Re-building a Wrecked Trimaran

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The first time I laid eyes on Phoenix, my 1976 Mark II Telstar trimaran, she was being smashed against a concrete harbor wall near my home in Emsworth, England, during a Force 10 storm in January 1990. Declared a total loss by her insurers, the boat was rescued by a keen multihull sailor, Dave Kay, who also happened to be a custom boatbuilder in search of a project.

Why take on something so daunting? Part of the reason was that the Telstar has a unique place in multihull history. It was a boat ahead of its time. Designed by Tony Smith (see “Tony Smith: Multihull Pioneer,”), she employed then-advanced construction techniques and had amas that folded up for trailering. She proved a fast boat, with the prototype easily hitting 15 knots, unheard-of speeds for a small multihull of the day, and soon acquired a cult following.

Dave bought Phoenix for £600 (in those days, about $1,200) and spent 2,500 hours rebuilding and re-engineering her. He made new bulkheads, foam stringers and added more buoyancy to the amas, each of which have five watertight compartments. He cut off the pop-riveted hull-deck joint and laminated over the flange. He took a power saw to the interior, redesigning bulkheads, stiffeners, the galley and chart table, and made new oval-shaped doors.

“I got a lot of satisfaction doing the job, but your average DIY man shouldn’t get involved with a project like this,” he told me later.

I bought Phoenix from Dave four years later as he moved on to his next project. Over the next 10 years I made various upgrades, with Dave’s help. The boat was stretched from 26ft to 30ft, with a sugar-scoop transom. A new rudder, a new skeg and a carbon-fiber tiller were added. New galvanized steel brackets were fitted to the amas, and a full-batten mainsail and Spinlock vang improved the rig.

Unfortunately, a four-hour commute by train to work in the big city, plus crazy working hours, meant Phoenix lay neglected and unused in a boatyard for seven years until 2013. By that time her windows were crazed and leaking and the coachroof sported a green mold. Twenty-one years after rising from the ashes, Phoenix needed another makeover.
Having recently retired at 65, what else was I to do with all my spare time? I guessed Phoenix’s resurrection might take 1,000 hours, but it turned out to be nearly 1,500, spread from March to September.

Boatyards are full of unfinished projects, and Phoenix sat in my yard’s “graveyard” section, surrounded by other forlorn projects. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose focus during a big refit, so set yourself realistic targets. Break the work down into achievable modules.

With three hulls, it was easy to do this and see progress. My best motivator was the “before” photos pinned to the cabin bulkhead as a reminder of how far I’d come. Camaraderie and the advice and expertise available in boatyards is another great resource and morale booster. There were inevitable setbacks and “off” days when things went wrong, or when one job grew into three or four. Patches of wet rot, discovered in the balsa sandwich coachroof, for example, had to be cut out and injected with epoxy resin and re-glassed. Beware, too, of distractions. It’s great to stop and chat, but some said I could have finished a month earlier without the interruptions!

As with any DIY task, it’s vital to take on board the six P’s—Proper Preparation Prevents P*ss Poor Performance. In the immortal words of Blackadder, from the British TV sitcom, we were “not at home to Mr. Cock-up on this job.”
Nowhere is prep work more vital than when painting. Over 22 years Phoenix’s last paint job had gone chalky and lost its gloss. There were also stress cracks in the amas that had to be cut back with an angle grinder and repaired with tape and epoxy.

I used three types of electric sanding machines and 150ft of sandpaper, 120 paint rollers, 20 paint brushes and 150 pairs of disposable gloves.

A lot of people are intimidated at the thought of mixing two-part paints, but it’s tougher and long-lasting, and it doesn’t cost a lot more. I applied two coats of gray Interprotect epoxy primer to the hulls, wing decks, coachroof, cockpit and mast. Two coats of Perfection two-part undercoat and two coats of gloss followed on the hulls and coachroof. Non-slip areas on the wing decks and cockpit were painted with Interdeck, and to prevent glare and the decks getting too hot, I mixed a can of grey and white 50/50. Cheap foam rollers melted with the solvent in the two-part paints, so I used 4in “moleskin” varnish rollers.

Painting in the open air in a busy boatyard in British weather presented its own challenges. Obviously, a spray-paint job undercover produces the best results. But my budget didn’t stretch that far, so I had to choose my days carefully. Too much humidity and the gloss turned to matt. Wind and dust present other problems. I suffered them all. The irony is that you only become an expert when it’s all finished.

The last exterior paint job was the aluminium mast and boom, previously coated with an acrylic paint. They were given three coats of Interprotect primer followed by PreKote and Toplac gloss. Next, the cockpit floor and sugar-scoop were treated to a smart new synthetic Flexiteek surface.

I stripped the interior, and was able to reuse most of the 18 original plywood panels with new foam-backed vinyl headlining. The old foam had turned to black dust. New smoked Lexan windows and hatch glass replaced the old crazed Perspex. The stainless steel pulpit, which overhung the bow and was vulnerable in a collision, was re-welded and re-shaped.

Before the mast was re-stepped, I replaced the standing and running rigging and the lifelines and added new Aqua Signal LED navigation lights. I installed a new Harken 20 self-tailing winch on the coachroof for halyards and reefing lines, which joined the Harken 16 genoa winches in the cockpit, and replaced the deck blocks and sheet cars.

The electrics were re-wired with a Blue Sea distribution panel and new Raymarine electronics were installed: i70 cockpit instrument displays for wind, speed and depth; a 7in touch-screen MFD chartplotter that links wirelessly to my iPad, an X-5 Smart autopilot with fluxgate compass, and a VHF-DSC radio.

Finally, new teak and holly laminate floors were cut to replace the tired old scuffed-up ones, and I installed two 10-watt solar panels on the side decks.

After more than seven months of work, Hull #136 of some 300 Telstars built was born again in September 2013. That autumn I enjoyed some terrific sailing, especially under Phoenix’s new Code Zero on a Facnor FX furler.
Some 45 years on, the Telstar’s cockpit is still a brilliant piece of ergonomic design—deep, secure and spacious—and the cabin is as spacious as those found on many bigger tris, with standing headroom where needed. Phoenix averages 7 to 8 knots and in the right conditions she has hit 13.

In 2014 the upgrades continued: I added a 105 percent HydraNet blade jib and a fixed smoked glass porthole in the cabin door, and this past spring a new curved aluminium mainsheet track replaced the 39-year-old Tufnol one.
It’s like owning a new boat. And along with Phoenix, the project has given her skipper a new lease of life as well! I even have a new mooring block—a half-ton railway wheel. I like to think it’s come from the 07:32 train that I caught to work every day for 22 years!

Photos courtesy of Paul Gelder

MHS Winter 2015

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