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Cowes fire destroys one-designs and classic keelboats

by Helen Fretter 26 Jan 2016 14:32 GMT 25 January 2016

A fire at a boatyard in West Cowes on the Isle of Wight yesterday, Monday January 25, has seen the destruction of around 30 yachts and one-design dayboats, including many irreplaceable classics.

XOD class captain Mike Till reported that seven XOD one-designs were among the boats destroyed in the blaze, which ripped through an industrial unit off Bridge Road known as Samuel White's, formerly Souter's yard. Till described it as 'an unmitigated disaster'.

"It's probably the greatest single loss of boats ever recorded in one place. They were all top-class XODs, old obviously, but in beautiful condition. Three of those boats are the core of the Cowes Division, so it's a huge loss. The Vice-Captain lost his boat, and I am now Class Captain of the whole fleet without an XOD.

"You can't buy a replacement. You could buy another XOD, it's never going to be the boat you've lost. You can't just walk out and buy something off the shelf. My boat was built in 1938, called 'Delight' X75, many of the others were post-war. The point about these boats, we're just guardians of them. There's a heritage here and in the XOD fleet there's a finite number of boats, there are no new ones being built at the moment. They've been around since 1911 and they've never had a loss like this in the XOD fleet before."

Fifteen Etchells keelboats were also destroyed. David Franks, the Etchells fleet captain, reported however that the class had rallied impressively within just 24 hours of the incident.

"We've lost 15 boats, which is more than half the Cowes fleet. However, there is a lot of very good news coming out of it. One is that David Heritage's new build factory is fine, so he currently building eight new boats anyway and he is going to step that up to 12, so we're going to get 12 new boats out in the next few months, which is fantastic.

"The second piece of good news is that there's been a real pulling together throughout the world, and I have now got equivalent replacements for each of the active sailors in the fleet who have lost their boats. So we have a strong plan for each and very owner, to the point that I don't expect anybody to lose a race, let alone a regatta. It's become a bump in the road, and not a big dip."

The Etchells World Championships are being held in Cowes from 5-12 September 2016, with at least 65 boats expected. David Franks says that the Worlds will be unaffected by yesterday's events, and in fact many teams have been confirming their entry in support of the class.

Five Dragons are reported to have been lost in the fire, including both modern and classic designs. Martin Payne, the owner of 'Rapier K289', a restored classic by Pederson & Theusen, said that he was lost for words at the news and described the boat as 'my heart & joy'. The boat was originally built in 1956 and won Cowes Week the year after.

Martin Payne commented, "The searching I had to do to originally find it, then the hours & days of skilful restoration that has been spent on the boat, never mind the expense, is so upsetting."

The Quarter-Tonner 'Espada', whose many victories included winning the Quarter Ton Cup and class at Cowes Week, was among the racing boats lost in the fire.

Also completely destroyed were several classic yachts in the middle of their restoration. They included a 114-year-old gaff cutter named 'Witch', which was being restored by Martin Nott and had only months left after a nine-year ongoing refit project. There was also a 58ft ketch, 'Fedoa of Bute', an Alfred Mylne design originally built in 1927 which had been worked on by a restoration team full-time for several years at Moreton Marine and was due to launch later this year.

The Classic Boat Museum, which had planned to move some artefacts from its East Cowes base into storage in Medina Yard over the next few weeks, had not yet begun its move and is unscathed.

The fire is understood to have started in a car repair workshop which shared the site off Bridge Road, and spread rapidly. Up to 50 firefighters were called on to control the blaze, with fire engines travelling over from the mainland to assist. Cowes Harbour was closed for much of the afternoon, with delays and cancellations to both the Red Funnel car ferry and chain ferry, which operates between East and West Cowes.

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