A look at the Achill yawl

Achill Island is famous for its marvellous traditional boats. In the old days before roads, the best way to transport goods was by water and so these smart little local boats – the Achill yawls – would sail south past a necklace of tiny islands – Clare Island, Inishturk, Inishbofin, Inishshark –  and round into Galway to pick up goods that had been transported there by the big steamers.

Last time I was on Achill, I took my ease – and a hot whiskey – in Pattens pub:

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And there, I met the two Joyces: Thomas and Tommie, father and son.

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The roads have improved since the old days and so cars and buses have replaced water transport but the yawls remain as a reminder of the skills that went into both the making of them and then the sailing of them.

Nowadays, Tommie Joyce sails them and his father – a fisherman and  a  boatbuilder – makes them to scale.

Here’s a picture of the Mayo Man, made to scale by Thoms Joyce:


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Mayo Man is owned ( and sailed in its full size) by chair of the Achill Yawl Association, Dr. Cowley. Here he is,  on the right:

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And by the way, Dr Cowley’s wife, Teresa, takes the most brilliant photos of yawls, water and light on water I have ever seen.

The whole point about all this sailing activity is that there’s an on-going festival of events and yawl races on Achill throughout the  year:

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The main race in June was won by  Yellow Rose, owned by Micheal  (“The Shore” ) Patten. Michael’s father, also Michael Patten, was another great boatbuilder.

Back in the day, yawls were made of oak and larch and the yard was made of pine though nowadays it’s made of light aluminium. The sails were linen which wasn’t great because linen is very heavy when it gets wet but made of  linen and calico they were – and all handsewn.

Now the sails  come up from  Cork which, in the great days of sail, was the biggest exporter of sailcloth in Europe – but that’s another story.

Early yawls were called double-enders as they had matching pointed ends fore and aft  and though there’s bound to be a sailing term for this  I’m afraid I don’t know it. Later, the transom stern was introduced which had a straight stern, making it easier to load and off load goods.

Sailing a yawl is sailing by the seat of your pants. One sail, few sheets, no traveller and definitely no technology apart from the brain and the hands and the skill and wisdom of the skipper who held a corner of the sail in his hand and conducted things from there. When you changed tack, you walked the sail round the mast to the other side.

The crew – usually about 7 – did what they were told and also acted as ballast so all the business of sailing etc was done in the area of the mast in order to maintain balance. Not easy.

And what about going in to the water? It’s no secret that most fishermen – and that meant most Achill yawl sailors – don’t swim. But now with Brussels not far away,   Health and Safety makes its demands which is why the Achill Yawls have their own safety boat in attendance.

Here are a few more yawls:2014 may achill h boll fest yawls etc 023


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Hang on – where did this boat come from?


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Testing, testing: This isn’t  a yawl but a Galway Hooker.


If you’d like to know more about the Cruinniu Badoiri Acla, you’ll find info on their Face Book site – Yawl Racing Achill






Filed under Life, Travel, Uncategorized

5 responses to “A look at the Achill yawl

  1. James Gallagher

    Can someone connect me with Thomas Joyce – yawl maker?

  2. I wonder why they are called yawls, since that word generally describes a two-masted sailing boat, with the mizzen mast aft of the rudder head.

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