||A grand old lady comes back to life
Valentine's Day 2006 will live long in the memory of all those present at the high-security Arsenale Militare Marittimo yard in La Spezia, Italy, where the historic cutter Lulworth was due to be relaunched after a painstaking and lengthy restoration. With too much draught to be launched in the port of Viareggio, where the work had taken place, she was towed to La Spezia on a giant pontoon - and as she entered the confines of the naval complex, the crew of the submarines and battleships downed tools to watch the drama unfold.
The spectator count was soon swelled by a crowd of top brass, drawn out of their warm offices on this freezing morning to stand spellbound at the quayside. Their silence was not only down to Lulworth being the first foreign-flagged vessel to enter this top-secret stretch of Italian coastline since 1850, but also astonishment at seeing a pristine white yacht amidst the grey fortresses of maritime might. Standing on board the raft was Lulworth's owner Johan M van den Bruele. On paper at least, the level of security was such that this Dutchman turned classic yacht saviour was not going to be allowed onshore to watch Lulworth lowered into the water, but the admirals soon cut through the red tape when they saw the yacht at close quarters - everyone wanted to talk to the man responsible for this stunning achievement.
And this was by no means the first occasion that van den Bruele had prevailed against the force of Italian bureaucracy. When Lulworth was first rediscovered back in 2001, it had taken a monumental effort to even start the project. She had originally been towed to Italy in 1990, where the planned restoration had become mired in a legal dispute between the owners and naval architects.
Piggy in the middle was the Beconcini yard, which had been earmarked to bring the great cutter back to life. By mid 2001, when van den Bruele came calling, Lulworth was a forlorn figure roasting in the sun.
'When I saw Lulworth for the first time, my heart nearly stopped,' he remembers. 'We climbed up on to the bow of this magnificent beast - a rib cage of perfectly uniform and symmetrical steel framework clad with acres of Honduran mahogany.
Sandwiched between the beautiful Tuscany hillsides and the Mediterranean Sea, she was a breathtaking sight.'
It soon transpired that much more of Lulworth was left than just her frames, planking, floors and a deep keel. Six containers were full to the brim with parts removed in 1990, from lanterns to helm controls and sinks to skylight grills. Elsewhere a furniture storage area contained all her mahogany parts: her table, writing desk, wine and glass cabinets, all her interior panelling, every door and door frame, her original stairs and banister and even her entire saloon and owner's cabin. And the amount of original deck equipment was unprecedented.
'This was a wonderful day, although I still did not quite grasp what we had found and how much could actually be put back together. Although I had no idea of the importance of this yacht in the annals of sailing history, I determined there and then to nurse her back to health.'
Van den Bruele has a keen eye for historical projects, and some fine buildings have been redeveloped in The Netherlands under his tutelage, including an 11th century monastery in Utrecht. This love of the past eventually involved him in re-builds of a different nature. 'Until six years ago, my yachting experience had been of the powerboat persuasion, 'he recalls. 'Then walking along the marina in Antibes in September 1999 I came across the 1939 Feadship Iduna in rather desperate straits.
I had been looking for a classic yacht and the chance to rescue this piece of Dutch nautical history seemed fortuitous'. As is so often the case, the Iduna project involved far more time and money than originally anticipated, and its success was primarily due to Van den Bruele's right-hand couple Giuseppe and Elisabetta Longo, who set up and managed a purpose-built yard to restore her. She was finally re-launched to considerable acclaim in September 2002.
By this time, an even more challenging project was under way at the Classic Yacht Darsena yard in Viareggio, Italy, where after lengthy negotiations to free Lulworth from an 11-year legal stalemate, a multinational team could now appreciate both the magnitude of the task and the landmark importance of this classic cutter. 'It was daunting to say the least,' says van den Bruele. 'A rather large weight of English heritage was resting on our shoulders'.
The first owner of Lulworth (or Terpsichore as she was known until 1924) was another courageous man prepared to invest significant funds to match his convictions. When Richard H Lee commissioned the yacht in August 1919, he was responding to a challenge from King George V. His Majesty's 36.9 metre black-hulled cutter Britannia had long been the darling of the huge crowds that lined the British coastline to watch 'Big Boat' races at this time, and now the King was keen to lift the post-war gloom by providing some offshore entertainment, and he needed some worthy competitors.
The ravages of war meant that a large class yacht like Lulworth cost as much as three times more to build in 1919 than she would have six years before. Lee chose White Brothers in Southampton, and the yard was given just eight months to complete the project. The chief designer Herbert White was responsible for more than 65 sailing, steam
and motor yachts during his distinguished career, and Lulworth was the third largest.
When she was launched in the spring of 1920, Lee paid ? 24.000 - although a report in the Torquay Times of May 1924 tells us that her next owner paid just ? 3.700, so sell-on losses are clearly not a new phenomenon.
Over the next 10 years Lulworth competed with distinction against some of the great names of sail, including White Heather 11, Westward, Shamrock, Nyria, Astra, Cambria and Candida. All were spectacular to watch in action, with impressive stern and bow dashes, deep keels, remarkable booms and powerful rigs, and around 45 races were organised in the British regatta season from late May to early September, with the highlight being Cowes Week in early August.
Between 1920 and' 1930 Lulworth took the starting line in some 247 races along the British coast, winning a record 114 prizes and taking the flag on 59 occasions. These results are even more impressive when you take into account the difficulties she faced in her first years of racing - an extreme design by any standards, her various teething problems were eventually solved by the naval architect Charles E Nicholson. With a new rig and a heavier lead keel, she outstripped all her rivals to win 47 races between 1925 and 1930 - a figure that might well have been higher had it not been for some dubious rating formulas set between 1927 and 1929. Three owners enjoyed the glory of her reaching her full potential: Herbert Weld (owner of Lulworth Castle in Dorset), Sir Mortimer Singer and the banker Alexander Paton. She retired from racing in 1930 after the introduction of the new J Class rules (see panel on page 110). No attempt was made to convert her, and one of the reasons she is so unique is that even today she still has her original 'as built' dimensions. Another is that she survived at all. Earmarked for the scrap yard in 1947, Lulworth (and the J Class Endeavour, later restored by Royal Huisman) was rescued by Richard and Rene Lucas. For the next four decades she was mud berthed along the River Hamble near Southampton and used as a houseboat; Mrs Lucas is still alive today and has been a great help in tracing her history (see panel below).
Many people gazed at Lulworth in her mud berth over the years and dreamt how she might look back on the water. Mrs Lucas reluctantly sold her in 1987, and three years later she was shipped to Italy, under the supervision of Nicholas Edmiston and William Collier then of Camper & Nicholsons, in a special submerge for a planned restoration. Here, the Beconcini yard's swift action in storing everything that could be removed was, after the guardianship of the Lucases, the second key moment in her survival story. The third and final instalment was the move to the Longo's Classic Yacht Darsena yard in the summer of 2001.
From the outset, manager Giuseppe Longo had few problems attracting the traditional craftsmen he needed. 'When news spread along the boat building grapevine that accomplished shipwrights, deck layers, caulkers and carpenters from around the world, and many local experts also signed up, reflecting the fact that Viareggio still has many age-old products and skills available.' A more taxing conundrum was how to approach the restoration, and for this Longo picked the brains of many historians, naval architects, rigging experts and joinery specialists. 'One option was to follow a rebuild strategy, taking the shell of the boat as the starting point then adding new materials and redesigning her to 21st-century norms,' he says. 'This is the approach behind many of the "classics" afloat today, but we chose a more difficult option for Lulworth ... a complete restoration to the original state, using exclusively traditional methods. Building off the boat in this way entailed preserving every possible piece of metal, wood and furniture, and otherwise replacing like with like. As no other large classic boat has been restored in a private yard in this way, the challenge we faced was enormous'.
One huge plus point was that so much of the original yacht was intact. Around half of Lulworth's steel frames were restorable, as were 60 per cent of her stringers and half of her floor plates. Most of her deck fixtures were available and an amazing 70 per cent of her interior was also able to be saved. A photographic record made by London's Victoria & Albert Museum in the 1970s proved extremely useful in putting together this giant jigsaw, and it soon became clear that the restoration team had a treasure trove of materials to work with.
'When parts were unsalvageable, we did everything possible to ensure the authenticity of the replacement', Longo continues. 'While other projects have used lroko, Lulworth is planked with rare, air-dried Honduran mahogany. New frames were only made after chemical analysis of the old ribs showed the required purity of the steel. Every missing hinge was recast to exactly the same specifications. We left no stone unturned to replace like with like'.
Before Lulworth's hull could be rebuilt, months were spent templating the entire yacht in plywood - data that was then used by Fairlie Restorations in the UK to make a computerised lines plan, which showed that she had kept her shape. Held in place by massive cross-structures and beams, any steel frames beyond repair were then removed and replaced - a meticulous approach that took eight months to complete and ensured that nothing around the ribs moved, preserving Lulworth's beautiful lines.
ext, approximately 300 planks measuring 14 metres by 20 centimetres by 7 centimetres were attached using 9,800 nickel aluminium bronze bolts, each with its own wooden plug on top, and all put in by hand. Great skill was required to shape the planks into the right curvature, and some were bent over a fire ? a traditional method that dates back centuries.
To lift, fit and bolt in each plank required eight men and two turning blocks, the entire process taking another eight months.
After caulking and painting, the next stages of the project were the deck laying (see panel below) and the fitting of the interior.
The plans used to recreate Lulworth's layout dated primarily from 1924 to 1926, and were supplied by Camper & Nicholsons. A few adjustments were made, however, such as the inclusion of an alcove seating area in the owner's cabin. 'I make no apology for fitting showers instead of the original tiny tin baths,' says Longo, 'even the purists might balk at spending six months living in Mediterranean summer temperatures under the hygienic conditions of 1920s Great Britain.'
The galley and crew quarters had to be recreated as the originals had been thrown away, and here the team upped the ante and created something really special. Based upon photographs of the original, the entire area was built to a much higher quality than was previously the case (and far beyond what is normally found in 'classic' galleys and crew quarters). The view forward from the main saloon doors shows how well this 'new' area merges with the old.
This design came from the drawing board of Studio Faggioni, which also drew other missing pieces such as the beds, ceiling lights, mirror supports, fittings, lights and drawer handles. It is remarkable how this La Spezia based architects' studio has managed to keep entirely to Lulworth's cultural tradition and follow the spirit of the original.
Today, the lovingly restored original materials and recreated period pieces blend seamlessly into one. It is fascinating to see the nicks, scratches and bumps in the metalwork and deck beams. The knots and dings in the panelling and doors add to the air of authenticity precisely because they are so real. What stories do they hold? Who stumbled against the panel while holding something sharp?
Throughout the interior you constantly come across antique pieces, from light switches and door ventilation grilles to silver plated toothbrush holders and candle holders.
The piece de resistance is surely the grand saloon, with its furniture dating back to the 1800s, and the cold chisel marks and names of the two steel suppliers from 1919 clearly identifiable. Heading aft is a curving corridor of ancient mahogany panels, complete with 80-year-old fire extinguishers. Doors lead off here to the three guest cabins, all with their own drop-down basins, while the owner's cabin is astern and has its own en suite bathroom. And then there is the delightfully decorated staircase, which leads up to the all original deckhouse.
It is genuinely hard to fathom that almost everything here is from 1920. Small wonder the Comit? International de la Mediterran?e (CIM) has awarded Lulworth its highest ever rating for a restoration.
The atmosphere of authenticity is further complemented by the complete absence of modern accruements. Electric sockets have been so discretely placed that it takes the help of a crew member to find them. There are no televisions and the temptation to fit air-conditioning has been resisted (see panel on page 120). The primary brief for Lulworth in engineering terms was to stay as faithful to the original as possible within the parameters (of 21st century regulations on, for instance, waste disposal and fire-fighting.
'There are aspects where it is impossible to turn back the clock,' explains the project's chief engineer Gerald Read, who is now Lulworth's captain. 'Original piping and taps, yes, but the rest has to be modern. Our wiring had to meet today's safety standards it is illegal to use old lead wiring in boats.
But in aesthetical terms, we did all we could to ensure that the engineering matched the traditional environment. We even made the freshwater pipes in brass.'
Read also points out that Lulworth's Yamaha 380hp engine is essential for manoeuvrability. 'Just like every other large classic yacht afloat today, we want to be able to go stern-to in port. This is not only about making it easier for guests to come onboard.
We are also keen to let the public see Lulworth again, and that could not happen if she were anchored offshore.'
Many people have already visited Lulworth, and she has made national headlines in Italy.
Her home base is Le Grazie, just along the coast from Portovenere, where Lulworth forms an integral part of the municipal plans to transform this bay into a living cultural museum for vintage yachts. Right now she is spending most of her time out at sea as the crew learn to sail the world's largest gaff rigged cutter - which is a tall order as no-one is left alive with first-hand experience of sailing a boat of this magnitude.
Within the safety constraints set by 21stcentury insurance, Lulworth can race exactly as she did in the 1920s, but there are no second chances with a yacht of this power.
She is like a battering ram when doing 14 knots under sail and the crew have to constantly watch the 27 metre boom soaring at 1.8 metres across the deck. We will give them a couple of months to learn the ropes and report on how they are getting on in a later edition of Boat International.
For now, the last word should go to Mr. Van den Bruele. How does it feel five years on to be standing on Lulworth's immaculate deck? 'Call it a labour of love if you like, but for me history truly comes alive when you take on projects like this. As long as you refuse to compromise on quality, the results are always worthwhile.' Amen to that.
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