By Ray O’Hanlon
The Jeanie Johnston’s shakedown voyage is proving to be shakier than expected.
The Famine-era replica sailing ship — recently launched in County Kerry by President Mary McAleese and expected in the U.S. in early June — is a long way from being seaworthy enough to tackle the stormy Atlantic.
As a result, the entire schedule for the ship’s North American tour has been scrapped.
"You can deep-six it," said a source close to the Jeanie Johnston project.
The schedule, starting with a June 7-10 stop in Washington, D.C., where President Clinton was expected to come on board, listed visits to 28 ports in the U.S. and Canada between June and mid-November.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Another immediate consequence of the schedule being scrapped is that the ship will not be in New York for the July 4 holiday where it was supposed to take part in the OpSail 2000 Festival of Tall Ships.
The reason for the delay in the ship’s maiden voyage is believed to be connected to the current sea trials. Problems with equipment and the ship’s structure have resulted in the ship’s master, Captain Mike Forwood, urging delay.
Forwood was recently in New York for a reception at the Irish Consulate during which the U.S. tour schedule was unveiled.
"The captain is very cautious and he has told board members that the ship will have to be in the best possible condition before it sets out on its Atlantic crossing," Iris Langdon, public relations spokeswoman for Elan Corporation, the Jeanie Johnston project’s main sponsor, told the Irish Echo.
Langdon said that it is now hoped that the Jeanie Johnston would complete its sea trials in late June and that it would then set out for North America sometime in July.
She said that an entirely revised schedule for the ship’s U.S. and Canadian tour was being drawn up and might be available by next week.
The original Jeanie Johnston, built in Quebec in 1847, was famous in her time for making 16 voyages across the Atlantic and never losing a passenger. As such, the Jeanie Johnston was the only Famine ship to avoid the chilling sobriquet of "Coffin Ship."