RESTORATIONS

RESTORATION TREASURE TRAIL

I have no idea why certain pieces speak to one person and not another, I suppose it has to do with our interests and what we regard as important or relevant. Many people collect furniture, ornaments or even wrist watches throughout their lives. Some hope to make a handsome profit and others intend never to sell an item, but rather enjoy viewing it for the rest of their lives.

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Restoration Treasure Trail

ESSAY ON PROVENANCE…WHAT OF IT:

It has been mentioned that a ‘good’ vintage boat restoration is made ‘great’ by it’s provenance; interesting, accurate and validated. Provenance is what guarantees your investment is safe and provides a talking point around your boat at shows or with those that share your passion.

Where was she built, when and who rode in her? All good questions that you should strive to ascertain and write down so it stays with the boat. Provenance is what makes the boat desirable to buyers and collectors.

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Chris Craft

ESSAY ON PROVENANCE: PART II

It’s always interesting to know where a boat started out it’s life; which boatyard built her and when. The boatyard will come with a reputation. If your boat has survived the ravages of time, the builder is likely to have been be a good one. Most builders started out as small, family-run businesses. In Canada in the late 1800s the most well known, started out making canoes and rowboats. Then came the demand for larger and larger boats to serve the holiday homes of the wealthy, which could only be reached by boat; powered first by steam and then the combustion engine. Racing boats followed, their performance boosted by aviation technology of WWI as surplus aeroplane engines found their way into boats. Some famous boatbuilders are associated with the engines they used. For example, Riva had an agreement with Chris Craft in the US, to use their engines.

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Restoring wooden craft

BEFORE AND AFTER SERIES:

COMPLETE RENOVATION OF ‘IL SILENZÍO’

This first example is a Thesen built, rear-seat-driven runabout from Little Brac. She was bought by Andre Beyers in the condition you see in this photo. He requested a complete restoration; the hull was damaged, the entire deck and windscreen needed replacing, all the hardware needed rechroming, buoyancy and navigation lights installed together with a battery, CD/radio and speakers, the transom built up to accommodate a new 4 stroke outboard, new instrumentation, dashboard and cable steering assembly, new upholstery, sunshade, trailer and plenty of varnish. Not a small job!

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Il Silenzio

PURSLOW RESPRAY

The second example is a project we have been following because it’s unique in my experience and somewhat controversial from a traditional perspective. How do you convert an old fibreglass boat to a vintage ‘wooden’ boat that requires no maintenance? Answer: you paint it. You be the judge of this amazing technique.

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after purslow respray

BEFORE, AFTER & AGAIN - AMORE RENOVATION

The third example in this series is a boat very close to my heart; Emora, built in Durban in 1958 from plans in a Popular Mechanics magazine. Built to compete, she won several races in Durban harbour in the day. Many years later she made her way with the same extended family, to Sedgefield where all the youngsters learnt to ski behind her, now affectionately nicknamed ‘Cremora’ (from the popular TV commercial of all time: “It’s not inside, it’s on…top!”)

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Amore renovated

BEFORE AND AFTER: HALCYON

Soon Halcyon will be 90 years old. Cyril Noble built her in a shed behind Beach House on the Eastern Head in 1934, using yellowwood planking on stinkwood frames and keel. Halcyon would inevitably suffer from the elements if taken out of saltwater for long. Yellowwood is not a great rare wood for boatbuilding although used for many boats at that time, being readily available in the surrounding forest.

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original Halcyon

HALCYON CONTINUED

So on 19th of February 2014 I take delivery of Halcyon, an 80 year old Valentine’s Day present, and wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

This would be only my second major boat project. All that is inside Halcyon is a brass prop shaft bearing. I know nothing about engines. I’m not even sure Halcyon is watertight; there is an inch-wide gap between the keel and the garboard…..

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Halcyon restoration

HALCYON PART 3: ENGINE INSTALLATION

Halcyon’s Diesel engine arrived in a sturdy box.

I’ve chosen reliability over tradition. Diesel safety over petrol.

The modern controls would need to be hidden from casual view and any stainless steel covered with brass where possible. Modern technology would compromise the look slightly, but would hopefully be worth it in the long run.

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Diesel engine

SMALL BOAT SERIES

This ‘nutshell’ dinghy I bought, sight unseen, was in the Natal Midlands. I thought it a stunning example of a wooden sailboat with character. It needed very little work, but getting it to Knysna would cost more than I paid for the boat!

It came with mast, rigging and other handmade items by his grandfather. I still hanker after it even if it wasn’t that practical. In the end I sold it on to a retired gent who wanted a fishing boat on his trout dam.

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nutshell dinghy

ROMANCING A THAMES SKIFF

BY OWNER: TONY BERBRIDGE

The Thames skiff is a leisure boat dating from the mid 1800’s the origins of which are the Wherry, a working boat dating back to the 1500’s.

It was the fashion in 1860-70 to take your girlfriend for a day on the river over the weekend, and I have seen a photo of the Thames with so many skiffs on it that you can hardly see the water.

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Romancing a Thames skiff

REFLOATING A THESEN CLINKER

This stunning clinker was bought on auction during lockdown in 2020 and trailered back to Knysna. Part of a deceased estate, the boat had been in Witsand for many years under a lean-to and, being visible from the road, had lead to the house being nicknamed ‘the boathouse’. At just under 5 metres in length, the solid yellowwood planking and stem and sternpost knees had beautiful colour and grain detail.

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Refloating a Thesen clinker

TRADITIONAL DORY

If the ‘Dory book’ can be regarded as the bible of dory construction, that would make John Gardner like Moses. The undisputed authority on the dory, Gardner has a huge reputation and his book defines the dory as “a flat bottomed boat, with sides and bottom planked lengthwise and with no keel structure other than the bottom planking”. To me the unique aspect of the dory traditionally is that it should be a ‘double ender’; like the mythical ‘push-me-pull-you’ they look similar at both ends, although some dories do have a small transom area. These characteristics make the dory an extremely stable vessel, perfect for crabbing or fishing coastal waters.

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small boat

REFRESHING A ROWBOAT

As an easy first project in ‘restoration’, a small rowboat can be very rewarding and prove extremely useful as well. These boats can usually take a small outboard and are often used as tenders to yachts although a rubber duck is preferred by many. If fitted with rowlocks they make a fine rowboat or fishing boat.

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refreshing a rowboat

'HOW TO' SERIES:

HOW TO: WEIGH YOUR BOAT AT HOME

In order to calculate the correct buoyancy threshold for your survey certificate, you require the weight of your boat, fully loaded, as accurately as possible.

The first time I did this it involved a trip up the hill to the Knysna weigh bridge and a R100 charge. Theoretically, you then need to put your boat in the water and return to the weigh bridge to weigh just the trailer. Then you subtract the weight of the trailer from the first amount to get get boat and motor. You can google the weight of the motor if you don’t already know that.

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Weight your boat diagram

HOW TO: MAKE AN OUTBOARD ENGINE LOOK VINTAGE

Nothing comes close to the ferocious howl of a vintage Mercury outboard. I say this having only recently heard two, a 45hp Mercury from 1959, the white motor, and a 30hp Chrysler from the 70’s.

The Mercury covers you in a fine mist of ( I presume ) water and oil. It doesn’t seem to stain clothing, but the experience is fully engaging. The motor idles with a high pitched chatter of metal on metal and accelerates in an ear splitting cacophony of delightful noise. The boat tries to outrun this beast attached to its transom as you push the throttle full forward.

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vintage outboard engine

HOW TO: BUILD A TRADITIONAL STRIP FOREDECK

Alternating a dark grain plank and a thin white line down the bow, has become associated with the image of traditional runabouts. Certainly not all boats had them and many chose other patterns, but this image has come to symbolise the romantic, wooden boat look. This post will give a guide to how this can be achieved. The use of tape will not be considered here.

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building a traditional strip foredeck

HOW TO STEAM BEND WOOD

Steam bending wood sounds simple, but daunting at the same time. It’s full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘how tos’ and yet once you’ve been shown or taken through the process, nothing beats trying it for the first time. There is something magical about bending wood round corners. The wood takes on a character and shape that is unique to each application. It twists and yearns back to the horizontal, but is frozen in time to its new shape.

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curved bent wood

HOW TO DESIGN A TRADITIONAL SWIM LADDER

A seriously dark bruise had formed inside my thigh the day after pulling myself over the gunwales after a swim at Featherbed. Although there is a large cleat to help pull yourself up, it’s still difficult to clamber up and over. A traditional wooden swim ladder was needed.

I had a good idea of what I wanted from historical photos, but there’s a lot to consider. Positioning the ladder on the port or starboard side of a small to medium sized vessel will result in the boat rolling under load, and the ladder tucking under, making it even harder to climb out. So positioning it on the transom would be necessary.

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traditional wooden swim ladder

HOW TO SHAPE OARS

Oars are not like paddles which can be made from off-cuts, they need single long planks if you want them to last. Also oars should be specific to the boat you wish to use them in.  There is an accepted ratio using the width (beam) of the rowboat that determines the length of the shaft. Also the ‘inboard’ weight of the oar needs to offset to some extent the ‘outboard’ shaft and blade. The blade can be rounded/spooned or flat.

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how to shape oars

HOW TO BUILD A TEAK DECK

This is not the only, or even the best possible, way to build a deck. You may prefer a different method or disagree with this method. If so, feel free to send in your comments….however:

Once you’ve decided on the pattern, and the king plank design you wish to create, you estimate the amount of wood you will need. If using Burmese teak (the Prince of wood) you want to do this carefully as it’s not cheap.  Using the usual square metre calculation may leave you short as wastage must be included; cutting pieces to the correct lengths can leave you with bits that are too short and scarf joints don’t usually work in this situation.

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Building a teak deck for a boat

RESTORATION... BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT

This Purslow built, fibreglass speedboat called Sea Hawk, was bought by Mr Delport after viewing her in the ‘Nautical Sales’ section of this website. He said her hull shape was exactly what he had in mind for a new boat he wanted to design using paint techniques alone.

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Sea Hawk before restoration

LUCKY CHARM: PART 1

This boat was built for racing at a company called "Quarterdeck" in Johannesburg. The hull design is a Meteor and is all meranti with plywood sides. The previous owner, Fred Daleman bought it from Gordon Lanham-Love, a well known racing driver on the Vaal in the 50's/60's. The late "Frosty" Langman told me Gordon married into the 'Dewars whisky' family fortune and this money funded his racing career!

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Restoration project

CHARM: PART 2

The deck is usually stained at this point, but given the dark complexion of the Surian cedar grain, I decided just to let the Mahogany speak for itself. A few coats of Woodoc 50 later and the result was promising.

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wooden boat exterior varnish

REPAIRING DRY ROT IN A KEEL

Dry rot isn’t dry, it’s soft. If your fingernail or the end of a screwdriver can easily penetrate wood, it’s likely to be as a result of dry rot.

If not removed dry rot will continue to spread either side of a seam or along the weakest grain. The only solution is complete removal, back to hard wood, leaving nothing at all. This is a daunting challenge especially when it’s in a vintage boat keel.

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Repaired dry rot in keel

CHOOSING YOUR RESTORATION PROJECT...SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER

There are a number of considerations when choosing a ‘restoration/renovation’ project. Here are my thoughts on this:

Experience level: this really is the most important aspect as it is what stops most people giving it a try.

There’s no quick fix, experience is built with each successful project. You can come from a balsa-wood model building background or jump straight in. Fine carpentery skills would be an advantage, but are not an entry level requirement.

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Restoration and renovation project

RENOVATION OF A PURSLOW

This ‘restoration story’ is like many I presume in that an aging father decided that the vintage family boat, that his father bought when he was a child, needs to be restored and that his son should pay for said restoration.

And so the conversation began: how much do you charge? how long will you take? Eventually we agreed to proceed a month at a time and a boat, that until then I had only seen in photos, arrived in my driveway. These are the ‘before’ photos.

This was the second twin cockpit, rear seat driven wooden boat I’d seen, having restored a Thesen boat with a similar layout.

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Restoration of Purslow complete

RESTORATION OF THE 'BRAT OF DUNKIRK'

This is the second known ‘Little Ship’ in South Africa; the affectionate name given to the fleet of 850 privately owned vessels that braved the channel to return the retreating Allied Force trapped in Dunkirk in 1940.

After the war ended the ‘Brat of Dunkirk’ as she was named had several different owners until  Anthony France acquired her in 1967. He sailed her to South Africa in 1968 via Rio, making landfall in Hermanus on 14 October (at 19h00).

She was later owned by Knysna resident, Dick Aubin, for 6 years from 1987 to 1993 and he had her restored by the same Ted Misplan who built Nkwazi  for Leighton Hullet.

Mr Aubin sold her to Captain Harold Freaker who in turn sold her to Richard Cassem. She could be seen sailing in Algoa Bay with her three, distinctive, oxblood sails for many years.

After which the ‘Brat’ lay in disrepair in Port Elizabeth before being found by Bruce Tedder and bought by The Seafarers Trust who plan her full restoration in a vineyard in Hout Bay.

We will hopefully be following that restoration with a link in the ‘Restorations’ section of this website. For more information on the’Brat’, click on the links below.

https://boatingsouthafrica.co.za/2021/04/12/dream-or-reality-brat-of-dunkirk/

https://youtu.be/941Og_sgQBo

https://youtu.be/HPEYGUgQbcE

https://youtu.be/FIu096g__Go

https://youtu.be/7IK2R2GPlwc

brat of Dunkirk restoration

TO BUILD FROM NEW OR TO RENOVATE?

Building from plans that can be bought or borrowed can make sense. Costs can be estimated more accurately and even time taken to build can be approximated given your level of experience.

A well levelled hardback is an essential starting point on which to align your keel and complete the hull.

Renovation or restoration can generally be started on two large tyres for hulls under 5 metres. This is a good starting length as it means the upturned boat will fit in your garage. Larger projects require a dedicated shed or covering of sorts in a much larger space.

Restoration implies an antique boat is being returned to its original state in every way possible. A renovation means modern material and techniques are being used to make the boat usable and complete. Legal requirements such a flotation certificate and navigation lights mean space within the boat needs to be found for foam, battery, fire extinguisher, paddles and life jackets.

FIXITOR

While visiting the Traditional Boat Show in Henley in July last year I met Colin, the owner of Clewer Boatyard, onboard Gelyce. He invited me to visit the boatyard the following week, as I wanted to see Fixitor for myself as she wasn’t at the show. Interestingly, bought in 1949 from an army officer stationed abroad, the boat’s name came from the owner’s decision then to ‘fix it or let it rot’ such was her condition at that stage. Her original name is not yet known, but research continues.

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Fixitor wooden boat