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Irene 1907 - History of the Ship

Built in 1907 Irene is one of the last surviving West Country Trading Ketches

History of Irene

Built to Carry Cargo Under Sail

Irene has had many different careers since her launch in 1907 in Bridgwater, Somerset, England. Built by F.J. Carver and Son, she is a “West Country trading ketch,” a fine seagoing ship designed to be beached along riverbanks so loads could be easily transferred to carts drawn by horses; goods were then sent off to small communities up and down the river valleys. Irene carried bricks, clay and tiles between England and Ireland. At some point she was fitted with an engine and then a different duty called. First in World War I (WWI) and then in WWII she was made a part of the British fleet of Merchant Ships.

By 1960 Irene was retired from cargo voyages and resold several times. Within five years she had been abandoned and forgotten.

In 1965 Irene was in a severe state of disrepair, but not without the ability to charm at least one person. Dr Leslie Morrish bought her for an amount that would barely buy you a second hand car today and spent 15 years restoring her, eventually making her initially  into a houseboat of sorts for his family in Middlesex, England.

Ship launch Day in 1907 - Irene of Bridgewater
Ship launch Day in 1907 - Irene of Bridgewater

Irene the Film Star

For much of the 1980s and ’90s Irene was a media darling. Having been lovingly restored to her former glory, she was often booked for fashion shoots, commercials and even movies. She portrayed the Flying Dutchman in the epic film about composer Richard Wagner. Irene appears briefly somewhere behind Johnny Depp in the film Pirates of the Caribbean.


Incredible Story - Rebuilt After a Fire in the Caribbean

By the ’90s Irene was doing exclusive charters, crossing the Atlantic and hosting guests such as Mick Jagger and Pierce Brosnan. But in 2003 all that changed. She was anchored at Marigot, St. Martin on the night of May 22, when a fire started near the stern, It quickly spread to the entire ship, climbed the rigging and consumed the masts. The fire raged for eight hours, a fire vessel attended to her, but eventually Irene sank right to the bottom of the Marigot harbour.

An underwater survey showed the fire had taken the decks, the deck beams, the frames and inner planking. Certainly insurance-wise she was a total write-off. There was very little hope she would ever sail again.

But Dr Leslie Morrish can not only cure people, he can cure very sick ships too. He had her raised from the seabed and had a temporary plywood deck fitted to hold her together. This made it possible to tow her back to England. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well think again. A three thousand mile tow is difficult enough but the towing vessel was another sailing boat! An amazing voyage with all sorts of difficulties that were overcome by hard work and determination.  After towing her back across the Atlantic Irene was tucked away Cornish Creek called the Lynher, Dr Leslie Morrish spent another 4 years of his life and every penny he could lay his hands on rebuilding this grand old lady of the sea for a second time.

Congratulations and praise have to be given to Dr Leslie Morrish for his commitment to Irene in restoring this superb to her full working ability.

Today with lofty spars and some imaginative innovations to complement plenty of her traditional fittings and charm, she’s sailing in home waters again. She popped across the Atlantic again in 2012 and now looks forward to many more years of enthralling future generations with her elegant classic lines that seem to belie the back breaking toil and unromantic but vital trade she was engaged on over a century ago.



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