S.E.Saunders Launch

Back in 1984 Idug an old powerboat / launch out of the mud of Benfleet creek in Essex. As a young boatbuilder i had admired the hull ever since I was a kid & along with many others had on occasion tried to buy her. Her somewhat eccentric owner had an eclectic collection of over 20 boats all of which he managed to destroy through utter neglect.

The sole survivor was the launch & I bought her from his estate after his death.

Loa 27′  6″ x 5′ 8″ beam. Single engine with p bracket

She was Built By S E Saunders ltd in approx 1905 of  Saunders patent consuta sewn plywood construction. This was very light & strong but was extremely difficult to repair, consequently there are very few survivors. Apart from the original umpires launch Consuta & a couple of other umpires launches i knew of only 3 other surviving Saunders launches of this construction. My boat was unusual in that she had rolled angle iron frames in way of the engine bay with full length massive engine beds. This is almost certainly why she survived so long!

I with my wife did a lot of research at the old Motor boat museum at Pitsea & also at the National maritime museum, inc Loyds register.We never did identify her name or any history prior to 1935.

We did find some references in the Motor boat magazines from 1904-5 that Saunders started fitting steel frames to some boats around that time following some hull problems with boats being raced.

As to “was she a racer?” it would appear to be likely but we have nothing really to go on. Its obvious she was built to carry a large powerplant & in Ray Wheelers book From river to Sea  there are several photos of similar boats.

After quite a few years sat in the back of my boatshed I rebuilt the hull, this was a major task owing to extensive rot & ice damage.

Then a 10 year lay off due to our son arriving & too much to do!

Circumstances have now arrived where i have the time to finish her & I am looking forward to this as im now 53 & really need to get her finished!

If you have any ideas on where I might find any more info about her I would be grateful. Im also thinking that maybe somewhere in a dusty shed there might possibly be an unlikely surviving engine from the dawn of powerboating that needs a hull to live in!

Anywhere you can point me would be greatly appreciated.

I can be contacted on 01268 752665 or mob 07895 036766

Regards Keith

 

 

A’Speranziella …a new life dawns

It is as though the 1961 Boat Show and the first staging of the Cowes Torquay was instrumental in triggering a semi dormant, traditional boating industry into life. After the war years and the shortages of the 50’s, builders were still bringing to the market place products that were not just old fashioned but very dated in their build and design.

In the USA and Italy in particular a new breed of designers was emerging plus new technology/ building methods resulting from wartime experiments and needs. The result of these progressions were seen at Cowes that August 1961. The GRP Glass Moppie with her big V8 engines, the Fairey Huntsman with their Hunt designed, laminated, hot moulded hulls and Campbell’s Christina’s utilising both these innovations….but the one craft that caught most attention when it arrived in Cowes was that of the young dapper Italian Renato Levi, all eyes were on his mount “A’Speranziella” the blood red craft oozed purpose but with large doses of Italian style.
For those who were fortunate to see the races of the first years of this now historic race there were craft which registered an immediate bond with the spectators….THUNDERBOLT , TRAMONTANA, SURFRIDER all winners but then there was “A’SPERANZIELLA”, she failed in 61 to beat Thunderbolt and limped into Torquay in a poor state after the heavy pounding she endured…..
 Returning in 62 with new engines and modifications she still failed to show her promised performance although ’63 was a different matter with a total redesign and rebuild from lessons learnt in the previous years, a new superstructure and Ford engines she looked every bit the winner and was definitely the spectators choice.

The rest is history but after that win what happened?..We next saw her race in the first Round Britain Race in the hands of the Percival’s with a rather lurid paint job and sponsored by Robinsons Barley Water only to disappear again…..
I remember her being advertised for sale in Lymington and was tempted but had no resources to purchase her, then a few years later she appeared at Cowes after undergoing a “restoration” which proved to be a little unsympathetic.
She was then discovered again in Lymington by Sebastian Stapleton who was looking to purchase a Fairey Huntsman but was immediately drawn to her unusual lines. Having been poly wrapped with no airflow to stop the timbers sweating a rather sad A’Speranziella then travelled to Oxfordshire to await a second restoration and was reduced to a jigsaw puzzle of timbers with just the hull intact…..but Sebastian had secured 2 Ford Interceptors from America, the same type that she had won the 63 race with. Seb was eventually defeated by the time required to put her right and A’Speranziella was again “up for sale”.
She was advertised for sale and was literally rescued at the 9th hour by Barry Sales from Yarmouth I.O.W 
Barry takes up the story from here……

After moving to the Isle of Wight and starting to build the Crusader range of powerboats at Yarmouth, my involvement with the River Yar Boatyard cemented my passion for powerboats and after a life long involvement with sail switched my passion to power.
I had always wanted to restore a classic powerboat but funds would not allow a genuine example to be purchased.. After deciding to buy a Dell Quay Ranger in the Channel Islands and the sale falling through at the last minute I eventually settled on a Levi Triana, White Egret, this is a work in progress and she will be a superb boat when relaunched for the 2015 season.
The purchase of the Triana led me to research Levi history and thanks to the COPC website I was able to track down an old advert for ‘A’ in early 2012. After speaking to the owner Sebastian in 2012 I quickly realised that she was the boat for me and a suitable premises would be needed to store and restore her. This proved to be a monumental battle that took ages to sort but sorted it was and she now resides in the dry on the Island ready for her rebirth……

At this point I need to back track a little and explain the purchase process which is very important to me as it has cemented a friendship and made me appreciate the importance of this restoration. At this point I will apologise if this sounds like a novel, it is just how it was.I have to admit that without Sebastian’s patience I would not have been able to secure the purchase of ‘A’. If I could label it I would have said that it was ‘meant to be’ and can only thank Sebastian for trusting my intentions whilst premises were found.

My initial trip to see her in Oxford was on Saturday the 1st June 2013, although I was looking on this in my head as a formality I decided to take up an offer from a work colleague to accompany me on the trip. Simon is one of those guys that is a true professional who does not attract the attention he deserves. He is a time served yacht builder who is honest, reliable and always gets the job done.
It is for this reason that I needed his honest opinion on my heart ruling my head decision and from the very moment that the barn doors opened and I saw A’speranziella in the flesh for the first time I had doubts as to my sanity.

I remember the minutes or was it hours of Si’s silence, and my just waiting for his approval as to me purchasing her.

I will make no excuses for the abbreviation of the language used but it is like it was.His initial comment will stay with me until she is relaunched, “You must be f….ing mad” We chewed over the rights and wrongs for ages. My final answer was NO.

Sebastian had another purchaser lined up at this point who had forced my hand to view her at this time as I still had first refusal.
I had said no to the purchase and as I understand it, a call had been made to the
other interested party, Sebastian had arranged to sell her on the following Tuesday.

The return journey from Oxford to the Isle of Wight consisted of a whole list of pro’s and con’s being chewed over. In the main pro’s from Si and regrets from me at saying no.

Sunday came and a telephone conversation with Sebastian confirmed he had sold her to the other interested purchaser who intended to effectively take A’speranziella’s identity and build a replica alongside the original.

I do not profess to know if these facts are absolutely true but the thought that Sonny Levi’s first true race winner and the start of a remarkable blood line could be lost forever was something I did not want to risk.
Sunday night was very long and by Monday morning I had decided that I had to buy ‘A’.
An early and awkward phone call to Sebastian proved fruitful. She was now mine and I thank Simon for his support and honesty.

 

 

“Thunderflash”

THUNDERFLASH Designed by Walt Walters for Dick Wilkins Built by Souters Cowes late 1963 early 64 Powered by Coventry Climax engine coupled to a Volvo Penta outdrive. Raced by Tommy Sopwith and Jim Wynne

Layout, twin cockpits single seat for driver at rear, fuel tank built into hull. 1964 season raced at Aix les Bains 24 race , Paris 6 hrs and Rouen.

1965 season specification changed to Offshore class 3 still twin cockpit driver and navigator in rear with tonneau over front cockpit and new engine cover. Raced by Sopwith with Charles De Selincourt as navigator. Additional tank to rear, engine now Volvo Penta 120, Coventry Climax proved unreliable and overheated.

1966 season Thunderflash turned into high speed tender for Philante 5. Don Shead designs Philante 6 and tender is now Carbon Fibre Avenger 21.

THUNDERFLASH becomes redundant turns up in Lymington in 1990’s and is purchased in 2013 by the Water Rats Offshore Classic Team.

As you can see from the following photo’s 50 years is a long time for a wooden boat to survive intact but such was the Souter workmanship most of the boat is in very good condition…Main areas of repair at the moment are the Transom which has been totally replaced due to the over large Mercruiser transom plate that had been fitted, in readiness for the retro fit of a Volvo Penta outdrive unit..and the bow area where rain ingress had rotten the ply laminations. We are awaiting news from the States about Walt Walters original plans which cannot be found at the moment but believed to be still in Walts posession. One unusual feature is the 6 compartment open top fuel tank built into the keel and glassed in! the cover for this is long gone by the way, then behind that was another tank in copper. These tanks were obviously used firstly when she was racing as a circuit boat then capacity was enlarged for offshore…having seen early film of the craft we realised she had had several cockpit layouts but the driving position was always at the rear. The problem facing us is which layout to use as in her last reincarnation as a speed boat the steering had been moved to the front cockpit..but we have a cunning plan! Photo’s will be added as the rebuild progresses.

RESTORATION REVISIONS

                     THUNDERBOLT 1961….TO PRESENT DAY

On August the 19th 1961 the Bruce Campbell built Ray Hunt /Arthur Cole designed 25ft Christina “Thunderbolt” crossed the finishing line off Torquay to win the first Daily Express International Powerboat Race.This was to be the first of owner Tommy Sopwith’s 3 wins in this now longest running offshore powerboat race.

A year later carrying race no 5, she was entered again in the hands of Campbell’s wife Pamela with crew Lettice Curtis ( famous for her exploits in WW2, ferrying fighter aircraft for the RAF) and Hilary Laing. They failed to finish after suffering fuel starvation whilst lying in 5th place, 12 miles from the finish line.

The following year Hilary Laing entered the boat and finished in 12th place but Thunderbolt’s career was over…such were the changes that had taken place in those first 3 years.

She was then sold by Cambell’s Hamble yard after refurbishment for use as a family cruiser in the Mediterranean….after changing hands 4 times and finally being abandoned on the dockside she was discovered by none other than Don Shead. With outstanding dues paid she was shipped to Bordeaux for restoration and display which never happened and was again shipped by Don back to the UK and storage in his yard then in his garden at Stockbridge……I discovered her existence in early 2006 and by April that year, thanks to Don’s generosity in gifting her to me “as long as she was restored!” she arrived in Brockenhurst to begin her rebirth.

 

During that first year she was completely dismantled with all useable parts stored for refurbishment, the cabin and coamings in very poor condition saved for patterns and the hull ready to be shipped to the INTERNATIONAL BOATBUILDING COLLEGE at Oulton, Norfolk for major repairs to the stern and topside.

It was to be a four year struggle that swallowed my savings but with a £1000.00 donation to the project by Tommy himself, support from Robbins Timber with discounted materials and input from family and friend’s the point was reached where Thunderbolt gradually began to look like new again

then out of the blue a request was made for her to appear at the revived Earls Court Boat Show in 2007…and so it was that to all intents and purposes that the restored craft was unveiled by Tommy Sopwith and a host of Offshore veterans…truth was she was a hastily put together shell..with a host of work still to be carried out!

2008 and 2009 saw her progress to a state of readiness but she had no engines yet…it was then the next bombshell came I had worked on finishing her for 2011 which in my mind was the 50th anniversary of the first race 1961, ie 2011 minus 1961 equals 50 wrong!… the actual date was August 2010, you don’t believe me? …count it on your fingers!!!

Where was I to obtain 2 engines (V8’s to ensure she was as near historically correct) prices we way beyond my budget even second hand…let alone sourcing 1 to 1 Borg Warner Gearboxes and a V drive!

A call from Ken Raybould who had been advising on her rebuild.(he worked on her in 1961) took me back to Don Shead’s where he produced from a back shelf in his garage a THERMOELECTRON V DRIVE!..that belongs to her said Don…2 gearbox’s and 2 engines to go!

It was pure chance that a converstion with Ian Saunders of PAPER TIGER fame led to the legendary Chris Lewis who had in his store 3 small block Chevy’s and 2 Direct drive gearboxes….. all I needed was a loan to have them rebuilt and installed! When you have a classic boat and a famous one at that…you put yourself deeper into debt what the heck!

As 2010 arrived THUNDERBOLT was moving towards final completion, seats and berths recovered new instruments fitted hatches hurriedly prepared shafts in engines nearly rebuilt and ready for installation but do you remember 2010 the weather was foul all year long.

As August approached she was still being re engineered and desperation was mounting. Then the next disaster struck props or lack of them to be truthful…I had the original props but they were handed and the engines were both left drive….fortunately Paul Fairall had a pair of props which might do the trick and so it was that we were now almost ready!

Torquay was hosting the 50th celebrations 30 boats were attending with Thunderbolt top of the list, she had had no sea trials and was unlikely to at this rate …1 week to go and it was decided to remove her rapidly from the engineers and take her to Hamble point to launch and trial on Southampton Water…all seemed ok .

We measured approx 24 knots on the engines which needed running in she was still untried and untested no way would we motor down to Torquay…then the wiring caught fire everything was doomed to fail!

Burning the midnight oil with Paul Hooper and Peter Farmery whose own boats were not ready, we salvaged the situation and took the decision to take her on a trailer to Torbay. So it was that 50 years after her victory she was again sitting in Torquay harbour and evoking many memories for all concerned. We arrived in Torquay in sunshine which was not to last long as one of the wettest Bank Holidays on record reduced the Rally attendance to 15 boats but that all was forgotten as we circuited the bay on 3 laps of honour……

.Then it was back on the trailer to go to Cowes for her rechristening in the RYS harbour with attendant celebrities.

 

Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly the answer is yes and if you get the chance to save a classic do it! there is no greater reward to see it all come to fruition. 3 classic rallies later Thunderbolt is still attracting disbelief that she is still with us and has I believe encouraged many others to “save a classic”

and the next few years will see some more famous names reappearing.

Mike 31/10/13       (more pictures and further details also under Restorations old)

 

Walt Walters “Designer” & Jim Wynne “Engineer”

Two Very Special Boats.

 A potted history of Wyn Mill and Thunderflash

In 1962 whilst designing offshore craft for major boat builder’s, Walt Walters with Jim Wynne over a 3 year partnership, were laying the foundation of a hull design that became the basis of most of their major designs together for such companies as Don Aronow’s Formula Marine, Donzi and Magnum….this boat was Wynne’s own craft a 17ft  2 cockpit sports boat called WYN MILL designed by Walt Walters.

                              THE RESTORED WYN MILL

WYN MILL was built as a one off and such was the design input from both men plus resulting performance with any engine size it soon became regarded as the “Lotus” chassis of the ocean.

In 1962 she won her class in the Miami – Nassau race and the Miami-Bimini Run. In 1963 Wynne and Walters teamed up with Don Aronow and built the 23 ft Formula based on the 17 ft Wyn Mill as in the picture below of Lord Lucans MIGRANT

Meanwhile in Britain Tommy Sopwith had been competing in both Class 1 and Class 3 offshore with Ray Hunt designed craft in 1963 / 64. He campaigned the Bertram 31 THUNDERSTREAK and a Hunt 14 LITTLESTREAK plus TRAMONTANA 2, all for Dick Wilkins “WATER RATS TEAM”….

                      THUNDERFLASH in the CORNISH 100

For the 1965 season Sopwith raced THUNDERFLASH  in Class 3  built by Souters to plans by Jim Wynne… She was identical in all respects to WYN MILL although the chine layout and bow were significantly different but still had the same distinctive barrel stern. Thunderflash was powered by a Volvo Penta Aquamatic 120, the design was going to be the basis of a production range built by Souter’s but the project never actually got off the ground.

                       THUNDERFLASH in the SOLENT 70

THUNDERFLASH like her American sister proved successful out of the box winning the Cornish 100 at an average 50 mph, the Solent 70 and was 1st in class in the Wills round the Island but was 2nd overall.

There were only 2 examples of this  ”WW” designed 17 footer built and although there are variations in the  lines forward of the cockpit they are basically the same and both still survive, the restored Wyn Mill is in Norway and Thunderflash in GB.

The 17 footer is not to be confused with the 16ft Wyn Mill 2, which became the basis for the Formula Junior, Thunderbird and Donzi 16 boats (THUNDERBOX another Sopwith boat  was part of a 3 boat entry in the PARIS 6hrs which included WYN  MILL 2 and Don Shead’s identical craft ). The 16 is a development of the original 17 footer .. Wyn Mill 2 was designed as a circuit boat,  Wynne’s boat in the Paris 6 hrs finished 1st and won several trophies.

                           THUNDERBOX

 THUNDERFLASH and her sister WYN MILL are therefore unique examples of  Walters / Wynne ground breaking hull design / engineering and are irreplaceable, the forerunners of such craft as Ghost Rider, GEE, Thunderbird, Maritime and others too numerous to mention.

Thunderflash has now been rescued from obscurity and will be the subject of a major rebuild over the winter. Her new owners are hoping to present her to the public late spring 2014 and she will be the first Class 3 offshore racer to join the ranks of the many Class 1and 2 boats which are now restored or undergoing restoration.