Month: August 2013

Scandinavian Sailing

For the last few weeks I have been skippering the top gallant schooner Activ in the southern Baltic, and as always over here, have been treated to a delightful fleet of traditional boats in both Germany and Denmark.  They do not have so many yachts as we have in UK, but they have a bigger fleet of traditional boats in the form of rebuilt and converted fishing boats and cargo boats.

The Danes produced many thousands of fishing boats, usually built of oak on oak, and mostly with their signature elliptical counter stern that is so exquisitely beautiful.  As in UK, many of these boats were broken up on the beaches when the EU changed the fishing rules, but many survived and are sailing today as either charter boats or private yachts.  I came across one in Flensburg last week that is as close to yacht finish as I have ever seen a working boat.  She is about 60’ on deck and rigged as a two mast topsail schooner with steeply raked masts in the American fashion.  She is called Lena and is quite simply superb!  If I had the money………….but we have enough old boats already!

There are so many traditional boats here that a day out sailing is a feast for the afflicted, and not only small boats, 2 days ago while sailing to Marstal we passed a 90’ schooner ghosting along in the light breeze, a 60’ fishing ketch which would be the Baltic equivalent to a Brixham trawler, then two other brigantines of about 80’.  There is also of whole host of smaller Colin Archer types and lots of converted fishing smacks in the 30-40’ size.  Of course Activ is the jewel in the crown with her towering 3 masts and 140’ overall, but I would say that because I am a little biased!

keel laid

We stopped in Marstal on the island of Aero for a day which is a great little place.  Despite the fact that it is surrounded by shallow banks and the entrance is up a narrow dredged channel, this was the second biggest port in Denmark to Copenhagen at one point, and the town boast a huge number of ship yards all building the ‘Marstal Schooners’ which were traditional Baltic Trader designs that traded all over the north Atlantic.  The yards here were prolific and the ship building heritage is still obvious as you walk around the harbour.  Not only is it the home to Denmark’s sea training school, but they have kept alive the skills of the shipwrights and have an active and expanding boat yard capable of working on dinghies and 100’ ships.  Last year saw the Launch of Beuna Vista, a well known Marstal schooner that needed a complete rebuild.  It was bought by the town, put on the slip and rebuilt form the bottom up so now there is virtually none of the original boat left.  They are waiting for funding to fit her out, put in a rig and engine and then it is planned to take her to Nova Scotia where she used to trade salt cod.  Not content with one enormous boat, they decided that while there was loads of timber lying around and they had the plans, they would start building another one to the same lines.  The keel was laid last year and the stem and stern posts are up with about a dozen pairs of frames, and another 15 pairs lying on the ground ready to be hoisted into place.  The work is being done by volunteers who live in the town, and whenever anyone feels like spending some time in the workshop they loft up some more frames and fit them in.  There are so many skilled shipwrights on the island that this way of working does not seem to be a problem, and there is no rush to finish the project so why not!  I could not imagine laying an 18” square oak keel for a 90’ ship on the quay in Dartmouth and asking the locals to build a boat!  It is the unfortunate sign that we no longer have a great supply those skills in most parts of England, plus the town council would never have the imagination to allow something like that to happen!


The great problem as always with these boats is not building or rebuilding it, it is finding a purpose for her once she has been launched, a reason for the ship to be at sea and be looked after year after year.  We do not have enough people around like the owner of Activ who have the money and desire to own a big traditional ship, however if we could change the mind set of some of the super yacht owners we would see far more traditional boats from many countries out sailing again.  In England we now only have 4 big traditional cargo ships left, or Westcountry trading ships as they are known, out of the many hundreds or thousands that were built.  Bessie Ellen is a superb example, built in 1904 and working hard as a charter boat.  The Irene is sailing again after a catastrophic fire and major rebuild, The Kathleen and May is surviving, and the poor Garlandstone, a beautiful little ship, is lying in a mud berth up the Tamar and is desperate for someone to get her sailing and breath some life into her again.  It is such a shame that we cannot make some of the very wealthy boat owners who swan around the Med and Caribbean see the beauty and history in these ships, and give them the imagination to see something more than a rotting old wooden hulk.  I guarantee if we sailed in St Tropez in Activ, every single person there would stop and stare and want to come and see this beautiful ship!  At least she would be something a little different to lines of modern super yachts, that despite their price tag, all look surprisingly similar!

With the amount of traditional and classic boats in Danish and German waters, we have decided to team up with the yard in Marstal and they will now be working as our Scandinavian agents.  The owner of the yard is young woman from the island, Monica Fabricius, who’s family have a long history with shipping and ship building.  She finished her training as a shipwright last year and has taken the bold step to buy the yard and make a go of it.  They are doing very well and have plenty of business, helped by the fact that Marstal is one of the traditional boating centres of Denmark, and they are the obvious choice for us when thinking about branching out into that area.  They have undercover storage for a huge number of boats with skilled workmen on sight and a sail loft.  It is hoped that this will become the place to go if you wish to sell a boat in Denmark, southern Sweden or northern Germany, and similarly a base that will have a collective of boats for potential buyers.  It is also a lovely place just to visit if you happen to like looking at nice boats!

Without doubt she’s a Classic!

In the last 6 months we have had several owners approach us with boats they wish to sell that are a little out of our comfort zone and do not quite fit our normal remit.  The issue for us with these few boats is that they are fibreglass, and being solely brokers of wooden yachts for over 35 years means that taking on a fibreglass yacht is a big step.

When Peter first started Wooden Ships, many of the yachts we were selling were relatively new, but the era of fibreglass had arrived and everybody wanted a yacht in the new material.  Fibreglass was expensive but the wooden yachts had dropped in price, and if you sailed into a marina at that time in a 1960’s wooden yacht, people would look and say “poor chap, he can’t afford a modern boat”.  40 years later, if you sail into the same marina with the very same boat, people will look and say “he must be doing well, he can afford a wooden boat!”

At the start of fibreglass construction the design of yachts changed little, with many builders simply moving to GRP from timber with the same line drawings, leaving us now with several designs from that era in the early 60’s that can be bought in either material.  This leaves the classic yacht world with a bit of a conundrum: is a yacht not classic simply because it was built using GRP?

Take the Twister for example, a pedigree Kim Holman design, superb small cruising boat, fast and seaworthy with elegant lines and a decent interior volume.  Many examples were built over the years by yards up and down the country, the best of which were probably those from the Cardinall Brothers, one of which we will be putting on the market shortly.  However it was not long before the benefits of the design being constructed in GRP were spotted, and now these later versions can be seen regularly around the coast and make lovely little cruising boats.  It was an obvious choice, a great proven design with a big following, built in the fancy new material, splash out on some good marketing and you have a recipe to make money. twister

Even though the purist might argue it is not a classic yacht, to all intents and purposes it looks identical to the slightly older timber boat, maybe with a little less varnish, and sails exactly the same, so why should we now not consider these GRP Twisters to be a ‘classic yacht’?  In fact they have been widely accepted by many organisations, and indeed at the recent CRAB Classic Channel Regatta there was a strong contingent of Twisters, both GRP and timber, who had some fantastic competitive racing together.  To my mind the GRP boats only added to the regatta, and quite rightly so, were accepted into the fold alongside the 1927 Patna and the infamous Jolie Brise.

After much deliberation we have decided that the time for Wooden Ships to list GRP yachts has arrived, and we have now started advertising our first ‘tupperware’ boat!  I have been told constantly that the name has to change, Wooden and Plastic Ships, Heathen Yacht Brokerage etc etc, but the truth is that this is as much a classic yacht as any other boat we have sold and I would be proud to own this yacht.  For me it is more about the design than the build material.  The boat in question is a John Alden Challenger Yawl, very similar to the famous S&S Finnisterre and equally as beautiful.  Alden and Stephens were miles ahead of their European contemporaries in terms of design at this time, mainly because of many years of testing hydrodynamics for the US navy during WWII.  While Buchanan and Robert Clark were making long lean elegant yachts, the Americans were producing shallow draft, beamy boats that were disregarded at first.  It was not long before these newer designs were proven to be superb boats with many notable race victories, and the likes of Kim Holman saw the benefits and produced the Rummer Yawl in 1959 which raced hard with Buchanan’s Vashti and was competitive in most conditions.

The Challenger design was first constructed in timber, but by 1960, Halmatic of Portsmouth had seen the boom of GRP yachts in the US and decided very sensibly to cash in.  In a Yachting World article at the time it was mentioned that GRP yachts of RORC Class III and above had not yet taken off in UK as they had in America, “but it will surely not be long before fibreglass yachts like this are a common sight in our waters”.  Halmatic moulded the hulls after which they were fitted out by different companies depending on the owners specification.  This particular example was built for the owner of G-plan furniture so he had the hull taken to Holland and fitted out by Le Comte to a very high standard.  A major refit was carried out in 2002 by the previous owner during which the rig and engine were changed, the hull extensively restored but the interior left original.  She is now for sale in Cornwall at a very reasonable £39,500 which is great value for a solid and fast little cruising yacht that has had this much work done in recent years.

She may well be GRP but to us she is as much a Classic as our own 1960 Camper and Nicholson and we have already moved away from our traditional type of boat with the advent of modern epoxy/wood construction yachts.  Take the Farrow and Chambers Tandem 40 for example, it might be built of wood but it is as far from a traditional yacht as you can get, with many radical design features and a hull that will plane downwind!  Had this been built of GRP we would not have entertained the idea of marketing her at all, but that fact that her hull is mainly cedar and mahogany and she is rather interesting persuaded us to take her on.  We also have a boat not yet on the web site which was designed for offshore racing built in the 1980’s from strip plank and epoxy.  Alices Mirror was a famous racing yacht in her day competing in several single handed trans-Atlantic events with a successful history to her name, and because she is timber we are going to market her.  She is certainly not the typical sort of boat you will see on our web site, but she is interesting and with the speed that race yacht design develops, she is rapidly becoming a classic in her own right.

There are several other GRP boats that we may well be putting on the market this year, including a 1950’s Chris Craft, a Vindo yacht and another fast yacht tender type.

The question of “what is a classic” has been raised from several quarters recently, and although not a new issue, is something that appears to be getting more exposure.  At a meeting during the CRAB regatta this summer regarding a new classics club, the question was inevitably raised as to what boats would be allowed to join.  One gentleman at the meeting came up with an answer that seemed the most logical and straight forward solution I have ever heard.  “A classic boat is one that will not go astern”.  So there you have it, after several recent issues of Classic Boat magazine with interviews from the great and the good of yachting, years of arguments and meetings, it boils down to one simple question, “Does she go astern?”  If the answer is no then you have yourself a classic yacht!

Regattas and Sun

It has been a busy summer for us here, with the weather playing a large part I am sure.  Our purchase of a new boat last winter rather put the pressure on to get her ready for the summer season and take part in some of the fantastic Classic yacht regattas we have on the south coast.

Several weeks of stripping and varninshing in the early opart of the season and 2 weeks of hard work in the yard saw our C&N Zircon looking very smart and ready to go racing.  The Dartmouth Crab regatta was the first stop and with a great turn out of yachts and a very relaxed but well organised programme, it was a great few days of sailing and partying.  Unfortunately our racing skills didn’t quite match our expectations and we found ourselves making tea ½ mile downwind of the start line when the 5 minute gun went!  Sunday was a little more successful, but the sun made up for everything despite the poor results!

The cross channel race to Paimpol was mixed affair and not particularly successful, but we were just happy to get a new and unknown boat across in one piece without any damage.  Our early departure from the regatta due to the office and emails needing attention saw us beat back to Dartmouth in a F6-7 in 16 hours, giving the boat a real test and proving to us the design office at Camper and Nicholson at that time really knew their stuff.  Close hauled and hard pressed in a decent sea with one finger on the helm can’t be bad!

Plymouth Classics followed not long after for us and was again a great event.  Leaning more to the traditional rather than classic boats, Sutton Harbour was a great sight for the weekend.  Saturday saw some superb racing around the sound with a very well laid course making the most of the bouncy conditions.  Unfortunately not everyone decided to venture into the breeze, but there was a healthy turn out and surely a great sight from the shore.  The pilot cutter Cornubia was storming around in all her splendour, while a great swathe of small gaff cutters braved the elements and had some good competitive racing.  Our boat was revelling in the conditions with full sail and side decks under making a steady 8 knots.  It is days like that makes the time in the boat yard seem very worthwhile!  Let’s hope the Plymouth classics next year can draw as many boats, if not more, as it is a superb setting with one the best sailing playgrounds out in the Sound in which to race.  For details see their web site


With the summer heat producing a lot of activity in the business, we have recently recruited another family member to help man the phones while peter and Richard are away looking at boats.  Pam, Richards mother, is now a part time member of Wooden Ships, taking up in the same roll where she left off about 30 years ago!  It is good timing for Pam to be joining us again as Richard is currently spending 3 weeks in the Baltic skippering a ship he has spent a lot of time aboard, the 110’ 3 mast topgallant schooner Activ.  Richard has sailed about 60,000Nm on Activ over the years, including a 6 month voyage to uncharted areas of North East Greenland in 2011 which is the subject for another blog!  Richard is taking over from the regular skipper so he can concentrate on preparations for the next expedition, a circumnavigation of the North Pole via the North East and North West passages.  Activ is a Baltic Trader, originally built ice class to trade between Denmark and Greenland, so she is no stranger to northern climes and has the strength to cope with a little ice breaking! She is now a privately owned ship and has undertaken two Arctic expeditions in recent years with an emphasis on scientific research in areas that are very inaccessible.  They will be cruising in the southern Baltic Sea for a few weeks so no doubt more pictures and stories will follow.

As soon as Richard is home, Peter will be able to spend a little more time on his 1939 Vertue which is nearing the end of a period of work including an interior refit, deck repairs, new top to the stem and a burn off and repaint.  After suffering a little in the summer sun, it is time to get her in the water and enjoy some Autumn sailing!