Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
Reports from the ship by Tash Treacy
Relief 2nd Mate on the first leg of the US voyage
from Co Kerry, Ireland to Tenerife
Jeanie Johnston crossing the Atlantic during Spring of 2003
Tash Treacy is a professional seaman in the Merchant Navy, and supplied all the photos accompanying
this report. He has since returned to the Jeanie and is presently crewing on her tour of East coast US ports. This report was originally published in the Irish Evening Echo. Read Tash's later photo report.


Jeanie Johnston's Voyage - First Leg Success - 9th March, 2003

At half past midnight, two nights ago, I was standing on a quay wall in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. After a month of challenging sailing aboard Jeanie Johnston myself and three others were bidding a sad farewell to our shipmates. I had been sailing as Extra 2nd Mate aboard the replica famine ship since she got to Waterford late in January and for the first time leaving a ship in 8 years as a professional seaman in the merchant navy I felt envious of those who were remaining aboard. After years of stagnation the Jeanie Johnston is now a lived in, working ship with a character all of her own. Her crew are a tight-knit, professional team, the competence of which was made clear for all to see when the ship was brought safely to port in Madeira after a passage from Fenit, Co. Kerry which was at times rough and challenging.

It was the bad weather that brought so much media attention to the ship so early into our Atlantic passage that also brought both the professional and trainee crews together so well. We presented as a very varied bunch as we lined the decks in Fenit facing the throngs of well-wishers seeing us off. Fifteen of the crew were young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds throughout the island of Ireland who were sponsored by the International Fund for Ireland. Five were 60 years of age or older, the eldest being 81 and fighting fit. Some had never stepped aboard a boat of any description before in their lives, others had sailed extensively on yachts and ships of all sizes in the past. However by the time we made landfall in Madeira we were a well-oiled clockwork machine deeply aware of each others strengths and failings and were all working together to the best of our respective abilities.

Taking shelter during rough weather off the Kerry coast
Taking shelter during rough weather off the Kerry coast

Upon leaving Fenit we had set Topsails and Topgallants, heading west into Brandon Bay amid a flotilla of good will, but when the last sails had disappeared behind us we turned south into head-on winds that demanded we stow our square sails and proceed under engines and fore and aft sails alone. Overnight we made good progress, passing Brandon Head and the Blasket Islands but our fears were realised when the southerly wind freshened considerably and the swell began to increase. A prudent and a practical man, Captain Tom McCarthy decided to take the vessel to shelter in the lee of Valentia Island near the village of Knightstown. As is the normal seafaring practice when entering an unfamiliar port we requested a pilot come aboard to guide us in our approach to the anchorage. In Valentia the pilot is also the local Lifeboat Skipper and it was that lifeboat that brought our pilot out to meet us. When we were safely at anchor the lifeboat crew were kind enough to take some of our crew aboard to show them around the boat and we were glad to do likewise for them. Only later did we learn that someone had contorted this friendly gesture to spread rumours that the Jeanie Johnston had sent a SOS message to the lifeboat and that members of our crew were trying to abandon ship! None of this could have been further from the truth. Of more concern to us were the ever increasing wind speed and our anchor dragging through the poor holding ground provided at the Valentia anchorage. Captain McCarthy again exercised his judgement and took the Jeanie Johnston from the increasingly exposed anchorage at Valentia to the better shelter found in Dingle Bay. There we sat out the storm that reached force 11 at times in relative comfort with little swell.

Captain Tom McCarthy, from Carrigaline, is the former master of the national sail training vessel Asgard II and of Lord Nelson, a square-rigger owned by Jubilee Sailing Trust. J.S.T. is a registered charity in the UK that takes able-bodied and disabled people to sea on voyages of fun, learning and personal development. Captain McCarthy is one of only a handful of men in the world to hold the highly sought after Square Rig Endorsement on his Master Mariners qualification, therefore when he saw a window in the bad weather open up nobody questioned his judgement. After over 24 hours hove-to we tentatively headed out from the shelter of Dingle Bay into enormous rolling swells that shook our ship like a cork on the ocean but we soldiered on making progress south all the time. Soon the Captains decision was vindicated, the worst of the weather was over, we had our window and we were exploiting it. The Irish coast fell away behind us, our only company now were the fulmars, gannets and gulls swooping around us who didn't seem to appreciate that we were not a fishing trawler.

Rolling in the swells during rough weather off the Kerry coast
Rolling in the swells during rough weather off the Kerry coast

By now the trainees were adjusting to their roles aboard the vessel, steering is a 24 hour job taken in half hour shifts. It is not a pleasant job, particularly with rain and spray beating at your face and hands, but it was a responsibility that the trainees shouldered admirably, none more-so than 76 year old Dubliner Jim O'Brien who seemed to revel in the task. Likewise with the in-aptly named "Happy Hour" where the trainees and permanent crew alike get the privilege of scrubbing the decks, cleaning the toilets and polishing the brasses. These unattractive tasks were made positively unpleasant with the added ingredient of sea-sickness but again the trainees applied themselves to their work with vigour and determination and the Jeanie Johnston looks a lot better for their efforts today. As our old sea-dog of a bosun Tom Harding says, when kids from rough poor backgrounds are given a chance they often perform beyond anyone's expectations, all they need is the challenge and the opportunity and maybe just a small nudge to begin with. Bosun Tom, from the Ballinlough area of Cork City has spent most of his 60 years at sea on ships of all kinds, including many square rigged sailing ships but has also lived in London where he worked designing oil rigs. Tom has a tall tale for every situation but his competence as a story teller is matched only by his confidence climbing and working in the rigging of Jeanie Johnston, when this uncompromising man speaks well of a trainee, from any background, it is praise indeed.

After clearing the Irish coast everyone's spirits picked up but as our pagan ancestors knew, the sea changes its mood easily and Mannanan MacLír is a whimsical god. Daily Captain McCarthy and his mate Rob Mathews would analyse the weather reports and charts received by radio and saw that there were more gales coming our way. As we clawed our way south making barely perceptible headway on our Atlantic chart we were set upon by no less than 3 gales and always from the south. Life aboard was difficult for the novices and the experienced alike, eating while wedged into position, cradling ones food lest it fly away can take a bit of getting used to, as for cooking in such conditions, well let me just say that I am glad I never had to do a stint in the galley. The trainees were not so lucky, all took turns as galley rats, the most unpopular job on the ship but again most acquitted themselves admirably, none more-so than Lee Spillane one of the I.F.I. trainees from Tallaght. Each day on galley duty Lee became like a human cannonball, bouncing around the mess area carrying trays of food or stacks of dirty plates. Lee's enthusiasm and determination both in the galley and on deck became an inspiration for all. It is often said that with projects like sail training that the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it; it is little surprise therefore that Lee hopes to sail again on Jeanie Johnston some time again in the future.

View of the Jeanie from the bowsprit
View of the Jeanie from the bowsprit

In the old age of sail seafarers were very much in tune with the patterns and trends of weather, they came up with names to describe the weather that might be expected in a particular area such as The Doldrums or The Horse Latitudes. The name they gave to the area between 40º N and 50º N was The Roaring Forties and for very good reason, the winds very often roar in these latitudes. But as much as I had hoped for an improvement in the weather as I watched the GPS click over from 40º 00' N to 39º 59' N I was completely taken aback when that change actually took place. The next morning when I arose for watch the sky was clear and the wind little more that a breeze, there was still a swell running but that was only to be expected. The mood of the ship instantly picked up, oilskins were hung away and exchanged for T-shirts or for the brave few, bare backs. A new vigour could be seen as the ship had her daily ablution during Happy Hour. Before long the incessant southerly wind had shifted to the west, the square sails were unfurled again and the engines stopped. As is so often the case when sailing, there is often either too much wind or not enough and before we knew it we were becalmed. We motored overnight before first sight of land was made since leaving the Kerry coast almost two weeks earlier. The rugged mountainous terrain of Madeira was before us. The dramatic sight of cliffs, sea stacks and mountains was punctuated by soft valleys filled with trees and flowering plants, truly a feast for sore eyes.

As luck would have it we were arriving in Funchal, the capitol of Madeira, at the start of Carnival, the pre-Lenten party synonymous with Latin countries. A better place for shore leave could not be found. I asked the Captain if he had known that the festival was on and if he had planned the ship to be here to enjoy it but he assured me that it was all a coincidence but may have been helped by positive thinking. The Captain is a strong believer in positive thinking. The island wide cross dressing party and flamboyant parade both left an impression on the crew of Jeanie Johnston and we made an impression there too, albeit of a different kind. We were invited to paint a mural of our ship on the quay wall alongside many others left behind by earlier sailing ship visitors. 24 hours later and Bosun's Mate David Nolan from Dublin and Watch Leader Frida Björsell from Macroom had painted a masterpiece, the image of Jeanie Johnston braving the Atlantic in full sail will be seen by many travellers and locals alike in Funchal for years to come. Not to be outdone the I.F.I. contingent painted a mural of a stereotypical 19th Century Irish man carrying both the Irish Tricolour and the Union Flag. None of us on the permanent crew could have imagined that this group of young men and women from both sides of the political and religious divide could come together so well but the evidence was before our eyes. It takes only a small pebble to start an avalanche and if these young people can take what they have learned back to Northern Ireland with them the beneficial results might be immeasurable.

Carnival revellers in Funchal, Madeira
Carnival revellers in Funchal, Madeira

With our batteries recharged, and some of us with sore heads, we sailed from Funchal in light airs making slow headway, but this time we were determined to sail the whole way without engines. Peter O'Regan our Engineer could be seen pottering around on deck and it was joked that now he would have no work to do, but that was certainly not the case. Peter, a mechanical engineer, and his shipwright brother, Ciarán, were instrumental in the building of Jeanie Johnston. Peter, who hails from Ventry near Dingle, knows every nook and cranny of the ship, every bolt and beam, every screw and seam. With the engines off Peter had the opportunity to do maintenance and service work and was as busy as ever. More than just a consummate professional, Peter has a love affair with boats and has an artist's attention to detail. When walking along the street in Funchal, Peter would suddenly swerve to one side to be found examining the bough of a tree or an old wooden door, he would comment knowledgeably on the grain of the wood and what part of a ship such wood might be good for before continuing along the street. I doubt there is a tree in Kerry safe with the O'Regan brothers around.

The winds from Funchal were favourable, if a little light, and took us towards Tenerife at over 5 knots at times. The trainees were climbing the rigging like monkeys, the permanent crew were lounging in the bowsprit net, or was it the other way around. In any case we were a happy ship. Sadly the winds failed us again just miles before landfall in Tenerife and we motored into the port of Santa Cruz. Lo and behold when we docked we were again informed that it was Carnival time, we would have to do it all over again.

A moment's relaxation
A moment's relaxation in a busy day onboard the Jeanie Johnston

The high-jinks that followed for the next two nights were tempered by the Happy Hour to end all Happy Hours as the entire crew set about cleaning the entire ship before saying goodbye to the voyage crew trainees we had come to know so well. That group had really earned their sea legs and I think they will take fond memories of the voyage and of each other home with them.

As the trainees waved goodbye the work was only beginning for the permanent crew, the ship must now be prepared for the long haul across the Atlantic. Stores and spares must be taken aboard and any faults found during the previous voyage rectified. The 2nd Mate Rowan MacSweeney from Monkstown has charted the intended course for the vessel, after a short stop off in La Gomera, the final departure point of Columbus, the ship will head south-west to pick up the Trade Winds at about 18º N. With a steady Trade Wind behind her the Jeanie Johnston should reach the Caribbean in about 3 or 4 weeks where her intended first port of call will be San Salvador in the Bahamas, the first landfall of Columbus in the New World.

From there Jeanie Johnston will sail to Miami, Florida where she will begin the job she was designed and built to do. In each American port she visits the Jeanie Johnston will convert into a floating museum showing the people of North America the hardships that forced their Irish ancestors to leave their homeland and the tremendous ordeal they suffered on the journey they undertook. If the reception she has received heretofore is anything to go by the Jeanie Johnston will have a big impact in the US and Canada before returning to Ireland in the autumn. In addition to her role as museum the vessel will fulfil a third role for corporate receptions and functions as well as continuing her important role in sail training.

Jeanie sails onwards towards the US
Jeanie sails onwards towards the US

The first master of the original Jeanie Johnston was Captain Attridge from Castletownsend in West Cork, he maintained an unequalled safety record aboard his ship for the time. That record was no doubt achieved by the professionalism of the captain and his crew and the benevolence of the ship owners, the Donovans of Tralee. If Captain Attridge could pick his crew again today he could do no better than the men and women now sailing the replica Jeanie Johnston. Their positive attitude and enthusiasm towards the project leave no doubt in my mind that the Jeanie Johnston is on course for success.

Tash Treacy, Relief 2nd Mate, Jeanie Johnston.



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