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Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Celebrating Ireland's Floating Heritage

Home arrow Vessels arrow Woodies arrow Paloma - Falmouth Quay Punt - Cornwall c1895
Paloma - Falmouth Quay Punt - Cornwall c1895 PDF Print E-mail
19 April 2011

 

 
Pat Henry bought Paloma in 1971 when I was 4-years-old. He had come across her in the old coal harbour in Dun Laoghaire and fell in love with her lines. She is a Falmouth Quay Punt, built around 1895, a fast sleek work-boat used around the south coast of England to meet the Clipper ships and either pilot them back or give them their onward orders. Paloma is 25ft long, 7½ feet wide, and has a 4ft draught. She weighs 4 tons and now has a 16 horsepower Renault in her which pushes her along nicely. She still has her traditional gaff rig mainsail carried on timber hoops, but now using modern terylene sails and cordage. She is a gaff rigged Yawl. A Ketch and a Yawl are similar; they both have 2 masts, a main and a mizzen (smaller mast at the stern). On a Ketch the mizzen sail is usually half the area of the main sail. On a Yawl the mizzen sail is about a quarter of size of the main sail and the mizzen mast is usually further aft.
 
The Falmouth Quay Punt evolved in the UK port of Falmouth, Cornwall around the turn of the 20th Century. Falmouth, with a good deep water harbour situated near the Western entrance to the English Channel, was a popular port for large merchant sailing ships to call "for orders", as before the days of radio captains would often not know which port their cargo would be destined for before they arrived in the country, and needed to collect instructions before continuing. Ships coming to anchor in the "Roads" would employ a Falmouth Quay Punt to be a runabout while they were in port. Traditionally, the first punt to speak to a ship as it came into the channel would get the job of looking after her while she was in port, so the punts would often range far to the west in the hope of finding a ship and getting custom.
 
Typical jobs while in port would include running fresh provisions out to the ship, and taking passengers ashore. Falmouth Quay Punts evolved a distinctive style, with deep draught well suited for the frisky conditions to be found in the Western approaches; short mainmasts to allow them to sail under the yards of a big square rigger, and large open
wells for the carrying of passengers and cargo. A small cuddy in front of the mainmast was the only shelter available for the skipper and his boy (if he was lucky enough to have one).
 
The arrival of the radio, and engines, together spelt the end of an era for these seaworthy craft shortly after the end of the First World War. Many were turned into yachts, and a few survive to this day. Chas Peters, the wife of Maurice Griffiths, the well-known yachting author, owned the working boat Juanita for a number of years, and she features in one of Maurice Griffiths books. Curlew is perhaps the best-known Quay Punt surviving today. Tim and Pauline Carr circumnavigated the world twice in the 26 foot engineless boat, and explored with her around the remote sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, before donating her to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The even smaller Quay Punt Teal - originally built as Little Pal for the writer Percy Woodcock, and also operated without an engine, recently undertook a long voyage to the Baltic.
 
We traced back some of Paloma’s history through the previous owners. She had a major refit in 1937 in Murphy’s Yard in Ringsend, Dublin. At that point a six cylinder engine was fitted to her which was a rather large engine for her size. She subsequently became a pleasure boat for a Mr Culliton from Howth and later Dr Eugene Mackey from Dun Laoghaire. She has had several different names. Mr Culliton called her Zara after his daughter. We found an older name painted on her transom – Taun, perhaps derived from the Irish for 'wave' (tonn). Dr Mackey named her Paloma meaning dove of peace.
 
She was up on the hard when Pat bought her and he then set about stripping and repainting her. She had been painted by a house painter who didn’t know about marine paints and the paintwork had all come up in little blisters that looked like some form of rot or strange disease. He brought her down the Grand Canal to the Shannon where he used to keep her moored in Athlone. Every weekend our parents would pack us three kids up and head off down to the boat. We mainly sailed around Lough Ree and Lough Derg although we did take her up as far as Lough Key a few times. Pa
loma attended many of the Shannon Harbour and Derg rallies where she won a few prizes over the years. She was quite a small boat but her space inside was always well utilised and had full headroom when you were sitting down! There was many a time when you’d have 8 or 10 people in for a jar or two. She had a long full run keel which meant she held her course well but was slow to turn which gave us plenty of time when we were all learning to sail on her.
 
In the scorching summer of 1976 the top half of the mast fell off as we were motoring back to Athlone from Hodson Bay. Luckily no one was underneath! We couldn’t find a suitable replacement at the time so my Dad spliced an old mast off a Shannon One Design onto it with lots of whipping twine. This lasted for 3 years until we eventually acquired an old hollow wooden mast from the late Paul Doran for £15. This was about 6 inches shorter than the original mast. Paloma was an old gaffer, this is a very flexible and forgiving rig and can accommodate different sails – they don’t have to be a perfect fit like modern sloops. We had often wondered about the condition of the keel bolts. In ’89 we got a bit of a leak around one, and when we lifted her out for the winter we found the one and a half ton of iron keel was about to fall off. That winter we replaced all the keel bolts and welded large galvanised steel brackets inside to spread the load of the keel which also strengthened up the whole boat.
 
We had lots of different engines in her over the years. The earlier ones were petrol engines. I recall a “20 minute” engine at one stage which would run for just long enough to get us out of the harbours, this encouraged us to sail more. Our first diesel engine was a 5 hp Petter air-cooled engine. It was a bit undersized; it took us eight hours to get from Shannon Harbour to Athlone! We hadn’t realised how noisy it was either, and when we were in Sean’s Bar later, people asked us why we were shouting at each other! We didn’t know we were! After that we fitted the Renault and she never missed a beat.
 
Paloma was in our family for 30 years and now rests in Shannon Harbour. Because of her, my two sisters and I have all ended up with our own boats and a great love of boating and the boating lifestyle. Paloma will always have a special place in our hearts.
 
© Victor Henry - 2010

 

Last Updated ( 16 November 2011 )
 
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