Bill Trafford of Alchemy Marine, hidden away in the farmland of Skenakilla west of Mitchellstown in north County Cork, has carved himself a unique reputation in recent years for successfully re-imagining glassfibre boats of a certain age, and transforming them into modern classics writes W M Nixon.
In fact, calling them “boats” at a key stage of this process is scarcely accurate. What arrives in his shed as a former but still recognisably standard sailing craft quickly becomes no more than “the donor boat”, which is soon a bare hull with which Bill is free to play, re-tweaking the sheerline, altering the stern, and adding a completely new deck and coachroof configuration
That’s just for starters. But with the former Elizabethan 23 Kioni, and more recently the former Etchells 22 Guapa, the process is indeed magic, because both boats have ultimately emerged as beautiful head-turners wherever they sail.
But while he was given a lot of freedom in making choices with those boats, Bill’s main project this winter is for a very specific project.
Back in 1950, some members of the Royal Cork YC commissioned a boat from up-and-coming yacht designer Alan Buchanan. They wanted a miniature yet classically stylish performance cruiser, just 23ft 2ins LOA, to be called the Colleen and capable of being built locally.
The 1950s were very far from being a boom time in Ireland, so it seems that no more than four were built. But one or two are still about, and a contemporary Cork Harbour sailor fancies the look of them, but doesn’t fancy the hassle of maintaining a wooden hull.
So now Bill Trafford faces the challenge of creating a new Colleen from a glassfibre hull donated by some other boat. He quickly realised that the Buchanan-designed glassfibre Halcyon 27 – which has a transom stern – was otherwise unsuitable, so he settled on the Elizabethan 29, designed by Kim Holman and built with great success by Peter Webster in Lymington in the 1950s.
He found one in giveaway terms on ebay in the middle of England at Milton Keynes, and Jonathan Kennedy of Kennedy Boat Haulage personally undertook the long trek to move the little boat from a neglected condition in the middle of England to a winter of transformation in the middle of Munster.
Having seen what Bill Trafford has been able to do with a former Elizabethan 23 and a former Etchells 22, there’s no need to doubt that the spirit of the Colleen will be re-captured in that secret laboratory near Skenakilla Cross-roads. And those of us who feel that the vigorous sheerline of the original might have been better if it had the lowest point slightly further aft may even be indulged in our views. But that of course is up to the owner, who has greatly brightened the prospects of the winter by commissioning this fascinating project