THE RESTORATION OF CORAL OF COWESFriday 9th December 2011
In the late spring of this year, Richard Oswald, the former owner of the charter yacht Emily Morgan, appeared unexpectedly in Falmouth Harbour. Richard was in Portugal when he was contacted by a friend about a beautiful classic schooner that was in desperate need of a new owner. Negotiations took place and Richard successfully secured the ‘as is where is’ purchase of Coral which was originally built as a yawl in 1902 by White Brothers of Southampton and designed by Fred Shepherd. While Richard was able to see the beauty and potential of this fantastic classic, what he was able to see more clearly was that she was in desperate need of a major refit.
At the ripe old age of 103, Coral was rebuilt in Cape Town, South Africa in 2005 and in February this year began her journey from Cape Town to the Caribbean. Not all was smooth sailing on the first leg of that journey and after experiencing extreme weather conditions which led to a broken boom, Coral arrived in St. Helena, a British Dependent Territory of volcanic origin in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The crew was exhausted, the broken boom looked really nasty and the owner was unwell and subsequently had to be shipped back to the UK on a somewhat more comfortable ship, the RMS St. Helena.
The crew took a few days to recover in St. Helena while they made repairs to Coral. They successfully located a suitable pole that could serve as a boom for the estimated six-week journey across the Atlantic to St. Lucia. The fact that the pole measured in at two meters shorter than the original pole simply meant that they would have to reef the main and progress across the Atlantic would be a little slower. Enroute to St. Lucia the plans changed and instead Coral made landfall in Antigua during the first week of April, shortly before the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. Enter new owner Richard Oswald who renamed the yacht Coral of Cowes and the story continues . . .
Obviously Richard’s first order of business was to plan a comprehensive refit and he wanted it completed over the summer months. A marine survey was conducted in Antigua and after a few essential jobs to ensure her seaworthiness were finished, Coral of Cowes was declared fit for the trip to Grenada, chosen for the refit because of its skilled labour at reasonable prices and its southern location during hurricane season. In order to kick-start the refit before leaving Antigua, however, Richard was keen to have the exterior varnish work done by Antigua’s professional varnishers, well known to be among the best in the world! Most of the exterior varnish, with the exception of the toe rail, was completely stripped and 10 new coats were added over a two-week period.
Richard gathered up some hard-working crew to manage and help with the refit, and the yacht soon headed south to Grenada with stops along the way in Bequia and Union Island before reaching Hog Island, Grenada, which Coral of Cowes and crew would call home for the next four months. There was a great deal of excitement during this time with Coral of Cowes being an enormous classic yacht at the centre of a hive of activity in a small community of cruisers. The refit progressed at a reasonable ‘Caribbean time’ pace, during which time plans were made to head south to Venezuela where Coral of Cowes would be hauled to have hull work done and to be painted.
Throughout this phase of the refit, Richard was in Europe and working very hard from his end coordinating the purchase and shipping of necessary equipment and materials, paying bills and making whatever arrangements were necessary to help the project progress as quickly as possible. Richard’s objective was to have Coral of Cowes back in Antigua in time for the Antigua Charter Yacht Show at the beginning of December. During this time, Richard also worked with charter brokers and agents and made the necessary arrangements to put Coral of Cowes into the charter market.
For various reasons the journey to Venezuela was replaced with a plan to take Coral of Cowes to Peake Yacht Services in Trinidad, the only other marine yard in the vicinity of Grenada that had facilities capable of hauling the boat. Once hauled, the work that needed to be completed ashore moved at an exceptionally slow pace and deadlines were constantly missed, putting Richard’s plans for Antigua at risk. He had arrived in Trinidad by this time and realized that if he was going to get Coral of Cowes to Antigua in time for the Charter Yacht Show, he was going to have to take some drastic measures. So he invited the entire work crew for a hot cooked breakfast at 7 am every morning to encourage them to get an early start on the day’s work, but somehow that tact didn’t deliver the desired results.
It was the senior Mr. Peake, a true classic lover, who mentioned to Richard that it wasn’t good for a classic wooden yacht to be out of the water for such an extended period of time – the wood and caulking between the seams would dry out and then leak when returned to the water. Richard explained that work in the yard was not progressing quickly enough and after a few phone calls and some assistance from Mr. Peake, the yard suddenly became a sea of efficiency and the work was completed faster than anyone had hoped. Two weeks later, Richard, Coral of Cowes and three crew members arrived in Antigua, a week in advance of the Charter Yacht Show!
But she wasn’t quite ready for the Show yet! While much of the refit took place in Grenada and Trinidad, there are a number of special Antiguan touches on the yacht aside from the immaculate varnish work. Once in Antigua, the 15 yards of raw silk that had been purchased to create dressing gowns for charter guests were miraculously converted by Patsy into an Egyptian-style shower stall to create the luxury of showering on deck for charter guests. Nancy Nicholson created a ceramic sink for the guest cabin that had been beautifully modified from a single berth to a double by an Antiguan woodworker. Although the refrigeration had been upgraded in Trinidad, a watermaker was installed in Antigua by Daniel, the first mate on Coral of Cowes, under the watchful eye of Watermaker Services. And original fittings had been retained wherever possible, including the Baby Blake sinks which were updated with electric water pumps but otherwise remain in original condition.
One aspect of the refit that is not a surprise is the retirement of Lucifer, the old anchor windlass that needed the assistance of five South African crew members over the course of an entire day to raise the anchor from 30 metres of water. However, Lucifer still holds his proud position on the foredeck and now has a mini companion power windlass which was custom-manufactured in Tasmania and shipped to Trinidad to be fitted.
The final touch to an otherwise complete refit is the addition of an 83-year old Lymington Scow which was designed before the First World War for the grand old yachts of the Edwardian era. Richard found the Scow in Classic Yacht Magazine, built a cradle for it and arranged to have it shipped via banana boat to Grenada. Unfortunately, the shippers forgot to load the Scow onto the ship to Grenada so she was put on the next ship heading to Antigua. While being unloaded at the port in Antigua, she was dropped leaving a large hole in her side. Antiguan woodworkers repaired the scow and during the show the famous Antiguan Twins spent the week diligently stripping and revarnishing her. Unfortunately she was unable to take her rightful place alongside Coral of Cowes during the Charter Yacht Show, but she will be ready in time for the first charter which will start at the end of the Show.
Having had a tour of Coral of Cowes last April before she left for Grenada, I was exceptionally impressed with my tour this week after the refit was completed. Everything radiated quality and professionalism and it was hard to believe I was on the same boat that I had been on only months earlier. New upholstery looked as if it had been originally designed for the boat, original fittings shone throughout the yacht and the kerosene lanterns in the saloon were still functional. Even the 10 fancy new Harken Black Magic blocks were appropriately concealed by intricate leather work.
When Coral of Cowes arrived in Antigua in April 2011, it was the first time she had returned to the northern hemisphere since 1938. Originally built for a doctor from Cork, a part of Great Britain at that time, she was owned by Sir Henry Drummond Bart in the early 1920s and later by Frank Chaplin of Cumberland Gate who twice beat the King of England while racing in the King’s Cup in both 1926 and 1928. Coral of Cowes will be chartering in the Caribbean for the upcoming winter season, with the first charter starting on Saturday immediately following the Antigua Charter Yacht Show, and the final charter of the season being recently booked for Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. That may be followed by participation in the Yachting World Round Antigua Race before once again crossing the Atlantic and returning to Cowes for the first time since she left there in 1938. Plans for Cowes include participating in the Round the Island Race and then heading to Portugal for the following winter and on to Ibiza in the Mediterranean for the summer of 2014.
Not all aspects of the refit went exactly according to plan. However, Daniel the first mate and Beate the stewardess/deck hand worked tirelessly over many months and were instrumental in restoring Coral of Cowes to her original glory. Richard commended his crew and expressed his sincere gratitude to them for their exceptionally hard work.
Coral of Cowes is a beautiful classic which Richard and crew are justifiably very proud of. For anyone who appreciates classic yachts, a charter on Coral of Cowes is not to be missed. Congratulations Richard on making the rebirth of a classic beauty a reality.
To see the complete photo gallery of Coral of Cowes click here: http://www.antiguanice.com/v2/client.php?id=1031&gallery=187#content.
Article by Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
Photos by Kevin Johnson, www.kevinjohnsonphotography.com
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