The effects Fibreglass had on Boatbuilding

Times, They are a changing…

It happened for me in the sixties. Traditional boatbuilding was to become a thing of the past. Quite a few fellow tradesmen surrendered to it early and found other ways of avoiding it. Double Glazing I believe the main option.

It happened for me in the sixties. Traditional boatbuilding was to become a thing of the past. Quite a few fellow tradesmen surrendered to it early and found other ways of avoiding it. Double Glazing I believe the main option.

I remember working at Moodys, when Gordon Moody stepped up on his box and addressed the work force. Apologising for the fact that they had to move with the times and go with the flow and produce and market fibreglass craft.

Until then the three governing bodies that issued guidelines for the trade were Board of trade, Admiralty and Lloyds. Lloyds took up the job. I was happy with this for I had worked with most of Lloyds staff in their days as boat builders. Men like Alan Strudwick, Dave Winn and Eric Adams. They had parameters to abide by regarding temperature, humidity for the moulding shops, also guidelines for lay-ups, too much or too little material which would be detrimental to the designers wishes.

Many factories sprung up, some with no temperature or humidity control. I worked in one such place. This firm turned out two 32ft. powerboats per week. From a workshop equipped only with a space heater or Salamander heater. The laminator’s, were on a production bonus. Mostly earning 100% of their basic pay. Of course to do this they had to take short cuts. One of which was to wet out two 2oz layers of mat at a time. Of course this practice left huge voids of air trapped.

Hugo de Plessy an expert in fibreglass. For he had written books on it and succeeded in carrying out the manufacture of structures in subzero temperatures. This man bought one of these craft. But before taking delivery he turned up with a roll of Bacofoil and taped it to the topsides. Then going inside with a lead lamp. He was able to view the lay-up and saw the huge air bubbles. He then cancelled his order. The bonus system stopped. They did get their act together later with Lloyds influence taking part for “Translucent” was one of these craft, and we all know how well she did. Whilst I was there. A Moody’s built yacht turned up. A 35ft. Laurent Giles design named “Salar” Picture the scene. It was February, the field in which it stood was a quagmire. First of all the vessel was healed over to port. A tent was erected, where the Welly wearing laminators layed up one half of the mould. It was then tilted the other way and the other side had the same treatment. The finished mould was taken away. Somewhere on the East Coast where the yachts were moulded and marketed as a “Salar 40”.

About this time I also saw the need to escape from what was happening within my chosen profession. A job became available at Borden Chemical Plastic Tooling. Entailing the manufacture of wooden prototypes for the motor industry. Also involved was the training in the use of epoxy resins. So by taking the job it would be not much different to my own trade, only finer limits and at the same time be brought up to date with plastic techniques. One of my claims to fame came about whilst employed in this work. That I am responsible for the shape of every Triumph Stag ever made! However to join this company meant that I had once again join a union.. The Woodworker’s union!. There were sit downs and meetings for trivial reasons. The floor was too slippery and needed acid etching for safety. The walls were to dusty and considered a health risk. Although I thoroughly loved the job, I needed to escape.

Two friends of mine were working for John Wilment, Neil Cozens and the late Brian Corlett. Neil I knew from Bournecraft and Brian from Botley docks. There was a job going there and the work was varied. We got on well and at one time talked of forming a business. Calling ourselve’s CBC. It was the first time I met Ken Raybold and Miss Delson. I was not involved with the plugwork but helped in fit out of Miss Delson. In fact the very last day before the Cowes/Torquay race. Roger Kimish (now RK Marine) and myself worked late ready to present her for the scrutineers the next morning. It was dark when we left and the owner pushed a note in our top pockets for our efforts. On arriving home I found it to be a £20 note. Half my weeks wage at the time. 

Ken introduced us to Richard Wright of Danamos who was using an old race boat Hot Bovril (originally Tommy Sopwith’s Souter built T2) as a plug.. We agreed a price and travelled to Havant every night after work to complete the plug. The mould was taken off and Niel and Brian ended their part. I decided to stay and finish the project. Making the deck plug and later helping with the rigging of “Hot Omelette” at Rye. It was a long haul daily being pre motorway days. I there met Tim Powell for the first time, also Ralph Seavey an accomplished American power boat driver employed by Bobby Buchanan Michaelson to get the best out of this craft, a very likeable man, who was to know then the fate that lie in wait for him? I was enjoying the work there. Any fibreglass work was placed in the capable hands if Geoff Lush. In my opinion the only laminator worth a mention.. Geoff and I have kept in touch, it was he that flew out to Viareggio when things went pear shaped for “Hot Omelette”, her sister ship was the Gas Turbine powered “Passing Cloud” owned by Tony Frost of Epsom. 

Travelling to Havant on a daily basis but I was enjoying the work and the ambiance within the work force. But this all was to end when Richard’s partner decided to stop my meagre travel allowance.

It was when Planatec started up by Doug Garland. Making Neil and Brian joint managers that I was again offered a job on the plugwork of one of the best looking craft to come off Don Shead’s drawing board, Abo, Miss Embassy, Uno Embassy and Cobra. The latter a cruiser in gold and black livery would turn heads even now. The first Abo had problems with hull flexing. Thereby losing large amounts of Gel coat one its first run. Tim Powell bought this craft and had it repaired and converted into a stylish cruiser, not unlike the Cobra. Another Abo was built but the hull was made much stiffer, with lots of diagonal intercostals. There was no way this hull would flex. Ralph Seavy also worked here as it proved to be.. Work was afoot to build a 55ft patrol launch for the middle east. I made a 4 ft. long desk top model cut off at the waterline to be sent to the customer.

It was that beautiful summer of 1976 when I decided to go freelance. I found premises in Eastlands boatyard on the Hamble (close to the motorway bridge). Work really took off, a constant flow of work, which caused me to take on a partner. Then I had a call to look at some work at Don Sheads office in Fareham, building Tank test and desk models. They had made a workshop beneath the offices, thinking it was short term I left my partner to look after things in the yard. I never returned, as this man allowed others in to help. That became Midas Marine. I started at Fareham (how could I refuse?), working at Don Shead’s place was a treat. I grew to know the staff John Mace and Pat Mant and Graham Stevens, who were all very helpful. Then another job came in which opened another door for me. Mike Doxford had a commodity brokerage in St. James St. London. Don had designed the table arrangement for the banking hall. Sixty feet of table space set out in a lozenge shape. All with Key and Lamp fixtures, plus Vdu’s to be made of fibreglass mouldings. I took the job on but had to take on new premises in farm buildings close to home. I completed the work and went to London to assemble it all. There I once again met Tim Powell where it was his place of work also. The job went well and on finishing returned to Shead’s jobs which were by then drying up.

Another opportunity arose by a chance phone call from Tim Powell, asking would I be interested in working for Mike Doxford at Farnborough, where he kept his Limit Up race boats. To me the journey involved a 100 mile round trip, but I did not hesitate and took the job. My first job was the repair of a Cigarette 35 which had returned from the River Plate with a serious amount of damage. I had seen this damage before for it was common on centre cockpit powerboats. The main bulkhead, forward of the cockpit was a stiff section but immediately behind was a shallow coaming inboard. As the coaming itself was very narrow the chine in the area of this bulkhead becomes a hinge point for any stress occurring, when the craft falls hard on a wave with its extremities unsupported. This results in the topsides tearing all the way from the top of the coaming down to the chine. A temporary repair had been made before shipment. Ali plate outside bolted through with Kevlar inside. Removing the Kevlar being the hardest part of the job. Otherwise an easy repair but this boat never raced again. The Limit Up 40 was my next job in converting it into a cruiser. Then came the Cougar cat which I had very little to do with as Clive and his crew saw to that. Tim was responsible for much of my work after that. Introducing me to many contacts for which I will be eternally grateful.