Windermere’s Refit

Windermere, a Classic 37′ yawl, was designed by the New York firm, Sparkman and Stephens, and built in 1966 by Grampian Yachts for Murray Koffler of Canadian drugstore fame. After two more owners in between, the boat came into my possession in the early eighties. I commissioned a major refit of the boat’s interior in the mid ’80’s by Steve McNaughton, master carpenter, articled at the Camper Nicholson Boat Yard in Southampton, England. He is a very skilled craftsman, blessed with a joyful disposition which made him a joy to be with! It was great working and planning things with him.

One of his favourite expressions when I sometimes pondered the amount of work to be done was, “Nobody said it was going to be easy, Gerry!” Of Windermere, with all its deck gear, he would say, “She’s a busy boat, Gerry. She’s a busy boat!”

And that she was because over the years changes had been made, to the running rigging in particular, without older winches etc being removed. If my memory serves me correctly, there were seven winches on the deck, two on the mizzen mast and three or four more on the main mast. I can think of four winches, at least, that could have been removed. When I first took possession of the boat, the main and mizzen sails tended to give the boat too much weather helm, even when the No 1 was used.

I think Windermere was originally designed as a sloop, although Grampian did make Classic 37’s rigged as yawls. But one could see in the deck moulding the outline of where the hole for the mast should be cut if it was to be yawl rigged. I measured the distance between the two possible mast positions and that gave me some idea of how much farther forward the jibstay needed to be. Windermere had probably been converted to a yawl rig sometime after leaving the Grampian yard, but the mast remained stepped to the keel in its original location. To move it forward would have involved major modifications to the head area etc, which were cost prohibitive. The result was that the centre of effort was too far aft.

We corrected that by having a bowsprit custom designed and installed by Klacko Marine Ltd, an Oakville firm at a cost of $1,600. They did a magnificent job, producing a bowsprit which enhanced Windermere’s looks and functionality . It allowed the forestay to be moved forward almost two feet. The effect on Windermere’s sailing characteristics was amazing! Her sail balance was improved immediately, and the problem of excessive weather helm was solved

The bowsprit also gave us a place to secure two large anchors, ready to go at a moment’s notice by simply removing a stainless steel retaining pin from each anchor. Its design also made going aboard the vessel over the bow easier. A small seat, added by Steve, right at the front of the bowsprit facing aft gave one a wonderful view of the deck. It was exciting to be seated there when Windermere was sailing fast with a moderate degree of heel,

But I wouldn’t have wanted to sit there when the No 1 Genoa was hanked on and she had her lee rail awash. On several occasions in the past I had sat up on the windward side of the boat at the wheel, with sea water rushing right around the mizzen deck and forward to where I was sitting! At times like that we usually started to think of taking off a little sail!

The main mast was the original, built in by Chichester Yachts in England. It was a very solid affair with heavy walls, so that one never need fear it breaking. On the other hand it was very heavy, and one had to veritably press-gang four or more men to carry it to its winter trestles. Stepped to the keel, it was measure of the solid nature of the boat.

I located the company that made the cabin cushions for the CS 36′, and persuaded them to make custom designed cushions for Windermere to the same high specifications as C S Yachts. The inside of the cabin roof was covered with a “naugatuck” type of material mounted on one quarter inch mahogany plywood, and the “ceilings” along the porthole walls were covered with moulded (light-coloured) ash, also mounted on thin mahogany plywood.

Lee cloths were installed on my bunk, located where the two “stacked” pilot berths had been, with fastenings that tied to the handrails above it. In heavy weather that was the place to be, snugged down knowing that you couldn’t be thrown across the cabin at any moment. I should add that we encountered very little heavy weather sailing on the Bahamas cruise. We have experienced far worse weather in earlier times when cruising Lake Ontario. Trips to the Thousand Islands, running across to the US shore and back, even day sailing had provided exciting moments when we wished we had taken up golf instead of sailing!

Other changes included doing away with the quarterberth by extending the bulkhead at the companionway out to the hull on the starboard side of the boat. Getting into the quarterberth had always been a problem for me. Removing it made room for a second deep sail locker. The lid for the new deeper locker already existed. It originally opened on to a broad but shallow shelf for winch handles, etc. With the quarterberth gone, the locker was open right down to the hull.

Forward of the new bulkhead, and butted to the aft end of the chart table, a bin was installed for charts, light lists, epirb etc. Its lid served as an addition to the surface of the chart table. In the new bulkhead itself we installed a small microwave, which proved to be invaluable on the cruise. All in all, the removal of the quarterberth did away with a hard to access catchall area. In its place, we acquired an extended chart table, an extra deep bin for chart storage, a bulkhead installed microwave and a second full-sized sail locker, accessed from the cockpit.

All the old Brooks & Gatehouse instruments and radios were gradually replaced with more modern instruments, including VHF radio, depth sounder, knotmeter, and Micrologic Loran. The electrical system, which was extensive, was completely overhauled by Thornton Marine Electric. We installed Surrette marine batteries; one starter battery plus one very large deep and heavy storage battery, stored in a separate compartment on the cabin sole beneath the companionway atop the Atomic Four motor.

One major improvement that was made after the cruise to the Bahamas, was to replace the Atomic 4 gasoline engine with an Atomic 4 30 hp diesel engine. We were limited to what kind of diesel we could use because the engine compartment was below the cabin sole, which meant the motor had to have a very low profile. The only motor fitting that constraint was the Atomic 4 Diesel, designed especially to fit in the same space as its gasoline predecessor. The new diesel was purchased from Southern Diesel of Florida for Cdn$6,674 and installed by Cape Marina in Cape Canaveral, Fla for Cdn$1,100.

To power the microwave and frig, and to charge batteries, we carried a small generator which we ran occasionally on deck. It would have been nice to have been able to run it more frequently than we did but the noise it made, reverberating like a drum on the hollow deck, was hard to take.

By all modern comparisons, Windermere was a narrow boat. The main cabin was only 10’3″ at its widest point, which was near the forward bulkhead of the main cabin level with the main mast. Her design was more suited to ocean racing of a byegone age, or to making an ocean crossing, than it was for cruising in comfort. Before her refit, she had sported two narrow pilot berths, one above the other, on the starboard side of the main cabin. But they weren’t designed for a 6’4″ tall person like myself. (I found it necessary to have an opening cut in the forward bulkhead of the main cabin so that I could stretch out my legs, letting my feet find some room amid the foul weather gear hanging in the locker beyond.)

Windermere was a very seaworthy boat and stood up well in rough weather, thanks to her wonderful design by Sparkman & Stephens, the first class boat construction by Grampian Yachts of Oakville, ON and the 7,500lbs of lead in her keel. I have always looked upon her as a descendant of the famous ocean racer, “Dorade”, winner of the 1931 Transatlantic and Fastnet races. Dorade, like Windermere, was designed by Sparkman & Stephens. She, too, was rigged as a Bermudian yawl . Of course, Dorade was much larger than Windermere. Dorade was 52” in length and displaced 15 tons versus Windermere’s 37′ length and 10 ton displacement. But the remarkable thing is that, despite Dorade’s significantly larger size, her maximum beam was still only 10’3″; exactly the same as Windermere’s!

Living on a small boat for any extended period of time is a challenge, mainly because of its space limitations. The boat itself has needs, and I guess one could say that those needs take priority over everything else. Upon them depends the ultimate safety of the crew (and the occasional passenger). Every boat is different, so please keep in mind that my comments apply only to Windermere, and are not meant to be generic in any way.

After living aboard and cruising for the best part of a year, I would say that Windermere proved to be adequate in size, but too small for real comfort. Even though she was 37′ long, excluding the bowsprit, her waterline length was more like 27′. The “missing” ten feet were given over to a fine clipper bow, and a long counter running aft. Of course, the counter added to her beauty, and it also served a practical purpose by increasing the waterline length substantially while sailing with even moderate angles of heel. (The speed of a boat with a displacement keel is limited by its waterline length, and the long counter helped to improve speed without violating its race rating.)

I suppose one could sum it up by saying, “There’s more room in a beamier tub!” But who wants to sail a tub? Windermere was and still is a fast moving sailboat provided,of course, you have fifteen knots of wind!