Launching the punts


As a child in Cheekpoint there were various rhythms to the year.  One was a boring repetitive one- school.  There were others however, which were much more pleasant and one of the more interesting and natural was the fishery.

I mentioned before the way of the tides and the fishing.  But around the fishing there was also a natural cycle with the boats; from half deckers, prongs and punts.  For now I'd like to concentrate on the punts.

In those days they were made of timber, generally larch planks over oak frames.  Following the long spring and summer of the salmon fishing and eel fishing boats were heavy with absorbed water into the planks and needing some repair. 

Wear and tear on punts could have been simple or more complicated including; damaged keel bands (a band of metal that protected the keel) could be loose or broken following a season of beaching on gravel or stone., natural wear on timber from weather, damage to gunwales from hauling nets or ropes, faded paint work and repairs such as few gaps in planks where caulking would have fallen out or rotted to having to replace timbers or planks, knees, thwarts etc.

Boats were generally hauled out on some of the high tides such as the equinox springs in late September.  These tended to be a community event, groups of men (and boys) gathering to help to drag up the punts from high water and onto the shoreline.  Once up, they would be turned over, keel side up and the gunwales raised off the ground with rocks under them to allow the wind blow under and dry them out.

Turning over a punt at Moran's poles. Photo: Hannah Doherty
In the village the Green was the favourite spot to overwinter.  The Rookery quay would also have a few boats.  Moran’s poles was a favourite of Paddy & Pat Moran, Paddy, Christy and Johnny Doherty and Maurice Doherty too.  Further along towards Whelan’s Road Charlie Duffin kept his boat and in the next spot Jim Duffin.  Ned “Garragier” Power kept his punt and prong down under the house on the strand.

Over the winter, the barnacles and green moss that would have grown on the boats bottom during the heat of the summer would have died back.  At some stage these would be scrapped off and washed down.  Some preferred to do it soon after, others not until they were readying the hull in the spring.  There was always someone down at the boats tinkering away at something.  As children we loved to come across the men working on the boats.  There was always a yarn, maybe a few bob for running an errand or an opportunity to learn some particular skill. 

work in progress. Photo: Molly Doherty
One Sunday morning I returned home from the poles and asked my father if I could light his fag.  He was sitting at the fire and nearly choked on his cup of tea.  Anyway I persisted and he said “go on so”.  So I took the fag in my mouth struck the match on the box and cupped me hand around the flame.  Bending down I puffed hard and came up with the fag lit to perfection.  Amazed, he asked me “Where did you learn that” – “Paddy Doherty just showed me” I said, beaming with pride, "He said any man that fishes needs to know how to light a fag when out in a gale”.  “Well, you’re on your way so” said my father as he snatched it out of my fingers

Before the boat was turned it would need to be coated with a mixture of tar and pitch to seal the hull.  Any caulking that had come undone would be replaced prior to this.  Manys the time the tar and pitch we used came from Johnny Hearne’s on the quay, but people had many sources, and I remember it said that the best you could get was from the Harbour Board. 

launching from Moran's poles 1990's.  Photo: Deena Bible
This would be melted down in a pot or an old paint can over an open fire and you had to be careful that the tar didn’t boil too hot or it could catch fire.  The brush used would have to be a good one, or it would fall apart in the heat.  The same pot and brush tended to be used from year to year.  Once the hull was tarred it would be left to dry and then turned over to expose the inside.

Then this too would be tarred and finally the gunwales and strikes would be painted inside and out.  Each boat had her own traditional colours and a lot of care was generally paid to ensure that the upper paint work looked well. 

Blessing of a punt at the Green Cheekpoint c1964
Once all was in order, it was time to launch.  This tended to be done a few weeks before the new season started as boats needed time to swell in the water and close up after the planks had dried out and most probably shrunk.  Again it was a big event and most boats would go out together to save on time.

modern day launching
Sat 26th July 2014
Repairs these days take place with power tools, hence boats tend to come out on a trailer and be towed home to a shed and a nearby power source.  It’s also a fact that most boats these days are fibreglass or are timber boats that have a fiberglass coating.  Hence the traditions described above have either died out or are significantly altered and reduced, which when you think about it, is a big loss to a local tradition.

Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for suggesting the topic of this blog.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

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