Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Survival of an old lady - Chapter Two - ends in evil thoughts!

The first step in any restoration is to discover how much you've let yourself in for. Stripping off the deck revealed that most of the deck beams were either burst or rotten.

The stem was in a disastrous condition. It would have been made from a piece of oak selected for its curve, but the yacht was damaged at Hunters Quay sometime soon after the War when a ferry ran into her and a couple of feet had been replaced at the top. The original and new sections were both seriously rotten, quite a common problem when you consider how susceptible oak is to fresh water.

There's a special sort of archaeology involved in rescuing old boats. While received wisdom says that the ancients always produced dovetailed joints we found that the deck beams had in fact been lodged in notches in the shelf with each held in place by one iron nail. The elm frames would have been steamed and pretty hot when put in, so it wasn't surprising to find that quite a few had failed to find the little sockets in the hog that had been made for them.

It was obvious that the stem would need to be replaced. To keep the hull in shape I decided first to repair the beam shelf and reinstate the forward deck beams. Here is a sequence of images showing my late pal Duncan working on the rotten shelf and our efforts at scarfing in the new sections. A couple of months later I sat beside Duncan in hospital and he made me promise that I'd make sure "she'd swim again".


While doing this we made and fitted the forward deck beams.

Port side shelf done, starboard glued up

After the forward stem was removed the hull was kept in shape with a system of wooden blocks to keep the planking in line tensioned with Spanish windlasses.

Using the old stem as a template I made the new one alongside, from clear Douglas Fir laminated with epoxy.

Attention turned to the area at the foot of the stern post, where removal of planking revealed that the post itself was split. I made a new one. Likewise the transom had been badly damaged at Irvine and was replaced. Unable to find a suitable chunk of mahogany to handle the radius the new one was laminated from marine plywood.

Up to this point I had hoped that I could complete the job without taking Stroma off her ballast keel, but it was now clear that this would be necessary.

Excavations at this point showed that the hog was badly rotten, also the floors, while not totally rotten, had numerous shakes. It's an interesting speculation that most of these probably occurred soon after Stroma was launched in May 1929, as they had been built from oak crooks selected on the basis of the shape being approximately correct. I have read that members of the McGruer family would scour the woods looking for suitable pieces for this purpose.

It was going to be impossible to find suitable pieces of oak to build a new hog and floors, even had I wanted to. Availability of top quality marine plywood meant that they could be built to a much higher strength and durability than had been possible first time round. Here, the patient has just been lifted off her keel and the rudder dropped out.

The keel is carefully shored to keep it in shape. Originally she had eight bolts, positioned diagonally, worked from iron, which remained embedded in the lead after the sections through the hog had rusted away. The ones you can see are four of five bronze bolts added later, the fifth one being a little short fellow though the front. I was later to stand on the keel and drill another eight holes, staggered opposite the original ones, just because I felt I should. It was an interesting exercise, which included me being thrown off once when the drill bit caught in the lead. The end result is that Stroma now has a ridiculous number of bolts.

Here are some of the new floors in place.

And the new hog and stern knee.

And finally replanked.

At this stage, with new carlins and all the deck beams done, Stroma was beginning to come alive again.

At this point I began to have evil thoughts about giving the whole ship a sheathing of woven glass roving and epoxy. I won't write a long essay about the pros and cons of doing this, as it has been discussed endlessly, usually be people who have no experience of doing it, but may have come across some of the disastrous fibreglass and polyester jobs that were done in the 1950s and 1960s. My friends in the Freundeskreis Klassiker Yachten even have a name for the process, which translates as a dead man's winding sheet.

After very careful reading of all the literature I could find, plus discussing with my boatbuilder friend who had at that stage built about sixty boats (now up to about eighty) with no problems, the decision was made. My reasoning was that having basically replaced everything that in the old boat could absorb water and swell with materials that couldn't the gain in strength and stability was worth the expense and work involved. While the yacht was off her keel the coating could be taken round the hog, avoiding a major reason for not doing it.

The hull was now careened to get proper access and the work done over a very hard and messy weekend under the professional supervision of my good friend Richard.

Now, fully put back together again and much stronger than when she was built, I decided to bring Stroma a hundred miles nearer home in Argyll to get on with the work of reconstructing the cabin, cockpit and interior to Alfred Mylne's original design.

 to be continued... here Chapter Three

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water