This year we operated another of our special voyages for ex seafarers and ship enthusiasts, aboard the MV Saga Sapphire. This was a voyage around the UK and one of our ports of call was Bangor in Northern Ireland.
Knowing we would be in Bangor and Belfast, the people looking after the restoration of the last surviving White Star ship, the Nomadic, asked if we could help raise money for them so they could buy a new mast for the ship and put her lifeboats back, which I agreed we would. I told them that we would pay to visit their ship, which would bring in much needed funds, but would also look to see if we could raise more money in other ways. One of which was to see if we could come up with something unique Titanic wise, that could possibly raise big sums, and so I set about seeing what we could do. Then I had a rather outrageous idea.
Many years ago, when the Titanic was all but ready to leave Belfast and put to sea for Southampton, she took onboard supplies in Belfast including some fine old Irish whiskey. What if I could find the same old distillery that provided this whiskey and what if they still distilled whiskey in exactly the same way? Surely such whiskey would prove extremely popular with so many people, especially the Titanic enthusiasts. I spent many months in search of such a place, but always met with a blank. Then one day, an old local told me of a little distillery that had ceased trading, but that in its heyday, would have almost certainly provided whiskey for the Titanic. He believed the business had been taken over by the Belfast Distillery.
I then got in touch with the Belfast Distillery who told me that when they took over the old distillery, they had actually come across a small consignment of very old whiskey, which had been distilled exactly as the whiskey taken aboard the Titanic. They couldn’t tell exactly how old it was, but it was certainly very special, so I asked if we could buy it as part of our efforts to raise money for the Nomadic. They weren’t too keen to start with, especially as there was so little of it available, which they estimated at the time as somewhere like 1,500 bottles, which was still sufficient to raise quite a lot of money. After months of talks, they finally agreed to let us have the whiskey, but only on condition we provided the original artwork and guaranteed to cover all the costs in full, which we did.
Kevin Walsh came to our rescue with a wonderful painting he had done of the Titanic preparing to set sail from Southampton. Then came another disappointment. When the Belfast Distillery double checked the amount of rare old whiskey it turned out that there was only enough for just 100 bottles and, because there was so little, the cost per bottle would be even higher. Having done so much work on this, it was now far too late to back out, for we had already promised the people travelling with us on this Maritime Memories cruise that we would by hook or by crook, somehow get those special bottles of Titanic whiskey for them. It was all turning into mini disasters and even the day before arriving in Bangor I was still far from sure if it would actually happen. The more I thought about it the more I realised what an almost impossible task I had set myself.
When we arrived in Bangor, we took all our Maritime Memories people on what we hoped would be a very special day out to Belfast, starting with a VIP visit to the Titanic Exhibition, followed by another one to the truly handsome Nomadic. As yet there was still no sign of the rare whiskey and of course, it was a constant worry, so much so that I tried to push it to the back of my mind. At the end of the day we boarded our coaches and journeyed back to Bangor. Everyone was pleased with their special day out, but even so, I still wished that we could have somehow come up with something truly special in the way of Titanic memorabilia.
When we eventually returned to Bangor I was pleased with the day but disappointed that we hadn’t the whiskey I had worked so hard to try to get, then as we boarded a tender to take us out to the ship, one of the crew hurried over with a big smile on his face and told me that earlier in the day a lorry had delivered several cases of Titanic Whiskey to the quayside, which they had carefully taken back to the ship. My heart missed a beat and then jumped for joy, for we had somehow managed to do the almost impossible!
Back on the ship there was the beautiful whiskey, hand filled and sealed in special bottles, all stacked up and looking truly magnificent. I am sure those bottles will be so collectable, and although very expensive, worth every penny and every minute of all that went in to making it possible.
45 The Promenade
Peacehaven, BN10 7HN