Friday, February 24, 2012

AK Ilen Restoration part four: Education and the Future

LIMERICK: The Ilen mainmast at the AK Ilen Wooden Boatbuilding School

LIMERICK: An ILEN School Instructor beside an old Kenmare Punt - thelines of this beautiful boat are being recorded so that new punt can be built at some point in the future

SKIBBEREEN: Work continues on the ILEN - here an ILEN Boatyard Shipwright is creating a template in marine play so that the precise shape can be transferred to a block of hardwood

LIMERICK: An ILEN School Instructor moves rapidly ahead with the construction of a traditional Clare Curach - when all the laths are in place, he will turn the boat over and fit the frame to the gunwhale

SKIBBEREEN: ILEN Shipwrights take a welcome winter break and,in seasonal mood, share a meal in the weeks before Christmas 2011

LIMERICK 2: A trainee ILEN School Instructor plans his next project - great planks of Douglas Fir lie ready behind him for work on the spars and masts of the ILEN

SKIBBEREEN: A Shipwright works inside the timbers of the ILEN's hull - his technical skill and expertise are balanced by the beauty of the form around him

SKIBBEREEN: A Shipwright works on the foot of the ILEN's stem - the early morning light, streaming through the open window, illuminates perfectly what man can do with natural wood

LIMERICK: A young participant in the LIMERICK School absorbed in shaping the end of a lath to fit to the Curach behind him

SKIBBEREEN 6: Shipwrights preparing to fit stanchions on the ILEN's starboard side forward

SKIBBEREEN: A senior ILEN Shipwright giving instructions on how to make a template for a lodging knee

LIMERICK: Seen through a scuttle (a porthole), an ILEN School Instructor checks the internal dimensions of the ILEN's main deckhouse

All photos courtesy the AK Ilen Company

The story of the restoration of the Ilen is not just a story about saving one boat. The Ilen is at the center of the genesis of the AK Ilen Company, but the 'Maritime Adventure' is a living, growing entity, primarily involved in education but also looking broadly ahead to the future with involvement in the marine component of the EU integrated strategy for the Atlantic area. This last will explore the viability of wooden sail powered vessels as a piece of the European coastal economy... more on this later.

The AK Ilen Co. is currently engaged in three major forays.

The Big Boat BuildWorkshops in Baltimore, Cork, see my previous post for an explanation and testimonial.

The AK Ilen Wooden Boat Building School in Limerick. Dr. Martin Kay, a principle of the Co. explained to me how the school works:
"We don't offer programmes, we offer space in which to start the learning adventure. What people do in (the school) is up to them. We help them take stock: we accredit past experience and design pathways forward from vocational to academic achievement. It means that someone who has not succeeded with conventional education can come to us and say "Well I did manage to do that and I found this really interesting." Sometimes people come to us under police guard. Wherever they find themselves is where we start. And we find that their re-engagement in learning is transformational."

And there's a new project on the Aran Island of Inisheer aimed at developing the islanders understanding of their traditional curach and how to build them efficiently. This program will begin in about two months and eventually morph into a local boat building center.

Additionally, last summer the Co. formed a boatbuilding partnership with the Northwest Schoolof Wooden Boat Building. This is essentially an exhange program for instructors. Tim Lee,an instructor at the School was over last summer and will be coming again this year.

Quite recently the Company decided to go into the mobile-classroom-and-workshop business which will work across Munster (initially across Cork, Kerry and Limerick but we shall extend it in time to Waterford, Clare and Tipperary).

I asked Gary MacMahon, Director of the Co. about the formation and function of the Company and he replied on a couple of levels:

"The 'Company' was incorporated so that we could (be) associated at a corporate organizational level within Ireland. At it's most irreducible we follow an educational mission for the purpose of - enquiry and creativity. By way of clearer elaboration: (from a talk given by Gary on the occasion of the opening of the Boat Building School's new facility in Limerick last June).

On this educational floor where we build wooden boats we witness the transformative effect of working with timber. This tangible, creative and awakening education of the heart, gives vitality to all who partake, and enables them to address other aspects of life with energy and confidence.

And we awaken in two ways – the way of knowledge which is cognitive and of the head and the way of intuition which is perennial and of the heart.

We have seen young people come in here, people who have never before had the privilege of engaging with their surroundings in a structured cultural manner, suddenly awaken, with courage and joy as they work with mallet and chisel.

What is happening here works and we hope to maintain and expand it. Next week, master boat builder Timothy Lee comes from the United States, the current home of wooden boat building, to work with us for the summer, as visitor, teacher, external examiner and peer, to keep us in touch with the best there is.

Happiness is endemic to existence. We look forward to working with you to achieve that tumble home, or default position, of prosperity and harmony for life."

Stated goals of the school are to foster the building of character, the taking of personal responsibility, the development of leadership skills and contributing to the community.

Looking abroad and ahead are some exciting developments. Dr. Kay in particular is investing a great deal of energy in developing the AK Ilen Company's international presence and influence on European policy. In expressing to me his vision of how wooden boats can figure in the marine economy as a key component of the EU integrated strategy for the Atlantic area, Dr. Kay wrote:

"Wooden boats driven principally by sail (i.e. with an auxiliary engine) can take part in the exciting new maritime economy and the projects being commissioned. They are ideally suited to servicing off-shore installations and aquaculture platforms. And having a low magnetic signature, they are ideal for carrying scientific projects, surveillance and so on. Wooden sailing boats are sustainable, in the sense that they are constructed from replenishable resources, they have a low carbon footprint and are powered by the wind. Wooden sailing boats are known to add value to the visitor experience - in other words, people like looking at them and will spend time and money coming to see where they are made. Local employment follows both the employment of wooden boats and increased tourism, and is accompanied by investment in coastal infrastructure and more business opportunities in turn. Wooden boats can even add options to coastal economies by providing alternatives for local sea routes where non-time sensitive cargoes are concerned. The arguments are strong but there is, I sense, some resistance to them even though naval specialists will concede that they are now having to consider using sails to power patrolling ships because the costs of diesel are so high.
Voicing those arguments is why I started the Atlantic Wooden Boat Builders & Operators Group. My co-chairmen are the EU Commission (DG MARE) and the former chairman of the EU DORNA Project (preserving the nautical heritage) which concluded last autumn in Spain. His name is Lino Lema and he works for the Galician Maritime Council. DG MARE will now stand back and allow Lino and I to grow the involvement of Boat Builders and Operators from Portugal to Scotland. We shall be presenting the case for including sail power and wooden boats in rotuine coastal operations. We shall present projects promote local boatyard capacity. And I personally will help sail the Auxiliary Ketch ILEN into the ports of Cork, Falmouth, Douarnenez and so on, to bring products and people on their own adventures around our coasts."

Seen as a whole, the various activities of the AK Ilen Company represent a coherent business-oriented team which is delivering a highly innovative programme of education, working at the community, the vocational, the academic and policy levels. Truly, An Irish Maritime Adventure!
Please join me in supporting their ongoing work.

The Team

Br. Anthony Keane
Liam McElligott
Gary Mac Mahon
Eugene Pratt
Paul Murphy
Dr. Martin Kay
Dr. Andrew Hodgers

As I mentioned in the previous post I have been investigating the feasibility of organizing a group from North America to venture over to Baltimore and get in on the action, while there's time left to do it. Gary MacMahon has indicated that the AK Ilen Company would be very receptive to such a group. Any readers who think they might be interested in such an adventure should contact me via e-mail, zekeur at netzero dot net. Could be a great experience. I have no details yet, but would like to test the waters, let me know.

Originally published by Thomas Armstrong in 70.8%

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