The original longboat, also known as an admiral’s barge, was built in Brest, France over 200 years ago. The boat is similar to the Captain’s gigs used at that time by the navies of France, Sweden, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the USA. Today the gig is the featured exhibit in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin.
During the early winter of 1796, revolutionary France sent off a naval force to support Irish patriots in their struggle with England. A gale dispersed the fleet, but most of the vessels finally arrived at the rendezvous at Mizzenhead, off the Southwest tip of Ireland.
Just as the fleet was regrouping, another strom blew in. On the evening of December 22nd, La Resolue, at 134 ft. long X 34 ft wide, was hit severely damaged during the storm by La Redoutable, another ship from the same fleet. La Resolue was severly damaged, and, standing off Bantry Bay on December 24th, her longboat, commanded by Lieutenant Proteau, was dispatched to locate the commander of La Immortalite and request a tow. While attempting this risky trip, the longboat was driven ashore on Bere Island and the crew captured. She remains in Ireland to this day. Built as an admiral’s gig c.1790, she is the oldest surviving vessel in the French Navy.
The vessels are 38’ 2” long X 6’9” wide, and draw 14”. They row ten oars, 5 of which are over 18’ long. Mast steps in the original indicate a sailing rig, but with no original sail information available from the museum, the rig has been adapted from comtemporary craft of this period. The sails are dippings lugs, which means that the yards must be lowered and dipped to the other side when tacking, and the halyard transferred to the weather rail as a shroud. The halyards are never cleated, but dory hitched with the bight held live in the hand of a crew member. Sheets to the loose footed sails are never cleated at all, but held ready for instant release by crew members in case of a gust.
The gigs are elegant, exhilarating vessels. They can be rowed at 6 knots in calm water, and sailing have been known to top 10 knots on a reach in a good wind. In operation they require 1st rate teamwork. Tacking requires the whole crew working in unison, as yards must be dipped, the fore backed, and a tacking oar often brought out to bring her round. The long keels do not allow the boats to turn easily. The crew is often required to alternate between rowing and sailing, as the boats do not make good progress to weather, and are often rowed into the wind. All this teamwork makes a wonderful training vessel, and the crews, usually consisting of 10 to 12 young people, are always busy. The many positions aboard, including coxswain, mast captains, bow watch, etc., make the gigs excellent vessels for teaching leadership and responsibility. In two countries at least, the gig is used in local programs for expeditions, with crew members sleeping and eating aboard.
Lines and Plans
Many individuals have worked to aid in developing a good set of working plans to make it possible to construct replicas of the original craft. Atlantic Challenge International has adopted plans by naval architect Steve Killing of Canada (original sail plan by
Francois Vivier) as its official plans, and these may be purchased by emailing the Canadian Trustee, Scott Wagg. This set of plans includes 21 large sheets with full size body plans and profiles. Included are hull lines, sail plan, construction plan and many details including oars and spars.
Atlantic Challenge International is striving to preserve the spirit of the original vessel and demand the gigs, taking part in the Atlantic Challenge International Contests of Seamenship to comply with Class Rules.
The plans and rules are aimed at capturing the spirit of the original vessel, and only a few changes from the original artifact have been made on the plans or in the rules. These are mostly in the interest of safety of operation, structural integrity of the boats, and availability of materials. Please contact Diarmaid Murphy, Trustee AC Ireland at for the latest version of the Class Rules. Here you may found “Class Rules for Bantry Bay Gigs competing in Atlantic Challenge International Competitions. Version 1.0”