Students returning from six weeks at sea: 'Everything is different, everything has changed'

"I went in for a hug and everyone was backing away from me," Conor, 16, said not long after he and eight other Irish crew that had been dropped off in the Port of Cork by the tall ship Tenacious.
Students returning from six weeks at sea: 'Everything is different, everything has changed'
Conor Walsh, Crosshaven, one of the crew members of the Jubilee Sailing Trust tall ship Tenacious, greeting his parents Nick and Sue while keeping their social distance after he arrived in Cobh on the return to Ireland having been being at sea for a month. Picture Denis Minihane.

Conor Walsh and his Irish crewmates have come ashore after a month at sea and now find themselves in a "weird" new world.

"I went in for a hug and everyone was backing away from me," Conor, 16, said not long after he and eight other Irish crew that had been dropped off in the Port of Cork by the tall ship Tenacious.

Around 40 crew were on board the vessel as part of a trip organised by the Jubilee Sailing Trust charity.

Conor, from Crosshaven and a fourth year student at Presentation Brothers in Cork city, was among an eight-strong Irish contingent who left for Antigua via Britain by plane on March 7.

The ship’s original passage was to be from Antigua to Greece, stopping in Gibraltar, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, everything changed.

Amid the diversions, they refuelled in the Azores in the mid-Atlantic, but all on board were not allowed onshore.

David Longmore, Hollywood, Co Down with Twins Conor and Jack Galligan, Greystones picture on their arrival at Kennedy Quay, Cobh, Co Cork after spending three weeks on the sail training tall ship the SV Tenacious. Picture: Dan Linehan
David Longmore, Hollywood, Co Down with Twins Conor and Jack Galligan, Greystones picture on their arrival at Kennedy Quay, Cobh, Co Cork after spending three weeks on the sail training tall ship the SV Tenacious. Picture: Dan Linehan

Conor said the ship was refused entry at ports in southern England on its way back and his parents, Sue and Nick, requested if the vessel could divert to Cork Harbour, which meant sailing a more northerly route.

That’s what ultimately happened and at lunchtime on Tuesday the Port of Cork made the necessary arrangements to facilitate the Irish on-board to come home.

The first thing Conor noticed was the plethora of facemasks on show.

Speaking about the extend of the current restrictions: "I don’t think any of us really knew. None of us have our phones."

The SV Tenacious passing Roches Point in Cork, on its way to drop off eight transition students who have spent the last three week onboard. Picture Dan Linehan
The SV Tenacious passing Roches Point in Cork, on its way to drop off eight transition students who have spent the last three week onboard. Picture Dan Linehan

Conor has been sailing since he was four but others on board, including those affiliated with the UK Help for Heroes organisation, were novices.

All worked together but the extent of pandemic lockdown efforts has come as something of a shock:

A few days after we left the Port of Antigua we were told the world had basically ’gone down the toilet’.

Conor’s mother, Sue, described the dramatic changes on dry land since Conor departed a month ago as "bonkers" while Conor’s father, Nick, said the Irish crewmates — seven from Dublin and another from the North — are back to a situation that is "very strange".

"I’m a blinds manufacturer, now I’m making face shields," he said.

"Everything has changed, how we interact has all changed."

Conor Walsh, Crosshaven, Charlie Kavanagh, Greystones and Taidgh Hamilton Crowe, Dun Laoghaire on his arrival at Kennedy Quay, Cobh, Co Cork after spending three weeks on the sail training tall ship the SV Tenacious. Picture: Dan Linehan
Conor Walsh, Crosshaven, Charlie Kavanagh, Greystones and Taidgh Hamilton Crowe, Dun Laoghaire on his arrival at Kennedy Quay, Cobh, Co Cork after spending three weeks on the sail training tall ship the SV Tenacious. Picture: Dan Linehan

According to Sue: "Things started going pear-shaped here and I didn’t want them in the UK.

"I didn’t want them coming back in a ferry so I asked could they divert to Cork."

Both Sue and Nick paid tribute to the charity and the Port of Cork for ensuring everyone’s safe return from what has become a modern-day version of Homer’s Odyssey.

Conor is one of three boys in the family and Sue summed it up: "It was hilarious that I was less worried about my son in the middle of the Atlantic."

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