Astra's Story... click here to read or make an observation about this  article
by Roy McBride - Cape Town, South Africa -

... Plus a part history of The Lipton Cup and other long
forgotten sailing issues in South Africa.
© Roy McBride

Part 2

(back to Part 1)

If you have read this far,you will by now start to understand the amount of work that was taking place to reach this stage? My own labours and all materials were donated free of charges.The guys who then took over the boat around this stage got stuck in be assisting me when they could.Wet hand sanding comes to mind,so does the blood weeping from their finger tips on occasions!

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As mentioned in Part 1, the boats being scrapped tended to be Thirty Squares, given their long length it was then suitable for a 40ft plus yacht to be kept in the same space. It should be said that while the Thirty Squares needed attention, they were still floating and very much restorable at the time. Nearly all had been imported from Europe and made as they were from Honduras Mahogany, the workmanship was just stunning to see. In their hay day they will have been used to sail for the Lipton Cup, South Africa's version of The Americas Cup and not a lot smaller a trophy either. I believe that large silver cup, is still the worlds oldest yachting trophy.

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Look closely at this picture,one half,the left,is re primed after being hand sanded,the right hand side still needs another coat of primer.It worth noting that half of what is applied ends up on the floor after sanding it smooth.

That Cup was presented to the yacht clubs of South Africa on July 3rd 1907, being in the form of a letter from Captain Sir Pieter Bam, then Vice Commodore RCYC and enclosed was a cheque for some Two Hundred Pounds Sterling, from Sir Thomas Lipton. Quite a tidy sum in those days. The offer was recived by the then Commodore of the RCYC Mr Maurice Goodall on behalf of all the yacht clubs of South Africa. It was Sir Thomas Lipton's way of raising the standards of sailing at the time. Sir Thomas, a man who was rejected by the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England. Due to the simple fact he was a seen to be a lowly shop keeper at the time! Memory tells me he then formed his own yacht club and attempted to win The Americas Cup on many occasions from that club. To this day the yacht clubs of South Africa are still trying to win the Lipton Cup and of course we can still buy Lipton Tea world wide. Thomas was quite a clever ‘Shop Keeper’ it seems.

Once Jean uttered her now famous words (they have been published in SA Yachting magazine) I approached FBYC to take over the boat. Gary Barker as project manager/chairman for the boat asked that I request this in writing, which I duly did by fax. Gary then hand drafted a return letter on the 23rd May, 1997, advising that the Friends of Astra Assocation (f.o.a) met on the 9th, May 1997 and have agreed to your offer to take over Astra. Ending with:

The committee have every confidence that you will progress her restoration expeditiously with no ulterior motive and they wish the very best of luck in your undertaking.

This is one of Astra’s new owners, Trevour Howard, between beers, I got them doing a really great job of preparing Astra’s hull for its next coat of paint.

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Given that they had already had a number of years to repair the tired out old wreck, I was probably going to need those kind words. I would also require some help from my ‘home’ yacht club, the Hout Bay Yacht Club, which is based in the harbour in the village where we have lived for twenty odd years.

To the Marina Committees credit and under the chair of ex Hout Bay YC Commodore, Alan Batley, Astra was indeed granted both a free hard standing space for what turned out to be eighteen months while I did the work. Then once launched a free marina berth as well. Thank you HBYC.

So I now own a wreck! What next, one might ask? What was being entrusted to me was a long way away from where it was to be rebuilt. The trailer it sat on was nothing more than a ‘Dolly’ to move it around a flat boat park. So I now needed a good road trailer but where would I find such a thing? A tow truck I already had in my Ford LBW truck, that had a 2.2 ltr engine and a tow hook already. I had two things in my favour, one was an empty road trailer in the HBYC boat park for an L 26 race yacht, the other was given what Astras condition was in, it made little difference what I did to her next, Which was just as well.

Permission was sought and granted to use the empty L26 road trailer. I then made a side view template up from scrap ply of the stern of Astra. As it was clear she would never front load on this kind of trailer.The fit was near perfect, so a Navy crane was ordered and we towed the trailer to the FBYC. On my request Astra had now been taken back into the FBYC yard for safe keeping. Loading was easy but supporting her would not be so. The steel road trailer could not be altered or marked in any way and its support arms did not quite sit in the right places.

So with the help of Brad and Gary, we made a wood cradle inside the steel one, this was through bolted to Astras hull, I thought at the time Brad and Gary were a little alarmed but knowing the long and hilly roads we had to travel back to Hout Bay I had worked this out long before. With plenty of pine timber planks and handy threaded rod, washers and nuts I could easily make up bolts to suit any requirement and so it was that we finaly saw the whole contraption motor out of the club's boat park and head for Hout Bay.

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By now we were well on top of things,the rudder has just been hung, launch date is close to hand.

Road traffic law in South Africa demands a back up car when moving such loads. Brad did a fine job with his Blue VW Beetle, traveling in convoy we soon reached the top of Old Capse Weg, which is Afrikaans for 'Old Cape Way', or road, we stopped to allow traffic that had backed up pass and then continued down the mountain pass to then reach our next target destination and again stop, Constantia Nek or neck, a place where three roads join up on the rise of a hill. Once again we stopped to allow the traffic that had backed up pass . Then it was just one more hill to decend and we were entering Hout Bay.

Brad, his VW Beetle support car and Astra high up on top of the Oue Kapse Wek road pass.

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click to enlargeArriving at the HBYC boat yard was a welcome relief but Brad an I had really enjoyed the trip, it was still mid morning and we had found the traffic both light and understanding too. The rig was parked into the bay I was to work in for the next year and a half. We later used an overhead gantry and block and tackle to remove the hulk from the L26 trailer, which was quite unharmed.

With mainly the rudder and a few other fittings to bolt onto the boat, we are very close to the long travel to the water,just across the way.

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Now to assess what we needed to do, by ‘we’ I mean myself of course, as after an early offer by some folk to help, nothing ever happened and to be honest I can not blame them, this was a large undertaking. After a quick Survey, it was clear that the decks needed to be replaced, the cockpit was very none original, it was also over weight and too large. But the Coach roof was in rather good shape, a welcome bonus as it gives the Tumlaren much of its character. So off they all came, the cockpit became fire wood, the deck beams saved where possible, the decks thrown away but the coach roof was saved to be reused later in the restoration.

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Launch day, actually a day late and even when we got the go ahead from the cranes owner, Ken Evens, of the CIRCE LAUNCHES here in Hout Bay, the crane then refused to fire up at first. I think the combined mass of people power thinking actually started the crane that day.

To Ken Evens and Oscar Walters, fellows who gave their services for free to the Astra project, Thanks guys!

I believe the Friends of Astra Association had every intention of saving this boat but the work was just too complicated and costly for the resources they had. I also think they misunderstood the boat's construction. As mentioned, the boat's hull is Carvel Planked. This means the planks are shaped inside and out to fit the frames, then fitted very close together and riveted to the frames with bronze nails and roves. When a plank is being hand crafted for one side, a second is made at the same time, mirror fashion, to fit the other side of the boat which should be exactly the same. The whole construction was then bolted to a steel frame set that bonded each side of the boat to the other and then down to the Cast Lead Keel. This made a very strong system with no caulked joints at all.

The F.0.A in False Bay had either intended to repair the planks or re-caulk the repairs. Which? I never found out. If the planks had been back filled with strips of new mahogany and epoxy glue, that would have helped but the age of the wood was not going to be of any help. In the ends of the boat, the unstressed parts, the wood was like new but in the center where all the cap shrouds terminated, the wood was soft. The gaps in the planks in this area were some 9mm wide (3/8”). This means caulking would not work either. A friend told me later that he used to sail the boat, and as they tacked jets of water would spurt in through those planks! Things would settle down a bit when sailing; just a few leaks.

‘People Power’ moving the crane and Astra. That’s Trevour Howard on the deck.

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My idea was to preserve the boat once and for good, no messing around. I was not going to do it twice or ever again. To me this only means one thing: a double diagonal cover of Marine ply and liberal application of thin Epoxy to both bond the system together and make the hull strong and light. This is where we have to be objective. This method works as my pictures show but if the boat is to Measure and race in its class once more the boat can not be done this way. The extra layers of plywood, two 4mm (3/16”) will make the boat larger. It will float higher then too. So if anyone contemplates restoration of a classic yacht to still race, this must be understood first.

At this point it should be said that restoration is a journey into the unknown. What you find as you remove layer upon layer of old paint reveals the boat's history. You can build a new boat faster too but then it is a new boat and not the orginal classic we have here today. As we stripped we found Copper Tingles nailed on the outside to try and keep the water out. We found putty forced into hull joints; what had been Liquid Bitumin, hot poured into the bilge for the same reason as the tingles. At some time the hull had the starboard side damaged, as could be seen in new planks in Meranti wood next the genuine Honduras Mahogany originally used.

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Finally tied up in her berth on the Hout Bay YC Marina.

A Special mention must be given to the Hout Bay Yacht Club and its Marina Section. When the project was brought to the boat park it was suggested that possibly they could offer a spot for free. They not only agreed to this, a period of some 18 months but when Astra was launched they supplied a free marina berth as well! Thank you to the Hout Bay YC.

The Knud Reimers design ‘Tumlaren” Sail Number 8
Circa 1934.

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To say that this project was easy would be a lie. It took a heck of a lot of my personal time. As mentioned I was building ‘Flying Cloud’, a Dix 43 in wood/epoxy at the time. That boat was being fitted out in the same boat yard as Astra. Any labour put into saving Astra took those same hours off my own build. But the commitment was made that for once I would save a classic yacht, at least Astra was quite a small sized boat. Scaffold was never used. This is worth thinking about when contemplating such a restoration yourself.

Will I do it again? For free, no, given a client's open cheque book I may be tempted but it would have to be in our own factory, not out in the open as this was.

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"Astra" is now 72 years old and again winning races.

June 25, 2006 Astra, is still owned by one of the two partners who got involved with my restoration. Oscar Walters now keeps his boat back in Simonstown, False Bay and is a keen sailing member of the False Bay YC.

To Astra and all who sail in her:


Roy Mc Bride founder

Back to Part 1...

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For more about the Tumlaren design, click the image at left.

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