‘Middling’ job on the Arranmore ferry is a great job

ARRANMORE’S largest ferry has been lengthened by three metres.
The specialist work was undertaken on the MV Rhum by engineers at Mevagh Boatyard in Downings over recent months.
The vessel is now back in the water ahead of the busy summer season between Burtonport and the island.
The yard is operated by Dominic Sweeney, a Mullaghduff native and master skipper, who has also worked on the Arranmore ferry over the last 30 years.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mr Sweeney said that a large holding tank for transporting fuel to Donegal’s islands has also been fitted as part of the work on extending the vessel which can carry up to 96 passengers and 11 vehicles.
Mevagh Boatyard first opened in 1908 and was very successful, building over 70 boats in its time. It was taken over by Dominic Sweeney in 2009.
“My former boss, Cornelius Bonner, who ran the Arranmore and Lough Swilly ferry services, also had the boatyard in Downings which he used mainly for his own boats.
“I worked for him for over 20 years and when he retired I bought the boats off him and also took over the boatyard,” he explained.
Today, the yard services many of the car and passenger ferries that are in service along this part of the coast including the two Arranmore ferries (Red) and the Lough Swilly Ferry – both operated by Mr Sweeney – as well as Cara Na nOileann, Tory Island, the Arran Island Ferry and the Lough Foyle ferries.
“There’s been a big push these past few weeks getting the ferries ready for the new season. The Spirit of Lough Swilly was hauled up earlier this month for its annual survey while the MV Coll is up this week in preparation for the busy season,” he said.
The yard offers all services to all types of marine vessels from finishing, production, refurbishment, fabrication, repair and maintenance. They also do overhauls, repairs, cleaning and painting on small pleasure boats.
“We put on a new roof in the yard and installed a new cradle for hauling in the boats. We’ve spent a lot of money over the past ten to 15 years.
“It’s a good going yard and we’ve gone from engineering a number of boats and refurbishments to now lengthening the ferry over the winter which was one of our biggest jobs to date,” he said.
The boatyard had a lot of business on its books before Covid struck, leaving five full-time skilled people short of work.
“It was something that we had wanted to do for some time but never had the opportunity – until now.
“We extended the vessel by three metres which will allow the ferry to carry more vehicles and increase deck cargo.
“The lengthening was carried out by our coded welders under the supervision of the MSO (Marine Survey Office).
“The boat was cut it half, lengthened and then put back together again.
“Anything over 15 passengers is considered to be a passenger ship and they (MSO) are very meticulous. They were with us every step of the way,” he said.
“We also took the opportunity to fit a large holding tank for transporting fuel. They have to use generators for power on islands like Tory and these new tanks carry a lorry load of fuel. It was an expensive project to undertake, especially given that we were unable to avail of any grant aid, but one we felt was necessary,” he added.
The yard also does a lot of work for Mowi ASA, formerly known as Marine Harvest, the Norwegian seafood company.
“We’re due to have three of their vessels in with us shortly while we’ve also at least one tug on its way too,” he said.
“We have a lot of repeat custom. You’re only as good as your last job but, thankfully, I have a great team of skilled workmen in the boatyard. We have enough work to keep us going until the end of the year,” he added.
A section of the yard is used as winter storage for angling boats, pleasure boats and yachts but they’ve all been lifted back into the water in recent weeks.
“At the end of the season we’ll lift them back out again, do a little bit of work if necessary and keep them safe in winter storage,” he said.
The MV Rhum, a 90-foot ferry, was one of eight built by Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd in Scotland in 1974. All are currently in service around Ireland’s coast including its sister ship the MV Coll.
Who knows?
“Mevagh Boatyard at one time employed 44 highly skilled men who built fantastic wooden boats but, unfortunately, BIM didn’t move to steel when it needed to. Had it moved to making steel boats earlier, I believe the yard would still be going strong today,” said Dominic Sweeney.
“A lot of operators now get their boats built in Poland before towing them back to Ireland and fitting them out over here.
“Who knows, maybe we will build our own boat in the next year or two.”
In the meantime, Mr Sweeney will continue to juggle commitments in the boatyard with his role as skipper of the Arranmore ferry.
“Hopefully, we’ll manage to fill the boat more than once a day during the summer months.
“Last summer was very busy on both the Arranmore and Lough Swilly routes and it would be advisable to book ahead – just to the sure.”

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Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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