The Drontheim is the traditional wooden boat of the coast from South Donegal to Co. Down and the Western Isles of Scotland. This wooden boat, also called a yawl or shallop, is a wooden, double ended clinker built boat, whose origins stretch back to Viking times. While clinker double ended boats from other areas are common enough, the drontheim has very specific features. It has very slender and fine lines. The particular way the keel and first strokes are designed, shaped and fitted, meant that this was a boat built to be excellent for sailing and rowing, for fishing and cargo carrying, and importantly, launching and hauling in difficult places and circumstances. It was a boat perfectly suited for the wild and unforgiving north Irish coast and west coast of Scotland.
The name ‘Drontheim’ actually comes from Trontheim in Norway, and we know the lines and design style of the boat stretches back to viking times and the Norwegian craft such as the ‘faering’ which are descents of earlier viking boat styles and building techniques. Up until the 1960’s, the drontheim was the boat of the north and west coastal areas of Ireland and Scotland. However, with engines becoming the order of the day, the need to have a boat that would sail well, or could be rowed, was no more. The traditional regattas which were a feature of places like Moville, Portstewart, Rathlin Island and Islay, were nearly consigned to history.
Thankfully a number of boats were restored – just in time, mostly from around Greencastle in Inishowen, and the CCMHG were involved in the commissioning of one of two new boats by MacDonalds Boat Yard in Greencastle. The group also commissioned the making of a hull mould from a drontheim that had gone beyond repair. Peter Spence produced six fibreglass reproductions, which while a far cry from the beauty and skill of the wooden craft, help keep the tradition alive and provide a low cost way to get people on the water and learning how to sail these traditional boats.
In 1998 Robin Ruddock had the ‘James Kelly’ a 25′ drontheim / yawl, (traditional clinker open fishing boat) built for the Causeway Coast Kayak Association to participate in local festivals and regattas. Robin is an active member of the Old Gaffers Association and the Traditional Yawl and Drontheim Society.
In 2002 Robin had a mould taken from the ‘Elizabeth’ a 22′ drontheim / yawl from Ballintoy Harbour so that it could become the basis for a community boat project, in which there are now over a dozen drontheims in commission. She was built by James Kelly of Portrush in 1937 for Mr Neil Wilkinson. The ‘Evelyn M’ is named after Robin’s mother. These yawls are now to be found in Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Sligo and on the islands of Rathlin, Gigha and Islay.
The club is very fortunate to have access to both of these boats. Robin runs regular sailing sessions throughout the year. As well as learning to sail these craft, there are also opportunities to assist Robin in their maintenance and up keep. This is essential, otherwise the knowledge of how to sail and look after them will be lost for future generations.