“The Lady Min is pretty special and she performs really well….”
The Lady Min is a very old boat.
She is 118 years old and has not been “performing” in her natural habitat – on the water – for some years. But next summer she will be returning to the waters of West Cork.
Simon O’Keeffe is very determined about that.
It is part of his family’s history, of which he is very proud. His great grandfather, Maurice, designed the yacht, which was built by shipwrights at Schull in 1902.
“I am absolutely determined, not just hoping, but determined that she will be back in the water early next summer.”
Simon first told me about his restoration plan for the boat, once described as “a thorn in the side of the Cork Harbour yacht racing fraternity,” because she sailed so well, when I met him at the Traditional Boats Gathering in Baltimore in 2018.
Ballydehob is not far away from where she was first launched, at Schull and it is there at Roeboats, the boatyard of Tiernan Roe, that the restoration is nearing completion two years after he first outlined his determination to restore Lady Min.
Simon described progress to me this week. The project was slowed because of restrictions imposed by Covid-19. However, “the hull, deck, cabin, cockpit is done and what remains is to put the keel back on and to build a completely new rudder and tiller. After that we need to put in the rigging, the spars. We have a new mast. Tiernan has done a great job.”
The drive, determination and resourcefulness of those who restore old boats, which are part of our maritime history, must be admired. It is an expensive business. When he started the project Simon had to decide whether to spend ages working out the total cost or “take the plunge.” Separate estimates came to within €300 of around €40,000. He began spending “a few hundred here and there and then building up.”
Modern yachts of the size of the Lady Min, which is a 30-foot gaff cutter, can cost more than this figure, but none would emulate the classic look, culture, history and tradition of her 120 years. They might also find it hard enough to emulate her performance on the water – if her sailing history is anything to go by!
She has a strong connection with Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbour, home place of Jack O’Driscoll, who was legendary in Cork boating and owned and sailed her from the mid-1940s to the 1980s. He had cycled, with companions to Castletownshend in 1944 to buy her, somehow bringing with them a concrete keel to replace the lead one which had been sold off and sailing her back to Ringaskiddy with their bikes aboard! That was during the Second World War when bicycles were more available than petrol for motor transport. The lead keel may have gone “possibly for munitions needs or some such,” said Simon. “Jack deserves huge thanks and praise for keeping her going.” When she was originally launched, Lady Min’s design caused debate. Her hull was seen as “potentially fast but fragile,” according to descriptions. There was even doubt expressed that she would last very long, compared with more rugged boat types of that period. Contemporaries have disappeared, the Lady Min survives.
“Her profile in design didn’t emerge again on this side of the Atlantic until the 70s,” says Simon. “There was a ‘can do’ attitude in West Cork when she was designed and built. She mightn’t be considered in the category of essential in today’s world, but she does belong from that era of the ‘can do’ approach in West Cork, so she is something pretty special that deserves to be protected and maintained. She has a fin keel, draws next to nothing, has an eight-foot beam and in the ‘80s was still winning races downwind against modern boats.” Apparently, she later sank at a mooring in Glandore, was recovered and stored in a shed there, preserved undercover for many years. The good condition of much of the original timber in the yacht has helped considerably in the restoration work. That a West Cork boat has been saved for future generations underlines the embodiment of boats in the life of a family. That preserves maritime culture, history and tradition.
Simon says that his wife, Anne, who encouraged him from the start, his family and friends have been strong supporters of the restoration project.
“I am absolutely determined, my dad and the family will be aboard when the Lady Min again goes in the water.” For that, we wish him… “fair sailing….”