Traditional yacht building methods
by Oliver Dewar
‘Most of our business is through word-of-mouth,’ explains Snow over the constant whine of a metalworking lathe in the main shed. ‘We have a network of classic boatbuilders throughout Europe that will always use us and we only advertise in one magazine, although some of the work comes through our website. A lot of owners have done surveys on our blocks and tell us that ours are the best in the world: you can’t really get a better endorsement than that.’
In the varnish shed at the western end of the yard, ash fiddle blocks (named after their violin shape), double blocks and triple blocks await shipment to the recently launched replica of Britannia, the royal yacht built in 1893 for the Prince of Wales.
‘A majority of our timber comes direct from the US or Canada via an agent,’ explains Snow. ‘The sitka spruce and Douglas fir are shipped into Southampton docks and continue by lorry to the island.’
Snow can determine precisely the right timber required for each block or spar.
‘We also use black locust, black walnut and mahogany,’ he says. ‘But most of our blocks are ash or black locust. Black locust is as tough as elm, but just a bit heavier than ash, and slightly more golden in colour.’
Although the blocks are usually destined for practical use, there have been some unusual projects: ‘We’ve done work for Hollywood making blocks for the film Master and Commander,’ continues Snow. ‘There were 30 or 40 blocks for the ship and the onshore mock-up of HMS Surprise.’
Although the blocks in the film were painted black for authenticity, an unpainted souvenir from the film sits among the files behind Snow’s desk.
Despite involvement with a string of high-profile yachts, the Snows equally enjoy less glamorous projects. ‘The biggest boats we’ve worked on would be Lulworth and Britannia, but they were not the biggest jobs. Often the most satisfying jobs are the smaller boats when you do everything.’
Currently occupying the main shed at Maritime Enterprises are the Douglas fir 17 metre main mast and 11.6 metre mizzen mast for the 16 tonne Fred Shepherd ketch May Bird.
‘We’re supplying all spars and fittings,’ confirms Snow, ‘and the most complex element is getting the sums right on the fittings. We have all the patterns from Spencer Rigging and we’ve made a lot of patterns ourselves. People don’t realise how complex it is.’