Sunday, December 18, 2011

AK Ilen Restoration part three: The work

Hegarty Bros. caulking tools

Gene O’Neill and Fachtna O’Sullivan supervise the AK Ilen into her new home, an old grain store on the banks of the River Ilen.

AK Ilen Hegarty’s Boatyard

Mary Johnny Joe O’Driscoll cleaning frames prior to removal, looking forward towards the bow.

Liam Hegarty removing bronze fastenings to frame No 10

Gary Mac Mahon working on the stem of the AK Ilen

Many hands working together to re attach planking to stem

Cutting stern post tenon AK Ilen Restoration, in the background is a John Hegarty punt with frame moulds and battens in place, ready for framing.

Fitting the A K Ilen stern post

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh checking bevel angle on oak frame No 19

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh cutting in a bevel with spokeshave

John Hegarty frame No 16 Port side

Kieran Clancy, a workshop participant, setting up frame No1

Fitting of frame No. 1 to the ketch Ilen

Framing finished, looking aft towards the stern.

Framing Out Ceremony May 2010
Br. Anthony Keane – Forester of Glenstal Abbey, Sir Cosmo Haskard – Falkland Islands Governor-General and Dr. Edward Walsh speaking about his role in the repatriation of the good ship Ilen.

Liam Hegarty Master shipwright holds a branch of an Irish Oak tree to symbolize growth and bring luck to the project and the good ship Ilen.

Looking down and forward into the AK Ilen fitting a mould / template No 21 above on the temporary deck beams used moulds are stored.

Getting clamps ready on the port side for the top sheer plank ( First new plank to be fitted on the Ilen )

After fairing the frames a spiling batten is bent and twisted into position on the hull, it is tacked to the hull adjacent to the plank you plan to fit a new plank against.

The Ilen is now much stronger again as the top of each frame had been fixed between the sheer strake (the top plank) and the beam shelf.

Ilen Bronze casting workshop

Fitting deck beams

Fitting main poop/stern deck beam.

Fitting the Breast Hook, used to strengthen the bow of the Ilen, positioned horizontally across the bow.

Paddy Hegarty and Tim Lee working on the Hanging Knees which will support the main deck mast beams.
Instructor Tim Lee is from the North West School of Wooden Boat Building, Port Townsend Washington USA, has been invited to work on the AK Ilen Project.

Under construction in the AK Ilen Wooden Boatbuilding School – 50’ wooden main mast for the good ship Ilen. This is a composite construction of high grade close grain sitka spruce – sourced in Vancouver Island Canada.
Shipwright in charge – Toby Greystone

courtesy AK Ilen Company

James Mc Laughlin’s finished carved Oak Escutcheon on the Ilen stern.

All photos an captions courtesy Kevin O'Farrell except as noted

The Ilen returned to her birthplace, the river Ilen in 1998 like a spawning salmon. She was deposited on the hard at the Hegarty Boatyard, and remained there for a decade while ownership and funding issues were negotiated. The elements took their toll on her during this time, and when, in April of 2008 she was ferried around to the old, immense corn 'shed' at Hegarty's she was in need of some tlc. A little more than that, really. She is basically being rebuilt from the keel up. The original keel and keelson have been saved, along with a few of her original frames. For the rest she is a reconstruction with new replacing the old. It's a huge project and still underway, though inching closer to completion.
The team leading the restoration are Liam and John Hegerty and Fachtna O’Sullivan, all shipwrights at the Hegeraty Boatyard, one of the last surviving traditional boatyards in Ireland.

Their work is being overseen by the Irish Department of the Marine so the Ilen can work as a Sail training ship. This gets to the heart of this project. Not just a restoration project, but one keenly oriented toward education and preservation, not just of this one boat but taking a wider view to the preservation of traditional boatbuilding and sailing skills, with an eye to the survival and perpetuation of Irish maritime heritage. One innovative way the restoration project is moving forward is through the Big Boat Build Workshops, which both help to fund the restoration and offer public access to folks who wish work on the Ilen, learning boatbuilding skills from the masters at the
Hegarty Yard. Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh has been a participant. The editor of 'Traditional Boats of Ireland' has this to say about the workshops:

Big Boat Build - Participant Testimonial
"For more than a year I had promised myself a three-day excursion to Baltimore for the Ilen
workshop, Ireland’s largest wooden boat build. I have followed her progress for some time, on
one occasion spending an afternoon in the company of her one-time skipper, Falkland Islander
Terry Clifton, a wonderful man who, sadly, has since passed away. First stop was the Oldcourt
Inn where I was just in time to receive a bowl of delicious seafood chowder from Anne and to
meet the other workshop volunteers – Michael Ruane from Wexford, Eddie Cleary from
Tipperary, local man and former fisherman Bill Roycroft of Mizen Head, Dublinman Jim Murphy
and Dermot Falvey of Cork.
This motley crew had already begun work earlier in the day, so I had some catching up to do.
No problem. Outside the great venerable grain store housing the skeleton of the Ilen in
Hegarty’s Boatyard, we gathered to hear Brother Anthony describe the particular qualities that
make oak such an indispensable material in boat construction. His lucid talk veered from the
technical to the sacred as he explained oak’s strength and durability, as well as its enduring
position in Irish history and mythology.
Having been introduced to the mysteries of oak, it was then time to begin the work of cutting
and sculpting this hardy material to match the old oak frames of the Ilen. Barely audible
whispers, mutterings and body movements were being exchanged by the three experienced
shipwrights, brothers Liam and John Hegarty, and Fachtna O’Sullivan. Selecting suitable lengths
of beautiful Irish oak from which to cut the individual scantlings and futtocks was a task not to
be rushed. Fachtna disappeared repeatedly into the bowels of the old Ilen at this stage of the
process, emerging each time clutching a handful of bevels and carefully marking each massive
length of virgin timber prior to cutting it on the band saw.
Never was the saying ‘Many hands make light work’ more apt than when applied to the
rebuilding of the good ship Ilen. For there was indeed much heavy work involved in unfastening
and removing her old timbers and replacing them with new ones. What was striking though,
was the good humour of all throughout the work. I had wondered would the presence of
inexperienced men and women unnerve or annoy the shipwrights. As I tip-toed from frame to
frame, at times swaying about unsteadily, there was no rebuke from the sure-footed shipwrights.
Not at all, all three of them displayed admirable patience and good humour, pausing
occasionally to listen to a story or to exchange good-humoured banter. Before I finished up on
the Friday, I was convinced that not only did these shipwrights appreciate our assistance –
however inexpert – they enjoyed too the colour and the banter and energy we brought with us.
All of us novices were grateful too for the chance to contribute to this remarkable project, in
this extraordinary place. By Friday afternoon we had helped to complete two frames and we
were mighty pleased with ourselves. Roll on the next workshop!"
Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh
National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin
Dublin 4

The work continues today, though it's nearing completion.
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.

Next post I'll be looking at the Ak Ilen Company's origin and it's multifaceted educational, cultural and skills preservation outreach. Stay with me.

Huge thanks to Kevin O'Farrell for his beautiful photos and his answers to my questions about the 'build'.

Originally published by Thomas Armstrong in 70.8%

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

AK ILEN Restoration part two: Repatriation, from the Falklands to Ireland

Saoirse while in Eric Ruck's ownership, hauled for caulking in Plymouth Habour, 1967.

Ilen at Port Stanley sometime in the 70's

Ilen being discharged at Alexander Basin Dublin Port 1997

Ilen motoring past the East Link Bridge Dublin to winter in the Grand Canal Basin 1997

Paddy Barry, Gary MacMahon, Padraic de Bhaldraithe, John Reen, Paul Murphy, Martin O'Neill and Pat Redmond, sailing towards Glandore, West Cork. That's Gary on the port side of mizzen mast at the wheel.

Running before a gentle breeze off Kinsale, West Cork.

Glandore Harbour Pier - Classic Regatta 1998

Crew member Johnny Moynihan - popular Irish folk singer and musician in Crookhaven, West Cork.

Ilen sailing toward Cape Clear Island, West Cork with the O'Driscoll Castle of Gold and the Fastnet Rock in the background 1998.

The Ilen sailing across Roaring Water Bay, West Cork 1998.

The Ilen tied alongside the coal store at Hegarty's Boatyard quay, Oldcourt,on the Ilen River, Summer 2000.

photos and captions courtesy Gary MacMahon and AK Ilen Co.

Shortly after losing his wife Kitty in 1936 Conor O'Brien parted with another of his loves, Saoirse. She was sold to Eric Ruck in 1940 who cared for and enjoyed her into the 1970's. She was sold again and in 1980 was lost, despite the efforts of her last owner to save her, in Negril Bay, Jamaica, grounded and succumbing to the 190mph winds of hurricane Allen. The loss of this iconic ship, (not confirmed in Ireland until the late 1980's) which had nobly served Conor while a fisheries inspector during the Irish civil war, which had carried the Irish Free State tricolour around the world, was deeply felt by the Irish sailing community, perhaps none so keenly as Gary MacMahon, a Limerick sailor who'd been drawn to Conor's story, as many others were, and are.
Feeling the sting of this loss, Gary increasingly turned his attention to her sister ship, the Auxillary Ketch Ilen. In the late 1990's Gary heard rumors that the Ilen was no longer working in the Falklands, that she had been sold and taken off to Chile. In February of '97 he contacted the harbormaster in Port Stanley and learned the Ilen was there, idle, and in the main in good health. Negotiations with the owner Paul Ellis ensued and with the help of the Hunt Museum Board in Limerick, she was purchased. She had now got to be brought back to Ireland.

From Brother Anthony Keane OSB:

In the 1990s, mariners tales of this heroic boat began to drift back to Ireland. During the Falklands War (1982) the Ilen was caught for a moment in the light of a flare and flashed through televised news clips to be instantly recognised in West Cork. Under one of the secret protocols of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, slipped in after midnight by Sean Donlon, Gary MacMahon flew out by RAF plane to Port Stanley, Falklands, to successfully negotiate her acquisition and return to Ireland.

A major hurdle was the lack of a crane in Stanley harbor large enough to lift the Ilen aboard a cargo vessell, and apparently she was in no shape to make the voyage. From the AK Ilen website:

Gary returned to Limerick and, with the assistance of Gerry Boland of Price Waterhouse Cooper, eventually resolved the difficult task of shipping the vessel. Ilen was lifted aboard the MV Angeliki in Port Stanley on 10 October 1997, using the cargo ship’s inboard crane.

She was shipped to Dublin, where she wintered over in the Grand Canal Basin. In June of 1998 the Ilen was sailed round from Dublin with a crew of eight hardy souls to Baltimore, from whence she came. After a stopover in Glandore harbor, she tied up in Baltimore "to tumultuous applause from the huge crowd gathered to witness her return home". Like a salmon returning to spawn, she
eventually made her way back to the river Ilen, within sight of her birthplace, and "Liam Hegarty and his team at Oldcourt, heirs to Ireland’s traditional timber ship-building skills, nobly and generously took her in to rest awhile".

She may have rested a bit too long, more like being in a coma, stored on the hard for several years, while ownership and funding matters were worked out. Some restorative work had been done once she was pulled, but rain and time negated those gains. In October of 2008, these issues having been resolved, the AK Ilen was brought into the large grain shed at Hegarty's Boat Yard, and the restoration commenced. But that is another story.


AK Ilen Company

Big Boat Build Workshop

Deep thanks to Gary MacMahon, Kevin O'Farrell and Brother Anthony Keane OSB.

Originally published by Thomas Armstrong in 70.8%

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%