It was the cross-community element of the Causeway Coast Maritime Heritage Group’s work which was foremost in the mind of skipper Ivor Neill and his new crew when the Celtic Voyage 2000 Odyssey evolved. With the 1997 voyage of the Colmcille known throughout European traditional boating circles and indeed further afield thanks to the high media profile given by the National Geographic, it followed that the historic craft and crew were invited as guests of honour at the Celtic Voyage 2000 celebrations in France.
The concept was simply one of community participation, which embodied a voyage of discovery for sailor and landsman alike. Celtic Voyage 2000 was a celebration of the sea, gathering the Celtic Nations to mark the Millennium in a unique way. The aim of this new venture was to celebrate the maritime culture and heritage, which link the ports, harbours and people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. It also presented a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland to project a more positive image to fellow Europeans. To this end, a series of maritime festivals were organised in such venues as Wexford, Milford Haven, Bristol and Penzance, culminating at Brest and Douarnenez in Brittany.
Due to logistical constraints, it was decided that the Colmcille would join a fleet of Celtic craft in Penzance and from there travel together across the 94 mile stretch of English Channel to L’Aber-Wrac’h in Brittany.
Initially, the crews of the Colmcille and Sant Efflam were delayed by 4 days of foul weather, however the extra time was used to thoroughly prepare the boats and crews for the challenging crossing. In the frustrating days before departure, the crews watched huge basking sharks, numerous dolphins and porpoises during training. Spray covers were fastened to the bows of both craft and navigation equipment made secure. An auxiliary steering system was improvised and put in place which would allow lighter steering over the long hours at sea.
Finally, a break in the weather provided a still dawn departure for the curraghs as they rowed out of the harbour of St. Michael’s Mount under the watchful gaze of the Ros-na-Rioch, a local Cornish trawler which acted as a support vessel for the crossing. A consistent northeasterly wind helped the progress of the curraghs, enabling 50 of the 94 miles to be covered by sail, a welcome relief for the tired Colmcille crew who had rowed through the night! After 34 hours at sea, the Colmcille and Sant Efflam made an exhilarating landfall on the windswept Breton coast having safely accomplished the joint crossing of the English Channel.
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