Building a salmon yawl in a fortnight

Building a salmon yawl in a fortnight

It was a project that evoked Youghalhistory, reviving traditional skills, traditional tools and many memories and involving over 30 volunteers Boatbuilder Jim Horgan, who directed the build, described its progress to Peter Willis

The project was to build a salmon yawl in a fortnight, involving volunteers, as part of Youghalinvolvement in National Heritage week. The original plan was to do it in the shopping centre, but in the end, TynteCastle, a fortified town house dating from 1450 in the centre of this Co Cork seaport, made for a better space.

It was the brainchild of Jim Horgan, of a well-known local family, though he now lives in Galway where, almost single-handedly, herevived traditional boatbuilding through teaching and practical projects.

The yawl, 18ft (5.5m), was based on the only surviving example, built by Paddy Buttimer in 1947. The lines were taken off using a chain mould. It was to be cedar strip-planked onto six solid frames made of grown oak (not laminated); the timber for these was not easy to find and eventually it was sourced from Shinrone, President Obamaancestral territory in County Offaly. The tools used, nearly all traditional, were hung on a white board to provide a display for visitors as well as making them easy to find for the varying build crews. Drawknifing, for example, was an important part of the process —to shape a timber by knifing it than sawing it."

The keel, stem and transom were shaped in advance to save time, and set up on day one, with the frames, and all braced to the ceiling. Six-inch garboard planks were steamed and fitted, then strip planks were glued and nailed in place (holes were pilot-bored with a cordless drill, the only electrical tool allowed). To fill out the midships section, moon’strips, tapered at both ends, had to be used.

Building a salmon yawl in a fortnight

The boat was planked by the Friday of the first week, though nails were left undriven as we could not finish planking on Friday the thirteenth”.

In the second week, ribs were steamed in at 6in (15cm) intervals by the Tuesday, then the addition of thwarts, gunwales and the breast hook, and a blitz on riveting.

In all some 30 people worked on the boat, in three daily sessions, morning, afternoon and evening, with many more visiting to share memories or drive a nail in.

A €5,000 training grant was secured by councillor Barbara Murray. Additionally, some 700 glass negatives documenting the history of the local fishing have been digitised for the local library.

Building a salmon yawl in a fortnight

Youghal is, or was, a town of seafaring —mostly fishing —people. In days gone by, over 1,000 salmon might be caught in a day —most of them brought in on yawls. Early yawls were 26ft (7.9m) and double-ended, but before the last century they had become transomed, four-oared boats of 21ft (6.4m) —until a harbour collision in the 1940s took a couple of feet off the back of one. The shortened boat was repaired and reduced to three oars. This increased the crewshares from the catch and soon caught on.

The project, says Jim, evoked memories than there are nails in the boat”. He reckons there are about 3,000 nails.

Alongside the boat, two pairs of oars were fashioned, one by Jim himself. think I m the last person in the world who can make skew-cut oars,”he admits without false modesty. If you want to join him, herehow. Out of a length (14, 16 or 18ft) of 6x3in spruce youget two sweeps with 4 1/2in blades. two-thirds of the blade, right down the middle, then the other one-third at an angle of 45°, not quite meeting the first cut. Then separate them with a chisel, carefully progressing the angle, and you have two fine, wide-bladed oars." The shanks were converted from 3x3in square to eight-sided by adzing —first by roughing them out with a not-too-sharp adze and then finishing with a sharpened adze. Traditionally they were not planed, but the fishermen would smooth them off with a broken bottle.

The other oars, 9ft long, were made from leftover cedar strips, laminated together, with some white spruce to produce a striped finish. very light, suitable for ladies. They weigh less than 4lb each.”

The yawl remains unpainted while plans for use and display are considered. Meanwhile, though, promising experiments with a lugsail on Paddy Buttimeryawl have begun. "Racing with sail and oar is the new life of the future," believes Jim.