Rupert Holmes looks at the latest yacht to join the highly competitive vintage quarter tonner class after a comprehensive refit and upgrade
Spending around 1,800 hours and the price of a new boat on revamping a 30-year-old 26ft keelboat might seem extraordinary, yet it’s par for the course for a quarter tonner. The enthusiasm this class inspires in its owners means that a large proportion of the fleet has benefitted from this sort of unusually throrough refit.
One of the latest to undergo the full refurb treatment is Belinda, a 1986 carbon Kevlar Gonzales custom design, which had a full makeover in the hands of John Corby. The entire project came in at a six-figure price, including sails, electronics and VAT.
“She had been built to a really high standard in a male mould and was already a very sweet boat,” explains Corby. “I had a client, Tom Hall, who at the time owned another quarter tonner [the 1977 Whiting-designed Runaway Bus] as well as a Spirit yacht and wanted to refit a boat from scratch.
“Fortunately Tom and I aligned well in terms of what we thought was the best way to approach the project and our visions for the final outcome,” says Corby. “He wanted a boat that looks right – not all quarter tonners do – and the detailing had to be as good as possible.”
The original keel was to be replaced with the Mark Mills-designed foil that has become almost standard among the reworked boats in the class. However, the original was bolted through a massive baseplate in the bilge and the keel bolts were thoroughly corroded.
The easiest solution was to cut the entire area away with a chainsaw, leaving a 1.2m (4ft) long and 0.46m (18in) wide gaping hole in the bottom of the hull.
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Dismantling of the boat didn’t stop there; all the remaining metalwork, including chainplates and deck hardware, was removed and discarded, as was the coachroof. Below decks the bunk fronts and a partial bulkhead are all that remains of the original interior.
There’s a new substantial grid in the floor to take the keel loads, as well as a vee girder joining the partial bulkheads underneath the mast step to add strength and stiffness to this part of the boat. “In all there is a huge amount of new structure around the keel, the mast and the chainplates,” says Corby.
To optimise the feel in the helm he also wanted the keel to be slightly forward of its original position. “Over the past 30 years mainsails have become much flatter,” he explains. “Designers used to struggle to reduce weather helm, but now you can be struggling to achieve enough feel.”
The boat has a slightly smaller sail area than some others in the class, reflecting that as a relatively late custom build (the majority of quarter tonner new builds were launched between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s) the structure is light, and even with 120kg of lead in the bilge the displacement will be around 50kg lighter (more than three per cent) than most of the other top boats in the fleet. However, the new carbon boom has been made over-length, so that additional area could be added.
One indication of the attention to detail that has gone into this boat is that, while most replacement coachroofs are fairly slab-sided and flat-topped, Corby and his team produced a one-off curved design that both looks better and is stiffer. It’s around half the height and much narrower than the original, which allows for a 6.5° headsail sheeting angle without the need for inhaulers.
Another example is the deck and sheer line around the front stanchion, which had a noticeable dip, as was common for IOR boats of the period. This was faired in with around 10-12mm of foam. In addition, the whole hull-deck joint was ground back, rounded off, and faired, while the new chainplates are composite.
One new idea is the lateral compression post through the coachroof at deck level, which helps to prevent the rig squeezing the hull inwards at the chainplates. This is a hollow carbon structure, so control lines can also be run through it. Even the instrument pod on the mast is custom made in carbon, shaped to fit the individual instruments.
Creating complex deck layouts is easy, but it’s a much harder task to simplify them without compromising on the ability to control sail shape. Nevertheless, Belinda’s layout is much more streamlined than the original. Jib halyard tension, for instance, is controlled by a tack downhaul, with a block and tackle system used to provide purchase.
Similarly, the lateral curved jib car tracks and narrow coachroof avoid the need for inhaulers. The jib car controls are crossed over so everything can be operated from the rail, and jib sheets can be taken to either the leeward primary winch, or to windward.
The spinnaker bag in the companionway is mounted on an upside down jib track to make it easier to slide back and forth. As well as competing in quarter ton class events, which ban asymmetric kites, Belinda has also been taking part in other races such as the Round the Island Race and Cowes Week, which don’t have that restriction.
There is therefore provision for using an asymmetric spinnaker with twin spinnaker halyards to make it possible to peel to a different sail. The tack line exits in the bow a few inches below the forestay chainplate, creating a perfect lead to the ends of the spinnaker pole, which is 350mm longer than the J (base of the foretriangle) measurement.
Corby identifies this as being one of the most challenging bits of the project. “Structural stuff doesn’t faze me,” he says. “The big hole in the bottom of the boat after we cut the keel out was little different to building a boat from scratch. But the painting and fairing was relentless.”
A detailed inspection of Belinda’s hull and deck after weeks of long boarding and fairing revealed it was not absolutely perfect, so an extra 40 hours of sanding was added to the work schedule. The end result is stunning.
LOA: 7.74m (25ft 4in)
LWL: 5.69m (18ft 8in)
Beam: 2.70m (8ft 10in)
Draught: 1.65m (5ft 5in)
Displacement: 1,341kg (2,956lb)
Headsail area: 14.85m2 (159.8ft2)
Spinnaker area: 45.46m2 (489.3ft2)
First published in the November 2017 edition of Yachting World.