Always fun to turn tables on a pro snapper. Through 2004 and 2005, marine photographer Nigel Pert regularly followed the authentic rebuild of Hal Sisk’s 1894 GL Watson-designed gaff cutter, PEGGY BAWN, at the Dunmore East yard of shipwright, Michael Kennedy, on Ireland’s south-east coast.
My affinity with a yellow pine deck (USA: white pine; botanical: Pinus strobus) continued from experience with the William Fife Jr-designed bermudan cutter, Solway Maid. Fortunately there was no choice: as found, Peggy Bawn still had her original, though not useable, then 110-year-old yellow pine deck – and authenticity was our watchword.
From a time when boat designers and builders could choose any species, on demand, Peggy’s creators would not have given much thought to the deck material: by default, GL Watson would have specified lightweight and dimensionally stable yellow pine, and John Hilditch would have held carefully seasoned stock at or near his yard at Carrickfergus on the north shore of Belfast Lough. It was the norm; the use of teak for decks wasn’t.
“… it’s better than we could possibly imagine.”
Years of unsustainable use and changing patterns of demand mean that best quality yellow pine is well-nigh impossible to find. But we succeeded via a wonderful network of contacts in sourcing perfect, full length (36 feet / 11 m) stock from a sawmill in deepest Massachusetts.
I well remember Michael’s excited phone call from America: “Iain, it’s better than we could possibly imagine.” And my feeling of relief that the expense of sending him all that way had been justified. The alternative: buying blind and incurring the cost of specially shipping potentially inferior material was unthinkable.
The sawyer, a specialist in already fallen trees, had kept the material set aside for some suitable project that might come along; the fact that his wife is Irish clinched the deal when Michael flew over to inspect the pine.
They eventually turned up unannounced at Dunmore East to make sure their hopes for the material had been honoured.
I think they truly were, thanks to great work by Michael Kennedy – in particular for the deck, his team member carpenters Graham Bailey and John Colfer, and our naval architect, Theo Rye – in faithfully replicating Peggy Bawn’s original swept and tapered deck, and the narrowest of cotton and Jeffrey’s Marine Glue seams.
Eagle-eyed readers may recognise William Fife II’s Ayrshire Lass of 1887, patiently waiting her turn for the treatment – eventually completed in time for the Fife Regatta 2008. A great story for another day.
~ Iain McAllister ~