Wolfhound will carry marine artist steven dews and his wife home to New Zealand. David Glenn went aboard. Pics by Paul Wyeth.
Wolfhound is a 64ft wood epoxy, long-distance cruiser designed for two. Although Dews and his wife, Louise, knew exactly what they wanted when they decided to build a new yacht eight years ago, progress has been dictated by his ability to produce paintings to fund the project.
As Dews says: “I paint to sail and sail to paint.” He produces eight or nine works a year, although one large canvas could take three months. A painting of HMS Victory breaking the enemy line at the Battle of Trafalgar was sold recently by Bonhams for more than £169,000. Clients ranging from J Class protagonists and multi-national businesses to bankers and private yachtsmen have helped fund a lifelong love of sailing.
Interestingly, the seed money for Wolfhound came from a commission from Swiss America’s Cup winner Ernesto Bertarelli, who asked Dews for a painting of every Cup race in which he had participated.
Living 12,000 miles away during the build – first on a remote farm in Australia and then in New Zealand – added to its complexity, but in Martyn Brake’s MB Yachts in Dorset, Dews found a builder with a like-minded passion for perfection. Photographs and drawings modified by Dews’s sketching and painting bounced to and fro by email across the world as the yacht took shape.
Eventually, Steven and Louise Dews got the yacht of their dreams, one well suited to carrying them in comfort from the UK to Wolfhound’s mooring in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand via extended cruising along the eastern seaboard of America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The delivery will last at least ten years.
We were invited to spend a day aboard Wolfhound shortly before she left UK waters. Dews, a fit and convivial 66-year-old Yorkshireman whose family is steeped in Humberside seafaring tradition, has sailed all his life and has now been able to distil his thoughts and ideas into one yacht. Louise, also from a yachting background, including being shore manager for the J Class yacht Velsheda in the 1990s, has a gift for design. Between them, and with Martyn Brake’s boatbuilding skill, they have created a gem.
“Why a schooner?” I asked Dews as we motored west towards the Needles in search of wind. “I’ve always looked at the schooner rig and thought it the most beautiful, the most graceful,” he said. But he is also well aware of the schooner’s suitability for short-handed sailing. “I can hoist all these sails by hand,” he said and duly proved it. Only the sheet winches are powered, with the headsails on manual furlers and the main and foresail halyards tensioned with manual mast-mounted winches.
Upwind performance wasn’t particularly high on their list of priorities, although there are signs that Wolfhound will be no slouch on that point of sail. Her forte will be off the wind, her heavily roached, fully battened foresail enhancing what should be a tidy turn of speed.
Timber construction was a prerequisite. Dews was drawn to Martyn Brake through this magazine, which some years ago published a story about a wooden schooner designed by the late Ed Burnett. Dews liked the look of the yacht and when he and Louise met Martyn Brake on a UK visit they immediately clicked.
Wolfhound is constructed of strip plank Douglas fir over laminated sapele frames and longitudinals, a monocoque structure built upside-down over a temporary framework of formers described by Martyn Brake as “an MDF dinosaur”. There are some key bulkheads, but the volume provided by the 18ft 6in beam is immense, the finish below and on deck exquisite.
Naval architect Olivier van Meer, a Dutchman, specified a glass laminate to protect the hull, although Martyn Brake decided to almost double the weight to 3,200 grams per square metre. “The thought of 44 tons nudging the dock made me think she’d need more,” he said.
There was also a complete rethink of the original centreboard design in order to reduce the size of the internal casing, which is now barely visible. The result is a 3.5m laminated timber board, stiffened with a carbon fibre framework, designed by marine engineering specialist Roger Scammell and built by MB Yachts. The centreboard is hydrodynamically efficient to provide lift upwind and reduces draught significantly to just 1.75m when raised. A hydraulic ram is used for the centreboard.
To launch the 44-ton yacht, complete with her 14 tons of internal ballast, Wolfhound had to be transported on a low loader from rural Dorset, where negotiating one ancient stone road bridge required the yacht’s retaining straps to be temporarily released to clear the parapets!
Only when the yacht was in a lift at Saxon Wharf, Southampton on the River Itchen could the centreboard be fitted for the first time. With just 1.5mm to spare between the board and the casing Martyn Brake had his heart in his mouth hoping it would fit. “It went in perfectly – I lit a cigar at that point,” he said.
There is no doubt that if the legendary American yacht designer Nat Herreshoff were alive today Steven Dews would have gone to him for his schooner. Herreshoff’s 1910 masterpiece Westward is Dews’s favourite yacht of that era, the magnificent vessel the subject of a number of his paintings. He feels Olivier van Meer has gone some way to designing a yacht with a hint of Herreshoff style and there is certainly evidence of the great man’s work in Wolfhound’s characterful counter.
The price for this is that even in 64ft there is no room for an after cabin. But does that matter in a yacht designed for two with occasional guests? There’s space for a workshop in the port quarter, a lazarette right aft and a very secure off-watch quarter berth on the starboard side immediately abaft the navigation area.
Dews was keen to locate the owner’s double right forward so that he could listen to the behaviour of the ground tackle when at anchor and detect anything untoward. It seems typical of an experienced yachtsman who already appears totally at one with his new yacht, effectively his second home.
The focal point of the accommodation is a raised decksaloon with a large dining area to port set at a level allowing a 360° view outboard through square ports in a traditionally styled superstructure.
The chart table is set to starboard on the same level and is equipped with a very large Raymarine chart plotter, visible and readable from the helm position. Nonetheless, there is a repeater on deck.
The predominant timber throughout the yacht’s accommodation is American white oak, chosen partly to enhance the effects of natural light, but in the decksaloon, where there is an abundance of light, teak has been selected for its better resistance to wear, tear and water.
Mark of the wolfhound
Unsurprisingly for a liveaboard yacht there are many personal and sentimental touches, including the marquetry inlay in the deck saloon dining table depicting the pawprints of a wolfhound.
The family’s two wolfhounds, Paddy and Seamus, are no longer alive, but mementos are in evidence throughout the yacht. Dews’s sketch of a wolfhound at pace adorns the bulkhead above their bunk and a 8.5m version of the same image will decorate the asymmetric when it arrives from North Sails. The yacht’s two tenders, a RIB and an Ian Oughtred-designed timber rowing-cum-sailing skiff, both deck-mounted on chocks, are named Paddy and Seamus.
The main saloon, as opposed to the decksaloon, is a wonderfully open and bright area lit by a butterfly-style skylight. Together with four traditionally circular topsides portholes this provides a lot of natural light, enough to allow Dews to continue painting when aboard. The saloon table is removable, making way for his full-size easel.
“But won’t this make an awful mess?” I asked. Louise assures me that Dews is an unusually tidy artist, with no paint-spattered smocks, furniture or floors. “The only paint he seems to wear is on his left thumbnail, which he uses as a miniature palette when he is doing really intricate work,” she explained.
And Dews’s adherence to tidiness goes beyond the easel – the boat is immaculate. “I always say, don’t put it down, put it away,” he exclaimed as I looked for somewhere to put my coffee cup. A place for everything and everything in its place is a given aboard Wolfhound.
A place for everything . . .
Extensive, properly fiddled shelving is packed with reference books, works by authors ranging from Hiscock and Slocum to Ransome and O’Brian plus pilot books, which will guide them round the world.
Two twin cabins provide room for visitors, including the couple’s eight children. Dews has six from two previous marriages and the youngest are particularly keen sailors, as are Louise’s offspring.
Originally Dews specified a shower in only one of the heads compartments, having drawn out the general arrangement at full size on the floor of their barn when living in Australia and using a full size lavatory to determine position. But Martyn Brake convinced them they needed a shower in the owners’ heads too. As a result the heads are large and well appointed, one fitted with a shower tray so capacious it doubles as a bath.
The longitudinal galley – Steven wanted a U-shape, but Louise got her way – is spacious and well equipped and includes a bread-maker, microwave and a sophisticated coffee machine. Again, there’s a lot of natural light. There’s plenty of fridge and freezer space and I sensed Louise’s experience in dealing with crew aboard large yachts and her understanding of the mantra ‘there’s never too much stowage space’. A complete set of Spode china decorated with a square-rigger motif, transferred from their previous yacht, sits safely in bespoke lockers in the saloon.
Throughout the yacht there are useful fiddled shelves – “every bunk has a tea-cup stowage,” said Louise – the fiddles open properly at the corners for ease of cleaning. Grab handles are well positioned, air conditioning is limited to sleeping cabins and there’s an abundance of dorades with the large hatch over the forward cabin designed to take a wind scoop.
Simplicity has been a cornerstone of Dews’s thinking and this extends to the machinery space occupied by a 230hp John Deere marinised tractor engine, spare parts for which should be available in any port. The five-bladed MaxProp folding propeller gives Wolfhound plenty of speed, but there still needs to be some adjustment to the drive train to eliminate some noisy vibration.
Back on deck and by the time we reached the Needles a breeze had sprung up. Rob Galley from Northland Spars and Rigging in Opua New Zealand was preparing to hoist the fore. The entire aluminium spar and stainless steel rigging package was fabricated and shipped from Opua and Rob has been in the UK helping to step and tune the schooner rig.
With full sail set, Wolfhound gently leans into her task and even though the steering has hydraulic assistance I can immediately sense the yacht coming alive. She tacks with ease, the sails are no trouble to handle – the staysail is set on a boom – the only minor snag being the need to ‘pop’ the fore as its full-length battens remain inverted after tacking in the light-ish breeze.
The cockpit is secure, not too large and is well protected by a fixed canvas bimini. Over the length of the deck there are comfortable places to sit, relax or simply take in the view, something that will be constantly changing as Wolfhound progresses on her 12,000-mile homeward- bound adventure.
I can imagine Steven Dews being suitably inspired as Wolfhound moves south and no doubt evidence of his experience will manifest itself in future paintings.
Stephen Dews – marine artist
Steven Dews’s first experience of sailing was aboard a Dragon in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire when he was five. The one-time Olympic keelboat remains a favourite because of its timeless good looks. His uncle, who served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Ark Royal, encouraged him to sail and his grandfather Tom, a Hull-based sea captain, was an inspiration.
Reading about a schooner in an Arthur Ransome novel and seeing the film Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Marlon Brando, set the young Dews dreaming about an adventure that he hoped would one day take him to Tahiti. The fact that the Bounty was built in Hull made it all the more compelling.
But living inland in Yorkshire meant Dews had to content himself with building makeshift land-yachts using old pram wheels. “We got them up to 30mph,” he recalls. Although he failed his art A-level, he gained top grades and distinctions in technical drawing and metal work and at art college studied as an illustrator, specialising in cutaway drawings. He had a succession of jobs, including selling cars, but quit when the Morris Marina was launched. “I couldn’t face selling that,” he said.
Constantly sketching boats, Dews staged a local exhibition, which was followed by art expert Nick Bonham commissioning a painting of the 12-metres Evaine and Sceptre for a Cowes Week auction in 1977. It sold for £2,500 and not long afterwards a collection of his work did even better in an exhibition in San Francisco.
A breakthrough came in 1979 when the oil giant Amoco wanted 12 pictures for a calendar in double-quick time. The well-known marine artists of the day turned it down, but Steven Dews accepted and with virtually no sleep he completed the work in ten weeks.
The paintings were subsequently used in a travelling fund-raiser for the Mary Rose project whose patron was HRH The Prince of Wales. It proved a catalyst to his career.
Eventually Dews was able to buy his first yacht and since then has owned a Contest 38, a Sigma 362, a Beneteau 405 and a Swan 44. Prior to Wolfhound the couple restored a William Aitkin-designed Alajuela 38 called Patience which they sailed in Australia.
They are a resourceful couple. When they moved to a remote farm in Australia they taught themselves how to breed beef cattle, they both learned to fly and Steven built his own helicopter from a kit. “I kept thinking of my metalwork teacher back in Hull and saying: ‘Mr Podmore would be proud of this’!”
In terms of marine artists who have influenced him, Dews mentions John Ward and Thomas Somerscales, both from the 19th Century, admiring their ability to create the feel and essence of a subject. Contemporary artists such as Christopher Blossom have the ability to convey that feel while Jamie Medlin shows extraordinary realism.
A crowded market in marine art has drawn Dews to historical subjects, HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar being one of his more recent works.
LOA: 22.54m (73ft 11in)
LOD: 19.55m (64ft 2in)
LWL: 14.85m (48ft 9in)
Beam: 5.54m (18ft 3in)
Draught: 1.75m/3.65m (5ft 9in/12ft 0in)
Sail area: 218sq m (2,346sq ft)
Designed by Olivier van Meer (naval architecture)
Steven and Louise Dews (interior)
Built by MB Yachts