Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
EDITOR's NOTE: Today's post is a collaboration with the Galway City Museum and Galway Hooker Sailing Club, to give a biography of one of the Galway Hookers still in use today, named Loveen. You can learn more about the club and their boats at their website: https://www.galwayhookersailingclub.ie/
Loveen was built by John Francis Reaney as a rowboat in 1925 and carried cargos of seaweed much of her career, and saw work in the fishing trade. She was out of working trade by the late 20th century and restored for pleasure sailing in 2021. Loveen is an outstanding example of her class of vessel: A Gleoiteog (explained below), she started her life as a 22 foot rowboat, but was converted to a gaff cutter rig in the 1980s.
The Galway Hooker boats or the "Workhorses of Galway Bay” were used for fishing and carrying peat turf fuel, seaweed for fertilizer, general shop cargo supplies- grain, flour, tea, sugar, livestock, newspapers, people, and more over Galway Bay, to and from Kinvara, Burren, Aran Islands, and in and out of Connemara piers, harbours, and importantly from Connemara into Galway City. On the return journeys they often brought larger building materials home such as timber: One such boat was An Maighdean Mara brought building materials to help in the construction of the Carraroe Church, the local school and the priest’s house in Carraroe Connemara from Galway City in 1894. Another example was limestone from New Quay to Aran Islands, to neutralise the acidic soils of Connemara. Animal livestock such as cattle, sheep, pigs or horses to fairs and markets were brought to Fairhill in Claddagh. For many communities these boats were their primary lifeline.
Galway Hookers are not large, the largest class (the "bád mór," or "big boat") ranging from 35-44 feet, carried 12-15 tons of cargo at a time, and had a shallow draft to allow access to many small landings and ports. The Leathbhád (half-boat) was about 28-32 feet, while the Gleoiteog ranges in length from 7 to 9 metres (20 to 28 feet). They were used for fishing and carrying smaller cargo.
They were all gaff rigged sloops with two headsails in front of the mast, and one mainsail aft. Most can be handled with a crew of two, but can fit more people if needed. These boats helped keep the small communities and shops of Connemara supplied and connected to Galway City or to the mainland. Many families and communities depended solely on these boats, and If it hadn't been for the Galway Hookers, smaller communities, particularly Ceantar na nOileán (small island communities West of County Galway) and Carna wouldn't have thrived. They were commonly referred to as "báid móna" or turf boats and recognised as such for their main cargo. Each cargo of turf was loaded and offloaded by hand – the Bádóirí's money was well earned!
Unfortunately, after the Second World War many met their decline as improved roads and cheap fossil fuels meant lorries (trucks, for the Yanks) became the new modern way of transport in Connemara, leading to the decline in use for the Galway Hookers. Bottled Kerosene gas was another sharp blow to the boatmen and skippers, as it was the main competition to the boat’s traditional cargo of peat turf fuel. By the 1970’s the Galway Hookers were in complete decline with only two remaining in trade with the Aran Islands.
The Galway Hooker has links to the US as well. It was introduced to US Waters in the 19th century, when Irish Immigrants in Boston and elsewhere started building the boats they knew from home for fishing and moving cargo. Referred to as "Boston Hookers" or "Market Cutters" they served much the same roles they had in Ireland, and significantly influenced the building of small craft in New England. Just like in Galway they were designed and used for multiple purposes.
Loveen's restoration took two years due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Galway Hooker Sailing Club was embarking on a momentous task of restoring a 96 year old boat called Loveen with the guidance and workmanship of Master Boatbuilder Cóilín Hernon, his two sons Éinde and Cóilín Óg, the Club commodore Ciaran Oliver and all the crew members belonging to the club who volunteered their time, energy and passion. The boat was then taken apart slowly, carefully and gradually. Her old planking was removed. The shape of the boat was kept in place using twelve long laths as temporary guides and were fitted into the rabbet in stem- six on each side. The upper planks were removed first gradually moving to the lower planks. The boat was always kept supported and propped. The keel, ribs, beams, thwarts, and planking were all repaired and replaced, she was re-caulked (seen in the video below) and re-rigged.
All the spars (mast, boom, bowsprit and gaff) were made using a laminating process. Lengths of identical size, shape and length of timber pieces were glued together. These glued lengths turned into one piece, a block of solid wood. Each two or three lengths were clamped together and left to dry at each stage. The block of solid wood was rounded into shape using an adze tool, as seen in the first half of the video above. The later stage was sanding using a length of stretched sandpaper connected and kept together with two handles. Each spar was fitted with its own metal bands. The mast was fitted with its own spider band and the boom was fitted with a gooseneck to fit into the mast’s collar. Sails were traditionally measured and cut by our resident master boat builder Cóilín Hernon, cut in the traditional space: The local Dominican Church.
After two years, Loveen took to the water again, and can now be seen sailing Galway Bay as she has for 97 years before.
You can listen to more about Loveen here. For those interested in the Hookers overall, this recorded lecture at the City Museum of Galway by master boatbuilder Cóilín Ó hIarnáin is well worth a listen, especially his points about the addition of sail area to working boats as they are changed into racing and pleasure craft. Richard J Scott's book The Galway Hookers is also a good, easy read on this topic.
Martina Thornton is the Historian of the Galway Hooker Sailing Club.
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