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Upholding Tradition – West System and Epifanes bring a family treasure back to life

by West System 23 Apr 01:33 PDT
Tradition © Jeni Bone

Suspended in a cradle at the former Creese's yard, Battery Point, a 40-year-old 40-foot timber yacht is being brought back to its original form with the aim of competing in the 80th Rolex Sydney Hobart.

The yacht is owned by experienced sailor, Rob Gough, who with John Saul aboard the Akilaria RC2 "Sidewinder" etched their place in Race History by winning the inaugural 2-Handed Line Honours in the 2021 edition.

Fittingly called "Tradition", it has a suitably sentimental story.

"It was our family boat," explains Rob. "It was the last boat to leave Creese's shipyard at Battery Point in 1984. We sailed down the channel every weekend, around Bruny, swimming and setting off in little dinghies.

"Then my dad traded it in and bought a new Buizen yacht. The Gourlay family in Launceston bought it then and owned it for over 20 years. I often walked past it at the same marina."

In another twist, Rob ended up selling his yacht, a Moody 54, to the Gourlays and bought Tradition from them.

"I was very fond of it - it's a beautiful boat. Huon Pine such a special timber," he continues.

"I remember it being built, watching the boat builders gluing planks together. I used to marvel at it as they mixed part A and part B from two 44-gallon drums. In those temperatures, it would have been hard to get the mix right. It took phenomenal skill.

"40-feet was enormous in those days and it's a really good size for what we're after."

Rob's aim is to compete in the 80th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race in 2025, ideally with his two kids, son, 17 and daughter 21. He has competed in four editions of the epic bluewater race - three of them two-handed.

The 2023 edition, according to Rob, who sailed aboard the 10-metre Jeanneau, Kraken III with John Saul, "was a long, arduous race". The ordeal influenced his decisions in restoring Tradition, both in which features to retain and the materials.

"Being two-handed, we each had to hand steer with the tiller for an enormous amount of time. We were sailing in 5-metre seas, 40 to 50 knot wind and hail. In 2021, I broke five ribs. Around the bottom of Tasmania, I really changed my thinking about Tradition. I decided to leave the wheel in and thought it would be great if Tradition could handle a Sydney-Hobart.

"Initially, it was only to be a Sydney Harbour day racer and for family cruising. But it would be nice to have the ability to cruise more extensively in Tradition and compete in a Hobart."

Rob's vision is to crew Tradition with a team of six, comprising his kids, John Saul, and a couple of close mates.

"There's a huge amount of preparation required, especially on the physical side. I've only just recovered from last year's race. I don't want to rush the restoration. I want to savour it, and do it right.

"I'd rather have an achievable deadline. We'd like to be back in the water in September, then carry out the fit out and rigging over next summer, train on board and get it ready for the 2025 Sydney Hobart. The kids have done a lot of sailing. We did a lap of the Pacific, so they know what they're getting themselves into."

Nathan O'Neill was recommended by a friend for the refit project, as Rob explains. "A really good friend of mine, Michael Vaughan, did the course at The Wooden Boat Centre, so I asked him who he would recommend that would be able to accommodate my quirks and the way I operate, and he recommended Nathan."

Nathan, Jonathan Minnebo and Matt Stevens lead the talented team at Tasmanian Shipwrights & Co. All under 35, each has a different and complimentary skill set. Jonathan has 17 years of experience in the boat building industry and Matt, formerly lead shipwright at Denman Marine, bring a wealth of boat building and restoration experience to the job. Throw in Nathan's diverse and creative background, the three partners have a full calendar of work under the new enterprise established in October 2023.

Along with a motor yacht called Osprey, that is under way at their waterfront headquarters within Oyster Cove Marina, Tradition's refit is currently the core focus for the team.

"There was some rot and a major crack in the hull," explains Nathan. "We have replaced those damaged planks with Huon Pine."

Working to the deadline of September to have the yacht back in the water, Nathan, Jon and Matthew are relying on the WEST SYSTEM range of epoxy products, as well as Epifanes PP Varnish Extra, Rapid Clear and standard Clear Varnishes.

"We exclusively use WEST SYSTEM for its quality and reliability," Jon says. "And we're getting great results with EPIFANES, single pack for interiors and 2-pack for exteriors."

Epifanes PPVE Varnish Extra is a quick drying high gloss varnish with excellent scratch resistance which provides good protection against water, household chemical and alcohol.

"Application wise, the single pack is easier to use than anything else on the market, and has excellent flow characteristics, and performance for longevity and durability," Jon continues.

"It has an unrivalled reputation, lasts the longest and has a great high-gloss shine."

Tradition's owner, Rob, was of two minds whether or not to finish the hull in E fibreglass laminated with epoxy or with only an epoxy resin coating. But after experiencing extremely challenging conditions in the 2023 Sydney-Hobart, he decided to go with glass.

"He chose the extra strength for peace of mind and for insurance purposes," Jon explains. "We will liaise with maritime architect, Andy Dovell, before we proceed, but we're planning to use 450 gm double bias E-fibreglass from ATL, WEST SYSTEM epoxy to bond it to the hull, and multiple coats of WEST SYSTEM resin, before applying a 2-pack paint system."

So far, Rob is thrilled with the way Tradition is shaping up.

"It's come full circle," he says. "It really is a family heirloom. The whole family loves the idea of the project. They all said they'd lend a hand, although we're yet to see that!"

The trio from Tasmanian Shipwrights & Co are dedicated to the preservation and restoration of wooden boats which have a unique allure. "It's what nature gave us and it's sustainable," says Nathan of the raw material.

"The majority of the constructed world is built on top of what is naturally there, but boating is inherently about being in and working with the natural environment. So, building with an organic material makes sense in that context. Wood is also still the best material to capture both elements of boat building: function and beauty.

"A boat is not just a means to an end to get a job done, it's also art and emotion. Wood still captures that better than steel or composite."

Matthew too is just as passionate about wooden boats, saying "The allure of working on wooden boats is learning a craft that has been in place for hundreds of years.

"The knowledge that with a handful of tools, unchanged for the past century, and a selection of trees that can be regrown for future generations, you can build something aesthetically pleasing and practical that could carry you around the world using nothing but the wind. It is surely one of the most romantic trades."

For his part, Jon enjoys the technical challenge. "Whether it's boat building or restoration, each job is different, bringing its own set of challenges.

"Though no two jobs are alike, they all require thinking, planning, and problem-solving. It's a mentally stimulating job that offers a big chance for learning and growth. With a basic foundation in using hand tools and machinery, passed down from earlier generations of boat builders, you gain the confidence and skills to take on new jobs. The satisfaction comes from challenging yourself, solving problems, and creating something to the best of your ability while picking up new skills.

"Looking back at your work and feeling proud of what you've accomplished is really rewarding. I'm always learning, not just from taking on new jobs, but also from Matthew and Nathan, as well as other boat builders who are always willing to share their knowledge and experience."

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