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Saturday, March 23, 2019

As Islamount, the 1896 three-masted barque Glenlee completed four circumnavigations of the globe and rounded Cape Horn 15 times before being bought by the Spanish navy in 1922 to become a training vessel.

As Galatea she was revered by her many trainees and survived well beyond the age of sail – but was fi nally retired, laid up on a remote quay, and forgotten before being vandalized and sunk. Taking perhaps her final ocean-going voyage – this time from Seville to her birthplace on the Clyde - the hulk was rescued from the scrapyard by the Clyde Maritime Trust and towed to Glasgow to begin a new life…

Islamount was now back on the River Clyde, 97 years after she first slipped into its waters.

With a smart new coat of black paint, twin propellers and their shafts removed and bowsprit refi tted in Garvel Dry Dock, Galatea was towed to No 3 Berth Yorkhill Quay, Glasgow, renamed Glenlee by the Lord Provost of the City of Glasgow on 6th July 1993 and registered in Glasgow for the first time.

A restoration programme was begun under the guidance of a team of retired shipbuilders and marine engineers to bring her back, as near as possible, to her 1896 condition. This expert help also put in place the training of young men with no previous experience of working on such a vessel.

Redundant superstructure was cut off, ballast and concrete from between the bottom floor plates and side frames removed and two new steel deck houses were installed. A wooden chart room, skylights, wheel steering gear cover box and gratings were made and fitted by a marine joinery firm in Edinburgh.

The weather, poop and forecastle decks were laid with opepe planking and the ‘tween decks with Douglas fir. A replacement figurehead – now known affectionately as “Mary Doll” – was carved by a craftsman on the Island of Arran and installed.

Meanwhile in the quayside warehouse, masts and yards, cut into 40ft lengths to assist their return by sea from Spain, were re-assembled and standing rigging, mast and yard fittings were prepared by a team led by Master Rigger Jamie White, on secondment from Balclutha.

On 16th July 1998, with due ceremony, the masts were stepped once more into the hull – a traditional silver coin placed below them - and by early 1999 the yards and basic rigging were standing 60ft above the decks. Glenlee could once again hold up her head with pride.

Return to glory
In the blazing sunshine of late July 1999, thousands of people thronged the quayside in Greenock to see dozens of vessels in the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race. In pride of place was Glenlee, resplendent in fresh ‘ruse de guerre’ paint scheme, in Victoria Harbour. During that long, very hot weekend, over 10,000 people were finally able to walk the decks of this remarkable old ship.

This memorable gathering marked a new life for Glenlee which now became the focus of attention at the newly opened Clyde Maritime Centre on Yorkhill Quay, in Glasgow.

For the first time in over a century, visitors could see a three-masted barque on the upper Clyde and fully appreciate the meaning of “Clyde-built”. More than 350,000 people were to visit her there at Yorkhill and on any given day, visitors might see caulking, sanding, painting, varnishing, attention to ratlines and shrouds taking place as part of the routine maintenance. They could also now ring the bell and scrub the decks!

Although open to the public, she still needed investment and further restoration as well as detailed historical research. The crew and a willing team of volunteers - many of them skilled shipwrights, engineers, electricians and joiners - set about further enhancement of Glenlee.

Over the next decade the cargo hold was emptied and opened up and a deck laid, the windlass stripped and repaired, an education suite fitted out, the poop cabins replicated, and the engine room refurbished. Rigging was maintained and extended, the decks caulked and re-caulked.

An educational programme provided workshops and guided tours for schools, children were able to have birthday parties on board; adults could have weddings, parties and receptions.

In 2010 large crowds lined the waterside to watch Glenlee take one more voyage - down river to Garvel Dry Dock, Greenock, passing nearby Port Glasgow where she was built. There, she was to have her hull blasted clean to the steel and repainted, the aft deckhouse removed and enlarged to the original size, the gangways re-aligned and the toilets completely refurbished.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - January 2019 Issue
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