Sunday, October 30, 2011

AK Ilen Restoration part one: Conor O'Brien

Conor O'Brien and his sister Margaret aboard Kelpie

courtesy Irish Military Online

Molly and Erskine Childers sailing Asgard in the Baltic,1910

courtesy Wikipedia

Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice aboard Asgard bound for Howth

courtesy Echoes of Erin

Arklow Harbor about the time of the build of the boat on whose lines Conor based the Saoirse.

courtesy The Traditional Boats of Ireland Project

Saoirse in the late 1920's, rigged as a staysail schooner

courtesy The Traditional Boats of Ireland Project


courtesy Betty CK 145

Conor and wife Kitty

courtesy AK Ilen Company

Conor at the yuloh of the engineless Saoirse

courtesy The Traditional Boats of Ireland Project

The AK Ilen building at the Baltimore Fishery School, Tom Moynihan and crew.

courtesy The Traditional Boats of Ireland Project

The Ilen is launched

courtesy The Traditional Boats of Ireland Project

Conor and crew, I believe, about to leave for Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, delivering the Ilen

courtesy AK Ilen Company

The AK Ilen

courtesy AK Ilen Company

The Ilen in her new digs at the Hegarty Boatyard, Oldcourt, near Baltimore, Cork...but that's the next story.

courtesy AK Ilen Company


Kevin O'Farrell, photographer

I find this an absolutely magnetic story. At it's heart is a true Irish character, Conor O'Brien. Aristocrat, author, naval architect and intellectual, O'Brien was also an Irish patriot and supporter of the Irish rebellion. In 1914 O'Brien in his Kelpie, along with Molly and Erskine Childers in Asgard among others, ran guns for the rebels into Howth harbor in 1914.
Fast forward a few years to 1922 and we find Conor working with the master shipwright Tom Moynihan at the Baltimore Fishery School's boatyard to bring a vision of his to life. That vision was a cruising yacht which was a combination of the traditional and not so traditional. The hull was based on the lines of an old Arklow fishing boat O'Brien had been to sea in, but with more modern accommodations below and a rig designed for ease of handling at sea. Conor's design became Saoirse, (seershuh) gaelic for Freedom in celebration of the new Irish free state. 42' with a 12' beam he seems to have been pleased with his creation. Responding to an invitation from New Zealand, Conor set out in 1923 on a voyage that would bring him to the attention of the yachting world.

"I was invited to join a mountaineering party in the New Zealand Alps at Christmas, 1923, and having a nearly new yacht I regarded this as an excellent opportunity of finding out the merits or demerits of her design, which was of my own making."

The trip to New Zealand became the first leg of a rather bold circumnavigation, rounding the Southern Ocean before returning to Dun Loaghaire, and flying the new Irish Tricolour. Planning his voyage, O'Brien studied the logs of sailing ships from the past, helping him find his way. He made twelve ports of call on his voyage, which took almost exactly two years. This heroic voyage was chronicled by O'Brien in his 'Across Three Oceans'. The book, one of fourteen under his authorship, got the attention of the bluewater cognoscenti at the time. Don Helm, in his informative 'The Circumnavigators' says:

None other than L. Francis Herreshoff said of him: "I consider
O'Brien's books the most masterly analysis of seagoing conditions perhaps ever
written, and even if he and I do not see eye to eye in all matters pertaining to
rig and rigging well, no progress would be made if we all thought alike- but
under no circumstances would I contradict Conor O'Brien for he has had actual
experience." Quoted from the old master's instructions on how to build
Marco Polo, which ran in Rudder magazine, 1946.

On his return leg up the Atlantic, Conor O'Brien and Saoirse called in at the Falkland Islands for a somewhat extended stay. The stopover resulted in the Falklands Islands Company commissioning a larger version of Saoirse, which became, on Conor's return to Baltimore, the AK Ilen.
Construction began in late 1925 under the supervision of Tom Moynihan at the Fisheries school boatyard, Irelands first vocational school. Upon her completion in 1926 Conor pronounced her a 'handsomer model' than the Saoirse. He proceeded to sea trial her around Kerry and the Shannon and ransacked Saoirse for gear. He then set out for the Falklands with two 'Cape Clear' men, arriving in Port Stanley early in 1927, where the boat and crew received a warm welcome. The Ilen was subsequently put to work as a jack of all trades workboat servicing the needs of the islanders for nearly 70 years (!), "working for her living in some of the most demanding waters in the world, ferrying people, school teachers, sheep, stores and mail between the scattered island communities of the Falklands". The Ilen finally retired from worklife in the early 1990's.
In 1997, one keen Irish sailor lamenting the loss of Saoirse in 1979, focused his attention on the Ilen. That was Gary MacMahon. Gary learned the Ilen might be available and with help quickly put together the financing to secure and return her to her birthplace. He founded the AK Ilen Company with Anthony Keane and began planning the Ilen's return. But that, as they say, is another story. (there's more coming)

I'd like to thank a few folks who have been invaluable in starting this series.

First is Kevin O'Farrell, photographer, who put me on to this story and whose invaluable photos of the restoration will be seen later,

Gary MacMahon, who opened the whole can of worms and is still active as the principle of the project,

And Dr. Martin Kay, who spearheads the educational side of the Company and has been exceptionally liberal and forthcoming with information. He's working on grants for writing a book about the Ilen as well as presenting papers on this project and the educational and general status of traditional boatbuilding in Ireland to groups such as Dorna. Martin has promised to send updates as the project progresses.

And the Traditional Boats of Ireland Project, for it's extensive research and some very special photos.


AK Ilen Company

Big Boat Build Workshops

Traditional Boats of Ireland Project

Don Holm's e-book 'The Circumnavigators'

Wikipedia ConorO'Brien

Wikipedia Howth Gun Running

Wikipedia Erskine Childers

The DORNA Project

Originally published by Thomas Armstrong in 70.8%

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

4th Annual Philadelphia Wooden Boat Festival

When I arrived at the Penn' Landing yacht basin, lots of boats werre in evidence, small, medium and large.

On the promenade fronting the boatshop I found a couple of runabouts, this one from Vintage Craft.

Gina Pickton was helping organize small boat races.

And there was John Schwarzenbach's Comet, almost fully restored, just needs working out the rigging details.

The boatshop crew and student volunteers have done a good job with her.

For comparison, her state last year.

Ned Asplundh's beautiful Joel White Marsh Cat, Frankford Yellow Jacket.

Ric Carrion's Elf

Ric doing his thing.

Paul Gray back with Quitessance. Her hull is a copy of Jarvis Newman's Dictator, a Friendship Sloop, but
Quintessance is schooner rigged. Making her one of a kind.

Paul races her in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. In three outings he's placed two firsts and one third in the C class. He'll be there again this year.

Roger Pritchard was back with his sweet H-28 Gwylin.

He's packing her off this winter to the Cutts and Case yard in Oxford Md for some restorative hull work, their epoxy and kevlar cord treatment.

A rowing race, here's Ron Gibbs and Barbara Munson in the Whitehall Polaris.

Pete Byar in Pete Peter's ducker Thomas Eakins

Ann & Kate in the Whitehall Culture.

Marcus Brandt, a Gazella crew, looking very salty for the occasion.

His gear was interesting, so I asked him about it. It's all homemade and mostly scavenged. Only the marlinspike and rivets for the knife handle were purchased.

The tug Jupiter down from
Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild (along with Gazela) doing double duty as stage for the serenade.

Here are Elizabeth Crampton and the aforementioned Marcus Brandt making ready the sharpie Isabel Una McKay for a sharpie race against Fish Stix.

Ned Asplundh leading Bill Covert to the start in a Delaware Tuckup race.

Shortly after the start with Bill leading.

Some 'match' racing here.

There off! Isabel Una Mckay v Fish Stix

Ned in Marion Brewington coming in far ahead of his adversary. Marion is a local TSCA boat. Top Priorty, the boat Bill Covert was in is,I believe,an ISM boat

Someone? rowed one of the Whitehalls squarely across the AJ Meerwald's bow as she was coming in. Not quite a near miss, but WHY risk it?

The Meerwald tying up.

My turn! Chis from Gazela paddlingus out from the dock in the Isabel Una for another sharpie race. His expression was a bit unsettling.

In truth, however, it was my inexperience in such a small craft which showed. Sitting on the thwart, the boom was at my elbow. Little to no wind. The gaff throat wasn't behaving correctly. I did something stupid and banged my coccyx which is only now feeling better.

Chris proved a capable helm and we did 'win' the race. Typically we finally got some wind just as we approached the dock and landed without grace, my fault. All is well, and despite some pain I enjoyed the experience.

all photos Thomas Armstrong

This years Phladelphia Wooden Boat Show exceeded expectations. More boats, from small craft to large ships, with some lovelies in between. More people, great weather, though the wind died in the afternoon. Wen Byar was the race committee, and along with Gina Pickton organized several small craft races which I am sure will become a mainstay of the fest. Sailing these older boat types is quite interesting and, in my case at least, somewhat instructive. These boats either were, or in the case of the tuckup, evolved from, traditional working boats from the 19th C. It is beautiful to see these craft come to life. The chance to get out and sail these boats is in a small way to re-experience the past and certainly gain appreciation for the skill of our forebears in working these boats. I found sailing the little sharpie in some ways more demanding and acute than the later, larger boats I am familiar with. What a generous opportunity.
Despite certain logistical difficulties having to do with being located in a major city, the ISM, under John Brady's guidance, and with the help of dedicated staff and the TSCA is moving forward and providing a rewarding experience for Philadelphia.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mid Atlantic Small Craft Festival XXIX

Barry Long's recently completed melonseed skiff Aeon.

I was drawn to the boat immediately on entering the festival grounds.

She's meticulously crafted, as is most of what Barry does.

There is a lengthy and beautifully photographed record of this build at Berry's website, Eye in Hand.
Nice commentary, as well.

Aeon is one of a pair of melonseeds Barry built simultaneously.

Here's the other:


Well done Barry

Tom Shepard, Wen Byar et al showed up with the Marion Brewington, down from the Independence Seaport Museum.

Mike Wick brought his brand new Cortez melonseed Moogie.

photo courtesy John Guidera

She took on a little water, but Mike will soon have that remedied.

Tied up next to Mike was this smart little catspaw dingy Vairea, a Joel White design owned by Joe Manning.

Jon Harris of CLC was back with his very roomy Pocketship.

Rick Urban brought his Swampscott dory Old Spice and a very convincing canine.

Jay Eberle with his Oughtred Ness Yawl Sara and Damian Siekonic's nicely restored sea bright skiff Persephone, built by C. Hankins in 1985.

Notice the deadeyes. Damian's company Privateer Media specializes in providing all manner of support to those doing historical productions, including boats.

I haven't been able to identify these two decked sailing canoes...

but felt it a shame not to include them. Help, anyone?

Pegasus is a Sam Crocker raised deck Stone Horse.

She is a member of the CBMM's flotilla.

Here's Dale Davenport paddling his Cape Falcon F1, a skin on frame kayak designed by Brian Schultz.
You can download the free plans for this boat here.

Obadiah, a Joel White Marsh Cat

She is owned by Dr. Pete Peters,

and was built by Marc Barto. Marc is a shipwright at the museum and known for his melonseed plans.

Another Marsh Cat, named Frankford Yellow Jacket.

Owner Ned Asplundh explained that the name refers to a Philadelphia professional football team of yesteryear. Ned and Mike Wick are the co-editors of the Ash Breeze, the publication of the TSCA. The latest edition has an engaging article on the history of the MASCF.

Yet another Marsh Cat, this one is Comfort, owned by Doug Oeller

The beautifully restored and maintained Edna E Lockwood

A Chesapeake Bay bugeye, she is the last of her kind, and designated a National Historic Landmark.

Nearby was this little beauty, obviously a Chesapeake type and probably also an oyster craft, but I have yet to identify her, presumably also a CBMM boat. (John Ford wrote to me recently to inform me that the boat is an Egret Sharpie based on a Chapelle design [so not a Chesapeake type after all] and donated to the museum. She will likely be used in the museum's educational program.)

Speaking of beautifully restored and maintained, here's Ric Carrion aboard Elf. The restoration and preservation of Elf have become the nexus of Ric's life and he is passionate about her. Ric said he'd be leaving Sunday morning to begin making his way to Philadelphia and the Independence Seaport Museum's wooden boat fest, this coming weekend.

Nearest in this photo is Tim Shaw in his skin on frame outrigger canoe Al Demany Chiman.
Tim, where's that sailing rig?

A father and son pair of Canvasbacks, designed by Karl Stambaugh.

Here we are back again to Sara.

After a long chat Dale and Jay invited me to a sail. I had written about these two in my report of the first MASCF I attended back in 2008, when Dale brought his Caledonia Yawl as well. Dale recently sold that boat and is moving both to larger and smaller

Here's that lovely lug main.

Looks as though we're having fun!

A great way to end my visit, my thanks to Jay and Dale

There may be a few of these still available. Contact the museum.

all photos Thomas Armstrong with exceptions noted

The 29th Mid Atlantic Small Craft Festival took place last weekend in St. Michaels MD on the campus of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. For the first time in my four years of attendance the weather was a bit less than perfect, and while that may have contributed to there being a few less onlookers, it in no way diminished the number or enthusiasm of the participants. This is a spirited gathering of like minded folk who come together to celebrate their passion for small craft. Many of the boats are built by their owners and certainly almost all maintained by them. Hands on. It's a pleasure to be in their company and the enthusiasm is contagious. I'd also say the museum and volunteer staff are gracious and accommodating. What fun.
Mike Wick sent me the 'race' results:

MASCF 2011 Sailing Order of Finish
# Name Vessel
131 Tom Johns Sunfish
64 Al Fittipaldi Thistle
134 Harold Bernard Annalie Glen-L 15
21 George Surgent Buna-Monia , Crotch Island Pinkie
13 Pete Peters Obadiah Marshcat
104 George Loos N/N Blue Jay
67 Kevin Brennan Slip Jig Navigator
31 Lawrence Haff Red Dragon Sailing Canoe
#53B Scott Lavertue Calico Jack Coquina
32 Dennis Keener Whisper Sharpie Skiff
111 Gail Sheppard Sea Hound
26 Carl Weissinger Baguette, Sandbagger
145 John Depa N/N Sailing Canoe
112 Tom Shephard Marion Brewington, Tuckup
118 Mike Wick Moggie Cortez Melonseed
28 Jay Bliss Haiku
69 Jay Eberly SARA
43 Doug Oeller Comfort, Marshcat
87a Marie Cobb Bonito
9 Steve Layden Pigwidgeon
48 John England Hannah Banana, Sailing Sharpie
44 Ned Asplundh Frankford Yellow Jacket Marshcat
73 Reade &Molly James Faith
87b Ed & Michelle Cobb Kermit S.F. Pelicanilh.

Apparently there was a bit of a blow outside the harbor, as Mike quipped per email:

"Only the strong survived."

Looking forward to next year.

Special thanks to John Ford at the CBMM for his assistance.

Orignally posted by Thomas Armstrong via 70.8%