Off to the races
In Thorley, just east of Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, one corner of the usually quiet and calm village is a flurry of activity. The Whittle Marine boatyard occupies a former dairy farm and the converted barns are currently filled with sailing boats, motor cruisers and RIBs and with the weather rapidly improving and the clocks going forward, the annual, early spring push to relaunch boats that have been stored throughout the winter is now in full swing.
‘It’s always hectic at this time of year,’ explains Nick Whittle, the yard’s owner. ‘But this year, all our clients – sailing boat and motor boat – are especially keen to get their boats in the water as soon as possible.’ Whittle Marine store, restore, refit and repair a wide range of craft. Taking pole position in the yard’s eastern shed is 30ft Merlin, a Lymington-based Fairy Spearfish scheduled for launch in the coming weeks. Merlin has undergone mechanical upgrades, repairs and bespoke teak work to the cockpit sole while final touches are now being made to the hull paintwork.
When the yard’s three-man team of Nick, Blaise Russell and Luke Brett aren’t busy working on the company’s flagship project of a new-build X One Design (XOD), the bulk of Whittle Marine’s work over the winter has involved the 25 XODs stored undercover in the yard’s two cavernous sheds. The majority of these boats are local and part of the Royal Solent Yacht Club’s (RSYC) fleet, but the yard’s growing reputation has attracted XODs from Lymington, Cowes, Itchenor and Parkstone.
Much of the work undertaken on XODs over the winter has involved replacing cracked ribs in the hull – the timber frames forming the boat’s basic internal structure. Made from locally sourced oak, the replacement ribs fitted at Whittle Marine ensure the XODs can be raced hard throughout the coming season without compromising hull stability and integrity.
The pressure to launch the XODs promptly this year is partly driven by the early date of the RSYC’s first race – the Early Bird Race on Wednesday 19 April. In the fortnight leading up to this date, there will be a steady stream of XODs on trailers heading from Thorley to the Yarmouth Harbour Commissioners 5 tonne crane for launching and mast stepping prior to towing out to the swing moorings off the RSYC. ‘We have a very good working relationship with the Harbour Commissioners and the crane and set up on quay is ideal for an easy launch which is essential with so many boats to go back in the water in a relatively tight timeframe,’ says Nick.
As business is growing at Whittle Marine, Nick is keen to take on an apprentice this year. ‘We are getting a lot of interest from International Folkboat owners throughout the Solent,’ he confirms. ‘We’ve stored and worked successfully on Folkboats for a number of years and as official agents for North Sails and hardware company Harken, the discount we can provide on sails and deckgear has a big appeal to owners,’ Nick adds. ‘We plan to become a one-stop-shop for Folkboat repairs, refits and storage, but we will have to train-up another skilled member for the team.’
Text: Oliver Dewar
Blaise Russell and Nick Whittle busy preparing XODs for launching
A Whittle Marine bespoke deck grating nears completion ready for fitting
Work continues on Whittle Marine’s new-build XOD
Finishing touches to the hull of ‘Merlin’ prior to relaunch
An International Folkboat is antifouled before relaunching
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