Peace voyage sets sail

A former Irish gunrunning ship has set sail on a song-filled peace mission to Israel, fulfilling the long-held retirement dreams of a North Pennines smallholder

The good ship Winifreda of Greenisland, known affectionately as Winny by her friends, was lifted off her blocks and launched into the Irish Sea in May 2012-09-05 to begin an adventure her captain described as “extraordinary, like a dream.”

Garry Villiers-Stuart from Northumberland has set sail on a musical voyage from Fingals Cave in the Hebrides to Haifa, the home of the Baha’i faith in Israel, which he and his crew hope to reach during September.

The vision of the voyage has three strands, Garry tells me: “One is to celebrate the life of an old boat that has lasted 120 years and the second is to collect stories of people who have tales to tell.” This, he says, is “not about the big heroes, but the local ones.”

Gary Villers-Stuart

The third strand, he explains, is to connect young people with messages of peace and unity. By helping produce videos and stories to pass on during the trip, the crew can create a web of friendship stretching from Iona in Scotland, to Northern Ireland, through Wales, Bristol, Cornwall, Southern Ireland and Malta to Haifa, and a host of spontaneous destinations along the way.

The crew for the four month journey is an eclectic mix of sailor-musicians who will record an improvised ‘songline’ of music along the course. “There is going to be a strong crew to cross the Bay of Biscay, a musical crew for the Mediterranean and Irish Sea, and a time when all the family will get together in Turkey,” says Garry.

The captain himself, who plays the flute, will be accompanied at various stages by his wife Rosie on guitar and their musical family: Orin, Paddy and Poppy as well as newest clan member Freya, two and half (no doubt on percussion).

The Villiers-Stuart’s practice the Baha’i faith, which they say is a religion that embraces all other religions, peoples and the Earth in a vision of democratic non-violent unity.

Winny being lowered into the water

“Our voyage will champion unity and diversity. We will collect stories on our way about people who have made contributions to their own wholeness and the wholeness of the communities they live in,” he says.

As well as spreading a message of friendship and international communication, the crew also hopes to highlight “the possibility of what might happen if the world didn’t waste its money on arms and spent it instead on ways of developing unity and richness,” says Gary.

“So now Winny is on a big peace mission,” he says of the boat he calls his mistress. “A gun boat made for war is now highlighting the possibility of peace.”