Thursday 28 July 2011

19 - 'Warrior Maid - a big hole in the sea ..'

Warrior Maid, on her mooring in Groomsport Harbour, Co. Down
May 24, 2010

Well, last week I talked a bit about Dublin, and the way people talk down there - and at least some of you seemed to enjoy that. I like to vary things as much as possible, y'know, not be too predictable. I've been thinkin' for some time of tellin' yez a wee bit more about my boat, Warrior Maid - the name being a translation of 'Kelly', my eldest daughter's name.

Warrior Maid began life as a ship's lifeboat, maybe 60 years, or more, ago. She was built in Birkenhead - or 'Birkin 'ead - near Liverpool, and when the ship was decommissioned, the lifeboats were sold off. These were 28 ft, clinker-built, wooden boats, built to carry 53 passengers in an emergency. 'Clinker-built' means the planks overlap. One of these was bought by a man called Ewan McCullough - same surname as myself - who lived up in Carnlough, a wee harbour halfway up the Co. Antrim coast. This man obviously knew what he was doing, for he made a great job of converting her into a sailing motor cruiser.

When my wife, Gerry, and I first bought this boat, people naturally asked me what sort of a boat it was, to which I usually replied, 'A rotten one!' The boat had been sitting up on the hard, at a wee private marina in Donaghadee, for several years - and the rainwater hadn't been too kind to it. All the plywood decks were completely rotten, as were the sides, the roof leaked and the cockpit sole (the floor) was pretty dodgy, too. In fact, the second time I climbed aboard and stepped down into the wheelhouse, my foot went straight through the floor and I skinned the whole shin of my leg!

Needless to say, we didn't pay out a fortune for this ship, but we spent a fair bit over the next 3 or 4 years, on fixing her up.

I spent three and a half years: replacing 6 planks in the hull, repairing rotten ribs, making new decks and fibre-glassing them, new cockpit floor, repairing the cabin roof, new wheelhouse roof and supports, new rudder. Happily, another boat owner, Alan, was engaged on a similar project to myself, and we both encouraged and commiserated with each other - especially as we watched other boat owners sailing out of the marina. 'One of these days ...' we told ourselves.

Finally, in November 2001, I booked the crane to lift me in. Unfortunately, I had to officiate at the funeral of a suicide earlier that day - so the whole event was over before I was really able to take it in. We were in the water, and drinking a glass or two of sparkling wine to mark the occasion, before it really sank in.

That following summer we travelled around 300 Nautical miles - up and down the coast of Northern Ireland and as far as Carlingford, in Co. Louth, which is just across the border. The second year we ventured a bit further afield, sailing up the Clyde Estuary in Scotland, around the Kyles of Bute and across to Tarbert and Campbelltown, on the Mull of Kyntyre.

On the first leg of that journey, we ended up towing the other boat into the harbour in Portpatrick - even though they were about an hour ahead of us, originally. The seasoned sailors had managed to get a sheet of polythene wrapped around their prop, which completely stalled their engine.

Later in the trip, though, the favour was returned, when we had to get the 'resident engineer' aboard on the way down the Kilbrannan Sound towards Campbeltown. We'd broken the welding on a frame supporting a flexible coupling on our prop shaft, and the vibration was trying to tear the hull apart.

By the way, I managed to find an engineering firm in Campbelltown to do a temporary welding & drilling job on that frame and the owner, who'd picked me up and dropped me back to the boat, refused to take any money from me there and then. He said he'd send me a bill - and he only charged me 30 pounds anyway - so all those stories about Scotsmen being so stingy about money might not be totally accurate!

We also travelled down the Irish coast as far as Howth, just outside Dublin. Altogether, we did another 700 Nautical miles that season. Unfortunately, on the way back up from Dublin, we managed to blow up the engine - which has limited our sailing for the last few seasons. As any of you who happen to own one will know, a wooden boat is 'a big hole in the sea that you keep pouring money into!'

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