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WbW#22 – Crosshaven Boatyard

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.

This picture of Dick Leonard outside the club is c1970 when a nephew of Sir Francis Chichester came visiting. Included are, left to right, the nephew, John Keane (club steward), Richard Leonard (MD, CBY) and Timmy Leonard (Chief Rigger, CBY).

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.

An advertisement for the DBL syndicate in Ringaskiddy – A.M.I.N.A. is a mystery – American Marine Institute of Naval Architects is what google suggests but hardly! UPDATE: Our author has received the following from a Baltimore O’Driscoll – Dino O’Driscoll’s letters A.M.I.N.A were Associate Member of Institute of Naval Architects. A qualification he attained by correspondence course on the encouragement of one Mr. Tom Crosbie!

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.

The Shamrock Boat Co. thought big…

….this one is heading to the 1950 Dublin boat show …

…. and was clearly not designed for everyone!

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.

Dick Leonard had been building IDRA 14’s with George Bushe and Jack O’Driscoll in Ringaskiddy prior to setting up in Crosshaven and this continued. This one is being exhibited at the Dublin boat show in the RDS.

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!

Ann Gaston went aground alright! She was salvaged, repaired and sold on by the Shamrock Cruising Company in the mid fifties.

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.

Ard Casta had a very long fishing career in West Cork – last summer she still looked in great shape in North Harbour.

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.

The yard c1970. Our author describes below the labour involved hauling and storing yachts in pre “travel lift” days.

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.

Denis Doyle had four yachts built for himself by the yard. Querida (1963) and the Moonduster pictured (1965) were both engineless. 

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 launch of Longbow II in 1968, one of the Robert Clarke design collaborations with the yard. 

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.

Sir Francis Chichester was quite a celebrity and the new Gypsy Moth V was the subject of a Sunday Times sports graphic. Clearly fin keels and skeg rudders were notable at that time!

He was a regular visitor to the club. This picture from 1970 of Sir Francis with Admiral Clayton Love Jnr also includes from left Jonathan Derham, David Gibbons, Paul Derham, Colm Tingle, Michael Gibbons, Roger and Madeline Derham  

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!

The RNLB Peter and Sarah Blake in for maintenance. This boat was stationed in Fenit from 1932 to 1958 and stayed in the reserve fleet up to 1972.

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.

The small boy in the foreground is our author. There were many such blessings……

… as there were many launchs to celebrate. This boat is the Regina.

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 Blue Duster

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 58′ Sululu ya Pili 

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.

Golden Apple was originally built in 1980 for a Norwegian customer – she returned to the yard in the mid 1990s to be restored for her round the world voyage with the Coveneys (See WbW#20)

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’.

This nice photo of the leather St Brendan in Boston harbour reads – “To Crosshaven Boatyard ‘Brendans birthplace’, with all good wishes, Tim Severn”

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.

The first glimpses the Frers designed 51′ Moonduster emerging from the shed. 

On the right with the cap is Pat Lake, the foreman shipwright with overall responsibility for the Moonduster build. He subsequently went on with Donie Curran to start Castlepoint Boatyard in the mid 1980’s….

…and this fella subsequently went on to serve as Admiral in 2008/09 .

Just a number of months later Moonduster is ready for sea. Interesting to see her next to Namara, the large cruising 8m of the Cudmore family, which really gives the sense of scale.

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.

Late 1970s….

….and today. The Majorca Ballroom in the top photo used to draw massive crowds to Crosshaven from the city – now it is crowded in a different way!

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. 

WbW#21<<<               >>>WbW#23

12 Responses to WbW#22 – Crosshaven Boatyard

  1. Eddie English April 6, 2020 at 3:54 pm #

    Well done Richard- Fantastic! A really great insight into the Yard. Thank you very much! Eddie English

  2. Myles Hassett April 6, 2020 at 5:55 pm #

    Outstanding article, Richard, evoking many fond memories. If anyone is looking for a good read, Tim Severin’s Brendan Voyage (Across the Atlantic in a leather boat) contains a great description of the traditional craftsmanship employed by Pat Lake and CYB in building a boat that St. Brendan sailed across the Atlantic in about 700 AD. Well done again to all involved in WbW – a terrific tonic in these troubled times. Myles Hassett

    • Damian Byrne April 7, 2020 at 6:38 am #

      Great article Richard Thank you.
      Growing up looking from Currabinny in the 60’s, the sounds of wooden boatbuilding in the yard carried across the water, oh what music it was. To this day whenever I hear a planer thicknesser or a big saw labouring, I am taken right back to my childhood. Happy days. Thank you.

  3. Rose Meade April 6, 2020 at 8:00 pm #

    Well told. So many stories about the yard. Fond memories of the excitement at the launch of a new build. Well done Richard.

  4. Patsy o mahony April 6, 2020 at 11:03 pm #

    There was a family called O’Driscoll from Baltimore, the youngest Denis Tim did mechanical repairs in Baltimore up to the seventies.
    His brothers had emigrated to the east coast of the States, and fished off Cape cod.
    Jeremiah Driscoll was instrumental in starting the Circle Line Tours of Manhattan.
    He also had tankers running fuel to the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island which is the headquarters of the US Coast Guard.
    I had the pleasure of meeting him in Manhattan mid 1970.

  5. Richard Archer April 7, 2020 at 12:52 am #

    It was so great to read about the boat yard in Crosser. Having been born there (1938) I remember enjoying watching the boats being launched and pulled in to the yard. s a kid growing up I recall many came from the Skibbereen and Baltimore area to work there. My sister Pat met her husband (Michael Collins) who had come from Baltimore and later on
    both emigrated to the Boston area They eventually returned to Cork and both have since passed.
    I enjoyed the article and still miss the town I was born.

  6. Dan Cross April 7, 2020 at 8:16 pm #

    Richard a really nice article.
    When I started in the yard your Dad had retired but he still took a huge interest and was always there if needed for advice . He was an unassuming gentleman.

  7. Martin Kiely April 13, 2020 at 11:34 pm #

    A great article bringing good memories of serving my time with your dad, Pat Lake and Dan Cross

  8. Carol Keating August 25, 2020 at 6:35 pm #

    Great read and lovely to see my grandad boat “The regina”

  9. David Harte October 12, 2020 at 7:27 pm #

    Great memories of my time in the yard, starting under your Dad. Great article, congratulations.

  10. Dan Donnelly December 18, 2020 at 6:06 pm #

    Had many great years working there I remember your dad well great story .

  11. Sean O’Mahony August 11, 2021 at 9:53 am #

    I am writing an article on the wreck and subsequent salvage of the Anne Gaston for the the Castlehaven History Society Journal and would appreciate any information you may have on who the vessel was sold to after she was repaired. I note in your article she was sold to Wales. I have found a news report from 1958 stating that she hit rocks again off the french coast, 2 men were lost, the remaking crew and the vessel were saved and brought to Ille de Seine. She was not a vey lucky lady. Any information you may have would be appreciate
    Kind regards
    Capt. Sean O’Mahony

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