I was contacted the other day by a guy in Wales who is about to embark on the restoration of an old Westerly Nomad like mine. His mail suggested that he knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. It also suggested that he had given a great deal of thought to the project so I have every confidence that he’ll do well. His note led me to consider why some people restore boats and why other people should give serious though to it before rushing out to buy the latest version from the jelly-mould. Here are a few ideas I cam up with.
The green argument: building a boat requires a significant use of resources. Why pollute the planet more by commissioning a new vessel when an old boat (which has already made its footprint) can be recycled and restored? Your restoration could give that old boat another twenty years of useful life – beat the man, beat the consumerists, save the planet and enjoy!
A lack of choice among more modern boats: do you want a powerboat which looks like it was pressed out of a jelly-mould, or a Bermudan sloop? That seems to be the choice among production line boats. Demand something different and you have to pay big money – look at the new or second-hand cost of a Cornish Shrimper. Why pay more for a ‘look’ when the original vessel may be for sale in a creak somewhere near you. Essentially, older boats offer a wider spectrum of choice.
The option of reconfiguring to suit your personal needs: Do you really want four berths in the cabin or would two with an enlarged galley area suit you better? If you renovate, the choice is yours. The guy I refer to above is a single handed sailor. He doesn’t need four berths, but he does want an enlarged galley with a decent sized cooker, sink and working area. Try finding that option on a new boat!
The beauty and charm of a well cared for older boat: Old boats, even GRP vessels, can be classic craft. The same attraction that turns heads when a classic MGB roadster or an E Type Jaguar zips past, applies to boats. Just like vintage cars, there is something very attractive about a well cared for classic boat.
Deferring the cost: Buy a new boat or even a second hand one in decent condition and you’ll be expected to pay for her immediately. Restore an old boat and you spread the cost over a longer time-span, a pot of paint today a hank of rope next month. The longer it takes to bring the boat back, the longer you have to find the money.
Something about individuality: There is something special about a sailor. The call of the sea is a call to freedom, self reliance and standing away from the herd – and yet many of these individuals and freedom lovers drift or charge around the coast in jelly moulds – mass produced, all looking pretty similar. Take an old boat, renovate her, and you are sailing a classic. Yes she may have been mass produced at one time – but in those days mass production was defined in hundreds not thousands – and anyway there aren’t so many of them left. Stamp your own personality on your renovation and you have an individualist’s boat owned and sailed by an individualist. People will understand and respect that – even if they can’t articulate it.
Finally What is the alternative?: Well, an unloved and old GRP boat is broken up and scrapped. Not necessarily so bad – until you consider the scrapping options – they are few and far between. For a start, you can’t burn it. Burning GPR puts a huge and unacceptable volume of toxins into the air. You could, of course cut it up and put it in landfill, but it will be there for thousands of years. GRP isn’t exactly an inert material but it’s pretty close to it.
So there you have it Seaward’s excuse for doing what he’s doing. In truth, it’s satisfying occupation, a bit like gardening I suppose. There is a pleasure to be taken from achieving results, especially when you can sit back on a warm summer’s evening after a day’s work with a cold beer in your hand. A time to dream of gentle breezes and think of the voyages to come.