In the rarified air of superyachts, there is something particularly intriguing about the exclusivity of a classic yacht. After all, the supply is finite – there were only so many of these yachts built, so the appeal of owning something rare and distinctive is incomparable. Even better is when an owner is able to take the history, legacy and glamour of a vintage yacht and put their own stamp on it with a restoration project.
“The main benefits of a yacht restoration is owning what will be a unique vessel with masses of romantic appeal, historical links, personality and timeless elegance, as well as the experience of guiding such a vessel back to former glory,” says Mike Carr, Joint Managing Director at Pendennis Shipyard. When it comes to classic yacht restorations, there are few yards more knowledgeable than Pendennis. The Falmouth, UK-based shipyard has been responsible for the amazing rebirths of such legends including the motor yachts Fair Lady, Malahne, Haida 1929 and Marala. They’ve also breathed life back into famous wooden sailing yachts, such as Altair and the J Class yacht Shamrock.
Owners who decide to take on a restoration with Pendennis tend to be classic yacht fans. Most would have chartered such yachts over the years, perhaps basking in the glow of a Mediterranean summer sunset while clinking crystal stemware and toasting to la dolce vita on the aft deck of a canoe-stern vessel. “Classic yacht restorations attract a particular type of owner,” says Carr. “They will most likely have been involved in classic cars, older residences and similar projects, and are inspired by the history and personal stories surrounding the vessel, the wish to preserve it for future generations and the desire to regenerate a bygone era.”
Such owners come to Pendennis because they know the builder has the requisite expertise, knowledge and devotion when it comes to classic yachts. “The client knows that we will share their passion in doing something not just for the money, not just as another job, but because of an ambition to preserve these timeless and priceless pieces of maritime history,” he says.
What should an owner look for when choosing a classic yacht to restore? Carr recommends looking for a 1930s motor or sailing yacht that is pedigree designed (by the likes of Fife, GL Watson, Camper & Nicholsons) and British-built – he’s understandably partial to the latter.
A classic restoration usually refers to rebuilding a vessel dating from 1930 and earlier. Pre-dating the advent of welding, such yachts, including the motor yachts listed above, were constructed of steel plate and sections that were riveted together. When welding came on the scene in the 1940s, and gained popularity in the 1950s and 60s, riveting went by the wayside. “These days, riveting is very seldom taught or used, and any repair or replacement of steel on these vessels is done using welding,” says Carr. “The challenge then is to control the heat applied to minimise movement of any rivets that remain in the original structure and maintain watertight integrity – this is often a challenge in tank areas.”
Every yacht build can have its own set of challenges, of course, but with classics it’s a different experience entirely. It is a process of discovery, an excavation if you will, unearthing what is lying beneath the surface of an older vessel. One of the biggest challenges is trying to estimate the extent of steelwork that will be required. “The nature of the original construction makes it incredibly difficult, as it is not until each layer is gradually revealed that it becomes possible to see whether individual sections are repairable, or have to be replaced,” says Carr.
It takes expert design and planning to balance the essence of a classic yacht with modern comforts, not to mention having the boat comply with modern stability and safety standards. The engine room will be examined with an eye towards deciding whether to keep the original engines (if still fitted) or install new. Then it’s a matter of how to fit in all the pipes, wires and machinery required for modern-day comforts, while not eating into the volume of a space that was never designed to encompass all of these systems.
As Carr points out, there are undoubtedly much easier routes to yacht ownership, but restoring a classic is quite simply as much about the journey as it is the enjoyment of the end product. Classic yacht owners are stewards of history who enjoy taking on a project that will live on for generations to come. “When someone restores a classic they have a chance to write their name in the history books, joining those that went before them who lovingly looked after the vessel for future generations,” says Carr. “Every owner we have worked with on such projects has already bought into the idea of completing a restoration. They will have already made the fundamental decision to restore and be fully aware of the potential upsides as well as downsides.”
For owners who are after a project they can really sink their teeth into and who are interested in creating something especially exclusive, they need to look no further than a classic yacht restoration.