Elizabethan 23 restoration
Labour of love to bring Elissa back
Our Elizabethan 23 Elissa was launched in 1973 at the Ropewalk Boat Yard in Lymington. Previous owner Roy Lister sailed her extensively using the very basic dead reckoning methods of navigation most of the time, and he never really got around to doing much cosmetic work to the boat.
However, his love and trust in the yacht design and its fabulous handling ability allowed him to sail to the coast of Brittany, the Channel Islands, St Malo and the Isles of Scilly.
Roy then decided to get more adventurous so, leaving Lilliput Sailing Club in Poole, he sailed the Channel to France, dropping the mast to navigate the canals, and with his wife joining him they motored all the way to the Mediterranean.
A good friend flew down to meet Elissa to help him sail her back to Poole, while his wife flew home. The two of them then made their way back through the Bay of Biscay. As they were both retired they had plenty of time to do this. It’s a passage they made not once, but twice – an amazing achievement in a small boat.
When things aren’t so rosy at sea for us aboard Elissa I just think: ‘She’s sailed Biscay twice, so just get on with it!’ It doesn’t always take the fear away, but at least gives us reassurance in the boat.
With more adventure in mind, Roy later sailed north, taking Elissa to Norway.
Later still, on one of his trips to St Malo, Elissa was off Alderney when Roy handed the helm to his crew so he could get some rest. The wind picked up from the west and, faithfully following the course he’d been given, the helmsman was not aware that Elissa was sliding down large waves with an onshore wind. Tacking and trying to beat away on a very dark night with a 5ft draught was a bad combination – the keel touched bottom and was bounced up the beach on a 35ft ebbing tide.
Two small holes meant water and sand filtered throughout the hull, sinking her in shallow water but at least allowing them to get safely to shore.
With some ingenuity she was patched up at low tide, refloated on the next high water and then sailed back to Poole without further incident.
When Roy’s health started to deteriorate he decided to put Elissa up for sale in
1985. As a member of Lilliput Sailing Club I was constantly looking at this pretty boat which sat on her mooring for 17 months.
At the time Monica and I were looking at Drascombe Luggers to buy for general day sailing, but the prices were too high.
l contacted Roy and viewed Elissa on several occasions in November when it was freezing cold and dark – a good time to buy, but not to sell!
I came to realise the Elizabethan would be a much better buy than a Drascombe Lugger for me so a deal was made. Roy was very sad to let her go, of course, but pleased that she would remain at the same club where he’d be able to see her.
David Thomas design
We were delighted that we were now the proud owners of one of the best and prettiest boat designs by David Thomas, who also designed other boats in the Elizabethan range as well as the Sigmas.
Soon came the very daunting task of restoring Elissa to a standard she deserved for such a classic yacht design.
We decided to make a list for our winter work – a list which turned out to be about a mile long.
First was to get the hull looking better. Due to the condition of the gel coat, I had no option other than to coat her with epoxy paint all over – not the easiest of jobs when temperature is so critical.
Gunwales and all brightwork were stripped to bare wood and four coats of varnish applied. Working in the cold and as long as light was available we were able to see some results.
Once this was done, the interior was next. Below decks did not have the best of smells, and sand was in every nook and cranny which was a nightmare to remove – and is still being found several years later. The headlining was hanging down in many places which was initially sealed back and later completely renewed. We replaced all the wiring.
The original engine, a petrol Petter, we replaced with an air cooled 6hp diesel Hatz, burning a third of a litre an hour. The biggest difficulty with this set-up proved to be the exhaust: we eventually settled on a lagged stainless steel flexible pipe which works very well.
Back in the water
By relaunch day Elissa was ready to face her proud new parents and the many new adventures to come – and we’ve had quite a few of them!
Roy came down to watch the relaunch and congratulated us on changing her looks so well, shedding a few tears while telling us: ‘I know you’ll look after her’. Roy sadly died a few years later, but at least he knew Elissa would have a fine new life with us.
Over the years since then we’ve added various bits of kit such as an echo
sounder, an electric autopilot and a new set of sails.
I have also designed and almost perfected a servo pendulum self-steering wind vane. They look simple enough but in reality are very complex instruments in the proportions of weight and engineering required. Mine has taken over three years in the development. On a trip from Hurst to Swanage, I set it up and we sailed within five degrees of our course straight to our waypoint. I was delighted, but I hasten to add that I’ve not yet gone to sleep while being steered by the wind vane, not even for a short time!
On one of our trips, we were on the way to Weymouth. Just off the Shambles and on our final tack in, the wind dropped. The engine was labouring and we had no alternative but to anchor close to the south entrance of Portland Harbour where the old Hood was sunk as a blockship – it’s a really good fishing spot. It was no time before our friends the Royal Navy turned up to check on us as we were anchored in their waters.
While inspecting the engine I found that the gearbox was full of sand – no wonder the engine was labouring – so on our return to home port it was gearbox out, clean up and replace four bearings. Shocked at the £156 one marine supplier quoted for bearings I went to a VW parts shop where I got the same bearings for £4.80 each. A big saving!
We took another trip back from Weymouth in a south-westerly Force 7 (some will be saying the b .... y fools!), but we found it to be a real learning curve. Not only do you gain vital knowledge, but you can assess the boat’s performance and your ability – and later make any reinforcements or changes to either!
While rounding St Aldhelm’s Head we encountered waves higher than the crosstrees. Elissa was in a calm at the bottom of the trough and at the full Force 7 at the top. I already had a reefed main but even so she performed very well. A very interesting sail!
One night while moored at Chapman’s Pool I was contemplating the fact that there was a good deal of wasted space under the side decks, so I started to design a way of utilising this space.
On the port side I made a control panel and full size chart table which can double up as a dining table when bolted to the stairway. On the starboard side, I built five lockers for storing the usual things one needs on any boat. A whole design change to our lovely little boat.
On the rigging side I replaced old Tufnol blocks with modern stainless steel ones, and slab reefing took the place of the old roller reefing system. I then made my own stackpack for £35, after receiving a quote at the Southampton Boat Show for £375.
The frayed wire keel uphaul was replaced with Dyneema braid rope and has been there for over 12 years now.
I can highly recommend the Elizabethan 23 for its looks, sailing ability, draught and vast locker space for a small boat.
We have enjoyed many years of sailing around the South Coast – one year doing 970NM. We’re able to get very close to the shoreline out of the wind, which is a big advantage as we often see fellow sailors not far away wearing winter clothing while we’re still in T-shirts.
The Elizabethan Owners Association has a very informative website (eoa.org.uk) and membership is great fun with an annual weekend get together in some South Coast port. We also try to meet up on land during the winter to exchange ideas and offer help and advice.
Alastair and Monica sailing Elissa off the Dorset coast
As found: rust stains and fouling can’t disguise the good looks of the Elizabethan 23
Old Tufnol blocks have been replaced with modern stainless steel ones
Alastair has designed and made his own self-steering wind vane
Durable Dyneema rope replaces frayed wire on the keel lifting mechanism
Sand in the gearbox required a complete strip down and bearing replacement
Elissa on the pontoon at Lilliput Sailing Club shortly after her relaunch
First job for Elissa, a scrub down from top to bottom
Above Sitting pretty: Elissa on a mooring at Swanage
Right Looking good in a new coat of paint on her cradle at Lilliput
Alastair built his own control panel in previously empty under-deck space
Chart table doubles as a dining table when attached to companionway steps