March / April 2023

Replacing a Hull

The careful reconstruction of MARTLET

When the 15’ daysailer MARTLET was worn beyond sailing condition, boatbuilder Ashley Butler came up with a methodical plan to replace her hull while preserving her well-earned patina. The boat has been in the family of Anne Roe, seen here at the helm, for nearly 50 years.

One of the great virtues of plank-on-frame wooden boats is that their component parts can be more easily repaired than those in most modern monocoque structures. Over the years, I’ve seen everything from patches of rot being fixed with graving pieces to whole keels being replaced, and everything in between. I was, however, taken aback when I visited Ashley Butler’s yard in Penpol in Cornwall, England, one day and found him working on the planking for a 15' dinghy.

“We’re building a new hull for this one,” he said casually. “The owner has had her for years and didn’t want to get rid of her, so we’re keeping all the usable parts and building a new hull.”

Now, this might sound old-fashioned, but in my head you can fix just about anything on a boat; however, once the hull is shot, then it’s game over—unless it happens to be a Fife or something worthy of a complete rebuild. None of this “building a new hull” business. Yet that is exactly what Ashley has done with MARTLET, a process that required him to work “in reverse” initially. The result is a 70-year-old boat that’s good for another 70 years, and an absolutely delighted owner.

Anne Roe first encountered MARTLET in 1976 when she was 10 years old. “One day, my brother and I came back from school and Dad said, ‘I’ve bought a boat.’ We jumped up and down like little kids, not really knowing what it meant. The next day the dinghy was on the drive. None of us could sail, but we’d all been brought up on [the] Swallows and Amazons [books], so we wanted a boat like that. Dad learned to sail, and then taught my brother and me. He was an accountant and didn’t know anything about boats, so it was just a romantic dream.”

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