De Wadden on the Blackwater

On the 8th May 1958 the famous schooner De Wadden made her final trip on the River Blackwater. This week is the 60th Anniversary of this voyage. The De Wadden made 43 passages on the Blackwater between 1936 and 1958. No more schooners came up the river after the De Wadden’s final trip, as the new Youghal bridge heralded the end of an era as the height between the bridge & river was made too short thereby preventing vessels sailing under the bridge.

The De Wadden was built in 1917 by Gebt Van Diepan of Waterhuizan and The Netherlands Steamship Company. It is a steel auxiliary twin screw three mast schooner, almost 120 feet in length and one of the largest vessels that traversed Blackwater River. She began her life carrying cargo for both the Germans and Allies during the First World War. Capitalizing on their neutral position, the Dutch shipping companies made huge profits as coal and oil were in short supply. In March 1918 she sailed between Rotterdam and Bergen. Many Dutch ships were lost through torpedoing, mines, gunning and bombarding, and also by confiscation by both Allied and German forces. De Wadden is a rare survivor of these vessels. Along with others of her kind, she also played a part in the Second World War transporting essential supplies to Ireland.

In 1922 she was sold to Richard Hall of Arklow and in this phase of her life, she symbolized the long history of trade between Liverpool and Ireland. She also has great significance within the maritime history of Ireland, as one of three surviving Irish Sea schooners and the only steel auxiliary schooner. From 1922 to 1961, DE WADDEN carried bulk cargoes such as grain, pit-props, china clay, mineral ores, and especially coal from the River Mersey to various Irish ports. Victor Hall, her longest serving Captain, commanded her from 1933 to 1954. She traded on the Blackwater bringing coal from Garston, Liverpool and taking pit props from Killahalla Quay, south of Cappoquin. Her crew consisted of only five men and a boy, and since she could sail, a qualified marine engineer was not required. She carried a motor winch in the forward deckhouse to allow the cargo to be handled without extensive shoreside facilities.

She is the last in a long line of Arklow owned and manned sail trading vessels that acted as a training ground in seamanship for local boys and men over several centuries. See this article in the Independent Newspaper. Her significance also relates to European maritime history. She is one of the last surviving Dutch motor schooners and one of the earliest surviving of this distinctive Dutch type. She is an important example of international shipping history, representing the transitional phase between sail and diesel motor coasters developed in the 1920s.

In later life, De Wadden developed a more popular appeal, featuring in a number of films, including playing the part of a paddle steamer in the BBC production ‘The Onedin Line’. After a collision in 1978 she was beached and left to rot. Arklow council wanted her for a museum, the Dutch and the Scottish Highlands & Islands Development Board had an interest in her as well. But it was the Merseyside maritime museum in Liverpool who bought De Wadden in 1984 for £20,000, she is still there today and has undergone extensive restoration.

Thanks to Patricia Clarke for her research. For more information about the De Wadden see the following links: