Welsh skipper Rob Mason has taken on a new vintage boat restoration challenge writes W M Nixon. The retired Milford Haven tugboat skipper swept all before him when he brought his beautiful 1897-vintage 37ft restored cutter Myfanwy to the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 in July last year. He and his cheerful crew went home with the Kingstown 200 Cup and a traditional purse of a hundred guineas, which they’d won in the classics racing to celebrate the Harbour Bicentenary.
Myfanwy is now for sale and is attracting international interest, while Rob has found another project irresistible – the restoration of a 42ft 1938-built trawler yacht which he discovered in a very tired condition in the tidal port of Hayle in the far western corner of Cornwall.
He bought this boat Blue Hills knowing only the main aspects of her history, notably that she had been designed and well built by renowned fishing boat constructors W. Weatherhead of Cockenzie on Scotland’s East Coast, and that thanks to the installation of secret compartments in her comfortable accommodation, she’d had a successful World War II in 1939-1945 career smuggling secret agents across the North Sea.
But now it has emerged that there’s an Irish twist to the tale, as Blue Hills was originally built to the very specific requirements of Frank Gilliland. He was a north coast cruising enthusiast (Donegal and cross channel ventures to the Hebrides were his speciality) who wanted to change to a seamanlike motor-cruiser after a long sailing career.
However, the brief period of cruising by Blue Hills from Lough Foyle and Donegal (where her moorings were in Mulroy Bay) was the only time she was in Ireland, for after her war service ended in 1945, she was sold to an owner in Devon. When Rob Mason found this attractive boat, she had been out of commission in Hayle for at least four years, but having seen what he could do with Myfanwy, the results with Blue Hills will be impressive.
To do it, however, Blue Hills had to be moved to Rob’s hidden waterside home in the upper reaches of Milford Haven, and in order to do this she’d to be lifted out at Hayle (where the tides are large) and road-trailed the full length of Cornwall and Devon before traversing the entire width of South Wales to Pembroke for a further brief period afloat being towed in the shelter of Milford Haven to Rob’s place.
Fortunately the long road haul was done before the present bout of extreme bad weather interrupted, and Rob’s shipmate Andy Whitcher reports: “only three punctures, otherwise not a bother….” In other words, a formidable task, well done by people who knew what they were about.
With the Donegal connection, we’ll he following this already fascinating story with extra interest. Meanwhile as they wait for the perfect tide to get Blue Hills into her proper restoration berth, Rob has been going through the many lockers, and reckons that some of them have never been fully emptied of assorted specialist spare parts in all the boat’s eighty years.