IRELAND’S last remaining wooden sail trading vessel, the Ilen, which was originally built in Baltimore and later restored at Hegarty’s boatyard, completed the long haul from Limerick to Greenland last week.
The trip is part of an educational project – ‘Salmon’s Wake – to examine the migration of wild salmon. ‘We are sailing in the wake of the declining Atlantic salmon up the North Atlantic,’ said crew member and director of the AK Ilen company, Gary MacMahon.
The Salmon’s Wake is an intergenerational and international Limerick educational and outdoor adventure programme, which includes schools, through boat building workshops and community days, as well as river, sea and ocean travel.
Early this month, the Ilen crew set sail from Limerick to West Greenland, following the course of the now very scarce and ever dwindling stocks of wild Atlantic salmon.
While the weather was typical North Atlantic weather, rain, sun, wind and very strong wind and seas, the crossing was a swift one, taking just 11 days, explained Gary. However, Cape Farwell and Greenland greeted the Ilen and her crew with a heavy gale. But they ‘held up very well’, Gary told The Star.
The Ilen was built in Baltimore in 1926 by local boat builder Tom Moynihan and designed by world-renowned sailor Conor O’Brien from Limerick.
From there, the newly built trading vessel set sail for the south Atlantic and the Falkland Islands where the Ilen spent the next 70 years, transporting everything from cattle, sheep and coal, and of course people, back and forth between the wind-swept islands.
But in 1998 the boat was returned to Baltimore, after being discovered beached on one of the islands in the South Atlantic.
The tiny port of Nanortalik in Greenland was the Ilen’s first port of call on the stunning coastline, where the crew encountered remote bays surrounded by majestic snow-capped mountains. Then, with a stop-off on the island of Uunartoq, the crew had a very welcome swim in a natural hot spring pool.
‘We’ll be back in Ireland in later September and we have a few ideas for the Ilen’s next voyage in 2020, but nothing confirmed yet,’ Gary said, speaking from Greenland.
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