23rd October

A model world of painstaking precision

John Caden

Over the past twenty years, Nigel Towse has become a leading figure in the traditional boat revival movement in West Cork. In company with Liam Hegarty of Hegarty’s boatyard in Baltimore, he has built An Rún – a 32’ Cape Clear mackerel drifter, and Hanorah – a 25’ Heir Island lobster boat. 

1:10 scale model of Hanorah. Photo Robbie Murphy

An Rún is a copy of a 19th Century gaff-rigged trawling boat; Hanorah is a complete and faithful restoration by Nigel of a ruined 1892 lobster boat that was dug from the mud in a harbour close to Schull.

8.3coastlinenews_hanorah.jpgNigel Towse carefully applies the rigging. Photo Robbie Murphy

Exact model
With that real-size boat building challenge under his belt, Nigel has taken to building 1:10 scale models, of which Hanorah is the first. Every piece of wood, metal, rope and canvas is a precise one-tenth of each and every part and fitting that made up the original.  In another century from now, an enthusiast or a museum could scale it up to make an exact copy of a Heir Island Lobster Boat from this model. Nigel refers to his scale models as “portable maritime history”, ready as he says, “to be exhibited in any place or space”.

The Heir Island lobster boats were unusual for their time in that they had sail and not just oars.  This meant they could travel long distances for their catch.  These boats were introduced to the islanders by a boat builder, Christopher Pyburn, who married into the island in the mid-1800s.  The islanders quickly took advantage of their better technology to fish nomadically along the south coast, shore-hopping until eventually landing their catches in Kinsale for transport to France and England, and to Cobh for the transatlantic liners.

The internal combustion engine put an end to the use of sail in the fishing industry and Hanorah like so many traditional boats was left to rot.

“I came upon her stuck in mud beside the outfall of a septic tank.  A tree had fallen across her and snapped off a quarter of the starboard side.  I fell in love with her.  I knew in my soul that she had to be restored and that somebody had to do it.  I became that somebody.”

Boat-building clutter
When Nigel restored the original Hanorah he wanted it to be exactly as it was in the 1890s and admits to becoming a bit obsessed with getting it exactly right and was delighted to get advice.

“A retired fisherman from Cape Clear, ‘Mac’ Donoghue, advised me to shorten the mast and the gaff;  George Bushe, the boatbuilder from Crosshaven, showed me how to fashion wooden fairleads and how to arrange the authentic sheeting arrangement .I’ve even got her painted in the same grey and green colours as the day she was launched.”

All around Nigel’s workshop is boat-building clutter:  On one bench are off-cuts of larch, oak, teak, deal and cloth to make frames, planks, spars and sails. On another are metal sheets and nails to be fashioned into miniature iron work. The precision and skill in his work would do justice to a doll maker’s shop in Dresden or an horologist’s room in a 19the Century Swiss watch factory.

Nigel’s first commission for his scale models was by an American, Tom Henry, who holidays annually in  Baltimore and who crews the lobster boats in local festivals and races. 

Now, on cold winter’s nights back in Pennsylvania, when rain hits hard on his side of the Atlantic too, he can look to his little Hanorah in the window and think of fair winds, sunnier times,  and his portable piece of the maritime history of West Cork. 

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