The Schooner Result
Guest story by Christopher KennyGuest blog
The Result is a ship like no other, a unique survivor of the Victorian age. Over her 125 years of existence she has been a workhorse, a warrior and a film star.
Paul Rodgers, the owner of Carrickfergus Shipyard, was commissioned by Thomas Ashburner & Co. to build Result. The design was a collaborative effort between Rodgers, Richard Ashburner and her future captain, Robert Wright, with the three men aiming to build a functional yet graceful ship.
Construction on Result began in early 1892, however Rodgers went bankrupt and had to sell the yard. Result was then completed by Robert Kent and Co., and launched on 6 January 1893. In her early career she traded between Belfast and the River Dee, carrying bricks. Operated by the Ashburners until 1909, Result was then bought by a consortium from Braunton, North Devon. In March 1914 she was fitted with an auxiliary engine to improve her profitability.
There is a story that the designers were walking along the quay discussing the vessel’s design. One of them is alleged to have said ‘How about we just build the ship and see what the result will be?’, and the Result she was known from then on.
The First World War was to have dramatic consequences for the schooner fleet. More than two hundred British and Irish schooners and small sailing ships were lost to enemy action. Though mines were a danger, it was the German submarines (U-boats) that caused most of the losses.
Attacks were usually made by surfacing the U-boat and then shelling the targeted ship. Yet U-boats on the surface were vulnerable, and so the Royal Navy’s solution to this threat was the Q-ship, so-called as the first ships were converted in Queenstown, County Cork, now Cobh.
Inoffensive-looking merchant ships, including Result, were requisitioned and armed as Q-ships. This armament was camouflaged, so that U-boats would be lured to the surface. To aid the deception, only five men would appear on deck, to represent the usual crew compliment of a trading schooner. Each ship had 23 men on-board, who had been warned that their posting would be ‘hazardous, at times monotonous, and not free from discomfort’.
On the 15 March 1917, in the North Sea, the German U-boat U.C.45 approached Result and began firing a steady but inaccurate barrage at the schooner.
The five men on deck took to a small boat a short distance from their ship, rowing in circles and doing their best impression of a terror-stricken merchant crew. The eighteen remaining crew hid from view and endured the continued barrage. U.C.45 kept its distance while firing, and after 45 minutes Lieutenant Mack of the Result gave the order to open fire. With the first shot they hit and damaged U.C.45, which quickly dived to escape.
As Result headed back for the coast that night it encountered another, smaller, U-boat. Both vessels opened fire but the submarine escaped. When Result eventually arrived in port it took two days to repair the damage which was mainly to the sails and rigging. Lieutenant Mack and the sailing master, J. Reid, who had commanded the small boat, were praised for their part in the action.
Result encountered her third U-boat on the 5 April 1917. The U-boat surfaced under the rising sun, where she could hardly be seen by Result’s crew, and opened fire.
A shell pierced the hull at the waterline and caused an explosion in the magazine. Two crew members were injured and water began pouring through the hole in the side of the ship. Despite the chaos on board, the crew returned fire, prompting the U-boat to dive to escape.
Unknown to the crew the U-boat had photographed Result before attacking. A few months later the Royal Navy discovered this, and with her cover blown she was returned to her owners in August 1917. Though she spent the rest of the war in the less dramatic role of a cargo carrier, the severe shortage of merchant ships at this time meant that she was no less vital to her country’s fortunes.
During the Second World War the high demands in goods and the loss of merchant ships to U-boats meant that there were fortunes to be made with ships that had survived the war.
Result was one of only a few Braunton ships to survive the war, and therefore made her owners, the Welch family, rather wealthy. In the 1930s Result had been making a profit of around £120 to £140 per year. This dramatically increased during the war years, and in 1942 a profit of £1000 was recorded.
After the war, Captain Thomas Welch wanted to use some of his fortune to modernise Result. However, his wife did not want to spend her money on a 50-year old ship and instead transferred her shares to her husband. The refit took place in 1946 and saw the hatches enlarged to facilitate easier cargo handling, a new larger engine fitted and a wheelhouse added on deck.
When Captain Thomas Welch died in 1948, his son Peter took over as master of the Result. In 1950 she was chartered to a film company. Renamed Flash she starred in the film ‘Outcast of the Islands’. The film, directed by Carol Reed and released in 1951, was an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad novel. It received a BAFTA nomination for ‘Best British Film’ in 1953.
None of the actors ever came aboard Result. Instead the crew were required to stand in for them by dressing up and wearing make-up. They were paid an extra £2 per day for this. Despite the good pay the crew were grateful once filming was complete, as they much preferred their ‘day jobs’.
Under Captain Peter Welch Result traded on the south coast of England to the Channel Islands and France. A few years later, to facilitate easier cargo handling at docks, the main (middle) mast was removed. From then on Result traded as a motor ketch.
Work for Result became increasingly difficult to find in the 1960s
as the coastal trade declined and the popularity of road transport increased. Captain Welch decided to convert her hold into passenger accommodation, in the hope of gaining charter work, but died before the refit was complete.
Result was sailed to Exeter and was laid up in the city basin, a forlorn sight with the traditional blue band of mourning painted around her hull. Her working life had ended after seventy-four years. In June 1968 the people of Carrickfergus became aware of the Result’s plight and contacted the Director of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra.
Following negotiations with the Welch family the Museum bought Result in 1970. They assembled a crew to bring her back to Northern Ireland, and on 26 October 1970 Result sailed into Carrickfergus harbour met by a small crowd that had gathered to witness this historic occasion.
Result stayed in Belfast, moored on the Lagan at Queen’s Quay, while the Museum made plans for her future.
Mr William Wilgar was hired as watchman on board the ship. One night he awoke to find that someone had unhooked all the ropes and cast him adrift in the Lagan. He later said: ‘Lucky for me I am a light sleeper and heard the person so I was able to jump on to the quay and tie up before the boat floated out!’
Harland and Wolff were hired to carry out repairs and restore her back to her original 1893 specification. Later additions such as her wheelhouse, engine and propeller were removed. Stripped of her masts and rigging Result was lifted by the iconic Harland & Wolff crane Samson onto the back of a lorry for the move to Cultra, on Sunday 1 April 1979. Road users must have been bemused at the sight of a 122-ton Victorian ship passing by, and possibly took it as an elaborate April Fools’ joke. Result now sits overlooking the lough she sailed countless times during her lifetime.