Friday 23 June 2017

Jeanie Johnston needs €100,000 to make her shipshape once more

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

She cost nearly €14m to build because of massive cost overruns but now, 10 years after her maiden voyage, the Jeanie Johnston is no longer fit to go to sea.

This weekend, the three-masted barque should be representing Ireland in Waterford where 500,000 visitors from all over the world are attending the three-day Tall Ships festival.

With the Asgard II rotting at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay since 2008, Charlie Haughey's notorious Celtic Mist will be the only Irish representative as the Tall Ships set off from Waterford today to Greenock in Scotland and on to Norway and Sweden. On its return, the Celtic Mist will be refitted for its new life as a research vessel for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Meanwhile, the Jeanie Johnston -- which only a few years ago sailed across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, covering 209 miles during one record-breaking day's sailing -- is at berth in Dublin.

She is no longer seaworthy, her sails are in storage and it will take nearly €100,000 before she is fit to put up a full head of sail in Dublin Bay.

The vessel has been mired in controversy since construction began in 1998, including two court cases and a state investigation into how a vessel worth €2m ended up costing €14m.

She is now a static visitor attraction on the Dublin quays in the brackish water where river meets sea, playing host to parties of schoolchildren during term time and tourists during the summer.

It's also available for corporate functions, album launches and birthday parties.

But there are hopes that, while it's not seaworthy in time to take part in this year's Tall Ships festival in Waterford, it could be back at sea next year in time for the finale of the Volvo Ocean Race in Galway.

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority bought the Jeanie Johnston in 2005 from Kerry County Council, the Kerry Group and Tralee Town Council.

The purchase was part of the authority's docklands river regeneration strategy for the Liffey and the authority appointed Aiseanna Mara Teo, which runs the river Liffey ferries, to maintain the vessel at its berth and run it as a museum and tourist attraction.

According to manager John O'Neill, maintenance and renovation work has already begun. Last week, while the Sunday Independent was on board, the oak deck fittings were being sanded in advance of a fresh coat of varnish.

The engines, two powerful Caterpillar diesels, are run regularly and the daily throughflow of tourists and other visitors means the basic functions of the ship, including power, lighting and sewerage systems, are kept shipshape. The visitors also mean that the vessel is kept aired and free from internal damp.

But she is no longer licensed as an ocean-going vessel. To get the licence, she will have to be lifted from the water for a full hull survey, barnacles removed and the hull serviced and repainted while all the safety equipment including life rafts will have to be reinstated, along with the rig and sails.

"At the moment we are basically putting all the money coming in from the interactive tours, which have been very successful, back into the boat. We are hopeful we will get the financial assistance we need to get the vessel back out to sea," said Mr O'Neill.

Next year's Tall Ships race will conclude in Dublin in early August 2012.

"Our aim is get the ship out to sea for both the Volvo Ocean Race in Galway and the Tall Ships in Dublin. We are confident we can do it," added Mr O'Neill.

Sunday Independent

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