A relic of the Stone Age, the curragh is a canvas-covered boat found only in the west of Ireland. In the sixth century St. Brendan built a big curragh (call it canoe) of oxhides stretched on a wooden frame and with 17 monks sailed for a paradisiacal country he'd heard of--and discovered America! This was nearly a thousand years before Columbus and better than half that before the Vikings. Tim Severin and his wife, a specialist in medieval texts, were piqued by the St. Brendan legend as it is related in the earliest surviving Latin account of the voyage. Severin went down to Brandon Creek (named after the saint) and had himself taken out for a row in one of the canvas curraghs still used by lobstermen and fishermen. Then he decided to imitate the entire St. Brendan voyage. This required financing by publishers and others, and then stitching nearly 50 treated oxhides to a reinforced frame, launching and learning to master the odd new craft, The Brendan. Keelless, it rode on top of the water--""she slid sideways across the water like a tea tray."" Skeptical old Kerrymen, famous for mixing optimism with caution, said, ""Sure they'll make it--but they'll need a miracle.