The 143 year old working boat Barnabas sailed into Newlyn Harbour on Saturday 22 June, marking the end of her two-month heritage mission to all four Celtic lands. Volunteer crew from the charity, Cornish Maritime Trust (CMT), which owns the historic wooden boat, moored her up to the Old Quay to the cheers of supporters celebrating the sailors’ feat and the boat’s fine new masts. The Rev’d Derath Durkin, who blessed the boat ahead of her long voyage, gave a prayer of thanks as she docked back safely in her home haven.  Having set off from Newlyn 66 days previously, Barnabas returned having accomplished the Trust’s threefold goals for the ambitious voyage: education, preservation and community connection.

Covering 1,400 nautical miles, the adventure created the opportunity for over 40 volunteers to be trained in now endangered sailing skills, new hand-crafted Douglas Fir masts to be fitted in Ullapool, Scotland, and the Cornish maritime heritage to be shared with sailing communities in all four Celtic nations.

Authentic training for the Next Generation: seven decades living and learning together

The original idea for the voyage came from Shipwright, Dave Need, who envisioned a way to collect Barnabas’ new masts from Ullapool without ecologically and financially costly road haulage. The notion quickly developed into a full-scale training mission, the Trust’s purpose being not only to maintain its historic boats in sailing condition but also to pass on the expertise to sail them to the next generation. Barnabas being the only remaining ‘St Ives double-ended dipping lugger’ still sailing in the world, requiring know-how of handling its ancient lug rig, passed down since the 1880’s, means that without the vital work of the CMT these skills are now at risk of extinction.

In total 43 different crew rotated over the two month period.  During the six legs, up to eight crew slept on deck or below in the cramped conditions fishermen experienced in the 19th century, and carrying out repairs and maintenance en route. Sharing the cooking below deck, the sailors fuelled up on a range of cuisine, from, in extremis, ‘cuppa soup’ (not available to their forefathers), to black pudding butties, fish stew and once, a three course supper of oysters, chicken stew, pavlova!  Personal hygiene consisted of a dip in the sea or a dowsing by bucket in sea water, with only the occasional, highly prized, hot shower in port.  Up to eight crewed the boat at any one time and volunteers spanned seven decades, the youngest being 18 and the oldest 79!  The Trust is committed to inspire female and younger sailors in greater numbers and was pleased to welcome 13 women and 18 ‘under 30’s’ during the trip.

Iconic locations and wealth of wildlife

All 66 days of the voyage were captured in real time on CMT's Facebook page with Skippers’ logs giving an ‘armchair’ voyage to a rapidly growing following. Besides atmospheric visits to iconic Hebridean spots, like Fingal’s Cave, the Isle of Mull and Skye, the Shiant Isles, the Crinnan Canal, the remote Inverie or a climb up An Sgurr on the island of Eigg, posts included other events that crew experienced, like the Isle of Man famous TT motorbike races.  Followers were also treated to sightings of minke and pilot whales, sea otters, seals, porpoises and stunning footage of pods of dolphins bow riding the historic boat, just as they have done for centuries before.  Bird sightings included Atlantic puffins, shags, kittiwakes, shearwaters, fulmars, gillimots, skewers, and a golden eagle, while crew also encountered bats, pigeons and plenty of midges on their travels.  A highlight of the voyage was a stay on the Island of Tanera Mor, where the crew moored up at the historic herring fishing quay and were treated to a BBQ banquet.

Navigational and sailing skills tested to the limit

Be-calmed only for ten hours in the 66 days, fair winds followed the voyage for most of the trip but several passages tested the crew to the limit, including an unexpected Force 6 at night while crossing the Irish Channel, from Caernarfon in Wales to Cork, Ireland, which gave the sailors a unique insight into the harsh working life of their fishing ancestors.  Trustee Skippers, Toby Floyer (leg 1), Rob McDowell (legs 2, 3, 6 & 7) and Dave Need (leg 4 & 5) regularly sought local knowledge of tides, currents and hidden dangers and were warmly welcomed by each local community.

Cornish ‘ambassador', connecting communities - festivals, food, drink and song

One goal of the Trust is to link Cornish maritime heritage with the wider national heritage and trustees recently set up an online educational forum together with National Historic Ships UK.  On this trip, Barnabas acted like something of a Cornish ambassador, connecting sailing communities in all four Celtic Lands, and harking back to the 19th century when Cornish luggers were regular visitors to ports around the British Isles, following the herring throughout the fishing season.

Highlights of the trip included the first ever Ullapool Lugger Fest 2024 where Barnabas joined 20+ wooden boats for presentations, parades of sail and a ceilidh.  In Cork, at the Crosshaven Trad Sail Festival, Barnabas won the ‘Blue Nose’ trophy as the most-travelled boat and a similar prize in Ullapool, where the crew were treated to a bottle of local whiskey.  Feted in the local media wherever she went, Barnabas was praised by Crosshaven’s Festival organiser Mark Bushe, messaging the crew with, ‘Ye stole the show in good old Cornish style, all rite me hansommmmms’.

Music played a key part in connecting the communities with various musicians coming aboard to play on the ancient vessel, like Mairearad and Mike from A.D.A.M., a bagpiper serenading Barnabas as she left Ullapool and CMT member Jonny Nance hiring the ivories on Tanera Mor for a few sessions. Under sail, St Ives crew member, Nigel Stevens, nicknamed the ‘mermaid caller’ led the crew in old favourites, such as 'Cornwall My Home’, to keep morale as they journeyed on the 36 hour non-stop voyage from Cork to the Isles of Scilly.

Sharing Cornish and other Celtic treats with new friends

Keen to share Cornish culture, Barnabas’ cargo included Lynher Dairy’s award-winning Cornish Yarg, Cornish Sea Salt, St Ives Island Rum and 144 Saffron buns, gifted by the 1860 year old baker Warrens for sharing with fellow mariners along their route. Cork’s Rossmore Oyster Cornish owner Tristan Hugh-Jones, also donated oysters for Crosshaven festival goers. ‘Sail Cargo’ on board Barnabas for her return was a small shipment of single malt whiskey from Scotland’s most sustainable distillery Nc’nean, transported back to Cornwall for Mousehole’s Old Coastguard Hotel, in the greenest way possible.

CMT seeks corporate sponsors to sustain maritime heritage work

Having completed such a successful living heritage voyage, the CMT is now seeking further individual and Corporate Sponsors to fund its vital work in the coming years.  Trustees hope the sight of history brought to life and its commitment to train the next generation, will inspire businesses with similar values to come aboard and help sustain Cornwalls maritime heritage for generations to come.  

Artist in residence captures life aboard historic boats

Internationally renowned, award-winning artist, Vicki Norman, is CMTs Artist in Residence and now paints in the former studio of famous Newlyn School artist, Walter Langley (1852-1922). Vicki is dedicating her years residency to capturing life and heritage skills aboard the Trusts boats and joined in Ullapool to capture her re-masting at the Johnson & Loftus Boatyard.  Some of her paintings of Barnabas and the Trust’s other historic boats are on view at her exhibition at the Old Coastguard Hotel, Mousehole, June 27 - July 22, with 10-25% of her sales going to the Trust.

Source: Press release 

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