Crosshaven Boatyard is a vital strand in the rich fabric of Cork harbour – in this post Richard Leonard fills us in on it’s origins, development, people and boats. It’s a fascinating tale…
Way Back When – No. 22 – By Richard Leonard
It could be said that Crosshaven Boatyard has its origins in West Cork. In 1942 Skinners boatyard on Baltimore pier had a devastating fire which resulted in some of the local shipwrights seeking work further afield in Cork harbour.
One of these shipwrights was my Dad, Dick Leonard who went to work in the naval dockyard in Haulbowline. From there he teamed up with Jack O’Driscoll and George Bushe in a waterfront premises now displaced by the Ringaskiddy deepwater berth reclamation. They traded as DBL and their work included general boat repairs as well as punt and sailing dinghy building, including a number of IDRA 14’s the popular dinghy of the day.
Soon after the war ended in 1945, Dick Leonard was asked to ‘travel’ to Crosshaven to carry out some repairs on Commander George Crosbie’s yacht which was laid up by the point slipway in Crosshaven. One project led to another and within a couple of years Dick had secured a leasehold title on a waterfront site at Scotchman’s Point. He commissioned his friend, Architect Pat McSweeney, to design a boat repair shed and slipway for the site.
Before that project got underway an Englishman, Donald Sessions, arrived in Crosshaven with far more ambitious plans to start a yard and marine business. He founded, with some state aid, the Shamrock Cruising Company on the site of the present Crosshaven Boatyard. He convinced Dick Leonard to join him as boatyard manager whilst he concentrated on marketing. Sessions bought the Scotchman’s Point site from Leonard and built his family home there – the original ‘Thunder Rock’.
Construction of boatyard facilities commenced with the black round-top steel sheds being acquired from Northern Ireland where they were previously used as military aircraft hangers during World War 2.
Sessions embarked on importing steel hulled motor cruisers for finishing and fit out at the boatyard, for the leisure market. They exhibited one of their finished cruisers ‘Shamrock 1’, at the London Earls Court Boat Show in the late 1940s. They also built some IDRA 14s and exhibited one of them at the RDS Dublin Boat Show.
Another one of Session’s projects was building catamaran ‘peddle boats’ for marine leisure parks which sadly did not work out. I remember back in the 1960s seeing these beautifully built mahogany and marine plywood catamarans with their complicated but rusting steel peddle mechanisms discarded in the rubbish heap behind the boatyard sheds. At one stage we attempted to convert one of the wrecks into a prehistoric ‘hobie-cat’ type sailing catamaran, however it wasn’t really a runner!
In 1954 the Shamrock Cruising Co. undertook the salvage and repair of French trawler ‘Ann Gaston’ which had gone on the rocks at Toe Head in West Cork and was an insurance write off. Following repairs in Crosshaven, the refurbished Ann Gaston was sold to a Welsh fisherman.
In the mid 1950s the Shamrock Cruiser Co. went into receivership and was bought by Crosshaven Boatyard Co Ltd., a newly founded company with Dick Leonard as Managing Director and Denis and Tom Doyle as co directors.
Initially the boatyard concentrated on building fishing boats with a number of fifty-footers completed in the late 1950 including the ‘Ard Mor’ and ‘Ard Casta’, which I recently saw ‘in retirement’ in North Harbour, Cape Clear.
The uplift in the economy in the early 1960s saw CBY expanding in terms of new builds, repairs, yacht maintenance and storage. Boats were mostly of wood construction with varnished superstructures and undercover winter storage became much in demand. The boatyard’s storage sheds quickly expanded to their current size.
In these pre-‘travel lift’ days the boat hauling and launching process was a very skilled and labour intensive process. Boats were conveyed on steel and timber ‘carriages’ travelling on train tracks which extended to the low tide mark on the beach. For the hauling process the carriages were custom assembled for the yacht or fishing boat to be taken out of the water, having regard to her keel profile draught, beam etc. The carriages were pulled by an electric winch via wire cables. The boats were distributed to the sheds via a ‘transporter’ which moved them westwards from the main slipway run. They were finally ‘blocked off’ in their storage slot and the carriage dismantled from underneath them. This whole process could involve perhaps up to four workers over a day and a half.
In 1963 the boatyard began collaboration with Robert Clarke a successful yacht designer based on the south coast of England. The first Clarke design, Querida, a 38 ft racing slope, was built for Denis Doyle. Querida was followed a couple of years later when the keel was laid for the 1st of three Moondusters to be built in Crosshaven. This ‘Duster’ was a 48 foot – 20 tonne engineless sloop, in which Denis competed in several Cowes Weeks, RORC offshore races including a number of Fastnet Races.
During these golden years for Crosshaven Boatyard the workforce grew to over fifty, comprising shipwrights, apprentices, painters, riggers, mechanics, metal workers and administration staff. Several Crosshaven families including the Midletons, Lakes, Meades and others started ‘serving their time’ as apprentices in the yard and went on to have long careers there.
The next Clarke design to be built by the boatyard was Longbow II, a 40’ cruiser / racer with an unusual canoe stern. Longbow was built for an Englishman David McCauley as a contender for a place in the 1969 British Admiral’s Cup team. In the event she made reserve boat in that year. Longbow II is still going strong and is a frequent visitor to West Cork during summer seasons.
The final and best known Clarke design to be built in the boatyard was Gypsy Moth V, for Sir Francis Chichester. This build presented new challenges for the skilled shipwrights as she was built using a multi-skinned glued-up hull rather than the traditional horizontal hull planking on vertical frames or ribs. She was also the first yacht built by CBY with fin & skeg profiled underbody rather than the traditional long keel profile.
A very high standard of internal fit-out was also part of the specification for Gypsy Moth V. The polished mahogany bulkheads and joinery were indeed a credit to the joinery skills of the boatyard. Appreciation of this fine workmanship was short lived however when Lady Chichester came for a progress visit and decided that the interior ‘looked a bit dark’ and ordered the French polish to be rubbed down and the joinery re painted with a white painted finish!
Another aspect of CBY activities comprised the servicing of the RNLI lifeboat fleet. For many years the boatyard had roll-over contracts with the Lifeboat Institution for the maintenance of the south coast fleet from Kilmore Quay in the South East to Valentia in Kerry. The RNLI had a very thorough maintenance regime for their then, largely wooden, fleet. This was overseen by their District Surveyors. Whilst each lifeboat was ‘in dock’, the Station Engineer and the RNLI’s own travelling engineer would be based at the boatyard.
Side by side with the more high profile yacht builds, CBY completed a number of work boats and sea angling boats during the very busy 1960s. Work boats, designed by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow and Brian Malone of Skerries, were built of larch or iroko planking on oak frames. A number of these were commissioned by the Stoat family from Cobh, who had a contract with Whitegate Oil Refinery to run lines ashore from the berthing tankers.
Others builds included a harbour launch for limerick and a ‘cattle boat’ for transporting livestock onto and off Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay.
Crosshaven Boatyard was ambitious and exhibited one of their ‘harbour launches’ at the London Earlscourt Boat Show in 1963 and also their clinker built motor tenders at Cork and Dublin Boat shows, wining honours on a number of occasions. The logistics of getting a boat to London in those days was challenging but this did not faze CBY.
In the mid 1960s Sea Angling became very popular in Kinsale with the Trident Hotel having its own Angling Centre, managed by the very capable Mrs. Peggy Green. CBY built their entire angling fleet over a few years with such names as ‘Raparee’, ‘Moonlighter’ and ‘Dromderrig’. Some of these craft are now back in Cork Harbour, still fishing.
Around this time the Shannon waterway was opening up for cruiser tourism and CBY won contracts with Emerald Starline to build a number of motor cruisers for their charter fleet. These craft looked a bit more like caravans than sea going vessels with their high superstructures, patio doors, etc.
In the early 1970s trawler building enjoyed a revival at CBY and a number of 50+ footers were built for Clogherhead and Donegal skippers. One of these was ‘Boy Evan’ which in more recent years is back fishing from Crosshaven
The next significant yacht build project was the ‘blue’ Moonduster for Denis Doyle. This ‘Duster’ was a 47 footer to a Sparksman and Stephens design and, like Gypsy Moth, had a multi skinned mahogany, glued-up hull. Unlike her predecessors she was fitted with a diesel auxiliary engine. This Moonduster competed in a multitude of international events and races including Admirals Cup, Fastnets, round Britain and Ireland races, etc.
The building of ‘Moonduster’ was followed by ‘Sululu ya Pili’, a Laurent Giles designed fifty-eight foot cruising ketch. This ocean going yacht was built for Englishman John Hunter and his ‘live aboard’ family. No doubt she has changed ownership a few times over the past 40 odd years, however AIS confirms that she is still going strong and is currently cruising in the South Pacific.
Another CBY commission was for a 50ft Amble designed cruising ketch for a Norwegian client. The owner was in the furniture business and opted to do the final fit-out himself. The yacht was delivered to Norway by the late Philip Scully, on one of his first offshore passages as a skipper. In later years the ketch was bought and restored by the late Hugh Coveney and became the current ‘Golden Apple’.
A project at the boatyard that attracted international attention was the construction of the currach, ‘St. Brendan’, by explorer Tim Severn. This was in preparation for his voyage in tracing St. Brendan’s trip to the new world centuries ago.
In the late 1970s CBY entered a new chapter with the retirement of Dick Leonard. His interests in the boatyard were acquired by R. A. Burke, Ship Brokers. A few years later the Doyle family took over R. A. Burke’s business including the boatyard.
Shipwright skills were maintained and enhanced throughout the management re-structuring and soon the ‘lofting’ of the next ‘Moonduster’ project got underway. ‘Lofting’ is the in-house name for drawing the longitudinal and cross sections of the yacht full size on the loft floor. From this, templates and frames are cut and fashioned to create the hull shape. The frames are then erected on the back bone of the boat and are clad over in planking to form the hull.
This ‘Moonduster’ was the iconic Frèrs designed varnished 51 footer which, with her skipper, enjoyed a long and successful career in offshore racing. In another first for the boatyard, this Duster’s hull was multi layered strip planked, built upside down. When this process was completed she was moved out of the build shed and turned upright for deck and internal fit out.
‘Moonduster’ was the last significant yacht building project at CBY. The boatyard embarked on a large foreshore reclamation including developing the marina, hauling dock and travel lift facilities. This revolutionised boat storage and handling.
In an era that saw traditional boat building convert to a mechanised factory type process, CBY moved with the times and became agents for a number of premier brands such as Oyster, Jeanneau and Dufour and so changed and adapted to the modern and sustainable business model. Skilled trades in woodworking, grp repair and metalworking are now mostly specialist sub-contractors hired for specific projects as demand arises.
After over seventy years, I am sure that Dad would be proud to see that Crosshaven Boatyard is still thriving and providing a comprehensive service to all boat users in the harbour and further afield.
WayBackWhen is being published as a regular series as part of the Club’s 300th anniversary celebrations. Each post looks as some aspect of club and harbour life in the living memory of the current membership, and continues to be published twice a week for now. While the June and July elements of the Club’s celebrations have been cancelled (apart from the Fleet Review which it is hoped to have later this summer), it is important to note that the programme for August and September is unchanged at this time.