Traditional yacht building methods
by Oliver Dewar
As with the choice of timber, the use of quality metal is a priority.
‘We mainly use AB2 bronze and work closely with the bronze “guru” David Witt, whose skill and knowledge is second-to-none. AB2 is far stronger than silicon bronze or any of the other varieties, and this is why our castings are relatively expensive,’ Snow admits. ‘But they will never go green!’
The masts for May Bird are built with attention to detail that is typical of Maritime Enterprises.
‘Some of the masts are quite complex and getting the right aerofoil section is vital,’ says Snow. The company produces hollow and solid spars and the masts for May Bird are the latter. ‘We only build masts in the traditional way and will never use epoxy,’ he says.
No laser measurement is involved and the process is entirely manual with countless man-hours of hand planing. ‘We use a 14:1 ratio – for every inch of thickness you have 14 inches of taper which gives you the angle,’ explains Snow. ‘So, a four inch thick bit of timber will have a scarf length – from maximum thickness to zero – of 56 inches. The same measurement applies to booms as well as masts.
‘We scarf-up as long lengths as possible and normally we deal in 12 metre lengths of timber, which is heavy. With hollow masts, getting the wall thickness spot on is crucial.’
One highly complex element of the build in a solid mast is routing out the internal channels for plastic conduit to carry radar, navigation light and communication equipment cables: a job undertaken when half the mast’s section is completed and carried out with skill to avoid any mast-fitting screws or attachments meeting the conduit.
While craftsmen continue planing the mast for May Bird, work on the ash hoops that will attach the sails to the spars continues with all the radii shaped by hand. Through experience, Snow and his team understand precisely the number of laminates required for the hoops – usually between eight and twelve – to withstand the loads of various sail sizes or configurations. The varnish work and leatherwork is completed by Jan Snow, who juggles the company’s bookkeeping with spells on the metal lathe.
A relatively recent development for Maritime Enterprises is the move into domestic architecture. ‘With the financial climate on the change, we thought we had better diversify,’ says Snow. ‘Our first recommendation came through a timber company and it took off from there and now two or three architects push stuff our way.’
The company have completed installations in landmark properties around the Isle of Wight using their expertise in woodwork and casting. ‘It is just as demanding as the work on yachts and you are using the same skills,’ he explains. Completed projects are truly diverse and include a spiral staircase of extraordinary complexity and unique, boat-style, hardwood beds.
One of the early commissions was a roof terrace in Cowes where the Snows supplied and fitted varnished teak decking (glued and weighted with iron pigs to avoid driving screws through the roof membrane) with a cast stainless steel table/skylight supported on stanchions. It included integral lighting and a 40mm armoured glass top etched with a correctly aligned compass rose. It was a monumental job that required a crane to transfer every component from ground level to the three-storey building’s roof.
With a successful entry into residential installations, are there plans to diversify further?
‘I’ve always thought that blocks would make wonderful ornaments,’ says Snow. ‘Or possibly convert them into lamps.’
A handmade, polished block with a bronze insert bearing a yacht’s name would be an elegant addition to any superyacht saloon, he says.
‘All we need is someone with a shop in London!’
_ Photography: Mark Lloyd_