairly gentle rounding of the Horn itself, but the very small world of ocean voyagers at the time had no doubt of the quality of his achievement. Although Joshua Slocum in Spray had negotiated his way westward from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the channels north of Cape Horn some 28 years earlier, the weather he’d experienced, coupled with the historical stories from the crews of much larger sailing ships which had succeeded in rounding the Horn – for many failed in the attempt – left no doubt about the extremely changeable and often ferocious conditions which were central to the challenge O’Brien had faced.

saoirse plans6Conor O’Brien designed Saoirse himself, and while she was basically of old-fashioned style, she was way ahead of most boats of the time in having the galley well after in the area of least motion
For circumnavigator sailors from Europe, once you’ve rounded Cape Horn and returned to Atlantic waters, there’s a reassuring feeling of being on the home stretch, for all that there are ten thousand miles still to sail. Certainly O’Brien and his crew of two became so relaxed that they spent six weeks in the Falklands over the Christmas period, becoming so much part of the local community that a crew-member married a local girl and much of Saoirse’s subsequent voyage northward through the Atlantic was made with just two on board.

Yet although it all continued to be done in a low key style, O’Brien was no slouch when publicity opportunities arose, and he returned to Dun Laoghaire on Saturday June 20th 1925 – two years to the day since he departed – in order to facilitate a rapturous welcome. Dublin Bay Sailing Club even cancelled their Saturday racing programme so that their members could join the fleet welcoming Saoirse home.

For most of the voyage, however, Saoirse and her crew were totally out of contact, and could get on with traversing the oceans in traditional lone ship style. And 45 years later, there were long periods in 1968-69 when Robin Knox-Johnston’s location with Suhaili was a matter of speculation rather than precision – it was something of a surprise when the battered but unbowed little ketch appeared in the distant approaches to Falmouth to claim an indisputable “first”.

But today, a constant flow of information in every shape and form is central to any major oceanic sailing event. The Golden Jubilee of the Golden Globe is supposed to be a retro event in which the participants sail old-style boats of closed hull profile using only the technology available in 1968. But the demands of the 21st century with its multiple communication technologies means that the outside world knows almost everything that is going on in this nine month saga.

Thus when Jean-Luc van den Heede had passed Cape Horn a week ago, it so happened that the AGM of the Old Cape Horners Association was being held in England’s historic naval harbour of Portsmouth, and they were provided with a radio linkup with the 73-year-old Frenchman who revealed that it was in fact his tenth rounding of the Horn, and his most recent visit had been during a cruise in the area when they’d landed at Cape Horn island’s semi-sheltered bay, and had gone visiting with the lighthouse keepers for all the world like cruisers of yore making their way along the west coast of Ireland or through the Hebrides.

jean luc van den heede7Image of a great seaman – the 73-year-old Jean-Luc van den Heede. He has completed his tenth rounding of Cape Horn, leading the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee Race. On his ninth rounding, he was cruising, and he and his crew went ashore and visited the lighthouse keepersThis almost light-hearted approach to the realities of Cape Horn is classic van den Heede, for in order to still be in the lead in the Golden Globe, he had to survive a knockdown four weeks ago which was so violent that it caused the through-mast bolt supporting his lower shrouds to cut its way downwards through the mast extrusion, leaving the vital lower shrouds dangerously slack.

For a while it looked as though he’d have to divert to Chile for repairs, but somehow this doughty veteran got aloft and cobbled together a repair which held together has now got him round Cape Horn and on to what is admittedly the longest homeward stretch in the world. But his performance is impaired, and he usually has three reefs in the main when only two would be needed were all the rig in full health.

van den heede sailing8Van den Heede’s Rustler 36 Malmut before the race – the problematic through-mast bolt and tang for the lower shrouds is visible below the lower spreaders

This has meant that second-placed Mark Slats of The Netherlands has been closing the gap, but as van den Heede was an astonishing 1470 miles ahead when his rig damage occurred, Slats has to steadily outperform him by 20% in order to be first back to les Sables d’Olonne in 2019, and since van den Heede got into the Atlantic, the Slats rate of gain has slowed.

Race Tracker here

Both van den Heede and Slats are racing Rustler 36s, a slippy Holman & Pye designed sloop of 1980 which fits neatly into the retro requirement of being a 36ft production design of 1980 or earlier with the specified closed profile, even if in the Rustler 36’s case it does result in a transom stern with a very steeply sloping rudder and a propeller in a large aperture cut from the rudder, which must make them the very devil to handle under power in astern, or indeed under power in any confined manoeuvring situation under power, where prop thrust is often the key to doing the job.

mark slats ohpen maverick9Mark Slats’ Rustler 36 Ohpen Maverick with the steeply-raked ransom and sloping rudder much in evidence

This is probably not remotely of interest in the Great Southern ocean, but as Tim Goodbody so brilliantly revealed with his J/109 in Dublin Bay last weekend, a boat which has an easily-accessed stern-boarding system and handles confidently in astern under power is a very effective rescue machine in a man-overboard situation.

But that’s another topic to which we’ll return some day. Meanwhile, the reality was that the most popular design which turned up to start the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee was the Rustler 36, something of a surprise to casual observers as most folk had initially thought the response would be something nearer Suhaili, and ketch-rigged too.

But as it happens, the one Suhaili sister-ship which was allowed in under special dispensation, Abilash Tomy’s Thuriya from India, and one of the few other ketch-rigged boats, our own Gregor McGuckin’s Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance, were both dismasted in September in the mother of all storms in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean.

gregor mcguckin10Gregor McGuckin – he was dismasted after being rolled 360-degrees in an exceptional storm in an area of the Southern Indian Ocean where Conor O’Brien had noted the power of multi-directional cross seas to build freak waves

Their skippers were successfully retrieved by a French Fisheries Patrol vessel while McGuckin was in the midst of an heroic effort to get to the seriously-injured Tomy under jury rig. But despite promises that Thuriya would be retrieved by the Indian Navy and restored to seagoing standard, she still seems to be out there and virtually not moving at all. This suggests that she is still lying to her broken rigging, whereas McGuckin’s boat is now nearly 400 miles away nearer Australia, as before his controlled retrieval and passage towards Tomy under jury rig, he succeeded in cutting adrift all the broken spars and rigging, and the former ketch has sometimes been drifting at 1 knot and more.

The experience of McGuckin and Abilash in that “perfect storm” is of added interest in that it happened in the area of ocean where Conor O’Brien saw his ultimate breaking crest. The wind strengths were nothing like the horrific power which assaulted Tomy and McGuckin, as at the time Saoirse was running in her surprisingly speedy style before “a moderate gale” (as they used to say), and O’Brien and his helmsman observed a large waving moving along with them maybe about a mile away.

There were marked cross seas running at the time – a significant factor recorded by Gregor McGuckin – and they went to work on this big wave until it peaked out like the Matterhorn or Mount Fuji, an absolutely extraordinary pinnacle of water which then collapsed in hundreds of thousands of tons of breakers and spume.

Neither O’Brien nor his shipmate said a word to each as this all-powerful force of nature manifested itself, but afterwards in his deck log he noted that had Saoirse been caught up in it, she and her crew would have instantly been goners. As for the professional seaman who’d been helmsman at the time, as soon as they reached port in Australia, he went ashore and wasn’t seen again. It greatly annoyed O’Brien, as this was the only helmsman other than O’Brien himself who had shown he could get Saoirse to perform to her best, and O’Brien had hoped that in due course the situation would arise where their combined efforts would see Saoirse achieve the 200 miles day’s run of which he was convinced she was capable.

conor obrien11Conor O’Brien as portrayed by his wife, the artist Kitty Clausen

He had many crew changes, but despite that and other difficulties, his underlying intention to sail home via Cape Horn was maintained. Ninety-four years ago on Sunday, it was achieved - a simple and beautiful historical fact of small craft ocean voyaging.

Today, the realities of the Golden Globe Golden Jubilee race underline the remarkable nature of what Conor O’Brien and Saoirse made into reality. He may not have been single-handed, but his crew of two were of limited experience, the boat was of extremely primitive type by today’s standards, and the elements of the unknown in what they were undertaking were beyond calculation.

Now that we know so much more about Cape Horn and the conditions which may be experienced in sailing past it, O’Brien’s feat with Saoirse in 1924 becomes that much greater. He may have died on Foynes Island in 1952, but Saoirse has lived on, and she is currently being re-built by Liam Hegarty at his Oldcourt Boatyard near her birthplace of Baltimore. In 2020, Saoirse will sail again, and we will wonder anew at the achievement of the great pioneering sailor of Limerick.

saoirse rebuild12Saoirse being re-built in Oldcourt (left) and as she was in the 1930s after her global circumnavigation of 1923-25. Photos Gary MacMahon

Published in Golden Globe Race

In recent weeks, much of the attention on the traditional boat-building Mecca of Oldcourt in West Cork has been focused around the complex moves involved in vacating the 56ft ketch Ilen from the boat-building shed writes W M Nixon. This meant safely re-locating her through the very crowded boatyard to a secure commissioning berth where a sheltering tent could be erected to allow the fitting-out work to proceed whatever the weather.

Then in time, while fitting the interior has been proceeding, there followed the “blind stepping” of the two masts which had been trucked down from the Ilen Boat-Building School in Limerick, where the massive spars and rig had been built and pre-assembled.

saoirse moulds2“We have a shape – we have the shape.” In boat-building terms, putting the moulds in place is just part of the process, but for the casual observer it gives a first vivid impression of what the re-built Saoirse will look like. Photo: Gary MacMahon

saoirse moulds3After restoring the Ilen at Oldcourt, the first stages in re-building Saoirse in the same shed provide the clearest message that a 42-footer is very much smaller than a 56-footer, yet it was the 42-footer that sailed round the world. Photo: Gary MacMahon

All this has been safely dealt with despite some periods of freakishly bad weather. But it had to be done on time, as the shed was needed because it had been agreed to start work in January on the re-build of Conor O’Brien’s 1922-built 42ft Saoirse. This project – for experienced sailor Fred Kinmonth of Hong Kong – will be in honour of Saoirse’s great achievement of 1923-25, the first global circumnavigation of the world by a cruising yacht south of the Great Capes.

So while much attention has been on the brightly-painted Ilen and the flurry of activity around her, in the shed shipwrights Liam Hegarty and Fachtna O’Sullivan and their team have been left in relative peace for the key initial stage of creating Saoirse’s backbone from various very substantial pieces of carefully-selected oak.

saoirse backbone4Saoirse’s backbone could only begin to come together thanks to a complex process for sourcing suitable oak. Photo: Gary MacMahon

But as Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Project puts it: “In taking on a job like this, you have to create a new supply chain. There is no line of supply for traditional boat-building on this scale, and we had to make our own way in finding pieces of sound oak which would help to provide the myriad of shapes from which the backbone and the frames will eventually be created”.

The upshot was that if a great oak came down anywhere in Munster, they’d soon be on the spot to see if anything usable could be salvaged from it. And even then, after the processes of seasoning and so forth, that was only the beginning of the job. A piece of oak might be worked on until it was nearly ready to be installed in the backbone, but then some aspect of the almost-finished section would give out the wrong messages, and it would be discarded and an alternative piece sought from the stockpile.

saoirse big timber5Saoirse may be significantly smaller than Ilen, but renewing her backbone has involved working with substantial pieces of oak, some of which didn’t pass the final test. Photo: Gary MacMahon

So it was patient, painstaking work, it took time, and it was best done in peace and private. But finally the makings of the backbone were in place, and there then could be visible progress – the erection on the keel, from stem to stern, of the temporary moulds which would show precisely the ultimate shape of Saoirse’s frames.

This has been taking place during the past week, and though it’s essentially a mock-up, just an integral part of the building process, nevertheless it feels as though the project has taken a mighty leap forward. And as with everything to do with Saoirse, it’s redolent with history.

saoirse sternpost6Saoirse’s sternpost – Tom Moynihan insisted on lengthening the counter beyond Conor O’Brien’s hyper-economical original design. Photo: Gary MacMahon

While Conor O’Brien of Foynes and Tom Moynihan of Baltimore may have sketched out Saoirse’s lines (with Moynihan insisting the inelegantly short stern be lengthened a little), their drawings were only very rudimentary. But after the great voyage, Saoirse was famous. When Conor O’Brien took her to Cowes to do the 1927 Fastnet Race, the already-legendary Cowes-based designer Uffa Fox took off the boat’s lines.

As was right and proper, the lines sketched by O’Brien and Moynihan were remarkably close to the little ship as she was finished. But it was the lines as taken off by Uffa Fox which have been used in the process whereby the moulds have been assembled and erected, and this has been a speedy process which by Friday night was providing a vision of Saoirse which has an air of reality to it.

At the end of 2017, it was still a project in planning. But now, we’re already seeing something. The dream is becoming reality.

saoirse uffa fox lines7Saoirse’s lines as taken off by Uffa Fox in Cowes in 1927

saoirse sailing8Saoirse sailing in Cornish waters during the 1950s while in the ownership of the Ruck family. Photo courtesy Gary MacMahon

Published in Historic Boats
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“Only connect” urged the novelist E M Forster writes W M Nixon. But his idealistic concepts of emotional connection would be at some remove from the curiously coincidental nautical connections between writers Roddy Doyle and Jennifer Johnston, who are in public conversation for an hour on the final day of this week’s “Mountains to the Sea” dlr Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire.

Roddy Doyle is married to a direct descendant of Erskine Childers. And Jennifer Johnston is in private life Mrs Gilliland, married into a noted Derry family long involved with boats. Erskine Childers was of course best known as author of the 1903-published maritime thriller The Riddle of the Sands before he acquired fame as skipper of the Asgard in the 1914 Howth gun-running. And at that time, the leading sailor in the Gilliland family was Frank Gilliland, who was a pioneer in producing sailing directions and small boat charts for the northwest of Ireland, particularly Donegal, and recently came up on the radar again with Robbie Mason of Milford Haven undertaking a restoration of his 1938 Scottish fishing boat-style motor cruiser Blue Hills.

roddy doyle2
Roddy Doyle has unexpected direct links to Erskine Childers. Photo Irish Times


jennifer johnston3
Jennifer Johnston – according to Roddy Doyle, “the best writer in Ireland”. Photo courtesy Mountains to the Sea

Both Childers and Gilliland were members of the oldest cruising organisation in the world, the 1880-founded Royal Cruising Club. But although both served in various sections of the Royal Naval Reserve through the 1914-18 War, by the time that war ended they had very different notions as to the future of Ireland in the post-war turbulence which eventually led to the War of Independence, the Partition which created Northern Ireland in 1921, and the Civil War in the new Irish Free State. Yet while they may have viewed some things very differently, in 1919 they combined on a small but significant project which was to have longterm effects on Irish sailing.

Both were acquainted with a sailor from Foynes called Conor O’Brien, Gilliland probably through the Naval Reserve connections, while Childers knew O’Brien from the time he had brought his ketch Kelpie along to assist in the 1914 gun-running. Whatever their origins, the connections were such that when the Foynes man sought to join the Royal Cruising Club in September 1919, he was proposed by Frank Gilliland and seconded by Erskine Childers, and duly got in.

Looked at across the series of events which occurred before and since, it was an extraordinary and unlikely combination of people and purposes. But it meant that Conor O’Brien now had access to a recognised channel for acknowledgement of his cruising achievements, which became serious when he departed Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923 for his voyage round the world south of the Great Capes with the new 42ft Baltimore-built Saoirse.

By this time, Erskine Childers had been executed by a firing squad of the Government of the new Irish Free State as an armed anti-Treaty rebel. And Frank Gilliland was on his way to becoming the Aide-de-Camp to the first Governor of Northern Ireland. But O’Brien sailed blithely along on his epic voyage, flying the tricolour ensign of the new Irish state whenever possible, yet submitting logs each year to the annual competition of the Royal Cruising Club.

Although many members of the RCC had severe doubts about having anything whatever to do with the new Ireland, the hugely-experienced adjudicator Claud Worth, RCC Vice Commodore, had little hesitation in awarding O’Brien the club’s premier trophy, the Challenge Cup, three years on the trot in recognition of his remarkable achievement.

conor obrien4
Conor O’Brien, as pictured by his artist wife Kitty Clausen. Courtesy Ilen Project

Not only that, but when O’Brien wrote his book Across Three Oceans about the voyage, Claud Worth willingly supplied a foreword which gave the entire venture an official status which it has held ever since. In it, he memorably commented:

“Mr O’Brien’s plain seamanlike account is so modestly written that a casual reader might miss its full significance” wrote Worth. “But anyone who knows anything of the sea, following the course of the vessel day by day on the chart, will realize the good seamanship, vigilance and endurance required to drive this little bluff-bowed vessel, with her foul uncoppered bottom, at speeds from 150 to 170 miles per day, as well as handling the weight of wind and sea which must sometimes have been encountered”.

saoirse departs5
History in the making. Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse gets under way from Dun Laoghaire on June 20th 1923, bound – eventually – for Cape Horn.

This level of support from a man regarded as God-like in his wisdom by the world of cruising was the ultimate level of recognition, and O’Brien’s reputation was secure, regardless of the fact that some found him at personal level to be a leading member of the Awkward Squad. It’s possible that his achievements were such that he would have so impressed Claud Worth regardless of his RCC membership. But the fact that he’d become a member in 1919 – albeit with the most unlikely combination of supporters – had greatly smoothed the way.

And as next Sunday’s exchange of ideas between Jennifer Johnston and Roddy Doyle is taking place beside the harbour where Saoirse’s great voyage began and ended over the space of exactly two years between 1923 and 1925, the coincidences are complete. Their conversation is on Sunday March 25th at noon in dlr Lexicon Level 4, booking recommended.

When the restoration project on the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien/Tom Moynihan Falkland Islands Trading Ketch got under way at two locations – Liam Hegarty’s boat-building shed in the former Cornstore at Oldcourt near Baltimore, and the Ilen Boat-building School premises in Limerick – it was expected that final jobs such as making up the rigging and creating the sails would be contracted out to specialists writes W M Nixon.

But while the plan is still in place to have the sails made in traditional style by specialist sailmakers, Gary MacMahon and his team in the Ilen Boat-building School came to the realisation that they’d made so many international contacts over the years while the restoration has been under way that, if they could just get the right people’s schedules to harmonise, then they could learn how to make up the rigging in their own workshops as part of the broader training programme.

conor obrien2Conor O’Brien in 1926, when he delivered Ilen to the Falklands. He had received the order for the new ketch as a result of his visit to the Falkland Islands during his round the world voyage with the 42ft ketch Saoirse in 1923-25

As a result, the Ilen Boat-building School became a hive of activity over the Bank Holiday Weekend and beyond, for that was the only time when noted heavy rigging experts Trevor Ross, who is originally from New Zealand, and Captain Piers Alvarez, master of the 45-metre barque-rigged tall ship Kaskelot, were both available to make their voluntary instructional contributions to the project.

trevor ross3Trevor Ross with a new eye splice in the Ilen Boat-building School in Limerick. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Ilen restored4The re-creation of Ilen’s rig, as developed by Trevor Ross with the late Theo Rye

Trevor Ross was professionally at sea for ten years, during which time he became fascinated with traditional rigging techniques. Though he now works ashore, his interest in traditional rigging and sail training is greater than ever - so much so that he worked with the late Theo Rye in finalizing the design of Ilen’s rig to match the original from Conor O’Brien’s day, while ensuring that it is practical in modern terms both for requirements of efficiency and safety.

kaskelot at sea5Captain Piers Alvarez’s current command is the 45-metre barque Kaskelot

Piers Alvarez grew up in English cider country near the broad River Severn, but his personal horizons were far beyond apple growing. When he was 15, the captain of the famous square rigger Soren Larsen came to live in the village, which gave Piers’ father the opportunity to sign on his restless son as an Able Seaman at least for the duration of the school holidays, but the boy became hooked on the sea.

More than thirty years later, the love of seafaring and traditional ships is undimmed. Although Piers’ maritime career has also taken in tugs, superyachts and ice-classed research vessels, his current role in command of the Kaskelot perfectly chimes with his most passionate interests, and he has been fascinated by the entire Ilen project from an early stage.

So when the possibility arose of spending time in Limerick working along with his old shipmate Trevor Ross on the rigging for Ilen as a training project for the Ilen School’s intake, he readily gave up a week of his leave to teach the Ilen’s build team and future crew everything he knows, while moving a key part of the Ilen plan along the path of progress.

piers and elan6Piers Alvarez and trainee Elan Broadly busy with their work in Limerick

james piers elan7Ilen School Instructor James Madigan (left) with Piers Alvarez and Elan Broadly, immersed in their learning work while everyone else is on holiday. Photo: Gary MacMahon

liam james elan piers8Team work. (Left to right) Liam O’Donoghue, James Madigan, and Elan Broadly on a steep learning curve with Piers Alvarez. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Modern amateur sailors, accustomed to today’s rigging where a terminal can be fitted in a seemingly-simple machine with the press of a button, can scarcely imagine the patient effort and skill which goes into making an eye splice in wire rigging which is of such a weight that, to most of us, it looks more like working with steel hawsers.

This is hard graft, but very rewarding in the result, and the satisfaction found in the effort expended. Much of it is done entirely by hand, but now and again that lethal multiple tool, the angle-grinder, will speed up a finishing job.

tension tool9Some of the tools used in setting up traditional rigging are of very ancient origin…………….Photo: Gary MacMahon

piers angle grinder10….but inevitably an angle grinder will be used at some stage, and Piers Alvarez is ace with it. Photo: Gary MacMahon

When finished, the neatly parcelled eye-spliced shrouds will fit the re-shaped mast like a glove, while at the other end, the shrouds will be tensioned by traditional lanyards through dead-eyes which have been made in Limerick from tough greenheart timber. It’s a long way from a drum of raw steel wire and a still squared hounds area to be progressed into something which will function on the massive mast in smooth partnership, providing Ilen with her sailing power. And in Limerick over the holiday week, it provided an unusually satisfying way to learn something new and useful.

rigging work drawing11With the simplest of work drawings, an experienced rigger can turn a piece of hefty steel wire into a serviceable piece of rigging. Photo: Gary MacMahon

hawser roll12The thick steel wire in its raw state is a daunting sight. Photo: Gary MacMahon

dead eyes13The lower ends of the shrouds will be attached to the chainplates by lanyards rove through deadeyes made from greenheart, seen here at an early stage of the shaping process in Limerick. Photo: Gary MacMahon

dead eyes14“Series production” of dead-eyes. Photo: Gary MacMahon

dead eyes15 Dead-eyes at the final stage of their creation. All that remains to be done is to shape grooves to allow a fair downward lead for the lanyards. Photo: Gary MacMahon

Published in Ilen

The Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival 2017 from Friday 26th to Sunday 28th May will feature a remarkable selection of old, restored and new craft - traditional and classic alike - all reflecting the many aspects of the arts and crafts of the boatwright and shipwright writes W M Nixon.

The hospitable setting is highly appropriate, as there are more skilled boatbuilders beavering away in hidden workshops in West Cork than in any other comparable part of Ireland. And a few miles upriver from Baltimore on the River Ilen (which in due course brings you to the Olympic Medal-winning Skibbereen Rowing Club), you’ll find the boatyards of Oldcourt, where among other projects, Liam Hegarty and his craftsmen are bringing the restoration of the 1927-built ketch Ilen of Conor O’Brien fame to completion.

It’s the Ilen which provides a link to a notable debut at Baltimore by a new small boat in three weeks’ time. With both his world-girdling 40ft Saoirse of 1923, and the 57ft trading ketch Ilen which he delivered to her satisfied customers in the Falkland Islands, O’Brien felt that a robust and stable 10ft dinghy – or punt as he would have called it – provided all that he needed in the way of a ship’s tender.

ilen build2Progress continues on the restoration of Ilen. All the deckhouses - built in the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick – have now been installed in the ship herself at Oldcourt near Baltimore. Photo Gary MacMahon

He wasn’t alone in this view. At the same time in 1926 on Cork Harbour, John Valentine Sisk, owner of the substantial motor-launch Culleann, ordered a new 10ft punt for use as Culleann’s tender from noted Passage West boatbuilder Pierce Power. Cullean already had a 10ft punt, but it was considered too unstable. So Pierce Power faced the considerable challenge of creating a boat only 10ft long with firm midships sections for stability, yet with bow and stern artfully shaped to retain her predecessor’s ease of rowing.

He succeeded brilliantly, so much so that the Sisk family kept the punt after Cullean had moved on. Before John Valentine Sisk’s death in 1957, his three grandsons George, Hal and John had learned to row in this very special little boat. Then with his son John G Sisk now moved to Dublin, the Valentine Punt followed to be the tender to his Dun Laoghaire-based yachts Marian Maid, Stern and Sarnia until 1970.

She then went to a son-in-law Schull, and eventually was bought by fishermen on Long Island, where her yacht-style varnish was painted over, and finally tarred. She was reckoned past her working days when Hal Sisk found this fondly-remembered boat of his childhood and youth on the island, and had her restored. In time, she became part of the collection in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire as representative of a type once found at every yacht and fishing harbour on Ireland’s south coast, and many other ports and anchorages elsewhere.

valentine wooden punt3The Valentine Punt with the aft thwart removed to show the carefully-calculated shape of the transom – when afloat, it will offer minimum drag while helping when necessary with the hull form’s inherent stability.
However, it was the ease of rowing the Valentine Punt which was the fondest memory, so the late Michael Tyrrell of Arklow took off her lines for Hal Sisk with a re-creation in mind. But it was reckoned that real benefit would be conferred if the lines could be used, yet instead of the inevitably heavy traditional clinker construction with ribs (timbers), much lighter construction could be achieved by building instead with glued clinker ply.

Alec Jordan in Scotland is an acknowledged expert in creating laser cut marine ply kits, which are then built into a boat with the “lands” of the lapstrake planks now bonded and sealed with impervious gap-filling epoxy resin. The result of this project was an elegant hyper-light and easily-rowed yet stable 10ft punt which has been the ideal tender for Hal Sisk’s classic cutter Peggy Bawn and his innovative motor-cruiser Molly Bawn.

The Valentine Punt is a concept which could have many uses, and when the notion of having one as the tender to the restored Ilen came up, the Ilen Boatbuilding School director Gary MacMahon in Limerick leapt at the chance, as the school is always enthusiastic about testing new methods of wooden boatbuilding to broaden its syllabus.

valentine punt4Elan Broadley at work on his special creation, the latest Valentine punt developed from a proven design which is now 91 years old. Photo: Gary MacMahon

This latest model of the Valentine Punt has been built in the school by Elan Broadley, a trainee boatbuilder from Donegal, and he and his attractive creation will be making their debut in Baltimore during the Wooden Boat Festival, with a bit of a party involving all the main players, and his mum down from Donegal. After that, the little boat won’t have far to go to be united with her mother ship, the Ilen herself, preparing for launching at Oldcourt.

Published in Historic Boats

The season is upon us for goodwill and dreams of very special gifts. And for many Irish sailors, the dream Christmas present would be an elegantly classic or solidly traditional wooden boat, with all maintenance and running costs somehow covered by Divine Providence into infinity……W M Nixon goes down the Yuletide timber trail.

Love of wood is part of what we are. It’s in our genes. At some times and some places in the remote past, an instinctive fondness for wood, and an inherited ability to do something useful with it, would make all the difference between survival and extinction. So though today the availability of other more purposeful materials may have transformed boat-building, a new boat without some sort of wood trim is a very rare thing indeed.

At a more personal level, many of today’s generation of sailors cherish family memories of the communal building of wooden DIY kit boats at home. Here, there and everywhere, a drawing room or little-used dining room found itself a useful new purpose as a boat-building salon, with Mirror dinghies and occasionally larger craft taking shape in domestic settings throughout the land.

“Our daddy the boat-builder” became a household name in his own household. And for those who sometimes wonder why today’s adult sailors can become misty-eyed at the very thought of the Mirror dinghy (which really was and is a wonderful design and concept), the answer surely is that at a significant stage of their sailing and family life, a Mirror dinghy was centre stage, the symbol of a family’s shared values, hopes and interests.

But maybe the most important thing about the Mirror is that she is so eminently practical. So perhaps at Christmas we should allow our imaginations to take flight and soar high to envisage the complete wooden dreamship. And there she is as our header image, introducing this week’s meandering thoughts. That schooner at the moment is total fantasy. But any sailing enthusiast who looks at that concept design and doesn’t think: “Now there’s my dreamship”, well, he or she just doesn’t have a true sailing soul.

The origins of Eirinn, as she is named for the time being, go back to 2012, when the nascent Atlantic Youth Trust sought suggestions as to what a new sail training vessel for all Ireland should look like. But with their proposals recently getting the first real hints of a fair wind from both governments, the AYT have gone firmly down the route of a 40 metre steel barquentine.

Ilen at Oldcourt

The Ilen as she was in the Spring of 2015 in Oldcourt...

Ilen Boatbuilding School….while in the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick, spars and deckhouses were taking shape

Ilen in Oldcourt

Deckhouses built in Limerick are offered up on the Ilen in Oldcourt

However, down in Limerick where they were busy with moving forward the restoration of the Conor O’Brien 1926 ketch Ilen at two sites – the hull with Liam Hegarty in Oldcourt near Baltimore in West Cork, and the deckhouses, spars and other smaller items being built at the Ilen Boat Building School in Limerick – they gave some thought in 2012 to the possible form of a new sail training vessel. They came up with the concept of a classic 70ft schooner which they knew, thanks to the work on Ilen, that they could build themselves using the skills learned and deployed in re-building the O’Brien ketch.

classic schooner

A classic hull for a classic schooner – Theo Rye’s profile and general arrangements plan for the schooner concept of 2012

But with the Ilen project moving steadily on towards the vessel’s commissioning next summer, and with other directly-related new proposals at an advanced stage in the pipeline, that sublime schooner concept is in a sort of limbo, truly a fantasy.

Yet she’s such a lovely thing that we’re happy to use her as our symbol of Christmas cheer. Her creators are Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Boatbuilding School, and Theo Rye, who is best known as a technical consultant in naval architecture, and on clarifying matters of design history and detail in boat and yacht design. But he can turn his hand to all sorts of design commissions if required. He came up with the clever concept for the CityOne dinghies in Limerick, and when Gary started musing about a classic training schooner, within the scope of what the Ilen school could do, as their answer to the AYT sail training vessel query, Theo came up with the goods and then some.

In fact, the design of the hull is so perfect that we’ll run it again right here to save you the trouble of scrolling back to the top. The overhangs at bow and stern are in harmony, but it is the sheerline which is the master-stroke. There isn’t anything you’d want to change in it, yet when you look at other famous schooners such as the fictional Southseaman (in real life she was Northern Light) in Weston Martyr’s masterpiece of maritime literature The Southseaman – the Story of a Schooner (1926), we see a sheerline which is too flat in the way of the foremast. But with Eirinn, the curve is just right, and it’s something achieved by tiny adjustments and balances which the eye can’t really perceive, yet somehow it registers the sublime harmony of the total concept.

Eirinn schooner

Worth a second look – and then a third one. The longer you look at the lines of Eirinn, the sweeter they seem. But her overall appearance might be improved with a slight rake of the masts

Southseaman schoonerA schooner sheer not quite right – Weston Martyr’s Southseaman (aka Northern Light) could have done with a livelier sheerline abeam of the foremast.

So Theo Rye not only writes critiques of other people’s designs, but if given the chance he can personally come up with something which is wellnigh impossible to fault. Of course, we mightn’t quite go for the same rig – a little bit of rake in the masts wouldn’t go amiss - and for private use you’d want something a little different from the dormitory layout of the training ship. But that said, this is a beautiful yet not excessively pretty-pretty hull, a boat which sings. And the fact that she’s beyond just about every private owner’s reach only adds to the mystique.

But to redress the balance, last week we’d an inspiring evening’s entertainment and information about a dreamship which really is being re-created. It was the December gathering of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association in the ever-hospitable Poolbeg Y & BC, and a full house was there to hear about how Paddy Murphy of Renvyle in the far northwest of Connemara is getting on with his mission of bringing the famous Manx sailing nobby Aigh Vie back to life.

Paddy himself is something special. When asked his trade, he says he’s a blacksmith. But he can turn his hand to anything. Originally a Dub, his early sailing experiences included owning a Flying Fifteen and a Dragon, though not – so far as I know – at the same time. But then got the gaff rig traditional boat bug, and a sail on Mick Hunt’s Manx nobby Vervine Blossom sent him in pursuit of near-sister Aigh Vie. She was reportedly for sale, having for a long time been the pet family cruising boat of Billy Smyth and his family at Whiterock Boatyard on Strangford Lough, after spending her final working years fishing as a motorized vessel out of Ardglass.

Aigh Vie

Aigh Vie as she was in Whiterock Boatyard when Paddy Murphy bought her, her elegant huul shape clearly in evidence

Aigh VieAigh Vie in her final working days as a motorised fishing boat based at Ardglass

The deal was done, an ideal buy for a special man like Paddy Murphy, for the Aigh Vie is one very special vessel. The Manx fishing nobbies reached their ultimate state of development in the first twenty years of the 20th Century before steam power and then diesel engines took over. The nobby evolved to an almost yacht-like form through vessels like the 43ft White Heather (1904), which is owned and sailed under original-style dipping lug rig by Mike Clark in the Isle of Man, and the 1910 Vervine Blossom, now based in Kinvara, which was restored by Mick Hunt of Howth, but he gave her a more easily-handled gaff ketch rig which looked very well indeed when she sailed in the Vigo to Dublin Tall Ships Race in 1998.

Manx nobby Vervine Blossom

It was a sail on Mick Hunt’s 1910-built Manx nobby Vervine Blossom which inspired Paddy Murphy to go in pursuit of Aigh Vie

It takes quite something to outdo the provenance of these two fine vessels, but the story of Aigh Vie (it means a sort of mix of “good luck” and “fair winds” in Manx) is astonishing. It goes back to the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat off the Cork coast in May 1915, when the first boat to mount a rescue was the Manx fishing ketch Wanderer from Peel, her crew of seven skippered by the 58-year-old William Ball.

They came upon a scene of developing carnage. Yet somehow, the little Wanderer managed to haul aboard and find space for 160 survivors, and provide them with succour and shelter as they made for port. In due course, as the enormity of the incident became clear, the achievement of the Wanderer’s crew was to be recognised with a special medal presentation. And then William Ball, who had been an employee of the Wanderer’s owner, received word that funds had been lodged with a lawyer in Peel on behalf of one of the American survivors he’d rescued. The money was to be used to underwrite the building of his own fishing boat, to be built in Peel to his personal specifications. The name of the donor has never been revealed, but the result was William Ball’s dreamship, the Aigh Vie, launched in December 1916 and first registered for fishing in January 1917.

Over the years, the Aigh Vie became a much-loved feature of the Irish Sea fishing fleet. Tim Magennis, former President of the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Association, well remembers her from his boyhood days in the fishing port of Ardglass on the County Down coast. Her working days over, Billy Smyth gradually converted her to a Bermudan-rigged cruising ketch with a sheltering wheelhouse which enabled the Smyth family to make some notable cruises whatever the weather. His son Kenny Smyth, who now runs the boatyard with his brothers and is himself an ace helm in the local 29ft River Class, recalls that the seafaring Smyth family thought nothing of taking the Aigh Vie to the Orkneys at a time when the average Strangford Lough cruiser thought Tobermory the limit of reasonable ambitions.

After he’d bought the Aigh Vie and brought to her first base in Howth, Paddy Murphy soon realised he’d still a lot to learn about sailing and about keeping hard-worked old wooden boats in seafaring condition. But he’s such an entertaining and inspirational speaker that you’re swept along in his enthusiasm and empathise with his admission that, now and again, he felt things were getting on top of him.

Vervine Blossom and Aigh Vie

Sisters - Vervine Blossom (foreground) and Aigh Vie in Howth

Sailing days on the Aigh Vie

Sailing days on the Aigh Vie from Howth, before it was decided that she needed a major restoration

Following several seasons with increasing evidence of problems, he decided that a virtual re-build was necessary. It was then that the Dublin wooden boat owners’ perennial problem shot to the top of the agenda. In our very expensive city, the space and shelter to work long hours at an old wooden boats is almost impossible to come by, and he’d to shift the big Aigh Vie several times. On one occasion, he was asked to move in a hurry out of an ESB shed, but was offered £1,000 (this was pre-Euro days) to do so. He moved heaven and earth and finally found somewhere else at considerable expense, got the Aigh Vie installed there, and then went back to collect his thousand snots. Only to be laughed at. The manager told him it was the only way he could see to get the old boat moved out, but there were absolutely no funds available at all for such a thing, and surely Paddy would have guessed that?

deckhouses boat frames

The re-building under way at Renvyle, using the technique where hull shape is retained by first replacing every other frame

With one thing and another, he moved to Renvyle in Connemara where he liked the big country and the open spaces and the friendly people right on the edge of the Atlantic, and in time Aigh Vie came too, and found herself being slowly re-born under a special roof. But it was demanding work for one man, so every so often a team led by Paul Keogh of the famous Galway Hooker from Clondalkin, the Naomh Cronan, together with a good selection of DBOGA specialist talent, descends on Renvyle to put in a ferocious day or two of work, and then on the Saturday night they put a fair bit of business the way of the pub at Tullycross.

boat planking

The planking was more easily restored by laying the Aigh Vie over on her side

boat building galway

Agh Vie upright again, and the deckhouses are being put in place

DBOGA workteam boat buildersDBOGA workteam of all the talents descends on Renvyle. Paul Keogh of the Naomh Cronan (left) and Paddy Murphy himself (second right). Photo: Cormac LowthPerkins diesel install

Old Gaffers Association International President Sean Walsh (right) and Peter Redmond install Aigh Vie’s new Perkins diesel. Photo: Cormac Lowth

classic lug ketch

One of the options for Aig Vie’s rig is the classic lug ketch as shown here with Mike Clark’s 1903-built White Heather

So now, many years later, the journey towards the restored Aigh Vie is getting near its destination. But it will never be fully ended. Thanks to sails, spars and rigs donated from other boats, Paddy has the choice of either gaff ketch or classic lug rig, so she’ll always be work in progress. Which is good news. Because every couple of years or so, the DBOGA can guarantee a full house to hear Paddy Murphy talking about how the Aigh Vie story is going.

He’s a wonderful speaker, sometimes almost messianic, and he shares his every feeling. Thus he mentioned that one day he was feeling a bit low, and he just went out to look at the big boat down by the shore, seeking some sort of inspiration. His mind had been elsewhere with the details of completing the interior, but he suddenly realised that he was at the stage of thinking of putting the white paint on the topsides. So he just set to with a big paint brush and a bigger tin of paint, and Aigh Vie was transformed. So was he. “That’s the secret” says he. “If you’re feeling a bit down, just go out and slap on some white paint. It works wonders.”

white paint on the boat

Feeling a bit down? Then just go out and slap a coat of white paint on the boat – it works wonders

Aigh Vie’s sweet linesA very special boat – Aigh Vie’s sweet lines can now be fully appreciated again. Photo: Cormac Lowth

Published in W M Nixon
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