Author: woodchip_123

I name this ship…………………..

I name this ship…

Some time ago I bought a yacht with the most dreadful name. I can’t mention it for fear of
offending the owner or his descendants who gave her this name but suffice to say it is a spice I
really do not like – yet another good reason for changing it.
Changing the name of a vessel was always considered bad luck but I have never heard
any justification for this. Perhaps the myth stems from an attempt to deter a change which
could be seen as a deceitful if simplistic way of disguising a vessel which may have illegal
or unlucky associations. However myths are not gospel so if you really don’t like the name
go on, change it.
That official list of yachts, the Lloyds Register of Yachts was an annual publication
associated with the Lloyds insurance business and nothing to do with the Register of Ships
in Cardiff as commonly and mistakenly though t.As well as the marine insurance business
Lloyds was once a major source of information nautical. When making his famous crossing
of the Atlantic in the 25′ Laurent Giles Vertue 35, Humphrey Barton experienced a knockdown
with serious structural damage. He signalled a passing ship with the request to pass
a message to Lloyds, “Vertue 35. Some sea damage, crew all well.” A masterly
There was a time when every yacht had a copy of Lloyds on board so that you could look
up a passing yacht by name to find her designer, builder, dimensions and even her owner,
address and yacht clubs.
As the publication was annual up dating with change of name was not difficult and there is
even a section under the heading List of Late Names of Yachts. Sadly publication stopped
in the mid 1970’s. As brokers and with a whole shelf of Lloyds from the 1950’s to the
1970’s we often refer to them when researching a particular yacht which comes our way.
An earlier version, NorriesYacht List of which I have a 1935 edition also provides a
valuable source of information listed by yacht name.
Yacht names seem to fall into several distinct groups. There is the plethora of Greek and
Latin names although I often suspect that the owners seldom know the dubious deeds
done by dastardly dieties like Scylla and Medusa.
Then there are the subtle and often very clever names. A well-known yacht was called
Danegeld because she was built with money from the owner’s Danish wife – a romantic
gesture which will surely outlive the lady.
Another successful racing yacht of the 1950’s and 60’s, Uomi, only saved from the Silly
List by her race success obviously had keen associations for her first owner.
Stars are another plentiful source of names. When a good friend had a new yacht built to
replace his previous smaller yacht Silver Bear he called the new yacht Callisto, the
naughty nymph turned into the Great Bear by Artemis.
Here we go with myths again. I have often wondered why it is called the Great Bear or
even the Plough when it is patently if unromantically a Saucepan with 2 of its’ stars known
as the Pointers because they point almost directly to the Pole or North Star. That very
recognisable constellation has been the sailor’s friend since the dawn of seafaring so a
name reassuring to the owner of an expensive new yacht.
Then there are the names with associations personal to the owners or just plain nice. The
most famous yacht of all time, King George V’s Britannia is a classic example although you
probably have to be a king to name a yacht after your country.  The J-Class Velsheda was named using the first syllables of the owner’s daughters’
Ted Heath’s Morning Cloud is one of those really nice names recalling summer dawns of
the early morning watch.  The yacht Release, designed by 3 prisoners of war in Germany and built on their return home is an evocative name when you know the story.

In the West Country it is common to name a fishing boat with the prefix Girl or Boy or
sometimes Our. Thus we have the Girl Sybil, Boy Mark and Our Boys.  Scottish fishing boats have some lovely names, sometimes a girl’s name, often a plant.  The Flower of Caithness comes to mind – what a lovely innocent name that is – or Bluebell or The Lady Rose. Are these names reminiscent of home when tossing around on a dark November night off the Hebrides?
Lastly there is the Silly List with classic examples such as Dunpaying, Gophorit and
Tonzabunc. Many years ago we sold a boat called Quick Thinker which inevitably became
known in the office as Slow Sinker. When I last heard of her she was thankfully still afloat
and hopefully with a new name.
With marinas full of modern yachts with silly names and all looking exactly the same it is
no wonder changing a yacht’s name is no longer unlucky.
So what have I chosen? With fingers firmly crossed I have chosen the name Hope, that
lovely old name from before the days of satnavs when hope was a significant factor in
navigation. Not Hopeful or Hopeless both of which might be more appropriate but just plain
Hope. And secretly I hope Hope will remain Hope for many years.

So you want to buy a boat – 3

So you want to buy a boat – 3

Survey is the next major hurdle and absolutely essential.  Even for an experienced yachtsman, a time-served boat-builder and with money to spare we are all prone to an attack of starry-eyes. But get it all down in black and white by an independent observer, good points as well as bad, and hopefully your feet will come back on dry land and you will make the right purchase.

However the whole business of surveys has potential for controversy and is a subject for another time.

As well as confirming your hopes on the condition of the boat an insurer will require a recent survey report to encourage him to take on the risk. There is no legal requirement to insure a boat but most ports and inland waters have local bye-laws obliging at least Third Party and rather ominously, Removal of Wreck. Yes, it does happen as it did in Dartmouth last year when a much-travelled, well known boat sank on her mooring, quietly and all by herself one night and the cost of raising her from just 30’ was eye-watering.

I often think that too much emphasis is given to the condition of the boat and not enough to the skipper. Give a fool a good boat and he will sink it but give an experienced sailor a wreck and he will get it home in one piece.

Remember to have your insurance in place when you take possession. If you are going to have a problem it will probably be the first time you let go the mooring! However again, insurance is a subject for another discussion.

Charter Sailing on a Traditional Ship

Traditional wooden sailing charter vessel bessie ellen

Charter sailing on wooden ship Bessie Ellen

We have recently launched another section of the website focusing on traditional charter vessels.  Although not our core business, we have teamed up with a good friend and owner of Bessie Ellen, Nikki Alford, to utilise our website to promote Bessie Ellen and Irene, another West Country trading ketch from the early part of the 20th Century.

Nikki has been running Bessie Ellen for many years now doing everything from carrying cargo to sail training with disadvantaged youths, however the majority of her time is spent taking people on sailing holidays and providing them with superb experiences and first-hand knowledge of what it is like to sail a traditional vessel.

Traditional wooden charter vessel bessie ellen under sail

The Bessie Ellen – 1904 West Country Trading Ketch

This is something that we are very passionate about and Richard has been involved with Bessie Ellen skippering her on quite a few occasions so if we can help bring in some more business through our website then it can only be a good thing.

This year Nikki has taken over the management of Irene and will be offering berths aboard this magnificent gaff ketch throughout the year.  This will range from day sails to week-long holidays, but for a more detailed look at the itinerary, it is best to follow the links through to the boat’s website. Here you will find details of costs, dates and locations to suit everyone.

Sailing one of these superb vessels is an experience everyone should enjoy.  Even for the seasoned sailor who is perhaps used to smaller yachts, there will be an enormous amount of knowledge and enjoyment gleaned from time aboard Bessie or Irene whether it is learning how to splice heavy 3-strand rope, handling the heavy gaff rig or simply learning the quirky art of helming a 150-ton ship, a week or so aboard one of these boats will never be forgotten!

Half Price pilot Cutter?

Half price pilot cutter

There are many of us who have in the past, and still today, dream of owning an original Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter.  The history of these wonderful boats, the people who sailed them and the stories that are now told about them are all fascinating and awe inspiring, giving us a glimpse of a different world.  There are so many interesting stories entwined with the pilot cutters such as the development of design to cope with the rigours of the job, and the subtle differences between boats built in different areas, for example the West Country built Cornubia compared to the first Lancashire built boat, Alpha.

Not only did these boats do a superb job working in often very harsh conditions, but many of them went on to write their own individual stories after retiring from pilot duty.  The most famous of these are arguably the boats used by Tillman to carry him across the oceans in search of greater mountaineering challenges, but there are so many other untold stories of voyages and adventures carried out by these old boats and their owners, a testament to the superb evolution of design that brought about a breed of fantastic sea boats, in the right hands capable of taking their crews anywhere in the world.

Many of us unfortunately have to continue to dream about ownership of a pilot cutter because let’s face it, they are not at the cheap end of the market.  And rightly so, these are incredible boats and there are only a handful of them left, fortunately though the numbers are increasing because there are some people out there willing to take the plunge and rebuild the more run down boats and get them back sailing.  However, the possibility of owning a BCPC has just opened itself up to a lot more people.  We have been advertising Carlotta now for a little while, and although we have had a lot of interest, nobody has come along with enough imagination, desire and money to take over ownership and get her home.

She is currently on the west coast of Canada after sailing out there in the 1970’s.  This is again a fascinating story and largely untold, although the tales of Carlotta’s voyages have now been quite well documented.  Unfortunately the west coast is the wrong side of the continent as far as we here in the Uk are concerned, and the logistics of getting the boat back to UK have proved too tiresome for most buyers.  There is however now a rather good incentive as the price of the boat has been reduced to a very low figure of £145,000.  Bear in mind this is a rebuilt cutter from 1899, an absolute beauty of a boat, very fast and with a well documented history.  Yes, she needs a suit of sails and she is on the wrong side of Canada but so what, this is a half price Pilot Cutter which ever you look at it.

The point is that this is not setting a precedent for the value of original Pilot Cutters.  The true value of the boat is a lot higher and if circumstances allowed she would be advertised and sold at a lot higher price, however the two factors that are affecting this sale, and affect all sales, are location and the owners willingness to sell.  It is a great shame that after doing so much good work to the boat and putting so much into her, the owners find themselves in the position where they need to move her on, and because nobody here in the UK has been able to step up to the mark and buy her, they will be opening her up to the north American market.  Because the history and significance of Carlotta is not fully understood or appreciated over there, the asking price has to be significantly lower than it would be in UK, hence the reason for bringing it down to this low level.

To my mind it would be a real shame if somebody did not take this opportunity to bring Carlotta home.  It would be a fantastic adventure to sail her home, exploring the wilderness of western Canada and North America, then down to the Panama Canal, a season in the Caribbean and then home, or alternatively she could simply be loaded on to a ship as deck cargo and shipped back to Southampton.  The logistics are not too difficult and not prohibitively expensive so this should not be a barrier to someone thinking of buying her, and the other potential issue of VAT import duty could possibly be argued away because of her historic significance.

Hopefully somebody will come forward in the near future who has the necessary attributes to take on a boat like Carlotta and we can all then look forward to seeing another boat in the fleet racing at the Pilot Cutter Review in Cornwall and quite likely giving Mascotte a run for her money!

Click the following link to view Carlotta

Trophies in the sun!

Sailing trophies in the sun

After four superb days  of racing off the south coast of Antigua this week, we have managed to steer Spirit of Callisto to first place in class.  Lying in second place after day 3 we had it all to do, and with the course and conditions in our favour we managed to get the gun and the overall win.

The second day had brought very challenging conditions with winds up to 3o knots and a decent sea running, the heavier boats in our class came into their own with the exquisite gaff cutter Holly Mae, owned and sailed by Joff Rorke, powering around the course under a deluge of white water and deservedly taking the winning gun.

Day 3 was simply one of the best days sailing I have ever had.  We were beaten into second place behind the gaff ketch Old Bob after handicap by 21 seconds, but that did not matter.  The course is called The Cannon, two laps of a simple reach to the first mark 6 miles out to sea and a reach back in which meant the whole fleet were sailing back and fourth past each other all day giving us the most spectacular views.  This was the day for some boats to excel, especially the big 3 mast lugger Grayhound who had been struggling with the windward legs, but with day 3’s long reaches she stretched her legs and proved there is no substitute for massive quantities of canvas!  I will not forget when the big schooner Adventuress came charging past us under full sail a stones throw to windward with water streaming down the decks looking absolute magnificent.  Rainbow, the replica J-Class, was doing her magic and it was such a pleasure to be sailing alongside a boat like that in such perfect conditions.  Everyone I spoke with that evening no matter what boat they sailed with said the same thing, it was simply a pleasure to be out there on a day like that.

So the question is will Spirit of Callisto be back next year to defend her trophy?  I truly hope so!


Antigua Classics 2014 – “Yawl not ketch us!”

Antigua classic 2014

One of the benefits of working in this game is being able to mix business with pleasure, and that is exactly what I am doing this week after accepting an invitation to skipper a yacht for friends in the Antigua Classics regatta.

The boat is a gaff yawl designed and built by Spirit Yachts of Ipswich. true to Spirit form she has a spade rudder and fin & bulb keel which I think is a very interesting combination with the more traditional rig.

After a day out practising with our crew on Thursday, we lined up in the first start of the regatta on Friday with high hopes, and we were not disappointed.  It was a long reach to the first mark in a good F5 with typical Atlantic seas.  We found ourselves 3rd round the mark behind a big bermudan cutter built by Luke Bros. around 1905 called Lily Maid and Marcus Rowden’s 3 mast lugger Grayhound which ate up the distance on this free reach with her enormous sail area, flying along at 10 knots with the wind just aft of the beam.

We gained ground after the second mark on a hard beat back towards Falmouth Harbour, by which time the big boats of the fleet were storming through making a superb spectacle with all cameras on deck for a close quarters fly by of Rainbow, the new J-Class as she was close on the wind doing a good 15 knots.



We  were immensely pleased to pick up the gun on the finish line and found out later we were first on handicap as well, so it is all to play for in the next 3 days of racing……and partying.

More photos can be found on the Wooden Ships Facebook page.

The Wooden Ships Archives

Wooden Ships Archives

After more than 35 years of running the brokerage, we have built up a long list of boats and yachts we have either sold or inspected all over the world.  Up until last autumn, these archives were a slightly disorganised mess in the cellar below our office.  However, after wasting far too much time looking for past information on particular boats, it was decided that something had to be done.

This was not a job to be relished, however the task was given to Richards mother Pam Gregson who has spent many hours locked in the cellar going through mountains of paperwork and box loads of old photographs.

The result of four months hard work is a very well organised set of filing cabinets with details of over 5000 boats going back the last 35 years.  The paperwork is backed up with many thousands of photos, most of which were taken by Peter on his travels over the years.

To us this is a very useful resource that we regularly dive into when people approach us with new boats to sell, and often we can tell the owners more about the boats than they know themselves.  The next stage will be to digitise the whole archive to ensure its longevity, and possibly, if Peter ever finds the time, he might use the information to write ‘THE BOOK’ which he has talked of for many years!


Laying up time

Laying up time

As some of you know we purchased a lovely yacht called Zircon just over a year ago.  She is a 44’ Camper and Nicholson Bermudan sloop, built in 1960 as a Class 1 offshore boat.  As you might imagine this pedigree makes her an excellent sea boat, and it’s when the seas pick up and the wind starts to blow hard that she comes into her own, effortlessly powering through the water with an easy motion, light helm and good speed.  This year we came back from Paimpol, beating hard on starboard tack in a F6-7 with a good sea running and she was magical, even when we were pressing her too hard before the reef went in and she was shipping water over the leeward cockpit coamings, she still only needed one finger on the helm, and apart from the occasional odd wave slapping the forward topsides, we hardly got wet.  It’s times like these that having a big heavy and powerful boat is a real blessing.

However, come the winter and our minds turn to laying up and maintenance, the size of this boat starts to be a problem because as we all know the costs can increase disproportionately as the boat gets longer!  I have decided to write a series of short blogs throughout the winter following our programme of laying up, maintenance repairs and eventual commissioning in order to show people that boat ownership doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think, that there is a lot the average person can achieve themselves with a simple tool bag, and give owners a few ideas and tips that they may not otherwise have considered.  To many, this will be old news, but to a lot of our clients who are inexperienced or new to the wooden boat world, I hope this will be both informative, interesting and money saving!

We are lucky in Dartmouth in that we have a wide choice when it comes to winter laying up.  This winter I am planning to undertake some more in depth structural repairs to the boat that need to be carried out, so I don’t have the choice to leave her covered up on the mooring again as we did last year.  This is obviously the cheapest and easiest way to winter a boat.  You have already paid for 12 months of mooring fees so why pay the yard another 5-6 months storage.  This is how most owners pay for 18 months of storage in every 12!  As long as your mooring is secure and sheltered enough, this is the best way to save money.  Make sure your lines are in good condition and there is plenty of chaffing gear where it is needed, get some tarpaulins to keep the wet off the deck and superstructure and away you go.  Depending on the design of your boat, you can often get a cover that goes over the coachroof and ties to the toe rail, although this doesn’t keep the whole deck dry, it does allow you to leave some portholes open and keep the ventilation throughout the boat.  If you remove all the soft furnishings and sails, lift the sole boards and prop open all cupboards and seat backs, the boat should fare well throughout the winter months.  If you have a pontoon berth with electricity then get a greenhouse heater and a dehumidifier in the cabin to stop mould and mildew forming all over the cabin.

Leaving wooden boats in for the whole year is no problem, and although the type of construction and materials used will make a difference, a good rule of thumb to follow is two winters afloat, one winter ashore.

I eventually decided to lay the boat up in Old mill Creek, a quiet little backwater a little way up the river with several boat yards, lifting facilities, beach and mud moorings and workshops.  I have taken a berth leaning against the pilings where I have electricity, I can walk on and off the boat and most of all she is very sheltered.  The creek dries out completely at low water, so because of her 7’3” draft she only floats on a few tides a month, the rest of the time she stays neatly leaning on the piles.  This is an ideal situation because it is safe and terribly cheap compared to yard storage ashore which would include lifts, cradle hire and pressure washing, and although there is a little bit of hassle involved to get her in there, ballast her side decks to ensure a permanent heel and adjusting the ropes at the beginning to get them right, it is far more preferable than having to drive to Totnes or Galmpton every time I want to work on the boat.  This sort of winter berth may not have crossed many peoples minds because of the hassle factor and the worry, however if you moor her correctly most boats will sit very happily against a wall or piles for the whole winter.  If your boat has sheer legs then it is an even easier and more viable option.

My job list this winter is not inconsiderable!  The main work will involve removing the galvanised strap floors up forward, having them shot blasted, re-galvanised and replaced along with new bolts and some planking that has been damaged by the corroding floor bolts.  Most of the floors were done by a previous owner but the forward ones were not touched unfortunately, meaning we will have to pull apart the forecabin joinery to get at the hull.

It is not going to be possible to replace the planks in her current berth because of the rise and fall of tide, but I have the chance to get her on the slipway next door in the spring, so before then I will do as much of the preparation so the job will be completed as quickly as possible once she has been slipped.  I am planning to remove the interior joinery, and then at low tide I can cut off the nuts on the old floor bolts, knock them out, remove the floors and put wooden bungs in the bolt holes.  The floors can then go away for galvanising to ensure they are ready to fit back in once the boat is slipped.  We are fortunate that the ballast keel does not have to be removed to get at these particular floors, which enables me to do the whole job without having to pay expensive yard fees, and by doing the more straight forward leg work of removing joinery and pulling out the floors, the amount of work, and therefore cost, of hired professional help will be much less.

Other jobs needed include cleaning and painting the bilge, removing the engine to be able to remove the engine beds which will need either re-galvanising or possibly complete replacement depending on the condition once they are out, rebuilding the chart desk, changing the DC switch panels and moving the main battery isolator switches to a safer more sensible position.

The first stage of all this was to get the boat covered over.  I chose to build a polytunnel type tent using 32mm black alkythene water pipe for the hoops, with a 3”x2” timber ridge pole and some vertical supports onto the deck.  I removed the top guard wire from the stanchions and then pushed the pipe over the top of the stanchion, it’s a tight fit but that makes it nice and secure!  This gives you a nice evenly curved hoop with no sharp edges to chafe the cover, and its dirt cheap, the 25m roll of pipe was £30 inc. delivery on the internet.  Next the ridge pole went up with a short length of 3×2 at the bow from the pulpit to the first hoop.  This is the hardest bit when working on your own, holding the timber up with one hand while trying to bang in a screw with the other, where would we be without lightweight battery drills!  Once there is a couple of screws in to hold it, I could then get around to adding the rest of the verticals and lashing the ridge pole at each hoop to make the whole frame nice and rigid.  I finished by trimming up the ends of the timber and stapling on bits of carpet here and there to stop the cover rubbing through.


I bought my covers from a very good website called Tarpaflex who seem to be the best value on the internet.  I went for two separate ones which makes handling easier, especially when doing it alone, and allows for an access point to the boat just about amidships.  I stretched the covers over the frame pulling them from stem to stern and quickly got some lines round underneath to secure the whole thing before the wind got under it and took the whole lot in the river.  All in all, after fiddling around with the lines and tweaking everything I have got a very rigid and robust cover that took me a day to construct and cost about £180, not bad considering.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I have to apologise for the lack of activity on our blog in recent months.  It seems that the everyday work load at the moment is proving enough for us to cope with and the writing of blogs somehow seems to go by the way side.

Having said that, the up side is that we are busy enough with day to day business to keep our feeble minds occupied which is a great indicator for the current state of the market.  The cycle of  our wooden boat market in recent years has run  about 12-18 months behind the cycle of modern plastic yachts, in that we didn’t really see a down turn until much later on.  Over the years we have also established that we follow about 12 months behind the housing market.  Our reasoning for the lag behind the plastic market is that it is very rare for a wooden boat owner to buy on borrowed money as the majority tend to spend within their means while with modern yachts the indications are that the percentage bought on finance is much higher.  Because of this when the market started to deteriorate owners pulled their horns in and said that if nobody was going to pay good money for their boats they would sit tight and wait for the market to come back up to them.

For many owners this was no problem, at least not for a year or so, however 3 or four years down the line and a lot of people started getting desperate and needed out of their boats.  For a long time there was no solution to this.  People were scared to spend money and it did not matter what price the boat was at because there simply was no market.

Come late 2012 and into 2013 we started to see some promising signs with some very unseasonal buying activity in January and February.  As this year has progressed things have gone from strength to strength, and after some early scepticism that the activity would be a short lived bubble, we are now reasonably hopeful that next year will be the same.

In our minds there are two reasons for this, the economy and our new web site.

The web site has been an enormous success and we are very grateful to Alex Watson of Dart Digital for her superb efforts in the beginning and her ongoing  support through the evolution of the site, I am quite sure she is thoroughly fed up with us asking ridiculous questions on a weekly basis every time we get stuck!  The traffic statistics have gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months and look set to carry on increasing, and although many of our visitors are simply interested in nice boats and just browsing, there are a  growing number of serious buyers.  We regularly receive compliments about the site, but surely the pick of the bunch is “this is the best boat porn web site I have ever found!”

The general strengthening economy has also been a huge factor for us as people have suddenly found some confidence to spend their money.  We believe that over the last few years a lot of people have had money in the bank doing absolutely nothing and that the country has now got to a stage where people are almost bored of the recession, bored of being told not to spend, bored of living in fear of another crash.  They have decided that perhaps they should be looking for that boat after all, and low and behold when they do start looking it is clear that there are a lot of cheap boats to be had.  For several years owners have been stuck with a boat they do not want, buyers are suddenly spending their money and the result is decreased selling prices and increased boat sales.  Our experience  is that prices are about 20% lower than they were before the economic problems began, but despite this there are a lot of happy buyers and sellers.  Purchasers are getting boats for what is perceived to be a good price, and sellers are moving their boat on and removing what is in a few cases, a real headache.   We have had that awful phrase ‘buyers market’ thrown at us on a daily basis in the last year which I think is quite a good indicator, and although I’m fairly sure it’s true, whenever anyone mentions it, especially in a first enquiry, it immediately gets my hackles up.

We are always very aware that we have a responsibility to the broader traditional boat market when placing valuations and we like to think that we are realistic yet fair.  There is no point in telling an owner he will get £50 for his boat to keep him happy and get her on our lists when in reality we know it will probably sell for £25, that is not fair on seller or buyer and a waste of our time.  However we also know that it is in every traditional boat owner’s interest that we maintain and promote value when appropriate.

If we are completely honest not every wooden boat is built to the best standards using the best materials and many will have suffered neglect over the years so that refitting to smart sea-going condition will cost far in excess of the boat’s market value. .  This is a well known tale and one that most of us have experienced first hand at some point.  The fundamental problem is that there is not a big enough differential between the good boats and the others. Poor quality boats have often sold for prices beyond their real value but more importantly,  the nice boats have not been earning the reward they deserve. While we will not see a return to the pre-crash prices for another couple of seasons yet, we are keen to promote the value of good boats be it a 10’ clinker dinghy or a 60’ cruiser. Restoration and maintenance of these wonderful yachts maintains a huge industry as well as our maritime history and culture and must be rewarded in the continued value of the asset.

So what does the future hold for our wooden boats?  I think the immediate future looks bright as we have willing buyers and willing sellers coming to the table with the intent to do business and there are (a lot of) some nice boats to choose from.  My slight concern though is what will be happening in 20 years time.  When the business first started we were selling boats that were only 10 or 15 years old and were widely regarded as old hat with the advent of fibreglass.  In the 1970’s if you sailed in a wooden boat even though only 10 years old which nowadays we would think was almost new people would say “poor chap, can’t be doing too well” Now if you sail arrive in a nice wooden boat they say “He must be doing well, he can afford a wooden boat!”   These days we are selling the very same boats, just 35 years older!  The problem though is not the age of the boats, they can be repaired, have new frames and planking, new keel bolts, have bits of rot chopped out and replaced, the beauty of a wooden boat.  The owners on the other hand are not so lucky, the odd hip replacement or new heart will keep them going for another few years, but at the end of the day the boat is bound to outlive its custodian.  So what happens next, where are the hoards of young new owners clamouring at our door to own a wooden boat?  Well I am afraid they don’t exist just yet, and with a few exceptions, there are very few young people coming into the traditional boating world with the desire, knowledge and the means to own and maintain a nice yacht.

We have however seen an encouraging number of people come to us in the last year or so who have never owned a wooden boat before, all their friends are telling them they are absolutely mad, but they have desire to own a classic boat and want help and guidance in buying the right one.  I am always delighted when this happens as we can ensure they go in the right direction and don’t get dragged way over their heads into a project yacht that will break them.  This has been the downfall of too many boat owners and there is no need for it as we can find the right boat for every buyer if they just ask.  Some owners get very nervous and often critical of us for sending them a potential buyer who knows very little about wooden boats, but our view is that everyone has to start somewhere and as long as they have an open mind and are put in touch with the right people who will help with the work without ripping anyone off then they will be absolutely fine.  We were all at that stage of knowing nothing about wooden yachts at some stage so we have to give new owners coming into the market a fair crack at the whip and help them find their way in what can sometimes be a mysterious new world.

But it is not just new owners we need, it is also new boats.  Wooden yachts can always be refitted but at some point they will be past the point of no return and slowly but surely the numbers will diminish.  We have seen the building of lots of new boats in the last 10 years with Luke Powell at the head of the Pilot cutter revival building some very nice quality boats to a proven design.  Then there are the numerous individuals building themselves a new boat in sheds at the head of little back waters, quietly lofting up frames and building their dream with no fuss, be it a traditional working boat or a classic yacht, steadily adding to the numbers of nice wooden boats afloat.  Look at the big Holman we have for sale, a superb quality yacht built by one man in a shed near Falmouth, a professional working boat builder he has taken a superb Kim Holman design and created what will be a powerful and fast cruising yacht with beautiful lines.

But what about the smaller new boats?  Many of the builders are producing 50’ yachts to appeal to the market with serious quantities of cash to spend, but why not take a proven and well known design that has been successful in the past and turn them out.  The point is to build what the market wants, not what the builder has a desire to build. Why reinvent the wheel? We moved on from plank on edge designs, elegant as they are, for very good reasons. Luke found a market for his very traditional version of the  Pilot Cutters, Pete Nash built a superb elegant West Solent , Nigel Irens built a fascinating launch, Cockwells are building some exceptionally fine modern traditional boats.

We think there would be a market for a nice 30-38’ yacht with simple joinery and a good build quality, a boat that wouldn’t cost half a million pounds but it must have the looks and that charisma owners are looking for.  Take the 1937 William Blake 37’ gaff cutter we have just sold, a stunning little boat, manageable by one person, designed to the Metacentric theory with generous beam and volume  so she may not be a race winner round the cans but she  is comfortable in a seaway, balanced on every point of sail, and an absolute joy to look at and to own.   I am sure a new boat to this design would find willing buyers. Then there are options which can be considered to make a new boat more affordable and accessible to the market. We frequently hear from people who just want a sound hull but are not worried about interior or even rig because they can do that themselves.  So build a new hull and deck of the right design, provide rig plans and let the new owner fit her out himself. It is well known that fitting out the interior of a boat costs a disproportionate percentage of the overall build cost. And cut back on the deck costs by fitting a sheathed ply deck rather than wasting good wood on a laid teak deck. The ply deck can look stunning with varnished hardwood king planks and cover-boards as Cheoy Lee discovered in his 1960’s yachts, it adds strength to the hull, is totally water-tight and above all almost maintenance free while a teak deck, wonderful as it is can be a rod for an owner’s back and adds significant cost to the build.

We have a huge reserve of skills in this industry which will only be properly exploited when we start building what the market wants to buy.

Without doubt she’s a Classic!

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!