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Galway Hooker Sailing Trip

Last week I finally got to go on a Galway Hooker sailing trip, which was a dream come true for me as these trips are not easy to source as most of the boats are privately owned and need a skilled crew to sail them and the right weather conditions obviously. These iconic sailing boats with their red calico sails, subject of many a picture postcard, were primarily used to ferry supplies, turf, fish and even animals forward and back to the islands and along the West Coast of Ireland (now designated the Wild Altantic Way) once upon a time. However with the advent of engine driven cargo boats and small ships, the Galway Hookers fell out of favour and many simply rotted away. But one in particular was saved back in 1968 by Aonghus, our skipper's father who bought the boat I was going to travel on for the £850, which was a small fortune at the time when you consider the price of a house back then was around £1000. Everyone thought he was mad, don’t you just love those bad ideas, that nearly always turn out to be the best moves ever with hindsight. Already over 70 years old, Blath na hOige (which means Flower of Youth) had a unique history and was already something of legend in her own time as she handled better and sailed faster than any of the other boats, twice her size.... 

Galway Hooker under full sail.

There are several classes of Galway Hookers ranging from Bád Mór (big boats 35-40') to Leath Bhad (half boats 32') to smaller Gleoitoig (24-28 but Blath na hOige falls somewhere in between at 29'. Whatever magic was at play while she was being built she became the best designed Galway Hooker ever that has been copied many times but never matched! Like all Galway Hookers her wooden frame is cut from Irish oak for strength and ash for flexibility with the whole hull tarred for a waterproof finish. The rig is simple with a large rectangular main sail, and one / or two foresails depending on the weather and sailing conditions. There is a complete absence of any high tech equipment, the boom fits on to the mast with a simple but heavy cast iron hook and eye. There are no cleats or winching handles, the sheets just get tucked in back on themselves as Mairtin from the Aran Islands would deftly demonstrate later as we got underway.

Susan Byron sailing a Galway Hooker, Blath na hOige out of Roundstone, Connemara

Looking down into these boats from the top of the pier with their crude chunky ribbing and cumbersome bellied hulls you could be forgiving for thinking that these boats are going to be awkward, heavy and hard to handle. Not a bit of it, Blath na hOige lived up to her name and took off like a spring chicken (she’s now 120 years old) skipping along at a brisk 8 knots in light enough winds, force 3 - 4, her maximum speed is 10 knots even when racing. Which apart from rare boats like Blath na hOige that are actually used to take people out on pleasure trips, nowadays Galway Hookers are mainly used for racing in the likes of the Roundstone Regatta (July) and / or Crinniú na mBád in Kinvara (August). I was amazed at how beautifully she sailed, I’ve been racking my brain but can’t think of a better word to describe the combination of power and ease with which she moved through the water and responded to the wind as we happily tacked about Roundstone bay.

Roundstone Harbour, Connemara on a beautiful calm day - photo credit Susan Byron

Although there was much more than that going that I couldn’t even begin to describe, you will have to go and experience it for yourselves. Even on a wet, grey day in the middle summer (it’s Ireland after all) I loved the contrast of the mustard yellow seaweed on silvered lichened rocks with tiny emerald green fields lapped by deserted white sandy beaches, with the majestic Twelve Bens mountain range towering in the background. We each got a turn at the helm and it was like a huge calm descended on us mentally as we became one with nature, the wind, the sea, the scenery surrounding us and this wondrous sailing boat. Aonghus wasn’t one bit surprised as Blath na hOige is known for having a curative effect on people whether from a hangover or something more deep or troubling. I definitely fell under Blath na hOige’s spell and I suspect you will too as I can’t really think of a better way of whiling away a pleasant few hours in Connemara on a summer's day than on a Galway Hooker sailing trip, rain or no rain! of Other than perhaps, a high stool and a feast of grab claws in garlic butter which homemade herb scones and big creamy pints in O’Dowd’s Pub, which we retired to for the afternoon as the rain came down in torrents...... 

Crab Claws O'Dowds - photo credit Connemara Walking Tours

For more information or to book a trip online please click on the follow link for Traditional Sailing Packages You can do an all day sailing or walking package or just the sailing trip on its own which goes out in the mornings and afternoons through out the summer depending on the weather. Which means in true West of Ireland style, the staff are  very obliging and will try and accommodate you if they can at all. Places are limited to just 6 per sailing which is great news if you are a small party as you will have Bláth na hOige to yourselves, who knows you might keep going all the way to America!

For more information about things to do and see in Connemara please click here.

Irelands Hidden Gems