The Whaler’s last voyage – Boat Cove, Tramore     

I’m delighted to be able to introduce this guest blog from Eddy Deevy, a story of an old sail boat at Tramore, but also an insight into a social scene now but a memory. And yet what a great story to be preserved and retold. The story of the Seahound!

Let me tell you about her beginnings and the course of events that will lead us to embark on her last voyage. She was known as ‘the Whaler’, one of many such craft about our coast. These whaleboats were the Morris Minors of the Seven Seas, so to speak. Dating from the 17th century, these excellent seaboats were adopted by the Navy as workboats, landing craft, and also as lifeboats on larger ships.

The architect who ‘perfected’ the design was Admiral Montague. When Governor of Newfoundland he needed a coastal patrol boat to protect the fishing grounds from ‘privateers’ (pirates more or less). Many adventures were endured in these seaworthy crafts, among them Shackleton’s famous rescue voyage across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia with Tom Crean our great Antarctic survivor. At Tramore we were privileged to have had one in our harbour; Our bit of connectedness with the world of sail, which slipped away so quickly with the introduction of steam in the mid-19th century.

The Whaler

This small pier was built at what was then known as Lady Elizabeth’s Cove. The structure was intended for local needs, unsuitable for a French or Spanish landing. The fear of a foreign invasion (through the back door) caused many limitations to maritime development projects in Ireland. As a shallow onshore harbour, it endured the Atlantic swells for many years. But the storms of the 1880s had washed the walls to rubble.

Tramore Bay, on the south coast of Ireland, is open to the forces of the Atlantic Ocean across the Celtic seabed. Heaving seas have wreaked havoc and claimed many lives along this stretch of coast. Five great beacon towers were positioned on its headlands to warn away shipping after the tragic loss of 363 souls from the transport ship Sea Horse in 1816.
There were a further 55 shipwrecks in the Bay from 1816-1859 when a Lifeboat Station was built on the beach-head ; Later relocated to Long House Lane in 1899 for easier launch and recovery.

The new pier was built in 1907. This was a sturdier construction of grey limestone slabs with concrete capping. It had bollards and ladders, three sets of steps, and two slipways. Afterward, a north wall was added to block the backwash from the cliff face. Local fishermen earned a living from the bountiful sea and fed the town of Tramore through
the war years. Boating became an added attraction to those who kept ‘holiday-homes’ in this now fashionable seaside resort. A regatta was held each August which brought a large attendance from neighbouring counties. There were picnics, sports, and keenly contested swimming races, rowing, and yachting.

The popularity of local regattas in the 19th and early 20th Century is also but a memory now

Later, in our time, Tommy (‘Grumpy’ or ‘Smiles’) Murray’s boat, the Morning Star occupied the last steps, obstructing swimmers and mariners alike. There was good water here for most of the tide, protected by the storm wall against the force of the Atlantic rollers. However, the persistent gales wrecked many a craft as breakers poured over the sea wall swamping boats moored in the harbour. Smaller boats had to be “hauled up” and “chocked” beside the boathouse until the weather settled.

The Whaler was generally up here as she rarely went to sea now since misadventure had crossed her bows. Children played in her timbers and sand in the ribs told its own story. The masts had been removed since she pulled her moorings in the harbour. Yet she still looked like a formidable craft. The rounded rudder remained in place with a long baulk of a tiller and there were a couple of sturdy oars stowed inside the gunwales. Her hull was coated with thick white paint and tarry black on the inside. But the engine hadn’t been replaced after removal for winter maintenance some years previously. No one seemed to know who
owned her now since Dr. Ambrose had ‘crossed the bar’; Once a fine craft, she was registered with Lloyds of London as ‘The Seahound’.

Her story begins in Portsmouth in 1916, where she was clincher-built as a general-purpose service boat for HMRN. A full 27ft in length, with a 6ft beam. She had a dual rig, as a Gunter sloop with gaff main and jib: Or could be ketch rigged with mizzen mast, a loose-footed main, and a small jib. Well equipped from stem to stern, the Seahound had a fine anchor and chain locker. There even was a removable bracket for a Lewis machine gun!

In service, she patrolled the Waterford/Wexford Coast recording the comings and goings of shipping on the Celtic Sea. A keen watch was kept for German submarines which sank many a merchantman along these Western Approaches. After the Great War, she was presented to Dr. C. Ambrose Esq., LLD who lived at Crobally House, Tramore.

Then for many years, she sailed along the South East shores as Charles Ambrose, a keen oceanographer, carried out his own coast watch. In those days, the Seahound was generally moored in the boat-cove at Tramore and sometimes berthed in Dunmore East harbour. Always well cared-for she attracted the attention of many young men and stories are still told of voyages made out to sea and in waters beyond the home ground. At the Autumn equinox each year she would be sailed up the Rinnashark, through the Back-strand to the ‘Firs-field’ where she was taken out of the water onto rolling poles and a turn-table. Here she would rest, downside-up for wintering and maintenance. Years later her five thwarts had been reduced to four, making room for the engine, an Amanco 8 hp.

A contemporary postcard circa 1900

So it was for many years, she brought much pleasure and adventure to the locality until Dr. Ambrose’s demise. His daughter Bebe Cathleen didn’t pass the boat on to those who were caring for and maintaining it. Instead, it was her intention that the boat be used by a wider circle of young men. Sadly Danny Sage and Jack Whalley reluctantly moved on to other interests. Having been laid up for some time and then into the care of many, she suffered as most boats do. Now at 40 years old, she rested on the hard at the boat house, drying out and wasting away above the slip at Tramore pier.

The mid-1950s were quiet years. The only Celtic Tiger then was in the Esso Blue paraffin stove, yet a good time to be growing up. Boys made their own entertainment and long summer days brought their own bit of diversion. It might have been Jim Mac’s idea to take the Whaler out for a trip to the Strand and back. She was just lying there, an idle craft so to speak.

Few preparations were made as she appeared sea-worthy by her size and reputation. This expedition couldn’t be made on a fine sunny day with too many ‘visitors’ about. A darker day was chosen and the crew of six assembled on the slip at full tide. The Seahound was
heaved into position. Then down she came rolling like thunder on the running poles, a force unleashed. As an onlooker, I stood aghast in boyhood wonder as she plunged into the sea.

They all piled in and pushed off with a flaying of oars and confusion of instructions. Oliver J. soon got control of the call and brought the oar stroke into unison. The Whaler was underway leaving the North wall to port and then out through the harbour mouth. The rowers were in high spirits, as the wash from the storm wall slung her stern out to seaward. The helmsman leaned on the tiller and a course was set for the Strand. It was the intention to keep her close to the familiar cliff face in case of emergency, hugging the shoreline.

Conditions were fair with a following sea. The huge sky was puffed with clouds scuffing in from the ocean. The wind wasn’t a gale but it blew a few white horses onto their wake. Curious seagulls rode high above, watching the proceedings. Keen eyes kept a friendly look-out from the charred remains of the Coast Guard Battery on the Doneraile. Oars dug
deep as voices were low and senses alert. Tension in the air soon gave way to alarm on board as feet were getting wet. Who was meant to put the bung in? “ Has anyone got the plug? Put a sock in it quickly”. The order of the pull was lost and oar strokes became irregular. Oops, as a white horse came in over the side, more water on board. ‘Where did that come from? Progress was painfully slow now. The bailer was working full swing. The wind was backing into the southwest with a strong following sea.

The pier looking out towards Newtown Head, AH Poole – NLI

A swamped craft is an unmanageable thing at the mercy of the sea. Waves were breaking far out from the beach, much farther than anticipated. To turn her about now was unthinkable. Energy levels were draining into the bilge, awash with brine. Eyes and minds strayed to the shore.

Someone had alerted the Gardai, ( there’s always a squealer). On the strand, Guard Connolly and a group of men lined the water’s edge to encourage the whaler and crew ashore. Trousers rolled up to the knees and jackets off, they waved and called against the roar of the incoming sea. The scene was ominous as onlookers gathered. Progress depended on luck now, which ran out quickly as the whaler slung sideways to a comber, and all were thrown into the sea. The roar of the rollers drowned out all sounds of calling voices as the
the adventure turned to near disaster.

Time stood still as heads appeared and disappeared in the troughs. Thankfully, no life was lost as all were good swimmers in those days. One by one they appeared out of the surf, some wrestling with floating oars. The shore reception was angry but eased with relief
and compassion. Exhilarated with survival the crew were accompanied ashore with offers of towels before making their way homeward, exhausted and saturated yet alive to tell the tale.

It wasn’t the first time the ‘Whaler ‘had been beached at the Strand. In July 1953, there had been another misadventure in the surf, when lifeguards Malone and Molloy assisted with the rescue of a lady crew member. On that occasion, the craft had been under sail but the helmsman couldn’t gibe her about, so he ran her into the beach surf where she was rolled and capsized. After a week on the beach head, she was rowed back to the boat cove. Afterward, Reverend Wolfe censured this irresponsible outing.

Now a few years later the Whaler remained beached on the Strand for weeks afterward, her timbers so damaged she never went to sea again. Our crew, now fully recovered, were hailed as heroes and survivors of a ship-wreck, a much better outcome than the ill-fated
Seahorse of years ago. Punishment had been doled out behind closed doors and a warning read out from the pulpit by Fr. Power, sadly not enough to avert the canoe loss with all hands, just a few years later.

A tractor and trailer returned the Seahound to its place above the cove slipway where she was chocked and chained to a stanchion. There she remained a sorry-looking sight. People soon lost interest in her as she decayed into a forgotten hulk.

In modern times – Brendan Grogan collection

For the rest of us, it was back to rubber tubes and rafts in the safety of the harbour walls. Extra thrills were got by giant leaps off the storm wall down into the depths of ‘the hole’.

Ah, those were wonderful summer days in ‘Glorious Tramore’.

A fuller history of the Seahound may yet be told. This story is a recollection of around 60 years afterward. Some names have been changed to protect the ‘innocent’. I hope those who sailed in her will excuse this composition and perhaps contribute some information to expand the story of this great boat. Where did she eventually shed her timbers? Was she left there to rot along with much of our maritime heritage, uphill of the rusting old capstan
and the remains of the Guiding Star.

My thanks to Eddy Deevy for sending this delightful account for inclusion on TidesandTales. Another nugget of our maritime heritage to be preserved, enjoyed, and hopefully enhanced by others. Thanks also to Brendan Grogan for assistance with photos.