Albacore 1297 - Transcendental

Albacore 1297, Transcendental, is our sailboat, which I have owned since 1977. After sitting idle for about fifteen years, she was restored to sailing condition and returned to service in 2007. Here you will find a bit of history about the boat, the Albacore class, and photos of the restoration project.

The Albacore

The Albacore class was designed by British sailboat maker Uffa Fox, and has been in production since 1955. It is a one-design, centreboard sailing dinghy, 15 feet long with a 5 foot beam. It carries 125 sq. ft. of sail in a sloop rig (main and jib). Boat weight is 240 lbs. minimum. The Albacore is normally raced by a crew of two, and can carry four adults comfortably. About 8100 boats have been built, with the bulk of the fleet being in Ontario, the eastern USA, and the UK. The class is still actively raced, and is also popular as a sail training and family boat.

Most Albacores built in North America are of fibreglass construction. Older boats from the 1950's and early 1960's were of wood construction; in addition, modern wood boats were produced by a few builders. In North America, most of the fleet consists of fibreglass boats; in England, the situation is reversed.

Albacore 1297

This boat, hull number 1297, is one of the original Fairey Marine wooden Albacores. It was built in 1962, in England, by Fairey Marine, at either Hamble, Hants, or Maidenhead, Berkshire. The hull is three layer molded mahogany plywood; the deck is mahogany plywood. There is a production serial number, 1084, embossed on the floor aft of the centreboard trunk. AL 1297 is a Fairey Marine Mk I hull, with the outer hull ply running diagonally to the waterline.

The boat is still laid out in the original Fairey Marine configuration, with a stern deck and open bench seats. Inflatable air bags under the seats, in the bow, and under the stern deck provide additional buoyancy. The hull, deck, and interior are varnished, and have never been painted. The original brass fittings and trim are still intact, though we have had to replace many of the old screws and bolts whenever we removed them.

The early Fairey Marine boats from the 1950's had spruce-tipped masts; this boat, like other later vintage Fairey Marine boats, has an all-aluminum tapered Seahorse mast, with a gold coloured finish. The boat originally had a metal centreboard; I replaced it with a wooden mahogany board in the late 1970's when the metal board broke and was lost.


AL 1297, August 1979
AL 1297, August 1979

Unlike some old boats, this one's history is fairly well documented. I have owned it since 1977, and inherited all of the original documentation from the previous owners. We have the boat's original Certificate of Registration from the UK, and copies of subsequent Canadian Albacore Association (CAA) documents.

The boat's first owner was Dr. R. M. Kilborn, who brought the boat to the Conestoga Sailing Club, on Conestoga Lake, in southern Ontario, Canada. I do not know whether he imported the boat himself, or whether it was brought to Canada by a distributor.

Subsequent owners were Dr. Robert Cowan, and Dr. David Taplin, who both sailed the boat at Conestoga Lake. In 1973, Dr. Taplin took the boat back to his native England, to sail in the World Albacore Championships in Plymouth.

The boat was named by Dr. Taplin; the name, Transcendental, incorporates the AL abbreviation for the Albacore class, as do a number of other Albacore names.

In 1977, I bought the boat, when I was still in high school, and have had it ever since. I wasn't looking for a "classic wood boat", just something to sail, and 1297 happened to be available. The boat stayed at Conestoga Lake for several years, where I sailed and raced regularly in club races. While I usually came in last when I raced, I did have fun. During this time the boat received regular, if inexpert, maintenance, including yearly varnishing.

In 1983 the boat came west with me to Washington, where I sailed on Lake Washington during the 1980's. There was no Albacore fleet on Lake Washington, and no class races; I didn't link up with any active centreboard clubs, and so didn't do any racing during that time. In Ontario, it snows in the winter, so boats like this are tucked snugly away in barns and garages over the winter. It rarely snows here on the west coast, and I was told you could even sail in January. Since I didn't have a garage to store the boat in, I thought it would be fine to keep it outside all year.

That was not a good idea.

Winter here is the rainy season. Even though the boat had a cover, it started to show some deterioration. After a few seasons, the deck in particular started to show signs of moisture damage: varnish started to discolour and peel at the deck seams, and one deck section started to crack and lift, with the varnish lifting off completely. Varnish started to peel from the hull as well. I didn't do much regular maintenance during this time; this no doubt made things worse. I made some attempts to fix the worst of the deck problem areas, but with only limited success.

The boat was last sailed in 1989. It came to British Columbia with me in 1990, and was stored for 14 years, awaiting repairs. During that time it was stored sheltered from the elements, and did not get much worse. However, I didn't really know how to fix the worst parts of the damaged deck.


"Daddy, you should get the boat fixed!"

Eventually, I was put in touch with the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre and Wooden Boat Society, which provided a way for me to get the boat back in shape. The Centre has a well-equipped shop which members can use. The Centre also employs a full-time shipwright, Eric Sandilands who is available to oversee and assist members' restoration projects--everything from canoes to large wood keelboats. Other members also have considerable expertise which they are usually willing to contribute. This is an excellent setting for someone like myself, who has quite limited woodworking abilities, to tackle a project like this.

This is a fairly limited project compared to some of the work that more experienced people in the Albacore community have done with old wooden (and fibreglass) boats. Check out the North American Albacore Forum for references to some really impressive projects.

We started working on the boat at the Maritime Centre in May 2005. The boat was in fairly reasonable condition, with the exception of the deck:

We worked on the boat at the Maritime Centre during the rest of 2005, 2006, and finished up in early 2007. Under the supervision of the Maritime Centre shipwright, some of the things we did were:

Other things that we did, as part of the restoration included:

We finished up at the Maritime Centre shop in early 2007, and brought the boat home. The mast was done in June of 2007, and after some last minute work on the boom vang and mast fittings, the boat was launched in July of 2007.

For the next several years, we should only have minor maintenance to do. There are a couple of future jobs which we might do:

Restoration Photos

Unfortunately, I don't have a good "before" picture showing the condition of the entire boat when we started work. The initial pictures with the deck removed give you a good idea of the interior structure of a typical old-style Fairey Marine layout. Pictures are in chronological order throughout the project.

Full size 3072x2304 images are available, but be aware that they are quite large, and will take some time to load. Clicking on the thumbnail will give you a 1024x768 version.

Photo Notes

  1. An old (1980's) attempt to varnish the damaged section; the varnish did not soak into the damaged wood properly.
  2. The old gunwale rib, which underlies the edge of the deck, was screwed, but not glued, to the hull. The old rub rail was screwed to the gunwale rib. This resulted in a number of gaps through which water could reach the edges of the deck planking.
  3. Yes, that is varnish on the brass builder's plate. Years ago, I tended to varnish almost everything, hoping that would somehow protect it.
  4. This bizarre arrangement at the masthead for the main halyard might be my fault, but I have no memory of doing it.
  5. The new gunwale rib, deck, rub rails, are glued with, and all seams are sealed with, West system epoxy. We hope this will keep water out.
  6. Three coats of S-1 Sealer; this is a two-part, epoxy-based, penetrating sealer. It provides a waterproofing base layer which can then be varnished. The varnish provides ultraviolet protection. The V-shaped splash rails on the front deck are from the original deck.
  7. Heat gun and scraper, no chemical stripper.
  8. The layer of old fibreglass is my doing, many years ago, but I have no idea why I did it.
  9. On the left is the outer hull after scraping the old varnish; the first layer of old varnish has soaked into the wood. On the right, the orbital sander takes off the last of the old varnish.
  10. The wood for the outer hull cleaned up very nicely. The difference in colour is quite striking.
  11. Yes, that is duct tape forming the hinge; part of my regular maintenance years ago was to check, and replace that tape every year.
  12. I wasn't quite pleased with what was supposed to be the final coat (number ten), so we did another final finish coat -- 600 wet sand, fresh varnish, brush + tip -- and managed to get a much nicer result.
  13. This was something of an experiment, to see how we could improve a less than perfect varnish finish. Wet sand to 2500 (1500 would have worked just fine), then hand polish with Meguiar's #3. Very smooth, satin finish, fairly shiny, but lacks the wet look of unsanded varnish. Apparently you need to machine polish to get that degree of shine; so I decided not to do any extra polishing with the rest of the varnishing.
  14. Gold leaf by Ken Gray.
  15. Transom bailer design suggested by Peter Duncan. Amazingly simple and elegant: lexan flaps, with shock cord forming the hinges, no rubber seals required, no extra hardware to fasten the control line to the flaps.
  16. Pretty well finished. The only things missing in these next three pictures are the buoyancy bags, traveller and barber hauler lines, and bailing buckets. The original wood whisker pole is mounted under the starboard side deck. The compasses are the originals which were there when I bought the boat.
  17. The interior traveller bar just aft the thwart may have been added in the 1960's or 1970's. Other Albacores often have some sort of transom-mounted traveller. The brass bar on the transom serves as a traveller bar on Fairey Marine boats, but 1297 was set up with a mid-boom sheeting configuration.
  18. The dolly seen in these pictures is homebuilt, of tubular steel; it came with the boat, and provides a good support for working on the boat in the shop. I have a new lightweight, and much more portable, Seitech dolly for use at the beach.

Random Thoughts

A few thoughts on various things that came up over the course of the work:

Brass and Bronze

The boat still had all of the original brass and bronze fittings: transom bar, bow plate, mast collar, keel strips, rudder pintle and gudgeon. Our best guess is that most of the fittings are brass, except for the rudder pintle and gudgeon, which are probably bronze. Straight slot brass wood screws and machine screws were used everywhere, except for some parts such as the mainsheet traveller, which were probably added later. As far as I could tell, there were no stainless steel fittings or fasteners used in the original construction. The old metal had always been a dull dark brown colour; I was amazed at how shiny it became when someone suggested going at it with buffing compound, or metal polish.

Unfortunately, brass is so soft that screws will strip if you so much as look at them the wrong way when trying to remove them; we had to cut or drill out a number of old screws in the course of removing brass fittings and wood parts. Not only that, but modern brass screws have a tendency to break, even when being inserted into a pre-drilled hole. After having several screws snap off, we ended up having to pre-thread every hole with a steel screw before using a brass screw. And sometimes even that isn't enough--we have had new brass screws break even in a pre-threaded hole... (We couldn't simply use stainless fasteners with the brass fittings, since apparently mixing metals like that increases the risk of corrosion, especially in salt water.)

Brass and bronze look very similar, and that added to our confusion. At one point, we thought the old screws might have been bronze, since they seemed stronger than the modern brass we initially replaced them with. Eventually, we decided that the old screws were indeed brass, but the consensus at the shop was that the old brass was perhaps a different type, and better quality than that available today in a typical brass wood screw. Nowdays, silicon bronze seems to be the preferred material for boat-building. For the remainder of the fittings, I decided to re-use the old, higher quality brass screws where possible, and to use silicon bronze for locations needing higher strength.

The morals of the story, for anyone else working on an old boat with brass and bronze parts and fittings: Make sure you know which fasteners are bronze, and which are brass. Old brass fasteners can be re-used if they are in good shape, and will probably best match any old fittings, but require great care to avoid stripping. Modern brass fasteners are probably best avoided for anything but decorative use. Silicon bronze is good for locations needing stronger fasteners, or where the old brass fasteners are no longer usable.


West System two-part epoxy--the cure for whatever ails you. Wonderful stuff; I had never heard of it before I started working on the boat at the shop; we use it for everything there: Use it unthickened as a glue which is stronger than the wood itself; paint it on to get a hard, waterproof seal on a wooden edge; use it with fibreglass cloth. Add some Airlite filler to thicken it up a bit, and use it to seal cracks or spaces, to glue splints into old screw holes, or to fill up the holes where you had to drill out a broken brass screw. Thicken it some more and get a putty that can fill holes and gouges. Add sawdust to match the colour of the wood. It can be sanded, drilled, sawed, and holds screws.

Using epoxy with an old wood boat like this, we can make deck and hull joints and seams tighter and much better sealed than they ever were in the original construction.