These days we hear so much understandable negativity about the frightening lifespan of plastics that it’s like a breath of fresh air to hear more about someone who has put its longevity to good use writes W M Nixon.
Deep in the extremely rural depths of north County Cork, master boatbuilder Bill Trafford of Alchemy Marine has been completing such superb restorations and re-imaginings of old fibreglass “donor hulls” that his finished craft has deservedly received Classic Boat awards. He has been at it for some time now, one way and another, but he leapt to fame with a wonder-job he did with transforming an Elizabethan 23, and he drew much international interest with a classic Swedish Skerries weekender take on the Etchells 22.
His visionary work rings a bell with mature sailors who hanker to sail again in the boats of their youth, but with modern convenience. So even though some of those boats may still be sailing in the by-now rather elderly original timber versions, those who would recall the memories of times past sensibly wish to do so with a low-maintenance fibreglass hull topped out by exquisite new joinery work.
One such is a client who sought a 21st Century version of the little Alan Buchanan-designed Colleen Class sloops, two or three of which were built in Kinsale around 1950. The Colleen class was transom-sterned with a vigorous sheerline, and it takes a leap of the imagination to see her in any of the long-keeled fibreglass boats of the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Yet Bill Trafford can see a boat-within-a-boat with rare vision, and as reported here in Afloat.ie, he reckoned he could see a new Colleen within an old Holman & Pye-designed Elizabethan 29, a successful sloop which originated in 1960. So he sourced one of these venerable beauties - very tired-looking perhaps, but basically sound - and set-to last year to strip her out.
He removed the counter to replicate the Colleen’s transom stern, and then made further modifications which captured the Colleen’s marked sheerline and simple form. But thanks to a heavily-cambered coachroof in Scandinavian style, he has managed to provide full standing headroom under the sliding hatch and the skylight, and if the new boat seems at some removes from the original Colleen design, the spirit is still very much there.
The underlying principle in the Alchemy Marine approach is preparation. Everything is done in such a way that, in the final assembly, the boat is put together from parts which have been assembled beforehand and finished on the workshop floor or bench. Working within a boat is difficult enough at the best of times, but with years of experience standing him to the good, Bill has evolved a project management technique which minimizes the working discomfort and maximizes the quality of the finished product.
The new boat is now almost finished, and the final “attachment of the shiny pieces” is taking place in new premises. No longer can we write with relish of Skenakilla Crossroads as being the location of the Alchemy Marine workshop. Bill and his family live in Doneraile some 12 miles away, and now he has bought a disused creamery at the town, with a fine shed so big he could work on a hundred footer could he only get her there, and he sees re-imagining projects on 40-footers as being a realistic expectation.
So the photos of the new boat in the work stages are at Skenakilla, but those finished images are in Doneraile, in the bigger place where all sorts of projects are in the pipeline and Bill Trafford will continue to surprise and delight us with his superb work.