Rescuing the rescuer: giving life to a lifeboat with epoxy

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When engineer Mark Raynes found the 1924 MANCHESTER AND SALFORD lifeboat abandoned at Deganwy in North Wales, everyone warned him not to take her on. 14 years, tens of thousands of pounds and a lot of WEST SYSTEM epoxy later, her solid, shining timbers are set to re-enter the waters.

“She was a basket case. An absolute shipwreck. She didn’t float, she had no engine, the decks, superstructure and beams had all rotted, as had the planking,” says Mark. But there was no stopping him. “It was fatal attraction from first sight,” he laughs.

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When new, the MANCHESTER AND SALFORD debuted to a great fanfare. Built using nearly £8,500 of donations from Manchester and Salford residents, she attracted 25,000 people to her naming ceremony on the Manchester shipping canal in June 1924. A sailboat, constructed in Honduras mahogany on oak frames with Canadian rock elm, she was also a real beauty.

The MANCHESTER AND SALFORD was first stationed at Douglas on the Isle of Man and then at Islay, Barra, Campbeltown and Stornoway in the highlands and islands of Scotland. Launched a total of 40 times, she saved thirteen lives by the end of her active service in 1956. For Mark, refurbishing her was a childhood dream come true. “I loved the RNLI and the Watson class lifeboats that were in service when I was a teenager. It was a Watson that I originally dreamed of owning.” However, enticed by the MANCHESTER AND SALFORD’s sleeker lines – plus a centreboard and the larger rudder that would make her a true sailing boat – Mark ignored all advice to the contrary and took the plunge.

Epoxy, all the way

Mark’s vision for refurbishment was to mix the best of modern and traditional boatbuilding techniques. Epoxy was at the heart of this work. “Visually, I wanted it to be completely faithful to the original design. But under the bonnet, I am very happy to use modern technology. A lot of the original materials that we’re repairing here are 100 years old, so to protect them and make them strong, we need to use epoxy,” says Mark.

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Epoxy is, without doubt, absolutely everywhere on this renovation. On any project such as this there is always a lot of structural bonding and every piece of bonding on the MANCHESTER AND SALFORD is being done with WEST SYSTEM® products. This includes almost 100 sheets of marine ply for the coach roofs and the decks. “For example, we’ve replaced the stern deck,” explains Mark. “Six millimetre teak planks are epoxy bonded to a ply substrate. We used epoxy and graphite to give black key lines between deck strips, which looks amazing. The whole lot will then be coated in epoxy, leaving it extremely strong.”

In fact, all exposed woodwork is part finished with epoxy. “Wherever we’re going to display internal or external hardwood finishes, we’ve treated it with epoxy before varnishing. That gives a beautiful finish that is strong and has fantastic UV protection,” says Mark.

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Additionally, Mark and his team have installed some 3,300 feet of new double diagonal hull planking. “This is a huge task,” he explains. “In the past, this would have been repaired using a calico membrane with white lead paste in between. But the strongest way to repair today is with a colloidal silica repair mat and epoxy to bond.” That said, Mark and his team still nailed and roved the planks with copper fixings. “It looked wrong without them! So we added them, to retain the beauty of the original design.”

Both above and below the waterline, epoxy fillers have also been used to fill screw and bolt holes. Plus epoxy has been invaluable for the complex repairs to the propeller shaft tunnel in the hull. “It’s epoxy all the way. We haven’t bought any other surface coating other than varnish. In fact, we haven’t bought any other glues at all for bonding, fairing, filling or sheathing.”

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For Mark, WEST SYSTEM epoxy was always the epoxy brand of choice. “I did try alternatives. But WEST SYSTEM epoxy is far superior in terms of its consistency and ease of use. Plus the Gougeon Brothers documentation – and all the little jobs described in it – just makes it so easy to use.”

The dream team

While this restoration may be Mark’s dream, it’s also a huge team effort. In addition to hands-on help from his immediate family and friends, Mark has enlisted the help of an army of volunteers from universities and colleges over the years. “We’ve had students doing apprenticeships, degrees, masters and doctorates, from all disciplines; some studying subjects like engineering and others who’ve never picked up a tool in their lives. They’ve volunteered their time and we’ve taught them valuable and often dying skills,” explains Mark. “We even outsourced the rudder construction to apprentices at Cammell Laird Shipbuilding in Liverpool, who delivered a fantastic quality result,” he adds.

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“Our aim is to raise money for the RNLI with this project,” he explains. “When the boat is finished, we plan to attend events and historic lifeboat rallies for the charity. We’re particularly excited about going to the one in Douglas, as that’s where the boat started out.”

So when will the MANCHESTER AND SALFORD finally be finished? “I want to get her on the water next year!” smiles Mark. “It’s taken ten years longer than anticipated and if I’d known when I bought her that I would ultimately spend 300 times her original purchase price, I wouldn’t have done it! But I’ve met so many lovely people and had a fantastic experience. I can’t wait to take her sailing.”

For a detailed history of the MANCHESTER AND SALFORD, plus more information about the restoration, visit Mark’s website.

To learn more about the full range of WEST SYSTEM epoxy products and how they can add strength, durability and beauty to restorations and new builds, visit the West System International website.

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