Dunkirk Little Ship Tahilla Gets a Luxurious Orient Express Make Over

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Stephen Dennett and his team from Michael Dennett Boat Builders have transformed historic 60’ Dunkirk Little Ship Tahilla. Using the elegance and style of the Orient Express as their inspiration, the team used WEST SYSTEM® epoxy and traditional techniques to create something truly unique.

After taking part in the cruise to Dunkirk, Stephen and his wife Heather were fortunate enough find the perfect boat for one of their many well-respected clients who had been dreaming of owning a larger boat for some time. When they found Tahilla; a 60ft, two masted, 80 year old Dunkirk Little Ship, plans quickly began to take shape.

“After a lot of deliberation, we set out to achieve an interior finish that would make you feel as if you were on a sea going version of the Orient Express,” says Steven. “This meant that the level of craftsmanship had to be flawless throughout.” 

steven dennett boatbuildersA Class of its Own

The first step of the refit was to grind out the red lead putty from the seams of the hull, which was then filled and faired using WEST SYSTEM epoxy and WEST SYSTEM 407 Low Density Filler. “The mix of these two products provided the ideal surface to accommodate the dark blue paint, which can get incredibly hot in the summer,” says Steven. “As well as helping to prolong the life of the timber, the WEST SYSTEM products also ensure a perfect finish for the paint, preventing any defects in the final finish coat.”

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All of the fittings and fixtures of Tahilla are original and were painstakingly stripped back to the bare metal. They were then nickel plated, which creates an elegant contrast with the dark-blue paint.

With a high standard set for the boat’s exterior, the Dennetts team went about replacing the side decks with solid teak, bonded and scarfed to marine ply using WEST SYSTEM epoxy resin. “We constructed a new, double hatched lazzerette to accommodate any ropes and fenders,” says Steven. “All of the skylights and windows on board were fitted with UV filters to protect all the newly refurbished timbers from bleaching.”

According to the clients’ instructions, the Dennetts team also rebuilt the after cabin. With the new, larger side decks, the team was able to widen the cabin and gain extra space for the master suite.

Extreme Luxury Below Decks

To follow the theme of 1920s opulence, the interior was lined with American Black Walnut panels, complemented by a fine English Oak floor. The contrast of the light and dark timbers reflect the light beautifully throughout.

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“All the internal timbers were bonded to marine plywood using WEST SYSTEM epoxy resin to make it more stable and to provide easy access to the sophisticated systems which were being installed behind them,” says Steven. “We also replaced all of the bulk heads with marine ply, bonded to the hull using WEST SYSTEMS epoxy resin, so there was no need to weaken the structure with unnecessary fittings.”

Throughout the galley, saloon and forward cabin, the Dennetts team used only the best quality fixtures, chosen by the client and by Heather, who works as the yards interior designer on large projects. “The high-spec brass trim that flows through this space really ties together the overall feel of the vessel, giving a sense of luxury,” says Steven. “In the aft cabin, we installed a bespoke roll-top copper bath with a nickel plated finish and all fixtures were carefully plated to co-ordinate with this incredible feature. We also put in a calorifier to heat water for the large bath and for the two other toilet and shower rooms.”

steven dennett boatbuilders
To ensure maximum comfort and enjoyment on any voyage, the Dennetts team also installed three air conditioning systems and heating units. The worktops throughout were made from a variety of marble specifically imported from Italy and finished with either nickel or copper taps.

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A Triumph of Class and Style

The finished Tahilla will be admired for years to come, wherever she sails: not just for her elegance, but also for her reliability and comfort. To keep her cruising for another 80 years to come, the refit also included brand new engines, shafts, and propeller and shaft tubes.

Currently moored at Southampton, her proud new owner is looking forward to joining the fleet for the rally to Dunkirk in 2020 where she is expected to be the pride of the fleet.

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Onwards and Upwards

With Tahilla completed on schedule in the Summer of 2016, Steven and the team have turned their attention to the next major restoration project: a 48ft Dunkirk Little Ship.

“This time, the decks, hull and cabins will all be either completely replaced or restored where possible,” says Steven. “With a new interior and two 300 horse power engines, we’re confident that this 80 year old boat will achieve cruising speeds of up to 35 knots.”

WEST SYSTEMS epoxy will be used extensively throughout the re-build for everything from filling and fairing to deck bonding and joinery. However, one interesting application will create a maintenance free roof for the ship based on a traditional design.

“We will laminate the roof structure using WEST SYSTEM epoxy, sheath it with 180-gram tapered edge cloth an then fill and skim the surface with WEST SYSTEM epoxy and 410 Microlight Filler,” says Steven. “We’ll then apply a two-component paint system that incorporates an undercoat and gloss.”

This method has proved successful at Michael Dennett Boat Builders for many years and the new roof will look and function like a traditional canvas product, but with no leaks or weak spots. “We expect it to be virtually maintenance-free for at least the next 10 years,” says Steven.

A Future with WEST SYSTEM Epoxy

As our conversation comes to an end, Steven tells me how he was born into a boat yard and remembers a time before epoxy resin. “Epoxy resin has changed the industry,” says Steven. “Boats last much longer now and they require much less maintenance, which has created a huge amount of confidence and trust between us and our many returning customers over the years.”

Steven also talks about a few of the structural and physical benefits of WEST SYSTEMS epoxy. “There is less need for fixings, which only create weak points in wooden boats,” he says. “What’s more, WEST SYSTEM allows us to create nice, even joins with far greater water resistance, which stay strong for many years without degrading in marine conditions.”

To prove the point, Steven mentions a boat that he built with his father 30 years ago. “She’s just come back into the yard for some general maintenance and is still going strong,” he says. “All the restoration work we do extends the life of clients’ wooden boats, whether that’s a dinghy or a 60ft Dunkirk Ship,” adds Steven “In this business, preserving these beautiful craft is really all that matters.”


Find out more about Michael Dennett Boat Builders and contact the yard at www.dennettboatbuilders.co.uk/

Wondering if WEST SYSTEM epoxy products might be the right fit for your boat build? Explore the full range on the West System International website.


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