It’s possibly a genetic throwback to hunter-gatherer times, but there is definitely a little bit of the treasure-hunter in us all. Maybe the trait manifests itself with us hopelessly scanning for the gleam of gold as we dig the garden borders or perhaps we’ll be found rummaging through dusty junk shops hoping for a forgotten Picasso, but it’s not to be ignored. For boaty-types, if we’re lucky, the fortune-and-glory moment usually arrives in a dirty shed, or a desolate, ramshackle – often wet – boatyard. Perhaps it’s the run of a keel, a tuck in the bilge or the line of a sheerstrake, but suddenly through the grime we recognise the gleam of real, emotive, life-changing – TREASURE!
For Bangor-based boatbuilder, Scott Metcalfe, the moment came in Liverpool Marina when something caught his attention about the strange-looking, rather dilapidated, clipper-bowed schooner he was casting his eye over, but he put the boat to the back of his mind until he received a phone call a year or so later. It must have felt akin to feeling an attraction to a friend’s wife when he was asked to have this same schooner at his yard for restoration, but Scott kept his interest purely professional.
That was in 2004; and the boat was Valerie. It turned out that, being built by Stow’s of Shoreham in 1895, she was a genuine rarity – to this date only around 12 Stow & Sons yachts are known to survive from around 80 produced in the 76 years to 1936 – and one of the reasons for her slightly odd look was that originally she had not been intended as a schooner. Along with this rig change, the true run of her line was obscured by more than 100 years of alteration, many years of neglect and a few misguided attempts at restoration. But something still shone through and Scott began to perceive the jewel beneath.
The man on the other end of the phone in 2004 was her then-owner, ship surveyor and naval architect, John Timms, who had, in his turn, purchased her from Shoreham in 1991, where she had returned, via Exeter Maritime Museum with a somewhat patchy history (see Valerie History). When he bought her, John was aware that vintage boats can tolerate only so much deterioration before they reach a point where restoration is no longer a viable proposition, so his intention was to halt what he saw as a steady decline in her condition, caused by a series of well-meant, but ultimately unsuccessful partial-restorations and alterations. To his mind, Valerie was still restorable, but the prognosis was not pretty.
In some respects though, the situation for John Timms had been little better than that of any of her other owners, for, although he recognised the need and had taken on the responsibility, he did not have the funds necessary to perform a rebuild either. The years passed with her ensconced in Liverpool Marina until Scott Metcalfe was contacted and the boat finally moved to Bangor, where some degree of stabilisation occurred. In time, though, John eventually lost the battle to find the money to rebuild Valerie, as his working life became increasingly unsettled and it became impossible for him to conclude the project in a way that the boat deserved – a rethink was needed, and Valerie was sold to Scott in 2006.
Having gone out of business in 1936 and existing through a time when paper drawings and records were the exception rather than the norm, the history of the Stow & Son boatyard of Shoreham is scanty to say the least. And with so little of Valerie’s build history to fall back on, the stripping out process was as important for finding Valerie’s original materials and structure as it was a necessary part of the restoration. Armed with this information, augmented by what he could glean from other Stow boats, such as Claude Worth’s Tern II from 1899 and the 1904, 105ft LOA, Rosalind, Scott managed to piece together a plan for the rebuild that included a lot of decisions made using his own judgement. He then proceeded to rebuild her with his team of craftsmen over the next six years.
The strip-out revealed the majority of her planking to be pitch pine – probably from an earlier refit – with the top two planks on each side being of teak. And it was while stripping the hull the discovery was made that a portion at the aft end of the lead keel had been removed, cut up and placed in the forward bilges, presumably to compensate the ballast for the main mast when she was converted to schooner rig.
Though it was possible to retain the majority of this planking, it was down in the bilges where a good deal of deterioration had occurred, and it has been necessary to completely re-frame throughout with laminated iroko in the centre section and grown oak at the ends. Along with all-new galvanised steel floors, secured with insulated silicone bronze fastenings, all the keelbolts have been replaced to form a secure new structure in the bilge/keel area. A greenheart apron was installed, while her deck beams and carlins were replaced in air-dried English oak, all topped off with a new, two-layer plywood deck finished in 1/4in thick laid teak planks.
On deck, Valerie is a delight of simple, Victorian-inspired splendour: deadeyes, a low-level coachroof – without portlights – and a minimum of deck piercings give a view from aboard and ashore that would inspire any owner to glints of pride. The teak coachroof corners are some of the few pieces of original deckwork that have been salvaged, but their distinctive upright grain was worth saving, not least for the authenticity they give the project, and she is now respendant with a vintage, though not original, polished brass binnacle. But, it is when safely ensconced within the hull that Valerie belies her birth during Queen Victoria’s reign rather than the Edwardian era; as, at around 3in square, and bulkily paired up in some areas, her massive frames are a long way from the delicate ribs that would become the norm for pleasure craft once a few more decades of yacht development had passed. The sheer solidity of these hefty baulks gives a wonderful feeling of security when below decks.
To date, the interior has been left in a state of partial completion and the installation of an engine has been withheld in order that these options can be tailored to suit a new owner’s requirements.
Outwardly, Scott Metcalfe gives no signs of being any more caring or intuitive than any of the majority of classic yacht restorers that one can find around the country, but an appraisal of the quality and elegance of the rebuilt Valerie induces a re-appraisal of the man: it’s impossible to achieve this level of artistry and functional beauty without having an understanding that goes beyond the merely professional.
The group of craftsmen who have both the skill and the empathy to properly perform a restoration of this kind is small and elite, but Scott has carried it off with Valerie. He has gladly raided his long-saved, best timber stocks and rummaged the precious reserves that all boat builders keep by for that ‘special’ project, in order to get Valerie to the place he saw she should inhabit when he first came across her. For instance, he went to the expense of obtaining a single piece of Douglas fir in order to have continuous, 46ft, un-scarfed beam shelves; while simply to replace the teak logs he has lavished upon her will cost around £20,000.
Faced with a project where there is little hard factual information, it is easy to over-complicate a restoration, but the simplicity of Valerie’s finish and fit-out, as far as it has gone to-date, seem fitting for her vintage and the overall feel when aboard is of a blissful harmony – while the re-introduction of her original yawl rig will make her a handy craft capable of being easily sailed by a small crew. In time, material may come to light showing factually how she was when new, to give credence or otherwise to the design that Scott Metcalfe has arrived at, but what is undeniable is that what he has accomplished is an exceedingly beautiful, sympathetic rebuild that appears correct for her vintage.
At approaching 120 years of age, Valerie is a genuine historical artefact. But, unlike Tutankhamun’s mask or the Mona Lisa, she exists in the real, public, everyday world. It is both the quirk and the blessing of classic boating that an object of such rarity, beauty and desirability can be experienced and enjoyed as was intended by her maker so many tides ago.