BILL Bunting

BILL Bunting – unsung backroom boys 1

Bill is another of the unsung hero’s of powerboating and besides an everyday job in the boatyards mentioned worked with some of the top names in the sport including Tim Powell and Mike Doxford. He was also involved with Ken Raybould in building some high profile hulls for top designers, but as you will see his everyday jobs were just as interesting.

I am trying to coax some more inside stories out of him, keep tuned.

WORKING ON THE HAMBLE, IN THE BEST OF TIMES – Being a Boat builders account of the way things were by Bill Bunting.

Having finished my short spell in the RAF in my trade as Boatwright at RAF Calshot. Previously serving my full apprenticeship as a shipwright/boatbuilder. In September 1958, I applied for a job at Port Hamble. At their new build projects which were under way in a large hanger on the airfield at the end of Hamble Lane.

Dave Simmons was the manager who took the interviews. I had to show my indentures to prove I had full knowledge of my trade. My toolbox was opened for examination of my tool kit, for sharpness and general condition. Particularly that the tools had not been mistreated. If I was a member of a trade union I had to agree not to give voice or sway any fellow workers my views regarding that institution. Had I ever worked for Fairey’s of Hamble.

This companies employee’s were not considered good enough for work on quality craft having not had a fully indentured apprenticeship. Many years later I did work with a number these men and they all agreed their companies motto was, “In glue and dust we place out trust” Indeed, some were very capable craftsmen My starting rate would be £9 per week, £11 with full overtime. Considering I had left a cushy job in the RAF where I was clearing £15 per week, I had to pull my belt in. However a bonus system was in operation where it would be possible to earn up to a 25% increase. In all the time I worked there only six of us out of a workforce of thirty men ever achieved 24%.

“Ramrod” a Arthur Robb design ocean racer, was nearing completion when I started. Whilst working there we built four Laurent Giles designed yachts Dorus Mhor, Franda, Freelander and Manita. Two more Arthur Robb yachts, Raperee and Wish Stream. Arthur Robb introduced new innovations. One of which was thought on as quite radical, his idea for screwing the planks to the timbers with gunmetal screws was a major departure from the traditional through clenching system.

The final yacht was a Dave Simmons design named Gimcrack.

Towards the end of 1961 work was easing up and when word came through that Camper and Nicholsons at Northam were starting two new builds and a very busy renovation and repair programmewas planned. Six of us left Port Hamble and went to C&Ns To do this meant four of us had to join the shipwrights union. Which was no problem, just to produce our indentures and find someone to vouch for us. We paid up our dues and became members of the “brothers.” Although we were all known as the “Sharp edge Shipwrights” It was not long before I was made aware of “Demarcation.”

Of the two yachts mentioned, one was “Cardigrae” a 200ft. steel yacht The other was “Philante V”. I was given my first job on Cardigrae The drawings said Deck Awning. At the aft end of the ship which was about 30ft. long and the total beam of the ship wide ¾” ply was the material. A number of stanchions went along the centreline of the aft deck to support the ridge board from which all the half beams would be attached to carry the ply A simple straight forward job, well within my capabilities. However on the first day I was made aware of a clutch of shipwrights who were caulking the bridge deck.

These men were looking in my direction shaking their heads. When I approached them and asked the problem I was told I needed a driller and to see the foreman. I was duly issued with the driller whose name was Joe. Whilst I was working Joe would remain seated and visa versa. The Shipwrights (my brothers) then continued to further insist that I had a Labourer. When the labourer came he also remained seated. Until a foreman appeared. Then he would leap into action placing his hands on any part of my job. Gripping firmly. I nicknamed this character “Human Clamp” The name was eventually shortened to “Clamp” which he seamed to enjoy.

The job went well until the appearance of a gentleman who asked what I was doing.I indicated the drawing which said Deck Awning. Right said this gentleman who intrduced himself as the Joiner shop steward. Stating that the job was not a shipwrights job but the joiners. He went directly to the office and the work I was doing was halted until the result of the dispute. Two days later I was informed by my Foreman to carry on with the work, but to leave a caulking seam around the deck perimeter and to rename the job description as a “boatdeck” as it was now to house a dinghy.

I do not know if this incident had any thing to do with me being removed from Cardigrae. But my next job was on PhilanteV where I was to install engine beds, Shaft logs, “P” brackets and rudders. Well out of the way of demarcation or so you would think. I was quite enjoying this freedom from prying eyes. But when I was installing the engine beds I needed to drill through the bulkheads. I was in the process of drilling the top bolt at the foreword end of the bed when a familiar voice cried out. “What are you doing. The hole you are drilling is a joiner’s hole. It’s above the waterline”. It was the joiners shop steward again.

About this time Thornycrofts next door were requiring hands on a huge work programme. All six of us that had come from Hamble applied for the work at Thornycrofts. Then a very odd thing happened. We were declined a job as we were not classed as union members. Although we were paying, the full union subscription. We had only been allowed entry into Campers for that occasion. We would not be welcome anywhere else in the port. We then all moved back to the river. We had seen enough of “Union Rule” one man felt outraged enough to write to Union headquarters and after a prolonged battle was allowed in the docks as a full member. But the work he was allowed were of the most menial of tasks to be found. He finally drifted back to the river.

Botley Docks was the next place to be, where Frank Bond retired Shoemaker from the midlands, also ex Speedway star, set up a business on the upmost part of the Hamble. We built two 54ft. Cox and Haswell designed motor yachts. MY and FY. Marsha and Youcca Troubetzkoy. Also Frank and Yvonne Bourner. These vessels were built to a very high spec. In fact whilst half way through the building of the third and fourth vessels, a 60ft Cox and Haswell and a 45ft carvel motor yacht, Frank informed us that he had seriously miscalculated on the first two and needed to go into voluntary liquidation. We had a very good run, for it was a very happy place to work.

Some time later Frank Bourner set up business in Wessex shipyard, “Bournecraft” with Frank Bond as manager. The unfinished 60 ft Cox and Haswell, craft became our first job. “Solaria”. The owner had a keen interest in the stars. He asked one day that people working on the craft of certain star signs should be removed. It was of little consequence for some time later “Solaria” foundered and sank on the rocks of a Greek island.

We had run of Cox and Haswell designed Christia 38’s. My job as on Solaria was engine beds, Shafts “P” brackets and Steering gear. It was then decided to use a hull as a plug and continue the marque in a FibreGlass version. Thought by many as a bad move, far too heavy. I remember boring out for the shaft. The hull was 2″ of solid Glass. It never performed as the wooden version did. Mr.Bourner then had the final Cox and Haswell designed yacht built. The 70ft. Myduska, a beautiful vessel.

After that two of my mates and I were involved in the fit out of a 35ft. Christina “Venturer” for the Raymonds. Father and son partnership once owners of the yard. This craft was a lovely boat but shortly after her launch we came to work one morning to see 3ft.of her bow pointing to the sky where she was moored midstream. Why she sank remained a mystery.

A final note. Just before my retirement date in 1999 a job appeared for a shipwright close to my home here in Hythe, for the American Army base. I was intrigued enough to apply. After a lengthy interrogation I was informed I had every requirement to fill the post. However I was then asked to speak to George. I was ushered into a room with George. He asked if I was a union member and if not he advised me to join. It would help with their decision. I was later turned down for not complying.

 

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Renato (Sonny) Levi.

Renato Levi, known to all as Sonny, was born in Karachi, India in 1926.
His father ran a shipyard in Bombay(now Mumbai), so Sonny naturally took an
early interest in boats & ships.

Sonny became an apprentice in his fathers shipyard in Bombay, but with the coming of World War 2, he joined the RAF, becoming a Pilot Officer. No doubt his interest not only in boats but also aircraft was heightened by this part of his life.

Sonny became primarily interested in marine design, especially in relation to smaller, fast craft, and the ability of such craft to withstand the varieties of sea conditions often encountered. He designed craft for his fathers yard during the 1950’s, but moved to Italy in 1960. In Italy, Sonny managed Cantiere Navaltecnica (Canav), in Anzio.

No one of a certain age can forget “A’Speranziella”, built by Canav to Sonny’s design for the 1961 Cowes-Torquay Race. She finished sixth, after experiencing mechanical problems, but had led the race for a considerable distance, dueling with the eventual winner “Thunderbolt”.

After partially re-building the boat in light of the experiences of 1961, success dawned with a win in the 1962 Viareggio-Bastia Race. Further developments resulted in great success with “A’Speranziella” winning the 1963 Cowes-Torquay Race.

Sonny became a world renowned designer of fast craft largely as a result of these successes, and the many fast craft he designed culminated in the 1965 launch of
“Surfury”, often thought of as one of Sonny’s most memorable designs. This boat
made a name for herself, winning Cowes-Torquay in 1967. “Surfury” was the first of Sonny’s much lauded Delta designs.

This success brought more commissions, and Levi designs were sought world wide,
where fast sea-going boats were needed.

In the 1980’s, Richard Branson commissioned Sonny to design “Virgin Atlantic
Challenger II”, which was successful in recording the then fastest trans-Atlantic crossing, despite contaminated fuel issues en route. This famous boat was certainly a fabulous marker in Sonny’s career. “VAC II” not only had its design by Sonny, but also the Levi Drive system too.

Developments in high speed propeller and drive systems have been part of Sonny’s
great contribution to fast boat development over the last forty or more years.

Martin Napier

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