Maritime Cork: 116-year-old Lady Fin being restored at Ballydehob yard

Maritime Cork: 116-year-old Lady Fin being restored at Ballydehob yard

The Lady Min under restoration by Roe Boats at Ballydehob for Simon O’Keeffe.

THE Lady Min was built in 1902, making her 116-years-old. She was originally launched in Schull and is being restored not too far away by Roe Boats at Ballydehob for Simon O’Keeffe.

When I met Simon he told me that the boat had been designed and built by shipwrights at Schull under the direction of his great-grandfather, Maurice.

Noted sailing writer and commentator, W.M. Nixon says: “When the 30-foot gaff cutter Lady Min was launched she was something of a sensation. She had a hull which was seen by traditionalists as being of the fast but fragile skimming-dish type. Though everyone acknowledged the Lady Min’s undoubted speed, nobody thought that she would last very long. Although many of the supposedly more rugged boat types which were her contemporaries have long since disappeared, the Lady Min still survives.”

“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,” said Simon.

Tracing the history of the boat he found that she had been for sale at one stage in Bantry and later turned up in Castletownshend in 1944. The legendary Jack O’Driscoll cycled there with two companions from Cork, bought her and, with their bikes aboard, sailed her to Cork Harbour. She had a concrete keel then. The lead had evidently been sold off.

Apparently, she was so fast in racing that she was regarded as a “thorn in the sides of the local racing fraternity. She later wound up in Glandore, sank at her mooring, was recovered and stored in a shed there preserved undercover for many years.”

The Lady Min has something special about her, which some boats command and so she is being restored by noted Ballydehob boat-builder Tiernan Roe.

That a cruiser-racer with close and long links to West Cork is being saved for future generations underlines the embodiment of the attraction of boats in the life of a family. The good condition of much of the original timber in the boat has helped considerably in the restoration work.

“About 90% of the wood is being re-used. There isn’t plank that can’t be used.

“Unusually for this area, and the time she was built, she has a fin keel. Over her first hundred years she had quite a reputation as a fast boat, winning many races against better-known boats such as the William Fife designed Cork Harbour One Designs,” says Tiernan Roe.

The intention is to get the boat back into the water in 2020. If that is achieved it will make her “the oldest Irish-designed and Irish-built sailing boat on the water,” according to Simon O’Keeffe. Restoration is an expensive process but, as he told me proudly: “She is old, but there is nothing wrong with her.”

The enthusiasts who formed the ‘Committee Remembering Edward Bransfield’ have raised enough money to erect a memorial to the Irish navigator and explorer from Ballinacurra Village in East Cork. A contract has been signed for the design and delivery of the monument with local sculptor Matt Thompson.

“We are absolutely delighted with generous support from a wide variety of organisations and individuals who recognise the importance of Bransfield to Irish history and the history of Antarctica. A brilliant navigator, his expedition in 1820 paved the way many years later for more celebrated Irish explorers such as Francis Crozier, Tom Crean and Ernest Shackleton.

“A memorial stone has been donated by Roadstone from their quarry in Ballinacurra and is to be unveiled in the village in January 2020 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Bransfield’s pioneering expedition which made the first sighting and maps of the Antarctic mainland,” says Eugene Furlong, the Committee’s Public Relations Officer.

“It will be the first memorial anywhere in the world to commemorate Bransfield’s historic feat and will resurrect him from almost 200 years of obscurity.”

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