CLASSIC BOAT OWNERSHIP

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To own a classic or vintage boat is to be the custodian of a shared vision to create something wonderful. That vision belongs to the shipwrights and designers who breathe life into an idea. The custodian has the responsibility to ensure that the vision is honoured, respected and preserved. 

 

This year I began my own journey of classic boat ownership. It is true that I have been around classic boats for most of my life and have helped to maintain them. However, taking on my very own 1971, mahogany planked, teak decked Dragon was to be an unexpected adventure!

 

My story with Tschüss, my 1971 Borresen Dragon, began in 2017 when I sailed her for the first time. Little did I know the journey she had taken to get to this point, or the adventure the two of us were just beginning! I will be writing an article about Tschüss’s full history soon, but that is a story for another day!

 

Since 2015, Tschüss had been enjoyed by the Street Family, winning classic regattas in the Solent and turning heads wherever she went.

 

I had wanted a Dragon for a very long time and I felt that this year the  time was right. There are many fully restored Dragons on the market but I wanted one I could put my own mark on, one I could learn everything about. I had my very own vision; to put my own mark on a very fine vessel and to preserve it for my future sailing and for the next owner.

 

Tim Street had helped me in my search and we suddenly realised that Tschüss might be the perfect boat for me! It was then my turn to take on the next stage of her life, I picked her up from her spot in a storage field and towed her back to the Elephant Boatyard for a quick turnaround, ready for the only regatta I took part in during 2020, Hamble Classics.

 

I spent an entire weekend taking every rope off the boat. I went about redesigning the rigging system.  Meanwhile, the shipwrights at the Elephant Boatyard made sawdust and fixed up broken bits of wood on her cabin top. I scrubbed the deck, I took fittings off which did not work with my designs. Wire rigging was replaced with Dynema where possible, saving weight and giving the boat the best chance to be competitive. 

 

There were weeks of late nights, and lots of driving to find the right blocks, jammers and ropes. I spent hours in the bow of the boat working out the best way to set her up. It was hot, I was tired and all I wanted to do was go sailing. New sails were purchased, and she was launched, the day that I walked down the dock to be greeted by my classic dragon sitting with her elegant lines was wonderful, I felt a huge sense of pride. 

 

Hamble Classic day one was cancelled due to strong winds, but at 8am the following day we slipped the lines and got stuck in the mud at the boatyard, in all the excitement we had forgotten about the tide! We waited 30 minutes and got ourselves out to the racecourse, weeks in the making and it was all being counted down 5, 4, 1, go…

One other Dragon was able to make this race and we had a number of other classics including a West Solent One Design which we were able to keep up with, first race we had a very respectable 3rd and on the second race we came in ahead of the whole fleet, just after we slammed the boat down into a short Solent chop just off the Brambles Bank. 

 

On our way back into the Hamble River it became obvious that we were taking on water and lots of it! A quick climb into the bow revealed 5 leaking seams, I could see daylight out of the boat. My instant thought was, yes we should have splined the boat before we went racing. 

 

With the help of a number of friends and the yard owners, we were lifted out of the water on Sunday evening. There I stood looking at a very sad looking Tschüss, not only had 5 of the planks opened up but her rudder was cracked. It was time to put her winter refit list together.  I will admit that I felt very emotional and downhearted.

 

One thing you will learn about me over the coming months is that I am not afraid of a challenge and won’t let a little thing like leaky seams stop me. In the words of a good friend of mine, boat ownership is all about chasing the faults, and coming up with a plan to fix them, to make the boat even better than it was before. So this was my opportunity to go right back to the drawing board. And so, the list began for the 2020-21 winter refit. I sat down with the shipwrights at the boatyard and what I thought would be a short list became a long one very quickly! The key focus was to ensure her structure stayed strong, whilst updating her to be competitive against the modern dragons. 

 

The list of work included; new cabin top, 5 new ribs, 3 new floors, replace 2 planks, repair the rudder, update the rigging positions and strengthen around the mast. I spent 4 days scraping paint and antifoul from the bottom of the boat! As I write this blog, the Elephant Boatyard is completing the cabin top and fitting the ribs. 

 

The joy I have from owning Tschüss is wonderful, the frustration of finding broken ribs and rotten planks has been hard to accept at times. Owning a classic wooden boat is a labour of love, and ultimately I am caretaking this piece of art. I am ensuring that, for the next 50 years, she remains in excellent condition. During the time we have together, Tschüss will continue to look elegant and excel as a competitive race dragon. After this winter, Tschüss will be restored back to her beautiful race winning pedigree – you can stay updated on her progress through my Instagram feed. 

Ownership of a classic wooden yacht is both a responsibility and a joy.

In this article, The Metre Yard's very own Carl Whitewood gives us a small glimpse into the highs and lows of wooden boat ownership.

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