100-year-old Irish boat makes Abu Dhabi debut

The Nora Bheag arrives at the capital's Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village.

ABU DHABI - 03JAN2012- Nora Bheag, century old Galway 'Hooker' boat, has arrived safely into Abu Dhabi after an historic voyage that set out from the city on Ireland's West Coast more than six weeks ago sailing at breakwater on Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // The warm winter winds filled the black sails of a Galway Hooker in the Arabian Gulf for the first time yesterday.

The Nora Bheag, which was brought over from Ireland for the Volvo Ocean Race, was taken out on her maiden voyage by Coilin Hernon, her owner and skipper.

But getting here was not plain sailing for the 8-metre boat, which is more accustomed to the wild, cold seas of the North Atlantic than the warm, placid waters off the coast of the capital. To avoid any damage to the oak and larch hull, she was transported from Galway, Ireland, in a 12-metre refrigerated container.

"The boat would have a lot of moisture since it went into the water last Easter and it didn't get a chance to dry out because it came straight out of the water in September and into the container," Mr Hernon said.

"We were researching the temperatures and were afraid the extreme heat would do permanent damage to the boat and it wouldn't absorb the water."

Nora Bheag was brought to Abu Dhabi as part of the Maritime Heritage Cultural Exchange initiative, organised by Emirates Heritage Club and the Galway Hooker Association.

Called a huiceir in Gaelic, the hooker will be on display at the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village on the Corniche until January 14. Nora Bheag will be the "guest" of honour at the official Irish Day on January 6 at the village, and visitors will be able to go for rides.

Nearly 100 years old, Nora Bheag has worked the sea much the same as the local dhows. Mr Hernon's grandfather bought the newly built boat in 1916 in Galway, and used it to fish of the west coast of Ireland.

Mr Hernon rebuilt the boat in 1974. "My mother came and saw the boat and she said it was the boat that reared them. It was a working boat and earned a living by fishing for lobster and scallops. I named the boat after her as she was known as Nora Bheag," he said.

Her mother's name was Nora, too, and beag in Gaelic means little.

When the Volvo Ocean Race finishes in Galway in July six dhows and 60 Emirati crew members will be hosted by the city. They will race against a fleet of hookers in Galway Bay.

Peter Vine, who co-ordinated the exchange programme, said there were several similar links between the two seafaring countries.

"It's important because it's an original base for re-establishing cultural links that can build into other links like sporting and business. The interest the Emiratis had in Galway hookers is really encouraging because it strikes a chord with them because it is a working boat and they revived the dhow through racing," Mr Vine said.