Dick Durham

Yachting Monthly - - INSIDE THIS MONTH -

Search­ing for a new boat

Iwent to the edge of the known world re­cently, as the west coast of Ire­land was once known, to look at a Gal­way hooker (the ones that sail, not the ones that so­licit). It is all part of my search for a tra­di­tional craft that com­bines a cer­tain aes­thetic with shoal draught and I had be­come spell­bound by video footage taken from a drone of a fleet of these al­lur­ing boats cir­cling a shal­low bay. As an ac­cor­dion added the sound­track they looked, with their crow-black hulls and their high-peaked deep tan sails, like Mac­beth’s witches danc­ing around the caul­dron.

It was in Gal­way it­self that I saw my first hooker. She was hauled up on a scruffy beach at Claddagh with an as­sorted col­lec­tion of yachts moored fore and aft against the har­bour wall by Nimmo’s Pier. That she didn’t re­quire the har­bour wall to lean against when tak­ing the ground was the first box ticked.

Her sides were a dull black – tar shines when it’s first ap­plied, but the gleam soon wears off – and on her star­board bilge the owner had lashed a beer crate, rather like a gant pole, to prop her up. She had a long keel draw­ing no more than three and a half feet.

I paced out her length – 26ft – and took in her lines: she had a curved stem, a tran­som raked at a 45-de­gree an­gle upon which a barn­door rud­der was at­tached and bul­bous top­sides which rolled into a pro­nounced tum­ble­home. A very strange but beau­ti­ful shape.

She was an open boat apart from a short fore­deck, be­low which a hatch was pad­locked. Un­der this I es­ti­mated that there was enough room, just, to fit a berth each side and pro­vide a small stove on the cen­tre line.

Her tim­bers were mas­sive be­neath hefty thwarts and she was en­gine­less. But there was no rig to in­spect.

Fur­ther along the Wild At­lantic Way, as the coast road is named, we ar­rived at Clif­den in Con­nemara where there was a hooker for sale. This one had been freshly tarred and still had a shine to her top­sides. She was sim­i­lar to her sis­ter in Gal­way, but had an old Lis­ter diesel throw­ing a big three-bladed prop.

For boats of mod­er­ate length the rig is hefty: a 30ft pole mast of solid Ore­gon pine, gal­vanised sin­gle stay rig­ging, a dressed can­vas main­sail and stay­sail, and a 12ft bowsprit that takes a large jib.

They are not so much me­di­ae­val as agri­cul­tural – quite lit­er­ally – as they were built to carry turf, sea­weed for fer­tiliser and even farm an­i­mals.

Still fur­ther along the coast, in Sligo, we looked out over the stony Streedagh Beach where three ships of the ill-fated Span­ish Ar­mada had come ashore in 1588. A lone surfer rode the seas that once had done for the Men-of-War and as I looked at an em­bossed her­itage plaque de­pict­ing the ship­wrecks, I had a mo­ment of déjà vu. Take the up­per works off a Span­ish galleon and scale her down and you have some­thing very sim­i­lar to… a Gal­way hooker.

I was left to pon­der the pros and cons with­out the ben­e­fit of a sail, alas, as it was too early in the sea­son. Most boats had yet to fit out.

I could get one decked and fit­ted with berths eas­ily enough, but how to get her home? I could sail her back, I guess. They are made to take the At­lantic weather, but it would be a Spar­tan voy­age be­fore be­ing fit­ted with ac­com­mo­da­tion. A road trailer would be out of the ques­tion as they are too heavy. Road trans­port would re­quire a low loader, which would clearly be ex­pen­sive.

So, dear reader, the hunt is still on for a gaffer no less than 26ft be­tween per­pen­dic­u­lars, with a draught of un­der four feet, ei­ther long-keeled or a cen­tre­boarder, or both.

If you can help, the Guin­ness will be on me next time.

‘It was in Gal­way it­self that I saw my first hooker’

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