by Des Cox
This year we operated another of our special voyages for ex seafarers and ship enthusiasts, aboard the MV Saga Sapphire. This was a voyage around the UK and one of our ports of call was Bangor in Northern Ireland.
Knowing we would be in Bangor and Belfast, the people looking after the restoration of the last surviving White Star ship the Nomadic, asked if we could help raise money for them so they could buy a new mast for the ship and put her lifeboats back, which I agreed we would.
I told them that we would pay to visit their ship, which would bring in much needed funds but would also look to see if we could raise more money in other ways, one of which was to see if we could come up with something unique Titanic-wise, that could possibly raise big sums, and so I set about seeing what we could do.
Then I had a rather outrageous idea.
Many years ago when the Titanic was all but ready to leave Belfast and put to sea for Southampton, she took onboard supplies in Belfast including some fine old Irish Whiskey. What if I could find the same old distillery that provided this whiskey and what if they still distilled whiskey in exactly the same way, then surely such whiskey would prove extremely popular with so many people, especially the Titanic enthusiasts.
I spent many months chasing all over the place in search of such a place, but always met with a blank. Then one day an old local told me of a little distillery that had ceased trading but that in its heyday would have almost certainly provided whiskey for the Titanic. He also told me that he believed the business had been taken over by the Belfast Distillery.
I then got in touch with the Belfast Distillery and after much running around, managed to talk with the head people. They told me that when they took over the old distillery, they had actually come across a small consignment of very old whiskey, which had been distilled exactly as the whiskey taken aboard the Titanic.
They couldn’t tell exactly how old it was, but it was certainly very special, so I asked if we could buy it as part of our efforts to raise money for the Nomadic. They weren’t too keen to start with, especially as there was so little of it available, which they estimated at the time as somewhere like 1,500 bottles, which was still sufficient to raise quite a lot of money.
After months of talks the Belfast Distillery finally agreed to let us have the whiskey, but only on condition we provided the original artwork and guaranteed to cover all the costs in full, which we did.
We asked one of the world’s top maritime artists if he would do a painting of the Titanic to incorporate into the label for the bottles and also for us to sell, with all proceeds going to the Nomadic, which he agreed to do. Sadly for personal reasons he was unable to finish the painting in time, but another great artist, Kevin Walsh, came to our rescue with a wonderful painting he had done of the Titanic preparing to set sail from Southampton.
Then came another disappointment for when the Belfast Distillery double checked the amount of rare old whiskey it turned out that there was only enough for just 100 bottles and, because there was so little the cost per bottle would be even higher.
Having done so much work on this it was now far too late to back out, for we had already promised the people travelling with us on this Maritime Memories cruise that we would by hook or by crook, somehow get those special bottles of Titanic whiskey for them.
It was all turning into a mini disaster and even the day before arriving in Bangor I was still far from sure if it would actually happen. The more I thought about it the more I realised what an almost impossible task I had set myself.
When we arrived in Bangor we took all our Maritime Memories people on what we hoped would be a very special day out to Belfast, starting with a VIP visit to the Titanic Exhibition, followed by another one to the truly handsome ‘Nomadic’, where we were giving lunch and another very special welcome.
During the visit to the Nomadic the directors of the great Harland and Wolff ships yards came with special souvenirs for every one of our Maritime Memories people, which really meant so much to them. Those directors knew that so many of our people had sailed aboard or been involved with ships built in their yards, so they welcomed the opportunity to be able to show their appreciation for us all.
As yet there was still no sign of the rare whiskey and of course, it was a constant worry, so much so that I tried to push it to the back of my mind.
At the end of the day we boarded our coaches and journeyed back to Bangor, everyone so pleased with their special day out, but even so, I still wished that we could have somehow come up with something truly special in the way of Titanic memorabilia, but anything original was just so rare and out of the question, and as for all those normal Titanic souvenirs, well everything that could possibly be made and been made in their millions, so other than our special whiskey, there really wasn’t anything else left.
When we eventually returned to Bangor I was pleased with the day but disappointed that we hadn’t the whiskey I had worked so hard to try to get, then as we boarded a tender to take us out to the ship, one of the crew hurried over and with a big smile on his face told me that earlier in the day a lorry had delivered several cases of Titanic Whiskey to the quayside, which they had carefully taken back to the ship. My little heart missed a beat and then jumped for joy, for we had somehow managed to do the almost impossible!
Back on the ship there was the beautiful whiskey, hand filled and sealed in special bottles, all stacked up and looking truly magnificent… Yes, we had actually managed to do the almost impossible. Now, not only did all our people have wonderful memories of a special day out, they also has their specially made Harland and Wolff souvenirs and, our very special Titanic Whiskey as well! I am sure those bottles will be so collectable, and although very expensive, worth every penny and every minute of all that went in to making it possible.