From a very young age, the idea of taking small or even larger boats out into the unforgivable offshore world seemed frightening, yet somewhat appealing. The stories of Columbus boldly sailing to the edge of the earth were a big part of my childhood, and it was only when I found the stories of Sir Robin Knox-Johnson and Bernard Moitessier that I slowly started to realise that adventure was there for anyone to take. You didn’t have to be a well-funded or wealthy individual to see the world. It appealed to me that the little 30 footers with 2 adults and sometimes even children were able to cross vast distances and then anchor next to a super yacht, enjoy the same view and sail on to the next destination all on a shoe string. The only difference I could see was the level of luxury, or if you were on a really small boat, the lack of! Life slowly moved on and so did my focus. My late teenage years were spent working on cars, going to school and working, and the idea of sailing off on the trades slowly faded away. They were nearly gone completely until I got into my second year of college, and that’s when I met my good friend and partner in crime, Irial Kennedy.
One afternoon after a few drinks with friends, he casually mentioned that he lived on a boat in Crosshaven during his previous year in college, and I couldn’t get enough of the idea. One thing that has always impressed me about sailing is how it can get into your imagination and stick there without having even sailed a boat before, and even though I had this childhood dream of owning my own boat I still hadn’t ever been sailing. The boat he lived on was a steel 38 foot Van De Stadt (An Gobadán) that his mother and father (Dermot & Diana) had built in Baltimore when Irial was a child. They had been running a sailing school there for years with Irial as an instructor, and he offered to take me out to learn how to sail to see if I actually liked it after so many years of dreaming. To say I liked it may be an understatement. It buried itself so far into my person that since then it’s taken over a vast part of my life, and I decided there and then that at all costs I would one day own a boat just like An Gobadán.
I took an Engineering job after college, and worked away with the idea that “someday” I would do something about the nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I quickly learned however, that saying “someday” is very dangerous and is for sure a killer of your dreams. I started saving what I could and before very long I couldn’t wait much longer, which led me to the Irish online classifieds for something that suited my measly budget. I spotted a 38 foot Dick Koopmans steel bare hull that was way out of my budget and seriously considered it (I even saved the owners number in my phone), but after a day or so it was marked as sold and I continued my search. After a further week of looking I found a 7 meter long fibre glass boat (“Frantic”, that needed far more work that I realised at the time), and bought it without a second thought. After 2 years of struggle, misery and being perpetually itchy I gave the boat to a good friend of mine (Matt) without having even sailed or floated her. Lesson learned.
The experience with that little boat didn’t, however miserable, put me off my dream. The year before I gave “Frantic” away I had moved into my Ford Transit Connect in an effort to save more money for a bigger boat which is an experience that not only taught me a lot about small space living, but also allowed me to have a little honey pot to one side for when the “right boat” came up for sale. That year i spent living in the van (I worked full time as well) is a whole other story, but it’s an experience that i am very glad i have and would happily recommend it to anyone.
In December 2017, the rare opportunity to sail across the Atlantic with 2 of my best friends who had left that summer to sail to Canada via the ICW (Irial and Ciara aboard An Gobadán) popped up. I took 6 weeks off work, left my always supportive girlfriend (Niamh) behind and set off on my big adventure and to see if this cruising thing was all it was cracked up to be.
If I was obsessed before I left, I don’t know what I was when I got back. Seeing the stars in their millions in a pitch dark sky, or the vibrant bioluminescence that spill out along the top of the waves, and the flying fish bursting out of the water as you slowly trundle by toe rail to toe rail are memories I will have forever. We spent 23 days at sea, arriving in Martinique to a welcoming party consisting of Niamh (who flew out to meet us) and the customs officials that signed us in. After a week of sailing around the Island it was time for Niamh and I to head home, find our own boat and begin our own little adventure.
2 weeks later we were standing in a wet and windy boat yard in west cork looking up at a Rival 32 project that was for sale. Despite the legendary status of the Rival 32 as capable cruiser for 2 it didn’t take us long to realise that 32 feet might be a little bit small for what we personally wanted from a boat. At this stage i had been living in my van for 6 months and knew that a bit of space wasn’t a luxury, so we decided she wasn’t for us. While standing on the deck of that Rival however, i spent some time looking around the boat yard at all the other potential projects. In the corner standing quite a bit taller than a lot of her neighbours was that same Dick Koopmans bare hull that had been advertised in the classifieds when i found Frantic. The cogs started turning and i remembered that i had saved the owners phone number, and thought there would be no harm in asking him if he still owned it regardless of whether it had be marked as sold before. Miraculously, he (Nick) still owned the boat and even better, he was willing to part with it. Once i got to hear the story of Zora and how she ended up where she was i knew that she was a special boat that needed to taken back to the water.
In c.1998, Zora sailed into Baltimore harbour, West Cork, under a Swiss skipper that was on his way around the world. As stories tend to do when they aren’t documented at the time, the ones about Zora were passed by word of mouth over the years until i heard them for myself. On their way up to Ireland via the Med, Zora and her then Skipper were at some point on their way past Morocco where they were approached by two small wooden boats with armed pirates aboard. Zora was used as a battering ram and one of the boats suffered major damage as a result, leaving the other boat busy enough that Zora could slip away unharmed. Whether or not this story is true is up for debate, but as the saying goes there is no smoke without fire.
Speaking of fire, Zora and her Skippers plans were cuts short as one night while at anchor in Baltimore harbour she burst into flames and had to be towed to the nearest pier where a fire engine was waiting. (As a side note, in the photo below you can see Zora in the background with a fire engine and crew working on her. In the foreground you can see An Gobadán which is the boat that set the seed of this whole saga in the first place).
Zora was then bought from the insurance company by a local yard owner and sat relatively untouched until 2012. In that time rust had taken a significant hold on the metal especially on the deck, which resulted in a large part of the boat full of holes and unrepairable steel. To most, the boat was too far beyond economic repair and would need a huge amount of vision and work to get back to a useable standard. This is where Nick, a local boat builder in search of his next challenge, stepped in to take on the task. He heard that the boat was going to be scrapped along with the steel shed that was surrounding her and made an offer to buy it. The offer was accepted and the work began in a local boat yard (Hegartys Boat Yard, Old Court) soon after.
Nick worked tirelessly for years on Zora from 2012 up till 2017 removing every inch of badly rusted steel which resulted in a new deck from bow to stern and much of the hull repaired. The cockpit was moved a foot aft and the aft cabin was taken up with an extra couple of feet in the cockpit, which resulted in a nice helm position and extra space in the cockpit for crew. The hull was also strengthened by adding a compression post to both port and starboard, and extra ribs were added to the underside of the deck. An uninsured boat broke its mooring in a storm and was wrecked locally so as payment for cleaning the beach that the boat ran on to a Selden mast, good sails and a Sole engine from that boat was acquired for Zora. Once all the steel work was finished Zora was then sand blasted and coated with quality primer inside and out to protect the hard work that was done from rusting again. One paragraph can’t do justice to the level of work that was done to Zora, nor can it show the quality of the work completed, however when seen in person it speaks for itself very well.
It was then that Nick came across a boat he had wanted for a long time going for a reasonable sum and decided that he would buy it, leaving him torn between finishing Zora which would take several more years and a not inconsiderable amount of money or to improve the boat he just bought. He chose the latter which resulted in the ad that I had seen but his change of heart meant she was marked as sold. (Incidentally, Nick has been a huge part of the project and to this day we still share ideas very often. As someone who didn’t have much experience in boat building, i am very grateful for the guidance, help and friendship that resulted in buying Zora from what turned out to be the right person)
As Zora had been painted in good primer, leaving her idle for a while wasn’t a problem. The painting had been done immediately after sand blasting was complete which resulted in a very well protected boat that only needed a top coat to look pretty again. Niamh and i got right to work with the goal of getting Zora off the hard as soon as possible, resulting in a lot of long weekends and some evenings after work over the course of 8 months, washing in the sea nearby in the evenings or under a hose and generally just slumming it to get the job done. One of the bigger jobs was to paint the boat which meant we had to sand her from top to bottom, and using a mohair roller we painted the top sides and deck with Blue and very light grey. (A huge thanks to all my friends that helped get the boat painted in record time)
One of the more expensive jobs was replacing the standing and running rig. When I bought the boat I knew from the outset that this would be a job that wasn’t going to be optional, so I set about finding a rigger that would do the job and not break our already sorry looking bank account. This is when I was put in touch with Gavin from Masts & Rigging Ireland who was able to answer all my questions, give me a very reasonable price and do the job in no time at all. This meant we could get the mast down, change all the wiring, bulbs and rigging then re-step the mast with absolutely no problems.
The engine that was in the boat when I bought it had a new prop shaft and featherstream prop with it, and although the engine was sitting on its mounts and the shaft was in place they had yet to be aligned and connected. The engine also had no wiring loom and needed a new alternator and starter motor. The shaft passed into the stern tube through a dripless PSS bearing and a new bellows from the manufacturer gave it a new lease of life. I made a new loom for the engine and using a ratchet strap I fitted a temporary fuel tank in the form of a 20 litre jerry can next to the engine. After a couple of days of head scratching i managed to get all the wiring correct, changed all the filters on the engine and then it fired up without a problem. Much of the next few months were spent painting below the waterline, fitting a fore hatch, rebuilding the cable steering system and generally tidying the boat up before launch.
Launch time fell on a sunny August afternoon, as we needed to launch off a spring tide to have enough water to float into a deeper part of the Ilen river. Niamh and I both had a bit of a sleepless night in the van with thoughts of “what if” running through our minds, but we reassured ourselves with the knowledge that we did things the right way and cut no corners. We had a nervous breakfast and finished off a few little jobs while waiting for the crane to arrive, and around 4pm we spotted a big yellow 100 tonne beast making it’s way down the narrow west cork back roads towards us. After almost 7 years of sitting in one place and 20 years since water was under her keel, Zora moved again with a crowd of my close friends watching. It was hard to see the movement at first, but once the pressure came off and the supports began to fall away it was obvious that the boat was starting to lift into the air, and in one big arc the crane brought her around and lowered her into the river. There are some first experiences in life that you always remember, and feeling my own boat move under me for the first time will forever stay with me. It’s a strange thing to feel emotional about what is to most just an object, but to me this was one of my most significant milestones to date and it’s that feeling that keeps me pushing hard through the remainder of the project.
Zora spent the next couple of months rafted up to some other boats on the river, as i had to fit some winches, fit new running rigging and fit the sails and associated hardware. I bought the 2 three speed Harken jib sheet winches for the boat from a friend and they had spent many years buried in saw dust so needed a full rebuild. One thing i have learnt over the years is that if you are willing and able to repair second hand equipment you can buy quality gear very cheap. As i didn’t have a main sheet track i lashed a line across the cockpit and attached the main sheet to that. The lack of jib sheet track also meant i had to lash some blocks to the toe rail in order to control the genoa. It wasn’t perfect, but it served the job admirably and i was glad for the opportunity to try it out. Once we were ready, we did a quick test run under motor to check that the engine was ok and all went well. About 3 weeks later, Nick and I decided to go for a test sail in Baltimore harbour to check the rig. We wanted to make sure the boat was safe to sail to her new home in Kinsale, where I planned to live while fitting the interior to the boat.
The weather was shaping up well in the week leading up to our planned test sail, and both Nick and i agreed that if the weather was as forecast on the day and if we were happy with the rig once the sails were up, that we would just go for it and attempt the 8 hour sail east to Kinsale. We arrived into Baltimore harbour from the mouth of the Ilen to a moderate south westerly and raised a double reefed main to check whether she was able for it. When the boat had been launched we noticed that she sat several inches above the designed waterline which resulted in a slightly tender boat due to the fact that apart from the engine and sails, Zora was completely empty of any interior at all. We were, however, happy that the wind was favourable and the boat seemed perfectly capable of taking the main and full genoa so we made for it and left the harbour, passing the Baltimore beacon and out to sea.
The following 8 hours were almost dream like. We had a beautiful sunny and warm day, clear blue skies and a fresh breeze pushing us gently along. Zora had her sails wing and wing and in my mind looked like a huge bird stretching her wings. I think she enjoyed being on the move again just as much as her crew and we made great time all the way to Kinsale, only to be met by my good friend Simon waiting at the mouth of the harbour on his rib to escort us home. As if the day couldn’t have gone well enough already, we were greeted in the harbour by a perfectly flat sea and while we adjusted course to a beam reach, we were joined by a huge pod of dolphins which swam with us while we sailed in to the village. All in all, a very successful day for Zora
The boat is currently in the marina in Kinsale, and the last several months have been spent installing bulkheads, fitting a floor and substructure for the joinery and fitting some temporary insulation in to the forepeak so i can stay warm while i live aboard. The plan very soon is to have the boat professionally insulated with polyurethane spray foam to eliminate the potential for steel boat killing condensation and to begin fitting tanks, wiring, cabinetry and other systems. We estimate the remainder of the project to take until mid-2020, but if doing the job right means it takes longer then so be it.
I want to thank each and every person that has supported the project either financially, by watching the series or by working in person on the boat. There are too many to name, but without each and every one the boat would still be sitting on the hard in Baltimore. Special mention goes to Niamh who has been instrumental in bringing the project to life and continues to keep me motivated when it all gets a bit too much, which it often does.
Fair winds to all