Resolue`s Gig Print E-mail
Monday, 24 January 2005

The boat at the Sea Scout’s stand, at the Belgian Boat Show, was reminiscent of beach boats in many parts of the world, but a chat with a scout and a bit of research revealed an unexpected origin.

In 1796, Theobald Wolfe Tone - a member of the Society of United Irishman – decided that only violent insurrection, on a scale never seen before, could bring about change in Ireland and rid it of its English overlords. Tone went to France to try to get support and met General Hoche, who – although just 28 years old – had already proved himself to be a brilliant military leader. Perhaps even more important was the fact that Hoche profoundly hated the English and was as zealous a  republican as Tone himself, making him an ideal leader for a French force that would help liberate Ireland.

Soon he and Tone had developed a plan. A French invasion fleet, of around 50 ships, carrying 15,000 seasoned troops, would make for Bantry Bay in south-west Ireland. A Protestant himself, Tone prepared a speech for the landing which was designed to particularly inflame the Catholics. It promised representative Government, aid for Irish  manufacturers, abolishment of tithes, the promotion of  Irish art and separation of Church and state. It ended with the stirring words “Our commerce shall extend into the four quarters of the globe; our flag shall be known among the nations; and we shall at length assume that station, for which God and nature have designed us.” Backed by rebellious Irishmen, the French expected to easily take Cork and be in Dublin a fortnight after landing.

In December 1796, an expedition of seventeen ships of the line, thirteen frigates, and fourteen transports set sail from Brest, under Admirals Morand de Galles and Bouvet. As well as the army of fifteen thousand fighting men under Hoche and General Grouchy, they carried stores, artillery and arms for 45,000 men.


The fleet had only been at sea for a day when the Fraternité, which had General Hoche (left) and Admiral Morand on board, got separated from its companions and, mysteriously, never reached the Irish coast.

Tone wrote ‘I believe it is the first instance of an Admiral in a clean frigate, with moderate weather, and moonlight night, parting company with his fleet’. What only came to light later, was that several French Generals of that era were in the pay of England. Nor did Tone know that, when representatives of the Society of United Irishman had been to Hamburg seeking support, all the negotiations had been  passed onto English Prime Minister Pitt. Consequently, Tone never suspected, what now appears clear, that Hoche was the victim of a conspiracy. Another odd thing was that, even though the English Government was as well informed of the expedition as the French were, the English fleet made no attempt to meet up with the expedition and engage it.

The fleet reached Bantry Bay on December 21st to find appalling weather. Half of the ships were blown out to sea before they could anchor, most of the others dragged their anchors two days later, with disastrous consequences. A transport foundered in the bay, two other frigates were wrecked on shore, too storm-damaged to attempt to regain France, the Surveillante was scuttled off Whiddy Island.

When Rear-Admiral Neilly’s frigate, Résolue, was rammed by the 74-gun Redoubtable and dismasted and holed, Neilly sent Lieutenant Proteau and seven men ashore to seek help, in the gig.

Amazingly, that gig remained hidden and survived for 150 years before being discovered, still in its original tricolor paint. It is the oldest French ship existing in original condition.

In 1944, the gig was moved to the National Museum of Dublin, but remained in  oblivion until “rediscovered”, in 1977, by naval architect Cyril Chisholm. He drew the building plans of the original yawl down to the last detail and, in 1985 when " Chasse-Marée", the French magazine on maritime history, was looking for a boat that could be sailed and rowed, for a competition called the Atlantic Challenge, this boat was chosen. It is now known as a Bantry Bay Yawl (or Yole), after the bay it last sailed in, more than 200 years ago.

Each Atlantic Challenge nation has to build at least one replica Bantry Bay yawl, a boat of 38 feet in length, 7 feet on the beam, drawing 14 inches. The yawls carry 10 oars and have a three masted dipping lug rig.

Dré Maes, one of the sea scouts manning the stand at the Show, explained how Gent came to have a yawl called Carolus Quinto.

“In 1998, Charles Leten saw these boats in Douarnenez and came back determined that Belgium should have an Atlantic Challenge boat and also take part in the Défi des Jeunes Marins in Douarnenez 2000. The Atlantic Challenge was started during the ‘cold war;’ several people wanted that youngsters can meet other people from around the world so there are teams from Russia, France, Canada, Guadaloupe and many other places. Each 2 years they come together and have rowing and sailing contests. This year it is Rockland, Maine, USA on July 12 to 17. Carolus Quinto will go by boat and we will be taken by the Belgium Air force, so we have no costs on that. “

For other costs we raise the money with sponsorship from some and the community of Gent and the Port of Gent are supporting us because we are kind of ambassadors for the city. We called the boat Carolus Quinto because he was the emperor of Gent 500 years ago.

We built the boat in 1999, and it took 8 months. We did much of the work, but Shipyard De Leie supervised and did some very technical things. We did the rougher work and the painting.

Maes also explained “The Carolus is, like any Bantry Bay Yawl, a very intensive ship. You can't sail her with a crew of less than six, who must be perfectly adapted to each other. The slightest lapse in concentration can have serious results. The masts, for instance, are unrigged - the halyards serve as rigging. If the boat goes through a tack, the sails have to be lowered to switch sides. At the same time, the halyards need to be cleated off, before the sheets are put under tension and the sails fill with wind. If you're just a second too late, there is a risk that the mast breaks.”


Last Updated ( Monday, 24 January 2005 )
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