Sjo Ro Back on her Mooring

October 13, 2014

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You have probably seen this boat before - if not with your own eyes then on our Regatta posters and cards. Sjo Ro's history is rich and interesting, and after the recent rennovations she looks absolutely stunning. Thanks to Jeremy Arnott we now have more detail about the boat's story and the work that has been done to her. 

After a 15 month restoration Sjo-Ro is back on her mooring. Many club members roughly know the history of this Sydney Harbour yacht, but for those who don’t, she was designed in 1933 by William Fife III, the last of the famed, Scottish yacht designer family. She is built to plan No 790, one of the last of almost 50  six metre designs by Fife, that encapsulated a lifetime of experience with this class. Building commenced in Tasmania in 1934, by Percy Coverdale, himself a noted Hobart shipwright. Her planking, deck and steam bent ribs are all huon pine, whilst Tasmanian Bluegum made up most of her sawn frames, floors and keel. Her deck beams were Tamanian Oak, and the sheer clamp was douglas fir.

Sjo-Ro arrived in Sydney delivered as deck cargo, in October 1934, eighty years ago this month. Her build was commissioned by Sir Claude Plowman, his wife was Swedish and we believe it was her that gave the yacht her name which, as best as we are able to translate means “Calm lake – or water”, and Sjo-Ro certainly performs at her best in light airs.

When not campaigning Sjo-Ro in Melbourne Sir Claude sailed her with Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.

Sjo-Ro subsequently had a few owners and at one time had a small cabin, engine and cruising rig. Noticing it’s neglect in the early 1990’s Gary Ferres, cognisant of her history and pedigree encouraged friends to form a syndicate to save her from further neglect and do the necessary repairs to get her seaworthy and sailing again. This was done and with the newly re-constituted Balmain Sailing Club became one of the first yachts to join the club’s fleet of keel boats. Sjo-Ro has sailed more or less continuously with BSC ever since along with classic races at Sydney Amateur Sailing Club.

After seventy nine years however it was plain that major restoration work was necessary if she were to survive much longer. As a consequence, Simon Sadubin of then Sydney Harbour Wooden Boats at Chowder Bay was engaged to undertake the work. Before work commenced Simon and his business partner Tom Coventry moved their business into much more accommodating premises at Mona Vale and in June 2013 Sjo-Ro was moved there.

Simon had in the meantime visited Fairlie Restorations in Hampshire U.K. and obtained copies of the original build plans. As work commenced it soon became obvious that the restoration was going to be more extensive than initially envisaged. Whilst it was hoped that a number of sawn frames and floors could be saved it was determined they were too far gone to remain given the degree of other extensive work being undertaken. The prime concern was to be as faithful to the original plan, materials and weight as much as possible. This was assisted when measurements against the plan confirmed that give or take a quarter of an inch here and there her lines were correct and all of her huon pine planking and steam bent frames were completely sound. The Tasmanian Bluegum sawn frames ( every third frame) were all replaced with laminated Flooded Gum frames they being deemed more durable and stiffer.  The transverse floor timbers were all replaced with grown tea tree. At the same time all the centreline keel bolts were replaced with monel bolts. The original deck was tongue and grooved huon covered with canvas, the restoration opted for a Dutch gaboon plywood subdeck, sheathed and then covered with a laid huon deck.

Other major structural repairs were replacement of seven feet of the stem, and a stiffening member added to the inside of the counter timbers, which takes the loads from the backstay. The rudder tube and horn timbers were completely rebuilt. A large section of the original sheer clamp was replaced in way of the chainplates, which were re-engineered to form laminated ring frames. The new laminated mast step sits on top of these frames and spans seven floor timbers. All work was detailed to look like the original components.

A very minor change was made to increase the deck camber and the cockpit restored essentially to the Fife plan. With respect to the rig, the aluminium mast has been retained but standing and running rigging and the boom have been replaced as well as the s.s rudder with one made from timber to the Fife plan. There was much discussion as to deck hardware. Most restored 6m yachts in Europe either opt for a totally classic approach or go totally modern. To be faithful, the former would obviously be preferred but it was thought some consideration needed to be given to modern day advances with sheeting blocks and other dynamic loads, so a mix of old and new has emerged. Lots of discussion took place as to whether to “travel” or “not-to-travel”. Sjo-Ro used to have in latter days a traveller - which was never used as the cars constantly fouled the mainsheet whilst tacking and gybing and required a four part control line. With the cockpit moving forward one deck beam to conform to the Fife plan, we could only see traveller issues compounding further, unless a through deck control line system could be employed. Advice sought from a number of sources suggested a classic 6m shouldn’t  need a traveller anyway. As there was general reluctance to drill a series of holes through the newly laid deck for a modern contraption a traditional “horse” as proposed by William Fife won out and has been fitted.

Simon and Tom and their team Hywel and Andrew have done a truly excellent restoration job. With modern glues and technology Sjo-Ro is now better built than originally. After all that has been done, she is floating better than ever to her designed waterline – 1 inch higher out of the water than before. There are still finishing touches going on but it is hoped in the near future she can be alongside the club one Sunday afternoon for all to have a close inspection.

Watch this space and for “her” on the water.

Pictures: Neil Duncan

Text: Jeremy Arnott and Simon Sadubin

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