How a con­ver­sion saved a clas­sic

In the late 1960s Wil­liam Stan­ton carved up a West So­lent racer to turn her into a cruiser. It seems sac­ri­lege now Ð but probably saved her

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

A group of stu­dents turned a West So­lent One De­sign racer into a cruiser in the 1960s – but it saved the boat

Isaw re­cently that Hal­loween was for sale, at £58,000. She’s a West So­lent One De­sign, built in 1926 by the Berthon Boat Com­pany; sail num­ber W11 of some 32. Vi­va­cious (1927, W22) was also for sale, at £44,000. Yet in the 1920s, when first built, they cost £600.

Sur­viv­ing West So­lents, at 90-odd years old, have been sub­stan­tially re­built and with the cost of ma­te­ri­als and yard charges up­wards of £35 an hour, the price of the fin­ished yacht is go­ing to be less than the cost of her restora­tion, un­less the owner does the work.

So what is an old yacht worth? How to weigh mar­itime her­itage and the cost of restor­ing a fine boat so it will still sail as de­signed? Is a yacht built 90 years ago and re­built so she’s ac­tu­ally stronger and more finely-fin­ished than the orig­i­nal, of­ten kept un­der wraps ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional out­ing to be the belle of a re­gatta, in fact a new boat?

My first boat was Linette, the West So­lent built be­fore Hal­loween in 1926, sail num­ber W10, and we bought her for £475 when she was 43 years old. She was propped up at Wi­cor­ma­rine, Chris Wadding­ton’s yard at the back of Portsmouth har­bour, and she needed lots of work.

‘We couldn’t walk away from that beau­ti­ful wine-glass hull de­spite her shabby state’

But we couldn’t walk away from that beau­ti­ful wine-glass hull – 34ft 6in over­all by 7ft 6in beam and 5ft 3in draught – de­spite her shabby state.

The owner had had enough of her, which would have been clear from her state if he hadn’t said it.

He didn’t put us off, no more than the chicken-coop of a ply­wood coachroof, nor yet the at­tempt to cre­ate a toe rail/rub­bing strake by screw­ing lengths of floor­board to her top strake so it stood up a cou­ple of inches above the deck. Nor the deck it­self, sheathed in a layer of scrim laid in pale blue polyester resin, which had cracked.

That wasn’t the only thing cracked: thin bars of sun­light slanted across the cabin from the opened top­sides and sev­eral frames in her quar­ters had gone at the turn of the bilge. We won­dered if they’d been bro­ken by ground­ing, but soon dis­cov­ered that stress in a hull will cause steamed frames to crack where the shape changes sharply.

Linette had a 2-cylin­der Stuart Turner 8hp hand start 2-stroke petrol en­gine, fa­mous for many idio­syn­cra­sies such as re­fus­ing to re-start when hot – and of course catch­ing fire.

She had sails too (stained and baggy), gal­vanised stand­ing rig­ging (rusty) and run­ning rig­ging (mostly polypropy­lene), a CQR an­chor and chain and a head with lead plumbing. There was no com­pass, echo sounder, dinghy, fend­ers… or any­thing else much.

Restora­tion chal­lenge

There were three of us at first, and we all wanted the chal­lenge of restora­tion and con­vert­ing her for cruis­ing. A wooden boat was the proper thing, we thought, and in 1969 there weren’t GRP yachts go­ing cheaply.

But when you’re 20-odd there’s all the time in the world to learn, mak­ing the prob­lems seem in­signif­i­cant. Well ex­cept for one: with all those open seams, would she swim?

We reck­oned that, if we launched mi­nus en­gine and all gear and she sank, we’d have two choices: wait to see if she’d plim up; and if that failed, the two tons of her lead bal­last would be worth more than we’d paid.

So we bought her, took out the head (a Baby Blake, worth more than the lead now), re­moved the flimsy coachroof, faux toe rail, rot­ten fore­hatch and what bits of in­te­rior join­ery there were, cov­ered her in a tar­pau­lin and left her for the win­ter.

Mike took the en­gine home, lo­cated a Stuart Turner man­ual, stripped it down and rev­elled in clean­ing ev­ery part. When all was ready he went to Stuart Turner’s fac­tory for spares. I re­mem­ber his glee when he re­turned to say that the store­man had looked up the en­gine in a hand­writ­ten ledger and told him it had been in­stalled af­ter the war.

I wrote to Berthon to say we’d bought W10 and would be grate­ful if we could come to Lyming­ton for a chat. They were very help­ful, showed us the shed where the West So­lents were built and even the re­mains of some build­ing jigs.

We wanted to cruise, so our plan was to in­crease the lim­ited ac­com­mo­da­tion

space with a new coachroof. This led to two rad­i­cal de­ci­sions. The first was to build a coachroof from light­weight foam sand­wich, the new tech­nique we’d seen when we vis­ited Derek Kel­sall’s yard in Sand­wich where he built mul­ti­hulls.

We built it at home: iroko frame, then 20mm polyurethane foam, chopped mat and rov­ings laid up on both sides and shipped it over to Wi­cor­ma­rine on top of the car.

It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary now to com­pare the cru­dity of that process – not to men­tion its in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness – with the im­mac­u­late vac­uum-bagged lam­i­na­tion of the deck and cabin struc­ture on my Nigel Irens lug yawl Romilly built 25 years later.


The se­cond de­ci­sion in­volved com­mit­ting the sin of hav­ing a ship­wright widen the deck open­ing and re­duce the cock­pit with new beams and car­lings so we’d have more space un­der the coach-roof.

By the spring it was clear that we couldn’t do it all, even driv­ing down to Wi­cor­ma­rine just about ev­ery week­end, camp­ing along­side the boat and work­ing 12-hour days. So we did what was most press­ing, learn­ing as we went from books, from our neigh­bour­ing re­stor­ers, and from bodgers.

We dou­bled the cracked frames with iroko steamed in a box we made, while a car­pen­ter friend made a re­place­ment for the rot­ted false keel out of iroko lam­i­nated and glued with re­sor­ci­nol.

As the weather warmed up, we stripped off lay­ers of old house­hold paint from the hull with a blowlamp, scrap­ers and san­ders, right back to bare wood, and drove many new bronze fas­ten­ings.

We did the same with the decks, af­ter re­mov­ing as many fit­tings as pos­si­ble. Linette had no cov­er­ing boards, but straight lengths of tongue and groove yel­low pine which had once been cov­ered in can­vas. We sanded them with an elec­tric sander for hours, then laid Track­mark (now called Tread­mas­ter), turned over the deck edge and tucked un­der a new rub­bing strake.

Next we bolted down the new coachroof and fore­hatch with gal­vanised stud­ding (for econ­omy), re­placed the deck fit­tings plus a new iroko toe rail screwed through to the deck beams.

The cock­pit coam­ings were orig­i­nal, but the rest was not, so we de­cided to make a self-drain­ing cock­pit us­ing glass-sheathed ma­rine ply.

The seats were stor­age bins that drained into the cock­pit sole and thence through the cock­pit drain. Time was run­ning out for sail­ing that sea­son, so while one of us built sim­ple slat­ted bunk bases in­side, the oth­ers got on with fin­ish­ing the hull.

Loose caulk­ing was raked out with a bent and sharp­ened file tang and re­caulked un­til our arms ached with the weight of the bor­rowed caulk­ing mal­let and iron. Then seams were stopped with putty and red lead.

‘We stripped off lay­ers of old house­hold paint from the hull with a blowlamp, scrap­ers and san­ders’

The hull was sanded, sur­face-filled with trowel ce­ment, a coat of metal­lic pink primer ap­plied, sanded again, filled and primed again un­til we had some­thing close to smooth.

We lost count of the num­ber of times we went round that hull un­til it was smooth enough to un­der­coat – at least without com­par­ing her with Chris Wadding­ton’s Colin Archer Saari or any of the other yachts be­ing pro­fes­sion­ally painted in the big shed.

We de­cided to paint her bright red: a state­ment about our own­er­ship, about how we were mak­ing her new again.

Will she float?

There she stood on the con­crete pad in her gleam­ing red coat, ready to launch. With a bor­rowed sub­mersible pump and Chris Wadding­ton’s diesel pump on the pon­toon along­side, in she went.

We were con­fi­dent, so the en­gine had been in­stalled again – also the heads. She didn’t trou­ble the big pump and only briefly the sub­mersible. Af­ter 12 hours, she’d taken up enough for her own bilge pump to cope, or the in­board run­ning with the sea­cock set to pump the bilge.

Mean­while we’d made up new stand­ing rig­ging which we swaged with a bor­rowed ma­chine (we could only af­ford gal­vanised, but if it was good enough for Robin Knox-John­ston ...), col­lected the gal­vanised push­pit and stan­chions we’d had made and bolted them down (gal­vanised bolts again), bought a se­cond-hand main and genoa from Rat­sey’s, made up new run­ning rig­ging from the large drum of polyester rope we’d found at a boat jum­ble and stepped the mast.

Linette heads west

We sailed to Cowes, Yar­mouth, Poole and Wey­mouth, then an overnight pas­sage to Dart­mouth with the wind get­ting up to Force 8 and Linette leak­ing like a sieve.

It was al­most the end of the sea­son and we were elated to be away from the So­lent and in the West Coun­try, where we lived and worked, keep­ing Linette in Dart­mouth.

We were of­fered a coun­cil trot moor­ing on the Kingswear side and tucked the boat in, sleep­ing week­ends on a 20-ton Mounts Bay lug­ger whose owner took us un­der his wing while we con­tin­ued to work on Linette’s in­te­rior un­til the weather be­came too foul.

Dur­ing the win­ter I made a one-off GRP Op­ti­mist dinghy in my spare time, cho­sen be­cause it fit­ted up­side-down on the coachroof – and it sailed, too.

We wrote to Berthon, ask­ing for their thoughts about the leaks. They said that as the mast was stepped on top of a scarf joint in the cen­tre­line, she’d al­ways leak un­less re­built.

There was also the mat­ter of the wrought-iron floors, but the leaks through the rud­der trunk and along the gar­boards were penal­ties of age and the light­weight con­struc­tion that en­abled Berthon to sell the West So­lents for half the price of cruis­ing yachts.

Hauled out at the Creek­side Boat­yard in Dart­mouth the fol­low­ing spring, we did what we could to strengthen her, and fin­ished the ac­com­mo­da­tion be­fore launch­ing and cruis­ing through that sea­son.

By then Mike’s Cana­dian girl­friend and Amer­i­can friends Char­lie and Carol had joined our lit­tle co-op and Mike was pre­par­ing to go to the west coast of Canada, where he stayed, built a 43-foot fer­ro­ce­ment ketch and sailed west, never to re­turn.

At the end of that sea­son we all agreed that Char­lie and Carol would buy the shares and take Linette over. At that point, the sur­veyor’s val­u­a­tion was £1,950.

I saw Linette once more, 20 years later, when I was launch­ing a new boat at My­lor Yacht Har­bour. She was laid up ashore and looked sad, wait­ing to be taken on again. I felt the pang of first love, but I wasn’t tempted be­cause she was over­due to be prop­erly re­stored – and I knew how much it would cost...

It would be easy to make a list of all the things we did wrong in our in­no­cence, start­ing with our at­tempt to con­vert a nar­row-waisted grey­hound of a So­lent racer into a cruis­ing yacht by en­larg­ing the open­ing in the deck to take a coachroof – and a glass-foam one at that – not to men­tion the con­struc­tion of a ply-and-glass cock­pit.

And of course con­ver­sion for cruis­ing meant the huge ex­tra weight of en­gine, tanks, batteries, in­te­rior join­ery and gen­eral gear.

But there was also the chal­lenge of Berthon’s light­weight con­struc­tion, which meant re­plac­ing the orig­i­nal gal­vanised iron floors and their fas­ten­ings, to­gether with most of the plank fas­ten­ings that had suf­fered as the hull worked, some plank­ing, the whole deck, many frames and deck beams – and of course all our gal­vanised fas­ten­ings and rig­ging.

Work­ing on Linette, we learned a great deal about wooden boats; and as we sailed her, the leaks made us aware of just how much work was still needed.

The in­crease in value from £475 in 1969 to £1,950 by 1972 was no ex­pres­sion of the labour we’d put in, nor in­deed the enor­mous fun we’d had learn­ing about her and cruis­ing her.

The right thing to do

And per­haps we’d saved her, too. But in the end, what Linette re­ally needed was be­yond us in time, skill and cash.

That work was even­tu­ally car­ried out in Mal­don by Peter Brookes in 1995 and 1996, when Linette had a ma­jor restora­tion/re­build.

Her en­gine was re­moved and ev­ery­thing nec­es­sary was done not just to make her look as though she’d just been launched, but in fact to bring the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tion up to mod­ern stan­dards.

Beau­ti­fully main­tained, Linette is now based at West Mersea where she is raced against other re­built West So­lent One De­signs. In 2011 she was listed in Na­tional His­toric Ships UK.

Still rac­ing: Linette chasing Hal­loween off Mersea on the East Coast

The author at the helm in 1971

ABOVE Linette as found by the author and his friends in 1969. RIGHT Work un­der way to raise the coachroof for in­creased head­room

West So­lent One De­signs do­ing what they were built for in the 1920s and 30s – rac­ing

Re­stored to her former glory – Linette on the Black­wa­ter in the sum­mer of 2011

Once set up for cruis­ing Linette could travel far and wide. Here she is on her home moor­ing in Dart­mouth in 1972, in­te­rior fit-out still in progress

Linette is still sail­ing and still per­form­ing

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