Wicklow People

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Boats make history



ARKLOW'S FIRM shipbuilding tradition has once again made history as the last surviving Arklow-schooner 'De Wadden' and the iconic Arklow-built yacht 'Huff of Arklow' have both been accepted onto the prestigious British National Historic Ship list as vessels of historic significance.

The National historic Ships Unit is a government funded independent body which gives objective advice to the UK Government, local authorities and the historic ships sector.

Both De Wadden and Huff of Arklow are owned and based in England and qualify for inclusion as all eligible ships and boats must be based in the UK.

The De Wadden was built in Holland in 1917 but with the First World War ending in 1918, continental sea trade slumped.

She was purchased by Richard Hall of Arklow in 1922 and remained in the Arklow fleet of merchant sail vessels until 1961 when she ceased trading and was sold into private ownership in Scotland. Richard Hall's son, Victor, took over the family business after his father died and was Captain of De Wadden for some 20 years.

She was the last merchant schooner to trade in the Irish Sea but continued in use in Scotland as a leisure charter fishing vessel and also took part in the famous Onedin Line television series of the 1970's.

In 1984 she was purchased by Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, because of her importance and her regular trade to Liverpool and other River Mersey ports over many years.

Only three Irish Sea merchant schooners have survived into the 21st century, each the only representative of their particular type; the Kathleen and May, a traditional wooden topsail schooner; the Result, a steel hulled schooner representing the move from wood to metal hulls and the De Wadden, a steel auxiliary schooner, representing the transition from sail to mechanical propulsion. All three are unique and on the Historic Ship List.

De Wadden is now permanently in dry dock at the Maritime Museum by Liverpool's famous Pier Head and Albert Dock.

There over time she underwent conservation and restoration processes which involved the making and fitting of new masts and a bowsprit and extensive work on her steel hull, aspects of which still continue with the aim of eventually opening her to museum visitors. Victor Hall generously funded the purchase of materials that formed the new masts and bowsprit.

Coincidentally, De Wadden came under the management of Arklow man John Kearon, who for 25 years was Head of Maritime and Land Transport Conservation at the museum, until his retirement in 2006.

Kearon has also been closely associated with the Historic Ship Unit as a member of their Advisory Committee.

The Huff of Arklow, a unique yacht designed by the famous British naval architect, Uffa Fox was built in Arklow by John Tyrrell & Sons in 1951.

The late Douglas Heard, a well know yachtsman from Howth, involved both Fox and Ireland's premier yacht builder Jack Tyrrell, in the design and building of his yacht.

She was unique in heralding a new era in being the first ocean going yacht designed to the fin and skeg configuration, the forerunner of the form now common in international yacht races such as the Americas Cup race.

Her name combines the names of Heard, Uffa and of course Arklow- the people and place central to her existence.

By further coincidence John Kearon, who trained as a shipwright with Tyrrells in the 1960's, also has a connection to the Huff of Arklow, having undertaken an extensive rebuild of her hull in England in 1989, as an extension of his Museum work, after severe damage to the yacht following her grounding in 1988.

The Arklow connection goes deeper as Eric Healy, for many years the legendary Captain of both of Irelands famous sail training vessels, Erskine Childers' Asgard, and particularly with Asgard 2, which was also built by Tyrrell's of Arklow, acquired much of his early sailing skills through sailing on Huff of Arklow, Douglas Heard being his brother in law. Huff of Arklow is now owned by the English sail training organisation Eisca, and is currently undergoing a restoration after many years of intensive sailing. Arklow people can be justly proud of these two very different vessels, each representative of the town's great maritime heritage in both merchant sail and wooden boat building. An in depth look at the conservation and restoration process is given in the new National Historic Ships publication ' Conserving Historic Vessels'. Further information on both De Wadden and Huff of Arklow can be found on-line at www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk