The construction of the 6 metre model yacht “Athene” (from a design by Admiral Alfred Turner 1925)
by Michael Hayward
The whole project started some thirty years ago when a good friend of mine, Ian Wheeler from Hertfordshire, sent me a plan of a six metre design which he thought I might like to study. Being involved with model radio controlled aircraft at the time, I put the design to one side but left it on my workshop noticeboard for future consideration.
Thirty years on and retired from teaching in 2006 I looked for a new project, having already restored a fifty year old Merlin Rocket racing dinghy in 2009. Athene was the obvious challenge. Although I had an idea of the construction of a planked hull, I nevertheless found it necessary to obtain a number of books on the subject, including those by W J Daniels, Percival Marshall, Vic Smeed and R Griffin. Without them I doubt if the boat would have been completed.
The first task was to scale up the drawing with pencil and paper and then trace the shadows, allowing for 1mm ribs and 2.5mm planking. The shadows were cut from 6mm plywood and the keel/backbone from 9mm marine plywood then mounted on a “T” section pine building board with a 6mm ply top face. The choice of timber for planking was discussed with a local timber merchant at Interesting Timbers based on the Mendip Hills in Somerset. Cedar of Lebanon was chosen as they had in the past supplied a number of model makers for similar constructions.
Planking from gunwale to keel, each plank was tapered and bevelled along its length to the proportion of the shadow at each station. Planks were cut in pairs and glued with Cascamite adhesive port and starboard to maintain symmetry. Holding the planks in place, whilst allowing the glue to cure, was no mean task, using a combination of clamps, modelling pins and Duck Tape. On average it was possible to position one plank on each side in the early morning and another plank on each side in the early evening per day. Some may disapprove, but the bow, stern and keel were completed with solid Cedar of Lebanon. The whole interior was finished with one coat of West Systems epoxy resin. Deck beams were positioned with consideration for radio control and glued in place after shaping each one for a curved decking. Having no experience with radio yachts, I was very conscious of placing fittings on the deck prior to glueing the deck down. Trial and error and reading Model Radio Yachts by Trevor Reece helped immensely so that various positions could be reinforced on the underside of the deck before committing it to the hull. The underside of the deck was marine varnished prior to fixing.
Having had experience in sand casting as a teacher, I knew I could cast the keel. But being retired, prevented me from having access to all the specialist equipment. Nevertheless I explored the possibility and found a supplier of casting sand in Hertfordshire and set about the task of acquiring a heat source to melt the lead. In the process I found that Bristol had a casting foundry not far from my home. So a visit was arranged. The Bristol foundry is a two man concern dealing with one-off commissions for local clients. One at that time being the BBC Nature Unit, who required caste aluminium penguins to house cameras for a forthcoming nature programme! I had already removed the keel section required for the casting and intended to use it as the pattern for the mould. Taking the pattern and my own lead, there was no problem for Bristol Foundry casting the keel whilst I was present to record the process on camera. The pattern had been slightly enlarged to allow for the contraction of the casting which I found to be near perfect when I offered it up to the boat. Large stainless steel screws and epoxy resin now hold the lead firmly in place.
A second local timber merchant was used to supply the wood for the mast and boom. Robins Timber in Bristol recommended Douglas Fir, as Sitka Spruce was well beyond my budget and, anyway, it is Douglas Fir that Robins supply to local boat yards for the restoration of spars on traditional sailing craft. The mast on Athene is some 76 inches in length, laminated in two halves along its length, each half being hollowed out (as per W J Daniels) to reduce weight aloft. The same applied to the boom, although this was not hollowed.
At this stage a decision had to be made as to the material for the sails. At the end of the day it just had to be cotton, so a phone call to Nylet and a chat to Frank Parsons set the order in place. Having now received them and rigged the model, the extra cost has been well worth it. Nylet have done an outstanding job, fully enhancing the classic lines of Admiral Turner’s creation. All the metal fittings were made in my workshop apart from small blocks and hooks supplied by Nylet along with the rigging.
Finishing of any model always takes longer than expected and one that I really enjoy. The hull was sanded down with fine glass paper, sealed, primed, undercoated and gloss finished with a total of some six coats with fine wet and dry paper between each coat. The deck was finished with the same care with five coats of semi-gloss polyurethane varnish.
I hope you all enjoy the lines of Athene as much as I do and appreciate the skill and creative thinking of Admiral Turner way back in 1925. All that is now required is the maiden voyage and an entry for the Richard Howlett Trophy.
Since I wrote the above account of the build of Athene, I unfortunately had to spend time recovering from surgery which prevented me from launching her, although I was lucky enough to win the Howlett Trophy.
It was by chance that I contacted Weston Aerials to solve a TV problem and therefore met Russ. He saw Athene in my workshop and told me of SMBC and said he would help me sail her. On a perfect August Wednesday in 2019 he and fellow club members made the launch a great success. She looked fine and sailed very well. Many thanks to all those members for a memorable afternoon.