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.