Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Survival of an old lady - Chapter One

In view of the recent storms, which have brought about destruction and damage to hundreds of vessels worldwide, it's appropriate for me to be writing about the restoration of my yacht Stroma. It's also right to record part of her history, as it seems that she will shortly be passing into the hands of other carers.

I bought Stroma, Scottish Islands Class One Design no 4, in September 1976, having had some experience of the class as an occasional crew on one or two of the other boats, notably Cara, on which I had crewed in Clyde Week and the Round Bute Race. I've written the history of the Class on another blog here: scottishislandsclass.blogspot.co.uk

What really sold Stroma to me was the trial sail. As I drove down from Glasgow to Ayr after work with my pal Peter the rain and wind were streaming across the bleak Fenwick Moor and we were certain that, although we had been asked to bring oilskins, we would be meeting the then owner John Thomson in a nice warm pub and talking about sailing over a few beers.

On arrival at Ayr Harbour we were met by John and a friend and immediately transferred to the yacht, sails ready to hoist, and were soon sailing out into the Firth in a stinking South westerly. This was a fairly standard excursion for the previous owner, who had recently taken part in the Southern Cross Race round Ailsa Craig in similar conditions. It was obvious that a yacht that looked after you in such conditions should not be allowed to pass through your hands.

The next twelve or so years were spent mainly discovering the rocks and reefs of the West coast initially from a mooring at the Brandystone in Oban, but also at Ardfern in its heighday. I won't write about the latter unless someone pays me a great deal.

After 1984 things sobered up a bit with a move to Kilmelford.

Waiting for the tide

These images were taken when I was trying to discover the source of an annoying leak at the foot of the stern post, which was temporarily fixed by injections of Lily the Pink's medicinal compound. 

the magician at work

Years later, during the restoration, I discovered that the stern post had some nasty vertical splits, probably suffered when we grounded hard on the bottom end of Lismore and had to bump over the reef to get off with the help of a stiff breeze. It wasn't entirely my fault, as my crew was the late John Stevenson, who had encouraged me to go inshore to cheat the tide that was flowing up against us like a river. John was an authority on the west coast, and the original model for the BBC's Sutherland's Law, where his career as a rural prosecutor was portrayed by Ian Cuthbertson. It's a pity that his knowledge just wasn't too good on the Lismore rock.

By 1989 Stroma was showing serious signs of old age, her fastenings loose and fittings periodically breaking free at critical moments. By this time I knew of her historical importance as one of the most famous racing fleet the Clyde has ever produced and still in original condition. As I didn't have the skills to restore her properly or the money to pay someone else the offer from the Scottish Maritime Museum to take her on and restore her was very attractive, and I sailed her down at the end of that Summer.

My contract with the Museum included a proposal for progressive restoration at its expense, on the basis that the uplift in value would go to them if the yacht was sold and also contained the following:

"The Museum shall be responsible for keeping the yacht insured..."

Sadly they forgot to do so, as I discovered when she sustained serious damage. A fishing boat coming past collided with her and squashed her, breaking several deck beams and splitting sections of beam shelf. This happened while she had been left afloat in Irvine harbour in winter, something I never imagined would happen.

The next couple of years were spent in fruitless negotiations, while the Museum tried to organise funds for the repairs. A major problem turned out to be my ownership. I was assured that if I donated her they would have no difficulty in restoring her to the highest standard, but by this time I was not convinced of their skills. (I do not wish to reflect at all on the present complement at SMM Irvine, none of whom was around twenty five years ago.)

In 1995 I finally recovered Stroma and had her brought to the shipyard at Renfrew, where I started a restoration that was to last for eight years. While I had doubts about my ability I had by this time met some pretty wonderful professionals who offered and indeed delivered advice and practical help quite gratuitously.

When she arrived Stroma was indeed in a sorry state. The Museum had attempted to protect the hull by bolting on large external rubbing strips, a curious form of sacrilege, but evidently added after both corners had been knocked off the stern. Much of the deck was rotten, as the fitted cover that I had provided had been left neatly folded in the cabin, while the boat was left out in the rain for a couple of years. The following images are better than words.

to be continued, here Chapter Two

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water