Wooden Ships

International Yacht Brokers, Dartmouth UK

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Without doubt she’s a Classic!

August 9th 2013

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!

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  • Jim Payne

    I would omly add tp Paul Knight’e comment…..WITH LINES THAT STAND THE TEST OF TIME.

  • Mike Moore

    My Twister ‘woodentop’ grp hull, will not go astern, therefore she is a classic! Keep up the good work

  • moira ross

    Well our Morgan Giles will go astern, but not always in the right direction. On another aspect of ‘classics’, I contacted the Wooden Ships’ Register a few years ago, with a view to selling our beautiful 1955 yacht. She has been meticulously maintained, and her USP is her half inch solid teak decks( laid by ourselves)We retained many traditional features, with modern comforts added. When I sent a photo, I was sniffily told that as she had PAINTED coach roof sides and a new ply /fibre glass covered coach roof (professionally done),people who wanted a classic would want only varnished wood. In addition, I was told that Morgan Giles did not have good build quality. What a way to market a famous classic. Tough on you. Sulya is about the only wooden boat on the West of Scotland which doesn’t leak water on your head in your bunk or anywhere else for that matter And now I see that you have climbed off your high horse and deigned to accept Tupperware boats. Wow- the 21st C has arrived.

  • moira ross

    Why ‘moderation’? I have hardly written anything other than the truth about how you described our yacht to me.

  • Moira

    I gather that you didn’t appreciate my comments yesterday about your (then c. 2008) snooty policy of regarding any wooden boat that wasn’t varnished in appropriate places as not worthy of a listing? I gather you were looking at the submission. It is rather funny that you take yourselves so seriously

  • C.A.L.S

    Peter, thee did not humour the lady I fear. Thou shall not be served an invitation for ale and cakes at yule tide me thinks.
    Classic yachts dear boy ! 1/2 inch teak deck . You cannot have a classic yacht unless you have at least one and a half inch scrubbed teak deck with varnished covering board and king plank.The deck house must have matching grain on varnished sides. the spars to be clear varnished spruce. you must have a brass bound wheel. She must have off white topsides, blue boot top and red bottom.The cove line to be picked out in gold leaf. She must have a varnished clinker dinghy on deck and the Avon in its bag hidden in the locker. She must carry a minimum thirty inch pennant at the mast head and a two yard or more ensign at the stern all new. The other requirements of course is an attractive first mate, two beautiful daughters, two golden retrievers. and a brass bound skipper who thinks himself all sorts of a dog.
    As for deck leaks, that is what the hand was there to do. Every morning scrubbing the decks before lighting the galley stove in preparation for breakfast. Why do people no know these things?

  • Peter Gregson

    If I have learnt one thing over the past 40 years of yacht brokerage it is that the owners of classic and traditional boats have an extraordinary relationship with their boats.
    I have seen so many beautiful yachts but I have also seen a disproportionate number of dirty little rotten old boats and the one thing all owners have in common is this extraordinary love of their boats.
    A relationship with these boat is very much part of ownership. It is a sense of stewardship, often an admiration for and appreciation of the skills of designer and builder, it can be what the boat means in their lives, it can be escapism, it might even be that the owner actually enjoys sailing – how many reasons are there for owning a boat?
    And all this despite the fact that the boat may not be a perfect example of the art of yacht design and build and may never leave her berth.
    Fortunately we don’t all like the same boat as then the world would be very boring.
    The designers of modern yachts have been trying hard for many years to inflict “The Universal Boat” on us which is one of the reasons people come to Wooden Ships to find an interesting boat which traditional boats invariably are.
    Even the oddest boats I have seen have had some redeeming feature. Someone designed it and someone bought it so there must be something that appealed to someone at some time though I have to admit that on occasions I have struggled hard to find it!

    The point is that I am not buying the yacht, I am only helping to find a new owner and I have to try to take a positive view on every individual case.

    This is a very different thing from the value of a boat and I can recall many cases where I have understood what inspired the designer and the owner but I also know that the wider market is unlikely to share the experience. Times change, fashions change, rules change and markets change frequently so despite being a little gem in the owner’s eyes and even sometimes in mine I have to advise the owner that the cash value may not be as high as one might hope for.

    There are so many factors which affect the cash value and saleability of a yacht not the least being the location and presentation of a boat. She may be perfect but if she is lying in John o’Groats the market for her and therefore her sale value are not going to be as strong as the same boat lying in Beaulieu.
    And the owner may be quite happy with the hull painted yellow and the grubby oiled finish to the bright work may be very acceptable and my attempts to explain that these factors will affect the saleability of the yacht can so easily be taken as criticism.

    And the one thing you NEVER do is to criticise the other chap’s yacht!

    Peter Gregson. Yacht Broker nearing retirement.