Projects: Renovating a vintage Irish racer
What does it take to renovate a carvel planked racing sailboat that’s more than 100 years old? Time, collaboration – and a healthy dose of WEST SYSTEM® epoxy. In part one of this Your Project, Ian Byrne – co-owner of the Howth 17 Gladys – explores the backstory of this Irish beauty.
The Howth 17 Gladys is one of 17 traditional racing sailboats originally built between 1897 and 1913. Since that time two were lost and replaced with new builds in 1987. Another was built even more recently, bringing the current fleet to 18.
The Howth 17 Footer class is internationally recognised and unique as the oldest one-design keel boat fleet in the world still racing as originally designed. The design is also believed to be the oldest one-design class still racing under its original design, including the gaff rig complete with early spinnaker and jack yard topsail.
A history of adventures
Gladys was built by J Kelly of Portrush in Northern Ireland in 1907 along with four sisters, all ordered by Dublin Bay Sailing Club for the inaugural Dublin Bay fleet sailed out of Dun Laoghaire. With her other adventures, Gladys easily had the most unusual history and travels of all her sisters but in more recent times she was successfully and toughly raced in the 80s and 90s. Towards the end of this period, however, there was a need for a major maintenance and a refit, which meant she began spending more time ashore than afloat and eventually in storage.
She changed ownership over ten years ago with plans to renovate and race her. An attempt was made to get her back sailing; however, having spent so many years out of the water drying out and deteriorating, she sank on launch and after some days her seams were still not sealing up. Her owner remarked that ‘it was like launching venetian blinds’. She was put back in storage, awaiting major refurbishment, but time and priorities intervened and Gladys has remained languishing ever since.
The chance to restore her
Late in 2015, we were approached by the Class Association who were looking to support a new owner to refurbish and actively race Gladys. A lot of support was offered with the objective to complete a full hull restoration and have the boat launched by end of April, ready for the first Club race of the 2016 season. So, we became the new owners and started planning the restoration.
Two phases were decided and the tasks were divided into preparation, those requiring experienced skills and support and those requiring professional shipwrights, metal workers, riggers etc. The new owners – Eddie Ferris, Pat Heydon and me all experienced and local racing and cruising sailors in dinghies, cruisers and 17s – got to work with a huge amount of help and support.
We had tough deadlines but all work had to be to a professional standard and provide a 50-year lifecycle target on some of the structural works. This led us to review what materials and technologies were available and could assist us – and that included WEST SYSTEM epoxy.
What does it take to renovate a carvel planked racing sailboat that’s more than 100 years old? In part two of this Your Project, Ian Byrne talks us through the restoration process of his 1907 Howth 17 Gladys.
WEST SYSTEM® G/flex® epoxy looked like a strong alternative to traditional plank seams using sealant and cotton caulking. Its ability to expand/contract 30% and its ability to attach to wet wood were significant advantages. This was a particular issue with Gladys; many of the plank seams had opened to a point where sealant and caulking were insufficiently structured to maintain a seal, particularly racing in heavy seas with the inevitable risk and relatively common occurrence of falling off a wave. 17s are raced in all conditions.
Getting to grips with G/flex epoxy
We were not familiar with G/flex epoxy but – after a training course given by Gary Thompson of West System International and organised by Kevin Wickham and Ryan Cairns at Waller & Wickham – we had a much better understanding of the product.
Following a couple of trips to Waller and Wickham for a number of discussions, and briefings with Ryan and Kevin, we decided on:
- 105 Epoxy Resin® and 205 Fast Hardener® for spar repairs
- 105 Epoxy Resin® and 207 Special Clear Hardener™ for spar reinforcement with a natural clear wood finish
- G/flex 655 Epoxy Adhesive for all seams and joints where expansion of wood and movement was expected
- 404 High Density Filler for bonding in hardware
- 406 Colloidal Silica as a general thickener
- 407 Low Density Filler to fill and fair the hull
Getting the restoration underway
The priority was to remove the keel, forward and aft deadwoods and fair the top of the keel with WEST SYSTEM 105/205 epoxy with 407 filler added. We needed to replace the keel bolts and deadwoods with four frames laminated in American White Oak (repairing the stem plank with the help of local shipwright, Larry Archer) and refit them with new 316 stainless keel bolts and copper rivets, using sealant between the keel top, deadwoods and hull.
The long detached rudder was also refitted after repairs and fairing using WEST SYSTEM 105/205 epoxy with fillers, to the rudder. The steering box was re-sealed with G/flex 655 epoxy. Whilst this work was in progress, the decks and interior were stripped, the spars varnished, the spinnaker pole was re-scarfed and the gaff was stiffened with biaxial cloth using WEST SYSTEM 105/207 epoxy, to retain a clear wood-grained finish.
The most time consuming activity was the removal of perished sealant and caulking below the waterline and preparation for re-caulking and sealing with caulking cotton and G/flex 655 epoxy. In practice the G/flex epoxy was easy to use; being thickened, it could be applied without much running out and remained usable for up to 45-50 mins at 8-12ºC. This permitted relatively large quantities to be prepared and applied.
On the water at last
Finally, on 26th April 2016, after an estimated 600 hours of amateur, professional and supporting effort, Gladys was launched. Unlike the previous occasion, she floated with only two small leaks in the garboards which we plan to replace next winter along with a new deck and stem plank.
At the time of writing, Gladys has competed in four races – two in very fresh conditions of up to 28 knots – and everything has stayed in place. Gladys and some of her sisters also returned to Belfast Lough after nearly 110 years to compete in the Royal Ulster Yacht Club Classic regatta in late June.
We were very lucky to have had the support and enthusiasm of many friends and professionals including Ryan and Kevin at Waller & Wickham, Larry Archer, Barry O’Loughlin, Tony and Karl at Mac Engineering, Ben at Inox Stainless and the Protector of the class Ian Malcolm who provided his home, workshop, tools, assistance and advice for the project.
Find out more about the fascinating history of the Howth 17 class here and here.