Farewell Madcap & Zayda

 On a bright but blustery dawn in June 1928 three vessels departed Waterford’s quays.  Leading the small convoy was a powerful tug, towing two old sailing ships.  Although the tug was a stranger to the city, the sailing ships were anything but.  To anyone looking on the scene must have proven ironic if not ignominious.  For these were the ports last sailing vessels; Zayda and the Madcap, and they had given over fifty years loyal and trusted service to the city, only to be made redundant by steam power. 

The story of these two sailing ships is also a story of Waterford and one man in particular, Geoffrey Spencer.  Spencer was the son of a local farmer, but not being first born had to make his own way.  He married into a coal merchant business at John Street (His wife was Catherine Lyons, daughter of a coal merchant, who later inherited the yard).

Madcap and Zayda moored off Coal Quay (just to the east of the Clock Tower) Photo via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

A coal merchant was at the mercy of all kinds of middle men unless the business could import its own coal and so Geoffrey bid on a decrepit old ship called the Oriental when it came up for auction in the city. The ship was so bad that his was the only bid.  With the profit from this first vessel, he reinvested in expanding his fleet and other ships followed including the Arrow, Caradoc and the Olga.  I read that he was also part owner in the SS Silkstone that sank in the river by Ferrybank and was a total wreck.  The Caradoc sank following a fire off the Coningbeg and the Olga grounded at Duncannon 20th April 1895 and was a total loss. I’ll need to do more digging into the others.

The Zayda was a brigantine and was built at Bideford in 1869.  The Madcap was also a brigantine and was built at Brixham in 1871.  As far as I can tell they were built specifically for Geoffrey Spencer and both entered into the coal trade.  Both ships would have been painted green which was the colour that Spencer chose for his ships. (a detail I’m indebted to Brian Cleare for this detail) The norm was to bring pit props or other heavy cargo from Waterford to Wales and then return with coal.  The ships feature regularly in Lloyds list and seem to have made a steady income.

During the Great War both ships were requisitioned, armed and staffed with a naval crew.  There is one account that because the Madcap was so well known the admiralty fitted another ship out in her likeness to act as a Q ship and sunk five submarines in this role (Q ships were armed to the teeth, but disguised as ordinary merchantmen. U Boats didn’t like to waste torpedoes on them, so they surfaced and ordered the crew to evacuate the ship prior to sinking them with the deck gun. Q ships would take this opportunity, drop the deck disguise and fire upon the sub).

Although the regular sailing time between Cardiff and Waterford was given as 19 hours, in 1921 it took the Madcap just a bit longer!.  Under Captain Furniss she departed the Cardiff Roads in February 1921.  She ran into her first difficulties at the Barrels and having shed her canvas limped into Fishguard.  Following repairs she departed, getting as far as the Tuskar before a hurricane of wind forced them to run ahead of it up the Irish Sea, eventually making shelter at Belfast Lough.  Her third trip was no better, this time managing to find shelter at Kingstown / Dun Laoighre.  It was April before she finally arrived back in her home port, two months later.

Zayda, a Poole photo originally via Michael O’Sullivan (Waterford History Site)

Madcap and Zayda were victims of progress however.  Ships such as these had to be loaded and emptied by hand, a slow and grueling job. Industrial techniques were advancing however and metal grab cranes could drop a bucket into the hold of a steel built ship and quickly and cheaply empty them. Joseph Spencer, Geoffrey’s heir , decided to tie the sailing ships to the quay (by the Clock Tower)  and there sat for several years and, like any unused craft, fell into decay.

At 5am on June 8th 1928 they finally left Waterford’s quays under tow by the tug Eastleigh of Bristol.  The ships had been sold to a ship breakers yard in Appledore. Behind the tug came the unmanned Zayda, and at the rear was the Madcap with a temporary crew of four under Captain Cox.  As if she had no wish to leave her natural home, almost immediately the Madcap started to make water and the crew had to man the pumps constantly to keep her afloat.  Although they crossed the Irish Sea, off the Welsh coast the winds freshened from the south’ard and the Madcap started to settle in the water and became unmanageable.  The crew struggled to maintain her, but an inspection below confirmed the worst, and using a small tender they got away just in time, and were fortunate the tug was nearby.

When the Madcaps temporary crew eventually arrived back to Appledore their families stood on the quayside waiting and prayers of thanks were offered by the local vicar for their safe return .  I’ve no doubt the people of Waterford were relieved to hear of the crews deliverance, but I’d imagine there was a certain satisfaction too, to think that the Madcap had went to the watery element, rather than being stripped and possibly hulked to end her days as a floating pontoon.

As I celebrate four years of blogging each Friday I am going to mark the occasion on June 8th, all welcome
  • I used several newsreports in todays blog. 
  • Waterford Standard – Saturday 05 December 1936 page 50-51
  • Western Morning News – Monday 11 June 1928 page 5
  • Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 June 1928 page 14
  • I also used an article clipping by the Munster Express’ Michelle Clancy (It was cut from the paper and passed on to me several years back but with no page or date – I think it might have dated to the Tall Ships 2011)

The New Ross river pilots 1854

In my recent book on growing up in Cheekpoint I devoted a chapter to my uncle Sonny and his operation of the Cheekpoint pilot boat.  His role was to embark and disembark pilots coming to and from New Ross.  The role of pilot or river guide is probably as old as people have sailed into foreign waters. Its a topic I remember well stories of competing crews of hobblers rowing down the harbour attempting to engage a ship with a pilot and a crew to tie up their vessel.  A fascinating story in itself, but for another day.
SS Pembrook at Cheekpoint Feb 1899, note Pilot House sq building on left
AH Poole Collection NLI 
The pilots were divided in two separate and distinct groups. The Waterford pilots took ships upand down river to the city. As part of their duties they took New Ross destined ships as far as Cheekpoint, at which point pilots for the competing port of took charge. The actual extent of the New Ross pilots role was “To pilot vessels within the limits from the junction of the River Barrow with the River Suir, up to the entrance of of the canal at St Mullins on the River Barrow, and to the lock quay of Inistioge, on the River Nore”
In the year 1854 New Ross Pilots were expected to abide by the following instructions;
“…to lose no time in boarding such vessels as may be ordered…and to behave in strict propriety…hoisting your distinguishing colour (white, with his number in black) immediately on going aboard a vessel…”  A rule I was never aware of and certainly not used in my days of viewing the pilots comings and goings.
“You are to suffer no boat to take any vessel in your charge in tow, except you have orders…or except in cases of of sudden emergency or danger.” Presumably this was to avoid any claims of salvage and unnecessary expense.
“You are in no case whatever to interfere with the duties of the Revenue Officers, but on the contrary are to afford them every assistance…any pilot found so engaged in … shipping contraband…will be immediately suspended…” we have seen before the issues of smuggling and what a serious challenge it was in the ports.
To encourage “…zeal, activity and good conduct…” pilots are allowed to share in money for “…meritorious services…” however severe penalties are threatened for “…disobediance of oders, irregularity of conduct, or wilful neglect…” Drunkenness is considered the highest order of misconduct!

For a bit of, admittedly poor, modern day footage of a pilot exchange at Cheekpoint here’s a piece I took during the week.  Pilot cutter Crofter, putting a New Ross pilot aboard the inbound MV Arklow Cadet and awaiting the Waterford pilot to disembark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF3gQ9HFSsE

Pilots are also expected to discourage any master who might “…cause any part of his ballast to be thrown into the river or harbour…” obviously causing any hazard to navigation, or lowering the available depth of water for shipping was a concern then as now.

The Pilots concerned were:
Name                            Age
Stephen Dunn               62
Michael Dunn               60
John Doyle                     60
Daniel Eustace              62
Thomas Kehoe              47
Daniel Carroll                41
Patrick Toole                 49

No apprentices were listed.

A sliding scale or rates for pilotage are given.  These vary with a higher rate for foreign ships and the lowest for ships trading within the then UK waters. Ships between 30-40 tons are 10s for a foreign vessel, 8s for a British ship (this obviously included Irish owned and registered at the time) sailing from overseas and 5s for vessels trading within the UK.  The highest charges went to ships listed at 400 tons and upwards.  Charges range from £4 1s for a foreign vessel, £3 0s 9d for a British ship sailing from overseas and £2 0s 6d for vessels trading within the UK.
In total 261 vessels paid for pilotage that year into the port, and the same number left it.  All but 6 of these ships were British registered.  The income this raised was £190 16s 4d each way.  The total cost for the pilots that year £315 1s 7d. Disappointingly, there was no breakdown of the size of ships entering or leaving. Ships towed up or down must still pay pilotage, as a pilot is required at all times we are told.
Nothing is made of the pilot boat operating at Cheekpoint, no name of the boat or person or persons employed.  However in the costs of running to port, a small sum of £6 19s is expended for the pilot boats, buoys etc, which seems a small sum for the work involved in running a boat, except that the costs are made up elsewhere.  In the photo from 1899 a square box pilot hut is partially seen, this was a base that pilots could await in “comfort” for a return trip back upstream.  Not like today when cars are readily available. 
Of course the pilots had an altogether easier time of it than the later generations as the Barrow Bridge was yet to be built, and it would prove a challenge to pilots in time to come.
In June we will take a look at the rules governing the Waterford Pilots, of which there is some curious and interesting information. If anyone can supply a local image of the 19thC pilots or related photos to complement this piece I would appreciate it.
Much of the information contained is taken from Return of all Bye-Laws, Regulations, Orders or Ordinance, relating to Pilots or Pilotage now in force within the Jurisdiction of the Commissioners of the Port of New Ross; for the year ending 31st Dec 1854.  Accessed from House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.
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