Blest in Brest

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There is a moment when this new boat, Winnie Marie, is sailing up the Rade de Brest and she catches a zephyr of breeze —it hasneven ruffled the water —and she cants over; ten degrees, then, as she speeds up, 15, and sheoff on rails in the lovely still late September light. In the motor-sailer following, doing five knots plus, we cancatch her as she steadily draws ahead.

Herve and his French friends draw breath: magnifique, ce bateau!”

And wequite privileged, we feel, because this is only her second sail with her delighted new owners: the Reverend Mike Palmer and his wife Nettie. We have come to France to see this new-build West Solent One Design, or W boat, described by Wooden Ships veteran broker Peter Gregson in last monthCB as: sort of boat we should all have.”And who doesnlove a West Solent? They are staggeringly pretty, with that gamey sheer that looks so right as they get a shoulder into the water and power up with just the slightest of air pressure.

The 1923 HG May-designed class has been covered in CBs passim (104, class history, and 82, as part of a Berthon history) and has been popular in the last two decades on the East Coast (Maldon) where several have been restored to racing condition, and therea class association. We featured Dilkusha (W7, 1924) restored by Gweek Quay boatyard in Cornwall on the Classic Boat stand at the London Boat Show in 2004, and Arrow (W1, 1924) is a regular on the Mediterranean classic circuit. But as far as anyone knows not one has been built since the 1930s… until Winnie Marie.

Seeing her for the first time in the new Chateau marina within Brestmilitary port was breathtaking —she is a boat built to the highest specification and her pale grey teak decks (laid over ply) sweep majestically around her diminutive deck housings —lustrously chestnut-bright under many coatings of varnish.

All her fittings are bespoke castings, made of aluminium bronze at Hercules Marine, Dartmouth, or from Classic Marine, and theyjust starting to dull off —which theybe allow ed to, removing any sense of bling. The combination of the bright and bare timber, the cream sails lying on the boom and deck and these noble metal fittings all allow the sense of her lines, and the sweet proportions of her teak furniture to dominate. And shea carpenterdream; everywhere you look you see how her joinery just takes the eye, cascading naturally along her wide and friendly decks. And just look at the way her teak deck planks are joggled so neatly into the king plank, or how her honey-teak cockpit coamings sweep elegantly out from her rinky-dink coachroof, allowing surprisingly roomy cockpit seating for her narrow-gutted 7ft 6in (2.3m) beam.

Ita case of re-meeting the Palmers, rather than an introduction, because I first met Mike when I was restoring Nereis, and he his Tumlare Caroline, at Wilsonboatyard in Hayling Island, about eight years ago. Being a recently-retired vicar he is no stranger to the imbibing of red wine and I remember tools on his Black and Decker workbench being replaced by bottle and glasses, usually, er, by latish morning.

By then he and Nettie had partly moved to Brittany, sailing in the splendid waters around Brest to which they had first cruised in the engineless Caroline in 1976.

The Palmers had then just bought back Caroline-having sold her in 1976 —to prevent her from tailing into ruin. wehad a W boat, the 1929 Erin —No 19 —which we kept with a partner and then on our own from 1983 to 1993. She had a longer coachroof and we loved cruising in her.”

Idea for a new W class

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The idea for building a new W had come after Mike and Nettie had sold another of their wooden boats —Madalaine, sister ship of Laurent Giles’Kallista, in 2006. That year Mikemother died, leaving the couple independent enough, her”, to consider the venture and so in 2008 they contacted boat builder Peter Nash. met Peter about seven years ago, when he was part of Nash and Holden, based in Dartmouth then, and had asked him about building a larger (32ft (10m) Stor) Tumlare. We could not afford it then but we met him again in 2008, at Morbihan where he was working on Little Tern, his ’39ft (11,8m) Claud Worth design.

sold our English cottage by then and had some money and wealways regretted selling Erin; she was just such a great boat to sail. Peter was keen on the project too and so we went ahead. That was in October 2008.”

The first job was to find the lines. The originals had been lost in a flood in 1987 at Berthon, and while some drawings were found, including a general arrangement plan, the lines had to be lofted from plans in Classic Boat! These were compared to measurements, and with some help from W Class Association Secretary Kevin Fuller, Peter could begin lofting, in a bam in Devon.

Shebuilt of steamed larch planks on laminated (with Balcotan) oak frames, with a laminated (with epoxy) iroko stem. Peter took advice from existing and restored W boat owners on the laminating and beefing up of the mast step compared to the original scantlings and brought the stem right aft of the mast step (on top of the keel). Shefastened traditionally with copper rivets with splined topsides above the waterline and traditionally caulked below. Shevery fair and she doesnleak.

One of the most costly items was her two-ton lead keel, cast by Irons Bros in Wadebridge, Cornwall, which cost around ?7,000.

She took 16 months to build with Peter getting some help from his daughter Lily and the rigger Lee Rogers.

say the only difficulty in building in a small barn,”Peter Nash tells me later, that you canstand back and see the work

—you just have to trust your measurements really. The counter was probably the hardest part of the job; you end up with everything hanging in the air —but it gradually comes together. There was also the thing of keeping up with Mike and Nettiedrinking, but they are a lot of fun and I donthink anyone has said you’like that to me so much in my life! It was a chance in a million to build a boat like this and Iso pleased she came out well.”

Being cruising folk the Palmers wanted a bridge deck, where most Ws have a walkthrough companion. This creates a little extra space below with the chart table and galley area taking space under the bridge deck, and further improves seating in the cockpit. Being at water level the cockpit sole is not self-draining.

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Down below Winnie Marie s plain, open and charming. Shefinished in varnish with her copper rivets gleaming in the light from her gulls-wing hatch. Her hanging and lodging knees are in bronze; theyoutlast the boat and will give shivers of pleasure to owners a hundred years from now; Therealso quite a lot of tongue-and-groove teak below and that also speaks of longevity. Sails and stuff like an outboard are stored forward with access from her forehatch. She has two bunks, plus a pipe cot for, the chart table and stove area, oil lamps, a concealed porta-potty and no engine. The simplicity is great; no through-hull fittings!

The lack of engine keeps things simple too for the Palmers (a battery and solar panel run a chart plotter and nav lights) but their newish four-stroke was proving obstinate for the day of our sail and so we had an arranged tow from the marina folk. wonderful here —cando enough for you,”Mike murmurs as we are nursed out of the marina.

The outboard is designed to fit on a bracket over her side, next the cockpit, and the plan is to ditch the four-stroke and use a Seagull Silver Century. any case it will suit the boat better and it will sit higher so thereless chance of a wave going over it!”says Mike whilst making the sign of the cross across his chest.

Out of the confines of the marina ittime to hoist sail and it all goes up smoothly with her reconditioned winches ’the polyester buff rope of her halyard falls. The rig is impressive. It was designed, to original specifications, by Ed Burnett, based at Totnes. Collars built the spars, in hollow spruce, while Lee Rogers was the ’. The wire is of a brushed stainless steel —so again it doesnglister too much —and there are great touches, like eye splices served with marline; no swaged stainless-wire here.

In tact everything about Winnie Marie seems to have the dual purpose of being functionally appropriate and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. And her fractional rig, with her 22ft (6.7m)long boom making for a mainsail almost like an isosceles triangle, with a correspondingly small foretriangle area, gives her a great look of rakish purpose when sheout on the water.

The Palmers took ownership in July, with a ’held in Brest in August —shenamed after Nettiegrandmother —but because Nettie had broken her ankle early in the summer they have not been able to sail as they hoped. itbeen good just to come down to the boat and meet all our friends in the marina,”Mike says, elbow crooked over the cockpit coaming and a deceptively lazy hand on the tiller.

The couple, both from sailing families, began sailing together in Durgan, Cornwall, in the mid 1960s, and have a lifetime of cruising, often engineless boats, between them. At one point as Mike goes off to check something, after talking about a gruelling beat into the Breton port of Lannion, on the River Leguer, Nettie leans over and says: always wanted to sail together, and henever once shouted at me aboard a boat. He just never loses his cool…”

Webeen in Mikefriend Herve Filytender, photographing Winnie Matie ghosting along in almost flat calm, opposite the old Benedictine monastery at Landevennec, and on a dying flood tide have turned up the twisting River Aulne where Winnie Mane has a laid mooring about a mile or so in. This peaceful nook of green water is heaven to the Palmers and itnot long before wetied to the buoy and the wine is on deck. was lovely, bless you for coming; this onefor Jesus,”Mike says smiling, sliding a glass to me across the satin smooth teak deck.

It turns out that it was Nettie who suggested building Winnie, and in recessive Britain it seems an act of faith to do this.

of course wecompletely broke now,”Mike beams, sheour dream, and we have got so much already from doing it. Itimportant to find someone you can trust and I think that in Peter we were very lucky. Heput his heart and soul into this boat, and all the finishing touches are glorious. And you know we could not have built a boat like this in France ourselves, labour is too expensive because they have to pay social charges, which means fees were around €42 an hour three years ago.”

So how much can you build a boat like this for? Thereno way of putting this question more tactfully and the Palmers meet it straightforwardly: was around ?125,000 and itprobably gone up since. But she is very highly specified and built to outlast us. We also avoided all the Recreational Craft Directive stuff by building traditionally and in traditional materials. That saves at least ?1500, probably more.”I love Winnie Marie; just love the fact shebeen built in our age, by a couple who understand that they have created something so purist and proper to her purpose that she will be cherished by owners for generations to come. Shekind of blessed, you know? shekeeping us fit, and thata great thing,“rejoin the Palmers: going to be spending Christmas aboard!”