I am still in Bequia, although I was planning to leave this morning for the Tobeago Cays and points South. The direction was good and although it would have been a day for a reef it looked OK but the speed was up and down and I wimped out. I will wait for the current wave to go through and head down Island then, maybe on Sunday.
As the cruisers head south for the summer you see the same boats over and over Lala for instance has been with us on and off since the Virgins and there has been this big schooner which has usually been anchored a little further out than most.
It looked like there were a liveaboard couple onboard and heading south at the same pace as I was. Anyway it has been in quite a few sunset pics and I have passed it a few times in the dink and wondered if it was glass or steel or just possibly wood but that was really unlikely because the hull was fair and smooth showing none of the cracks and plank end prints that you see on carvel built boats. After all someone famously described a wooden boat as “ a collection of planks heading in approximately the same direction through force of habit.”
But a couple of days ago I came past it on my way back from snorkeling and saw that there was a chinese dragon carved into the bow and that made me think that I had seen it racing in the classic regatta in Antigua. Now if it was really entitled to carry the dragon that would make it a bit of very famous boating history, a Clyde built icon from a famous designer, in fact a Fifer from Fairlie.
So I stopped by, apologized for my “satiable curiosity” and asked about their boat. It turns out that they have owned this wooden piece of maritime history for 23 years and been liveaboard cruisers for the last 8 years including 60,000 miles in the South Pacific, an overall concours win and a racing win in Antigua plus some of the best exterior varnish work to be seen on a cruising boat. Elephants Child has no exterior varnish just silvery teak.
Richard and Lani Stramen sail the Astor with a crew usually. At 86-ft (overall) the Fife schooner that was built in Scotland in 1923 has a monstrous main sail and although the winches have been upgraded setting and dousing sail is a big job.
Richard said that the hull has been splined, this is why I thought it might have been glass. Filling the gaps between the planks with glued strips of wood or splines makes the hull a monocoque and allows the surface finish to be of near mirror quality. It is a controversial thing to do to an old wooden boat as it can create massive stresses on the frame fixings.
Richard came from a classic car restoration background and is clearly a master craftsman as he has done much of the restoration work on Astor himself.
Astor was designed by William Fife and built in his yard in Fairlie in Scotland for a Dr. McCormick of Sydney, Australia and first christened Ada.