From Galway to New York in 1952

The Aisling was a rig kedge which was built in McDonagh’s Boatyard in 1946 by John McNally to a design by AA Pemberthy, who was a district engineer with the ESB. It was intended for Mediterranean cruises. Most of the vessel was of timber cut in County Galway and it also included part of the recently demolished stand at Ballybrit. John McNally unfortunately died before the boat was built, and a man called Tony Jacob from Rosslare bought the half finished vessel. He had gone to school with Fionn and Christopher Darby from Killiney, with Anthony Blyth from Athenry, and with David Webb from Nenagh.

Having bought the boat, he contacted his schoolmates with a proposal, and they all jumped at the chance of getting involved in an adventure… they proposed to sail the Aisling to Vancouver, a journey of 17,000 miles. They spent about three months fitting out the boat with the help of local shipwright John Rainey, a period which they remembered with gratitude for the generosity shown them by the people and businesses of Galway.

They did a trial run about 10 days before their big journey. There was a fresh wind blowing as they set sail for the Aran Islands, but the Aisling, with her rail under the water, rode smoothly, and they were satisfied that everything was ship-shape. So they began to prepare for the voyage. Their departure date was Thursday, May 1, which dawned bright and sunny. They were at work early. The quayside was littered with stores, gear, and equipment, and somehow a place had to be found for it all. It seemed impossible that everything would be ready in time.

Having said their goodbyes, the lines were cast off and they set off at 6pm. Owing to the direction of the wind, the auxiliary engine had to be used to clear the pier. Some 2,000 people turned out to wish them bon voyage, to the accompaniment of motor horns and ships’ sirens

A last minute addition to the crew was Jack Bamber from Shropshire. Another who wanted to travel with them was Seán Kenny, who was one of the crew of the Ituna which made an epic voyage across the Atlantic the year before. He had no passport, but he travelled out into the bay with them before transferring to the yacht Dessica owned by solicitor PJ Keys.

The crew were shortly to witness a magnificent Galway Bay sunset, as the sun sank slowly behind the Conamara hills, lighting everything in a deep red glow. A few days later they ran into very rough weather in the Bay of Biscay, and had to change course for La Corunna. They then sailed to Morocco and on to the Canary Islands, then across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico, where David Webb and Fionn Darby left the boat. The rest of the crew sailed on to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, where they were promptly escorted off by a gunboat. From there, it was a short trip to Miami where Christopher Darby left them. The final leg was to New York, by sea and the inland canal system.

It was a remarkable feat for the crew, all aged from 19 to 25, who had very little sailing experience among them. It certainly caused a sensation in Galway at the time, and received widespread press coverage locally and nationally. A lot of people thought they were sailing to their deaths. During the course of the voyage, the public were kept up to date with their adventures through David Webb’s reports for the Irish Independent.

Our photograph, which was kindly given to us by Dr Bridie Mitchell, shows some of the stores and equipment being loaded on board before the off.

Birdwatch Galway will host a lecture entitled ‘Pelagic Magic’ by one of Ireland’s leading ornithologists, Anthony McGeehan, in the Anno Santo Hotel tomorrow at 8pm. It is based on a sea trip off the west coast. All are welcome.


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