Under the Bridge True North


Under the Bridge

The men of East Belfast Yacht Club transform old hulks into ocean-going vessels. But before they can get out to the open water they have to navigate their boats under the bridge.


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Transcript


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GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS

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I think that was probably about 1982.

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That was on the back of the Roseanne,

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that was the first big boat I built.

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For over a century, East Belfast Yacht Club has been an oasis in the

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heart of Belfast's heavy industries,

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a place where its men have been able to build and work on their own boats

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without the titanic price tag of a new yacht.

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You woke up in the morning, you couldn't think of anything else to

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do but, "Got to go down to the boat, got to do this, got to do that."

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And it just seemed like a great time.

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Owning a boat means friendship

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and the freedom to leave the city behind.

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I was probably about 19 there.

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That was a good summer, that.

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It was such fun.

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But for the club's members, one thing always stands in the way.

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We're on the bridge on the Airport Road, Belfast.

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Up there's the East Belfast Yacht Club.

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This is one of the bridges that we have to negotiate to get out, to

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get the boats out into open water.

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The people in the club don't like the bridge. It's a pure hindrance.

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We've about 14 feet clearance between the mud

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and the top of the bridge there,

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so that's the maximum draught of boat we could get out, 14 feet.

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East Belfast Yacht Club has roots going down deep into the

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sleech and silt of Queens Island.

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My direct family,

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mother, father, grandfather,

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would all have been East Belfast.

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And I would have grown up in East Belfast,

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on the Upper Newtownards Road.

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The house itself hasn't really changed very much

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in all those years.

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Round the corner here you can see the cranes of the shipyard there.

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And I would say the vast majority of working men around the area would

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have worked either there or in the aircraft factory.

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In the evening, the road just blackened with people

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coming out of the yard.

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Today the shipyard builds wind turbines,

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but the connection between island men, boats and the sea,

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has never died.

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We're coming up to East Belfast Yacht Club.

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Second home for the last 50 years in here.

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GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS

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We're the working man's club.

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There isn't vast amounts of money to go about.

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Probably three quarters of us are over 65 and retired.

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But rich people want to come in and join in with the rest of us.

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They're welcome.

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We are quite possibly unique in that we're basically a mile

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out of Belfast city centre.

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We're a stone's throw from the airport.

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We're alongside Sydenham bypass.

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Out through the bridge at the end of our embankment here,

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we're into the middle of a commercial harbour.

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It's also tidal.

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It's all very inconvenient, but...

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..we have what we have.

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Belfast Harbour. This is a small yacht, Nikita.

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Inward bound for the Abercorn Basin. Over.

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We've just left Carrickfergus, and we're heading up to the

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Musgrave channel in Belfast, going to the boat club.

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Once a year we usually bring her up,

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try and tidy it up a wee bit, to keep it in good order.

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Harris is my grandson, and when we go out, I just sit there

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and he takes it most of the time.

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He'll probably be owning the Nikita someday.

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I left school at 15 and then my father said,

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"You're going to the shipyard."

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I wanted to be a joiner and it ended up there was no vacancies

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for joiners, so he said, "You're going to be a boiler maker."

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And he says, "It's the same as a joiner, only you work with steel."

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We came out of school, went to the shipyard.

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We were there till we retired.

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This is East Belfast Yacht Club now.

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That's the bridge there.

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We're going to have to watch here, getting under this.

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This time of the year is your start of your boating season.

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The sun starts to shine, you want to be out there.

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You've been working through the winter, trying to get your boat

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ready and everyone's the same round here.

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They all want it in the water for the summer.

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You need a bit of your own time.

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And once I'm out here on the water, mobile phone turned off,

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nobody can annoy me.

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This is my time.

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Look at that. You couldn't pay for that.

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That's the bridge we're not going through,

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because it's quite low.

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But one man is setting his sights far beyond Belfast Lough.

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I retired there, officially, about March.

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-And I think I've worked long enough, at work!

-HE CHUCKLES

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I think I should've had that backstay onto the, the other one.

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I want to get back up the Clyde, I miss going up the Clyde.

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Oh, it's fantastic.

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I've a wee boat down in Enniskillen,

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but it's not the same as up the Clyde.

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You're sort of,

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you feel a bit as if you've went places up the Clyde, you know, more!

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And you've risked it going across.

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When you do it yourself and you get there,

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you feel as if you've accomplished something.

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This is going to be the open area at the back, the cockpit.

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The rudder will be going on here.

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Down this will be the shower

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and toilet and wash hand basin, in that area.

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And this will be the main saloon.

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That will be seating round there,

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and seating here. And this will be a double bunk in here.

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And units here and wardrobes.

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How much of your time would you like to spend on board?

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On board, when this is finished,

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I would absolutely love to live on board.

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I think it'd be a lovely way to spend your life, but it's a dream.

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-We're all dreamers.

-HE LAUGHS

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Dreams are intangible, but the skills of the boat yard have been

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forged through a lifetime in the heavy industries of East Belfast.

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I've worked since I was 14. I'm 81 now.

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So that's how many years?

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60... Oh, God, it's about 67, something like that, yeah?

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-LAUGHTER

-I was a bricklayer. I think I worked harder than any of them men

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-ever, ever heard of working.

-LAUGHTER

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I didn't get started until I was 16.

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So I'm 71 now, so...I'm not even going to try and calculate that.

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What about Bobby? Come on, let's hear your life story, son.

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-I started work when I was eight.

-LAUGHTER

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Used to work in the printers. I stuck it till I was 17.

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15 when I started in the shipyard,

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and then I retired at 65.

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-The only job I ever had.

-LAUGHTER

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ENGINE SPUTTERS

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ENGINE STARTS

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The boats themselves that we would have,

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they're quite often boats that other people have given up on.

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That's legs for the boat,

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to steady the boat, because we've jacked it up,

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and one will go on the outside to hold it.

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-Got that welded?

-Aye.

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Things have to be recycled, reused...

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..modified to fit, rather than go and buy new.

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I'm not a welder, actually, so I'm not,

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but I've been doing a right few.

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-I thought you were a welder.

-No.

-That's why I always asked you.

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No, I'm not a welder by trade.

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-LAUGHTER

-Look at the hair on yourself there! Ginger!

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Look at that, tin of beer in his hand.

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That was taken, that picture, on the Star Of Dyan over there,

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we were just heading out fishing for the mackerel, of course.

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-And I built that...must have been 40 years ago.

-Aye.

-40.

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When you left school, your goal was to get a trade like a joiner,

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electrician, welder.

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Some people thought their trade was better than others, now, and

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the shipwrights, they reckoned they were the top dogs at the time.

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But they taught you well, really, sometimes,

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cos you did your City & Guilds and all.

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You had to go a day,

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-day release, and then...

-For four years.

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..a couple of nights a week and learn mechanical

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drawing and do different things.

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The milling machine, the lathe,

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and then you did, of course, the welding on the other side.

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You didn't know a lot, and then the older ones,

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they were very smart, and when they were working with them,

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you always picked up things, you know, how to do it easier and all,

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and different wee methods they had,

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and they were real experts, some real brilliant workers,

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-so there were.

-You sort of made your own things there, too,

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when you got a chance to.

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Not in their time, like, know, at dinner time!

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LAUGHTER

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Skills are currency here, and count for more than money.

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With the right skills, you can get ready to go to sea.

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Well, this is a replacement engine, it's a 1.84 diesel.

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It's the only way we can afford it, really,

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cos it's the least expensive way,

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getting out a car engine and marine-ise it up.

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I had to put a bigger diesel tank in and I had to make up a shaft

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from the old engine joined to make a breach.

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In here.

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So hopefully...

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..it'll drive the boat far better than what the wee engine did.

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At least now this is enough power,

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that it doesn't matter if the wind is blowing or not.

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An old boat is given a new lease of life.

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Another has been built from scratch,

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just like in the shipyard.

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This is the masterpiece, this is the one. This is definitely the one.

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It was very collaborative.

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Jimmy and Billy and Sidney and everybody sort of got involved

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in the early stages.

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There was a real club effort went into it to start,

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like, three, four years ago there would have been

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four or five people around it on a Saturday.

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Thing that always appealed to me about this is the lack of

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legislation that you have to put up with.

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There's very little restrictions on boat-building.

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I see that as a positive.

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That really does attract me to it, you know.

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I can build whatever I want and nobody can tell me how to do it.

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Nobody tells me how to do it.

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Sometimes the process of working on a boat becomes even more important

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than the finished vessel.

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It's given me something to do, and I'll keep doing it as long as I can.

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I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in...

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..2003.

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Because of the medical advice I was getting at the time...

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..which was, "You're not long for this world,"

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the boat got sold.

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Immediate surgery was necessary, it was too far gone.

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I think it was about 12 days or so later...

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..I was up and about.

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Was buying this boat an affirmation, do you think, for you?

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Initially I had no intentions of buying another boat, but

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the more I was out in other people's boats

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I just felt the need, I had to have another one.

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I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with it,

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but age might defeat me

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before the boat will.

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Once your working days are done,

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a boat could be at the centre of your life.

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This boat is my floating rose-covered cottage

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when I get to be retired.

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Hopefully I'll get to spend extended periods of time onboard this,

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if my wife allows me.

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When you're driving up through the traffic in the mornings,

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you imagine the morning that you don't have to drive up through the traffic and

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say, "I'm sitting here, somewhere far away and it's just quiet,"

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and you're listening to the traffic jams on the radio. I think that just sounds lovely.

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So, does having your own boat, does that equal freedom?

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Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

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You could base your life round a boat this size.

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GUITAR MUSIC PLAYS

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But before you claim your freedom, there is one more obstacle.

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Going under the bridge would be something people would be apprehensive about,

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especially a larger boat, it's a bit of a manoeuvre,

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sometimes it's quite tricky.

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ENGINE STARTS

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RADIO CHATTER

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Just have to wait on this tide dropping a wee bit.

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Just too early.

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-I hope we're not going to hit this bridge too hard.

-LAUGHTER

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It's going to push us under, Paul, that tide.

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Hateful, this bridge, isn't it?

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Just wait.

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Only another 10-15 minutes, just let the old tide drop off a wee bit.

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Hopefully we won't go under.

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Just feed it around by hand. You keep your head down there.

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All right, Paul?

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-I'm not. I have to give a wee bit to steer.

-All right.

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What is the best thing about having a boat?

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-HE LAUGHS

-It's a hard question.

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You can get out and get away from it all and relax.

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But it's a lot of trouble.

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The money it costs you and all the trouble you go to,

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sometimes you...you wonder if it's worth it.

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The best thing about being out on a boat is you realise that you've

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-got some of your work done, you've just got some of it done.

-HE LAUGHS

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The way we do our boating is, it takes a lot of work.

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I mean, there's this wee boat here today, and Billy has been at this

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ten hours a day, just to get it cleaned again for

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the summer. He's exhausted, the poor chap.

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But it is worth it for these bits that you get, you know?

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This is just lovely.

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Time seems to take on a different thing,

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you always imagine, we're not far from there, but in boat terms,

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you're always a bit further away than you think,

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but that doesn't seem to matter, you know.

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You just let it go past, just let it go.

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Hear that there? The engine just changes its note a little bit,

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that's when your heart starts to go, "What was that? What was that?"

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HE LAUGHS

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It's a sound every boatman listens out for.

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ENGINE STARTS

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-ENGINE STOPS

-Oh!

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ENGINE STARTS

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-ENGINE STOPS

-Oh, sh...

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ENGINE STARTS

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ENGINE STOPS

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No, it's still stopping with that, even.

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ENGINE STARTS

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I'll see if I can get her out.

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I think there's still a wee bit of work to be done here, but at least

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that's the first trip, and it seems to, it's going better than what it

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did before, anyway.

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We're nearly ready. Very, very little to do now, thank goodness.

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Have to put the mast down again, ready for under the bridge.

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If you've built a boat or even got a boat that needed a major restoration

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and done that work, and then actually go and sail it

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to another part of land, it's a big thing.

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It would be our Atlantic, going across our Atlantic,

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sailing to Scotland.

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With the tide going out,

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judging the time to make your move is everything.

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I'm just making sure he doesn't get into trouble.

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Without me, he'd be lost!

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It's just a matter of waiting now for...

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for the water to drop low enough.

0:20:050:20:07

Apart from being a physical barrier, it's another barrier.

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It's a bit like being closed in here, and you're away from

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the world, and when you go out you've got to do it yourself.

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It's a wee bit too close there.

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-Too close to risk.

-CHUCKLING

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I think we'll go round again, Sidney.

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When you get the boat through the bridge, you feel that's a hurdle

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that you've overcome. Then the boat's ready to use.

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When you get out through it, you feel,

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"Let's put the tools away here for a while, let's go sailing."

0:20:340:20:38

Oh, yes, I think I can see a bit of clearance now.

0:20:380:20:41

Yes, looking good. I think we'll fit under all right.

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-Just.

-HE CHUCKLES

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Yes, we're going.

0:20:500:20:53

Yeah. Looking good.

0:20:530:20:55

Well, that's the lowest bit.

0:21:050:21:07

Oh, it's clearing it, just.

0:21:150:21:17

Oh, good, that's us through!

0:21:220:21:24

Four months of renovations and preparations are over.

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The sun is out, the tide is running and the open sea beckons.

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Sea Horse, Sea Horse, Nikita.

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-RADIO:

-Go ahead, this is Sea Horse.

0:21:440:21:47

Aye, Jimmy, we're going to, we're starting to get set up on our away point here.

0:21:470:21:51

OK. Carry on.

0:21:510:21:53

Is that the Mull of Kintyre you can see?

0:21:530:21:56

Yeah, we'll be going to the right, the starboard side of that, over.

0:21:560:22:01

On our way at last.

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We'll be going to Campbeltown first.

0:22:040:22:06

About 35 miles this will be, then, or something like that. 35, 40.

0:22:080:22:11

Been doing it now, oh, just over 40 years,

0:22:130:22:17

going back and forth to Scotland.

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But the last time over on my own boat was...

0:22:190:22:23

..maybe...

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..14 or 15 years ago.

0:22:270:22:28

You don't even know what day it is, most of the time, it's strange.

0:22:300:22:33

Because every day is the same when you don't have to go to work.

0:22:330:22:36

-I usually have to ask somebody what day it is.

-HE LAUGHS

0:22:360:22:40

It sort of, the time just flies, too.

0:22:400:22:43

You wonder how you got time to do things when you were in work.

0:22:430:22:46

So do you miss work at all?

0:22:460:22:48

Aye.

0:22:480:22:49

I miss it like a headache. You know the way you miss a headache?

0:22:490:22:52

HE LAUGHS

0:22:520:22:54

And then, just the sound of the waves on the hull.

0:22:570:23:01

ENGINE STARTS

0:23:040:23:07

ENGINE STOPS

0:23:110:23:12

Oh! I don't like the sound of that!

0:23:120:23:15

Looks as if there's been an oil leak.

0:23:170:23:19

ENGINE STUTTERS

0:23:220:23:24

Seized.

0:23:300:23:31

I'm so disappointed with that.

0:23:340:23:36

I'm disappointed for Jimmy. He put so much work into this.

0:23:390:23:42

Look at how clear it is, look at how close we were!

0:23:420:23:46

But although Jimmy and Sid are stranded in the middle of

0:23:460:23:48

the Irish Sea, they're not alone for long.

0:23:480:23:52

Nikita. Nikita, this is Sea Horse. Sea Horse, over.

0:23:520:23:55

-RADIO:

-'Sea Horse, come in.'

0:23:560:23:59

Nikita. I think the engine has seized,

0:24:000:24:03

so...

0:24:030:24:04

I think the best thing to do for us would be to turn around and sail

0:24:040:24:08

-back, over.

-'Are you sure?

0:24:080:24:10

'Cos I can back with you and come back another day.'

0:24:100:24:14

Well, Jimmy, I think that's the most sensible thing to do.

0:24:140:24:18

Well, yes, that would probably be the most sensible thing to do, it would...

0:24:180:24:22

OK. We're going to turn round now, then, over.

0:24:220:24:24

'I'll see you there.'

0:24:240:24:26

Billy goes the extra mile.

0:24:430:24:44

He helps a whole lot of people out.

0:24:450:24:48

You know, you just get a second-hand engine and

0:24:520:24:55

different things like that, and...

0:24:550:24:58

Just hope I get a better one the next time.

0:24:580:25:01

But anyway, it's good.

0:25:010:25:04

And we're nearly into Belfast Lough again now.

0:25:040:25:06

And then if we can do it again some other time

0:25:080:25:12

and hope everything works out better the next time.

0:25:120:25:15

That's just the way the crumble cookies.

0:25:150:25:18

HE LAUGHS

0:25:180:25:20

GENTLE MUSIC PLAYS

0:25:230:25:26

LAUGHTER

0:25:480:25:51

Some of them look old, but most of them don't feel old, you know?

0:25:510:25:55

Maybe the difference between old and knackered!

0:25:550:25:58

LAUGHTER

0:25:580:25:59

Probably when they're carting you up the road

0:25:590:26:01

to Roselawn, you might feel old then, but other than that,

0:26:010:26:05

I don't think so, I never feel old.

0:26:050:26:06

No, you definitely don't feel old round this place.

0:26:080:26:11

Do you feel old, Jimmy?

0:26:110:26:12

-Not all the time. Now and again, when you're sort of...

-Drunk?

0:26:140:26:17

-..lifting something heavy and your back goes!

-LAUGHTER

0:26:170:26:20

It was got off a fella that had it for another boat...

0:26:310:26:34

..and I went and approached him...

0:26:350:26:39

..and he said he wasn't going to use it,

0:26:420:26:45

-so I bought it off him.

-HE CHUCKLES

0:26:450:26:48

It's a proper marine engine. It's been made for a boat.

0:26:480:26:51

We may appear to be a bit throughother

0:26:590:27:02

in the way we do things,

0:27:020:27:04

but that's not to say it's wrong.

0:27:040:27:07

If we decide something is going to work, it will work.

0:27:100:27:13

ENGINE STARTS

0:27:140:27:17

We got it done, well, in roughly two weeks.

0:27:200:27:23

I might get to Portpatrick for the music festival.

0:27:240:27:28

If not, I'll get somewhere sometime.

0:27:280:27:31

Sea Horse will be out to sea again.

0:27:320:27:35

-Jumping over those waves!

-HE LAUGHS

0:27:360:27:39

Not too high, I hope.

0:27:410:27:42

Not too high.

0:27:430:27:45

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more."

0:27:460:27:49

The people in the club don't like the bridge, but when we think about

0:28:000:28:04

it, it has probably saved the club, because if it had've been easy

0:28:040:28:07

access, it could have been commercialised and could probably

0:28:070:28:12

have been taken out of our hands years ago, so we wouldn't have had

0:28:120:28:15

the opportunity to keep boats here.

0:28:150:28:18

Bangor, all that, that's been commercialised now, and it's priced

0:28:180:28:22

beyond most working men's means.

0:28:220:28:24

GENTLE MUSIC PLAYS

0:28:260:28:30

The men of East Belfast Yacht Club transform old hulks into ocean-going vessels. But before they can get out to the freedom of the open water they have to navigate their boats under the bridge...