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Vintage J A Allen Gaff Yawl 1890 - Project Completion



Vintage J A Allen Gaff Yawl 1890 - Project Completion

Designer J A Allen
Builder J A Allen
Date 1890
Length overall 81 ft 0 in / 24.7 m
Length deck 56 ft 1 in / 17.1 m
Length waterline 44 ft 7 in / 13.6 m
Beam 11 ft 2 in / 3.4 m
Draft 7 ft 7 in / 2.3 m
Displacement 0 Tonnes
Construction Iroko planking alu bronze fastened
Engine Kubota diesel Hercules Hydraulics propulsion system
Location France
Price EUR 350,000

These details are provisional and may be amended



COLUMBINE is one of the most exciting - yet realistic projects we have come across. We consider her worth now substantially attributable to Alex Laird, whose respect for such vessels of this vintage and extensive knowledge have put him in the vanguard of classic yacht revival over the last 20 years. The hard work he has already applied combined with the enthusiasm and innate good taste of her owner have yielded frankly an almost incredible platform for completion by someone appreciative of COLUMBINE both as she is and as she can become. This is of course supported by the extent and quality of the materials and period fittings available - so assiduously collected by an owner with a thirst for all things beautiful – and wherever possible; original.


Current state

In 2001 the owner moved COLUMBINE by road transport to the south of France since when she has been undercover in the boatyard workshop of Classic Works in La Ciotat, The hull and deck is complete and the rudder is built but requires the bronze bearings and tiller to be fitted. Although an accurate and detailed mock up of the interior has been made, she is not fitted out inside: no tanks, masts, spars apart from bowsprit, sails, rigging, chain-plates, deck fittings are all to make – or where listed as available to fit. Specially selected timber and much hardware is available.


Restoration so far

- All original hull planking replaced plank by plank with iroko
- Aluminium bronze fastened and plugged
- Around 50% of the grown oak frames replaced
- Original stem, sternpost, deadwood and wooden keel retained
- New counter stern - restoring the original dimensions and profile
- Full set of 16 new bronze floors
- New 9.6 tonne lead keel recast at Irons Brothers Foundry in Cornwall
- Nickel aluminium bronze keel bolts
- New oak deck beams throughout
- New profiling of the sheer line and cap rail
- New one inch ply sub deck overlaid diagonally with half inch ply
- New ¾ inch teak deck planking laid
- New bulwarks, capping rail
- New teak skylights and hatches; copied from what remained of the originals
- New hatch identical in style vent and light the captain’s cabin and galley
- 7 x Pairs of cast bronze hanging knees
- Finishing the bilges – filled, sanded and 2 coats specialist hard wearing bilge paint
- Bowsprit constructed and completed
- Massive bitts made in laminated oak
- Rudder and rudder post in place

Hull sheathing
- The timbers having stabilised over many years the hull has now been sheathed inside and out
- Keel bolts tightened before applying epoxy and cloth to ensure rigidity
- Epoxy and Dynel fibreglass cloth sheathing in 3 layers; horizontal, vertical and diagonal
- Sheath let into a groove at the sheer line, covered over with a wooden strip – so edge invisible
- Sheath runs right round the lower hull encapsulating the lead keel
- Tests performed to ensure the best bond onto the lead keel; impossible to separate - achieved

Superstructure and hatches built by a master joiner
- Style and dimension from Beken photographs and drawings in a 1912 Yachting Monthly article
- Round hatch to access lazarette
- Traditional teak butterfly hatch over the ladies cabin aft
- Elegant dog house
- Traditional teak butterfly hatch over the saloon
- Traditional teak butterfly hatch over the galley to port and captain’s cabin to stbd
- Traditional hatch to focs’le

Works to do
- Install single Wilmex traditional bronze winch aft for all headsail sheets
- Install Wilmex bronze anchor winch
- Make main mast, mizzen mast, main boom, mizzen boom, main gaff, mizzen gaff and top mast
- Build mast step
- Acquire main and mizzen sails, 3 x foresails and a topsail
- Install engine and hydraulic drive pods
- Acquire wooden blocks
- Acquire and fir standing and running rigging
- Name and cove line and bowsprit support carving
- Varnish and painting hatches, capping rail and hull
- Chain plates to be made from patterns available
- Bronze rudder head and tiller to be fitted

Interior planned and mock-up template made
- Planned in fine detail; down to the dimensions and shapes of the panelling
- Entire interior built full scale in Mega board on wooden frames
- The mock-up interior strong enough to test the berths and the equipment fit
- The interior built according to the mock-up affords plenty of space and privacy
- This mock-up is not installed in the boat – the joinery to create the boat’s interior yet to be done

General Arrangement from aft according to the mock-up
- Companionway stairs leading in to a lobby
- Access to engine and hydraulic system to stbd and the electrical system to port

Master Stateroom
- Butterfly hatch in deck head
- Space for double berth to stbd facing aft with built in storage intended below
- Space for desk and bookshelves
- Space for hanging cupboard to port
- Moving forward past companionway to

Master head compartment
- Space for WC, basin and shower

- Space for 2 x Settees
- Space for built-in book shelves
- Space for dining table
- Space for 2 x Pilot berths
- Space for bronze wood burning fireplace

Galley to port
- New hatch in deck head for light and ventilation
- Straight line layout
- Space for stove
- Space for large top loading fridge
- Space for sink and storage behind

Captain's cabin opposite to starboard
- Hatch in deck head for light and ventilation
- Space for berth with intended storage below
- Space for night table

Forward head
- Space for WC, basin and shower

- Also accessed by its own companionway stairs
- Space for double Vee berth
- Space for 2 x hanging cupboards and desk

Interior works to do
- Construct bulkheads, panelling and joinery; effectively the interior to the full scale mock up
- Varnish and polish the new interior
- Acquire all mattresses, cushions and slat bottoms


Mechanical electrical and hydraulic

The Hercules Hydraulic Pod system combines the quiet reliability of hydraulic drive with the technical innovation of exterior mounted pod drive and must surely be the most suitable and most maintenance free drive system available for classic yachts. The port and starboard drive mounted on the exterior of the hull provide maximum manoeuvrability and the potentially troublesome alignment of the prop shaft is not an issue as there isn’t one. The powerhouse of the system is a brand new marinised Kubota diesel - as used by Beta, an engine originally developed for farm tractors so spare parts are readily available all over the world. More technical information can be found on the Hercules Systems website.


Materials and fittings

The following is a catalogue of materials, hardware, components and accessories that come with COLUMBINE. The list is not complete but includes the most valuable and important items.

Timbers and context for selection
In 2002 the owner and his consultant boat builder travelled to Royal Dutch Timber yards to select and purchase timbers for the restoration; details as follow:

Teak; mostly already utilised
An entire teak tree used for laid teak deck, solid teak hatches and the massive teak capping rail.

African mahogany
A 1912 article in Yachting Monthly about the beautiful yawl - SILVER FOAM as then named describes a "mahogany panelled saloon with green plush (velvet) upholstery”.

The African mahogany selected was chosen for the vividness of the flame in the grain and the richness of colour. Enough was purchased to panel the entire interior; lobby, saloon, captain's cabin, owner’s stateroom, and forepeak in panelling of a raised and fielded detail.

Oregon pine (spruce)
This knot free, peerless Oregon pine was acquired in enough quantity to make all the spars. The exquisite bowsprit has already been made, leaving the main mast (solid), boom, gaff boom, topmast, mizzen mast and mizzen gaff still to be made from the same stock.

Since 2001 the owner has combed antique shops and boat jumbles for appropriate hardware; some detailed above and other items including:

Deck hardware
The original solid brass compass binnacle with ornate and original brass mounting screws; identifiable in Beken of Cowes pictures dates from 1884.

Ornate bronze tiller management system from c 1895; bought at Bonham's marine auction

A pair of exquisite solid bronze winches c 1910 – 1920 bought at Bonhams marine auction; ideal for use as mast mounted halyard winches

Pair of very unusual grapefruit shaped deck prisms mounted in bronze opening frames; original to the boat and ideal for the head or a small cabin

Pair of robust rectangular bronze deck prisms; date unknown

Original porcelain Blake head with bronze fittings, pump and mahogany seat
Folding porcelain washbasin

Gimballed solid mahogany drop leaf table with ash hinges - an exquisite piece of furniture

White enamelled vintage stove, bronze kerosene burners
Irish butler's sink

Additional interior hardware items available to be installed including
- 4 x solid brass Edwardian doorknobs c 1902 with all working mechanisms
- 4 x matching solid bronze 2 axis gimballed kerosene wall lights c 1905 - safe even in rough seas
- 5 x Edwardian intricately designed brass light switches
- 4 x Edwardian white enamel and brass switches
- 19 x Antique brass recessed rectangular drawer pulls and 10 x cupboard locks



Some history exists on COLUMBINE thanks to the considerable interest taken in her by the late John Leather (1928– 2006), naval architect and notable historian - attributable in part to a family connection in the early life of the vessel and enhanced by his own abiding enthusiasm. The following is extracted from notes that he wrote in the late 1980s.

“Almost a century ago two men each decided to have a fast cruising yacht built. Each was to have a yawl rig and the currently fashionable clipper bow ending in a small billet head supporting a bowsprit complimented by a well proportioned counter stern. They were designed by different men and built in different yards but they had one thing in common – both were named COLUMBINE”

The larger one at 90 ft overall was designed for racing by GL Watson and built by J & G Fay of Southampton for William Paget, a serial yacht owner and racer continuing in that family tradition more than 100 years – even then. Passing through numerous owners; that COLUMBINE did not however enjoy a long life but was to be broken up in 1907 “for the value of her lead” as they used to say.

This COLUMBINE was designed at 56 foot overall, built by J A Allen of Poole and intended for cruising though she might sometimes be entered for a handicap race. John Leather continues:

“This handsome yacht has twice crossed the path of my family. About 1912 she was fitting out for cruising under her new London owner a Mr G Modin, whose skipper was from the Colne. Amongst his small crew of 2 hands he picked my mother’s older brother William Barnard, then a young seaman of the Rowhedge breed of smart yacht hands and good fishermen…… William was brought up in yachts and smacks, in sail and the ways of seafaring.

In later life he told me that COLUMBINE, by then renamed SILVER FOAM, was his favourite yacht. She had a pleasant atmosphere on board with a good owner and crew. In her William spent a summer or two cruising. He said she could sail well and won a few prizes in the handicap classes of the local regatta, which meant a few shillings extra for the hands and a pound or two for the skipper. Soon after; William with ambition to advance in life was working as a junior clerk at a London shipping company………”

The yacht was already renamed SILVER FOAM by 1900 – then owned by Londoner WR Freeman. In 1905 she passed to Albert Spooner of Shirley Southampton and two years later to Albert Finke of Leatherhead, who still kept her in the Southampton area. It was in the autumn of 1912 that she was bought by Mr Modon, for whom William had crewed.

Leather continues: “Modin made some considerable alterations to the accommodation. A 2 cylinder c 12 HP paraffin engine made by Dixon Brothers and Hutchinson of Hythe was installed as was then being done for many sailing cruising yachts. This was a quarter propeller arrangement with the engine fitted in the sail locker under the shallow cockpit. She made 5 knots under power in smooth water…….From forward she had a foc’sle with the usual locker seats on each side with three pipe cots slung above for skipper and hands. The coal fired cooking range was at its aft end and the chain cable was stowed under. A circular hatch led to the deck.

Aft was the saloon with polished mahogany joinery and green plush upholstery. It had full headroom and was lit by a skylight; one of two on deck with the main accommodation hatch between. There was a ladies cabin aft and the sail locker abaft that, extending into the counter. This was a very typical arrangement for such a cruising yacht. A speaking tube led from the owner’s cabin to the focs’le for use in bad weather – or to speak to the steward or captain. She had a lead ballast keel of 7 tons and a further 7 tons of lead ingots in the bilge.

Mr Modin seems to have owned SILVER FOAM until 1924. She was then bought by Arthur G Emons of Colchester, who I believe kept her at Brightlingsea. In 1939 she was owned by G Rex Gifford and laid up in a mud berth at Wivenhoe. After the 1939-45 war three young men came to look at her. They talked of refitting the old yacht (by then 55 years since her launch and having had her lead keel stripped for munitions) and perhaps of sailing her to the South Seas or around the World. They bought her at Wivenhoe and walking along the quay one day at high water I stopped to look at SILVER FOAM and told her new crew of Uncle William’s time in her. They invited me on board and I looked over cabins and compartments little altered since his day. The focs’le with its pipe cots looked as if the hands had just laid her up for the winter but the green plush in the saloon had faded.

Leader of the adventurers was a bearded man named Ford. I told him I was an apprentice draughtsman at the shipyard across the river, upstream. He said they wanted to re copper the bottom for her forthcoming voyage to the tropic seas and I told them it was often done at the shipyard to the small wooden craft built there for the Admiralty. I suggested they try the yard without much hope they could afford it - or receive much attention or service as shipyards usually have better things to do than cater for such ocean adventurers. However to my surprise they quoted Ford for coppering the yawl. He almost collapsed at the realistic quotation – then asked the yard if they would sell him copper sheets, coppering nails, brown underlay paper and black varnish, the materials of coppering a wooden hull, then almost unobtainable for yachts. They did so and to my considerable surprise also lent Ford and his companions broad headed coppering hammers and a marking out board and punches to make holes in the copper sheets, through which the copper nails were driven.

As they could not afford to have SILVER FOAM slipped the crew sought permission to lay her against a private quay at Wivenhoe on the top of the tide. I wished Uncle William had been there to see me heaving at the capstan handles, warping her alongside. I think he would have approved of my carefully tied bowlines.

SILVER FOAM settled on the none too level foreshore and between tides Ford and his friends got to work having sought explanation of coppering procedure from some of the yard shipwrights, who were generally uncommunicative of such information to strangers.

Somehow the bottom was coppered but as they approached the bilge things started to go wrong and the strakes of copper sheet were becoming irregular. A halt was called and Ford decided to spend some of their savings for the voyage on having yard assistance to finish the work. It was then the turn of the shipwrights to grumble as they slopped about in the mud and up ladders doing work usually carried out in a shed or at least on a relatively clean berth or slipway. Eventually it was finished and SILVER FOAM motored off downriver waving goodbye and was never seen there again.

Whether Ford and his crew sailed distant seas or whether their partnership broke up at Gibraltar as so many did in those post war years, I do not know. I think they sold her soon after they sailed as she appeared in the 1947 Lloyds Register of Yachts as owned by R. Shore who lived on board another yacht at Swanwick on the Hamble river and also owned nine others so seems to have been a broker or a dealer…………. “

Actually it seems she returned to Wivenhoe as another different source reveals: “……It was from the east coast mud that four brothers: John, Howard, David and Dennis Hamber dragged the derelict hull of COLUMBINE in the early 1980s and took her down to Cornwall.”

Details of restoration works are in the Restoration section below. In early 2000 her current owner, an author from London, took over the project and the work continued at the Penpol boat yard near Truro – also detailed below.


Built for speed - the owner relates

It was an ink drawing - an illustration from a 1912 Yachting Monthly article - that first caught my eye in Classic Boat magazine. She looked like my ideal of what a yacht should look like .... Something often said about a Fife; fast, sleek.... beautiful. When I first saw the hull in a shed near Falmouth it was clear a lot of work was needed but it was also evident that a lot of work had already been done.

Four brothers named Hamber had spent the better part of a decade painstakingly replacing each and every plank in her hull with a new iroko planks. They had used West System epoxy and the planks had been attached by edge to edge gluing and by way of trunnels; wooden nails soaked in epoxy and then driven through plank and frame. It was a job of beauty and a labour of love. That much anyone could see but it was a hull, some original parts, lots of provenance and not much else.

Although I had previously spent quite a few years restoring MARIA VAN DIEMEN a late 50s Sparkman & Stephens 36 built in double planked Huon pine for the Sydney Hobart, the vintage of COLUMBINE was not something I had any knowledge of and so I got in contact with the one person that did - and does; Alex Laird. I called him and we discussed COLUMBINE. He knew the boat and he agreed to consult on the project as marine architect, which he has now done for almost 17 years.

On the very first trip to Penpol boatyard, Alex was very candid agreeing she was a beautiful hull, but he doubted the West System - edge on edge gluing and the trunnels would hold up to the rigours of racing. She looked good but as he explained; “a yacht such as this will generate extraordinary forces under full canvas, especially if you're racing”.
Racing was definitely on the agenda and Alex understood very well from the very beginning of the project, that a stiff boat is a fast boat and all the work on the hull has followed this very simple but very expensive guideline. It was agreed that one of the first works, after manufacturing a beautiful custom cradle that she still sits in today, was to fasten all planks with aluminium bronze self tapping bolts. I don't remember exactly how many went into the hull but I know that many thousands were used; painstakingly countersunk and plugged.

Next after the bronze bolt fastening - in addition to the West System epoxy edge gluing and the wooden trunnels - came the bronze floors. They were each individually cast, following the shape of the hull, reinforcing the shape and the lines where they turn most radically and of course, again lending greater stiffness
After this it was time to lay the deck. The first step, which took almost six months was to make the deck beams. For strength and resilience they were crafted in laminated oak on individually built moulding frames. Each beam was a work of art - and as strong as steel. Half the yard begged me to not paint them, which however is what we did nonetheless because that is how they would have been originally and apart from speed, authenticity was also not to be compromised.

Next were the bronze knees. Again, they were all individually moulded and once installed; they too provided an additional element of stiffness as a reinforcement to ensure a stronger and stiffer bond between the deck and the hull.

Finally came the deck itself. Again the construction method chosen was for the greatest strength and stiffness. Originally she would have had a solid laid deck but deck planks, no matter how thick, move and twist under the strain of full canvas, reducing speed and compromising the integrity by allowing leaks, leading to issues of rot etc.

Instead, a marine ply deck 1 ½ inches thick was laid and then another ¾ inch marine ply laid diagonally over that and on top of that ¾ inch solid laid teak planking deck. The total thickness of the deck is therefore three inches; a phenomenally stiff construction.

Quite a few years later, it was decided that, as COLUMBINE had been sitting in her cradle in the same spot inside Classic Works yard for more than five years, the new Iroko hull planks had stabilised to the extent that the hull was now the ideal textbook case for sheathing with epoxy.

The timber to be epoxied was completely dry and totally stable; the optimum conditions for sheathing - seldom found so it was decided the hull would be sheathed - once vertically , once diagonally and once horizontally on the outside with epoxy impregnated Dynel cloth and sheathed between the frames on the inside of the hull in the same manner.

It was a massive undertaking that took many months of skilled labour but the end result is a hull that is as stiff as a monocoque and a bilge that will be dry. The lower edge of the cloth was tucked into the seam between the lead keel and the wooden keel and in 2015, after much discussion, a decision was made to also envelop the lead keel in the same sheathing. After first tightening the massive bronze keel bolts once more to ensure that the hull and keel are entirely integral, the low flat lead keel was sheathed in such a manner that there is now no point, anywhere on the hull where water could get in. Tests were done to achieve best possible adhesion to lead and only when a formula found that made the cloth stick irremovably was the project given the green light.

Finally as was always agreed with Alex from the very beginning, we adhered to a plan where no holes have been made in the hull – none! Moreover none ever need to be, as the drive system uses Pod technology, the absence of holes continues even with a Port and Starboard drive system because the Pods are built onto the outside hull, covering the hole that provides the drive connect.
This in itself will be a major contributor to hull speed as well as the now " legendary" stiffness of the hull.



- The custom built cradle in which COLUMBINE now sits is included with the vessel



- All paperwork establishing provenance including all documents needed for registration
- Original Lloyds’ registration, original Bill of Sale and the original contract of sale


These particulars have been prepared from information provided by the vendors and are intended as a general guide. The purchaser should confirm details of concern to them by survey or engineers inspection. The purchaser should also ensure that the purchase contract properly reflects their concerns and specifies details on which they wish to rely.


Sandeman Yacht Company

Brokerage Of Classic & Vintage Yachts