ROBERT HOBBS restores a vintage ketch
Paul Freshney was kind enough to publish details of a restoration project on my 1920’s 10 Rater in the May 2010 issue. Sometimes these articles produce a few questions and this resulted in Paul passing to me details of someone who had a large ketch which he had sailed in his childhood and was now in a sad state and needing restoration. Following a few telephone conversations and the email transfer of pictures it was decided that I should inspect the hull and determine if restoration was worthwhile and practical.
The dilapidated hull arrived in late summer, as shown in Photo 1. On inspection it had obviously been a very beautiful ketch and built with great care. The ketch was fitted with Braine steering and the fittings that were with the ketch suggested a date of the 1920’s or 1930’s. The overall configuration and detail suggested the model was possibly made from a full sized ketch design. The foredeck was split in two, Photo 2, and the front section of the hull had broken away, the roof to the coach house was missing and the stern had rotted away and had numerous splits both across and within the bread and butter construction of the hull, Photo 3. The internal lifting handle was completely useless and the thought of a model yacht dropped owing to a handle coming away does not bear thinking about! It is essential to always provide a new lifting handle when undertaking a restoration.
To establish some idea of the model’s geometry, details of full size ketches, which seemed to be very popular between the war years, were investigated. With this information several sail configurations were tried on scale drawings of the hull. A gaff rig was therefore eliminated and with the sail shapes determined, the sizes of the masts, booms and bowsprit were selected to suit the 1500mm x 360mm beam hull.
This was fully stripped and part of the brass rubbing strip from the bow to the lead keel was found to be missing. Now, to my mind, the inclusion of this fitting on a ketch of this size indicated that it really was originally a quality, well built model. This therefore had to be manufactured.
Anyway, the rotten stern section was cut away and made good with red cedar, as was the missing bow section. Splits and cracks were eased open and filled with epoxy and left to cure. The inside and outside of the hull was then tidied up to the basic shape, the interior of the hull was then coated with epoxy and fitted with reinforcing tapes at the bow, mid-section and stern, thus ensuring that the hull was stable and watertight.
The ketch as originally built was fitted with Braine steering and because a number of items were missing, several new fittings were made to complete the fitting out and these together with some of the refurbished fittings are shown on Photo 4. The Braine gear installation on this model is quite unusual. This steering system was invented by George Braine in the early 1900’s and consists of a quadrant fitted to the rudder shaft, connected by sheets to the sail boom. Adjustment of the position of the hooks in the quadrant adjusted the effect of the sail on the steering. The crossing sheets caused the luffing yachts rudder to make the yacht bear away and continue on her pre-determined course. On previous Braine models that I have worked on, the gear has been fitted to the mainsail, or fitted to the mainsail and the jib, but in this case the Braine was fitted to the mizzen and the mainsail, giving quite a complicated and very effective self-steering system, something I have not seen before. This particular Braine configuration is shown as restored in Photo 5.
Deck and coach house
I tried to refurbish the deck but this proved to be completely beyond help, so a new one-piece section was made. A new coach house roof was also fabricated and the skylights made in the traditional way, using lightwood with mahogany framing.
Painting, sails and completion
The hull was then primed, rubbed down, undercoated and rubbed down numerous times between coats and finally top colour painted with several coats of white gloss enamel. A coach line was added together with the name Sally Slade. The deck was matt varnished, lined with black waterproof ink, rubbed down and given several coats of thin gloss varnish. Warming the varnish in a bowl of warm water, just like a cooking Bain-Marie, certainly makes for smooth and easy application. Mahogany bulwarks were added to the hull and fitted with the traditional, brass screws.
The sails were made from lightweight linen, purchased from John Lewis, the seams being double sewn and fitted with eyelets. These sails were lashed to the masts and booms in a style consistent with the age of the ketch, Photo 6. It was decided to maintain the historical integrity of the original ketch and not fit full modern radio control, so only a steering servo has been installed. Sally Slade was finished at the end of 2010, Photo 7, and she was later successfully sailed, Photo 8 at Walpole Lake, Gosport, Hampshire in August 2011.
This was a most challenging restoration project, but most enjoyable. The challenge can bring both frustration and great satisfaction, very often with a new skill learnt along the way, which is rewarding in its own right.