A Potted history
On 29 May 1907 Irene was launched at the Bridgwater yard of F J Carver & Sons, who had started building her on their own account. Whilst on the stocks she was sold to Colthurst Symons, a local brick and tile manufacturer, and was named after his daughter, Irene. Her hull was framed in oak and planked with pitch pine; the keel and garboard strake were of elm and the keelson of greenheart. Galvanised black iron was used to fasten her throughout. The top strakes and the covering board (the wide timber at the edge of the deck) were of greenheart and chestnut, to help withstand rough handling at the quayside.
Irene loaded her first cargo on 17 June 1907, less than three weeks after her launch, and carried it from Bridgwater to Penzance. Regular cargoes of bricks and tiles from her owners’ works provided her main trade. Return cargoes were always sought, and included corn, flour, cattle feed, stone, coal, scrap iron, and even live pigs. Sometimes she was away from her home port for several months, taking in a number of ports of call. Cargo could be taken aboard and discharged using a loading gaff which was rigged to the mainmast. Although her main work was around the West Country, Irene often ventured along the south coast to London, across to Rotterdam, north to the Clyde, or across the Irish Sea to Ireland.
In 1965 she was found abandoned in the Hamble and was bought by the current owner, Leslie Morrish who took her to the Thames. Dr Morrish restored her ketch rig and lived aboard with his family. In 1980 they sailed her to Bristol for a major refit, which included major re-planking, new keel, decks, masts and bowsprit, and a new whaleback constructed behind her wheel. Twin second-hand Gardner diesels were installed, which proved much more reliable than the previous and troublesome Elwe engine. The refit was completed at Gloucester and she left there in June 1982.
Irene embarked on a new phase, as a preservation society was formed to conserve and sail her. In 1998 she sailed to the Caribbean and was based there as a charter vessel, winning the Concourse d’Elegance at Antigua Classics 2003. Two weeks later, on 23 May 2003, she was gutted by a fire, of unknown cause, which blazed for eight hours before she sank. She became an insurance write-off, but her undaunted owners decided that they would rebuild her, in what became an epic process spanning seven years. Irene was raised and a temporary covering deck was built over the charred remains of the hull. She left St Maartens in late July 2003 in tow of the sailing schooner Avontuur, to be rebuilt in Cornwall. The bottom part of the hull was largely undamaged and work commenced on rebuilding the upper structure of the hull, deck, interior and rig. Twin reconditioned Gardner engines were installed.
On 22nd April 2009 Irene sailed again for the first time in six years, with new sails made by James Lawrence, of Brightlingsea. She attended festivals in Bristol and Whitehaven in summer 2009. Further work continued in 2010 to complete the accommodation to the standard required for chartering. In April 2011 she embarked on a full sailing season from her Bristol base.