The dusty shed draws people in.
My favourite thing about the restoration, is the way it has brought people together. Friendship groups have been built in the Elixir shed. People come to visit — are given the tour — before being handed a piece of sandpaper and put to work. The visitors are often wayward, drawn by the sense of freedom and adventure that a sailing boat brings. Most are not even sailors, but have a clear, unexplained desire to be part of Elixir’s journey.
Completing the prep work required to paint Elixir is time consuming. We’d still be in the boatyard, if it wasn’t for the many extra hands that came to help. Aside from tearing off deck fittings — filling, fairing and painting forms most of the labour. We socialise as we work. Having the task in hand to take pressure of the interaction allows us to be more authentic with each other. As the project grows, so do friendships. The boatyard has become a hang out. A convenient stop of between work and home — where we can fit in dinner and few hours of work, before returning home to sleep.
I let my house out on Airbnb, to raise funds for the project, and move into my Astra van. Most nights I park up beneath Elixir’s piercing bow, and squeeze in some late night/early morning tinkering. My birthday coincides with the disassembling of Elixir’s shed, and I have a party at the boatyard. With the extra sets of hands, we pull down the tent quickly. She stands there, naked in front of us. No windows, toe rails or deck fittings — an empty shell of a boat.
As well as my helpful friends, the process was also made a lot easier by my stepdad Dave Cockwell. We each have a half share in Elixir, and he gives valuable mentoring throughout the restoration. He also provides materials, a spot in the boatyard, and some skilled labour throughout the more challenging parts. It’s humbling to learn from someone so knowledgeable, and we’re grateful for the advice. Having humility and self-awareness makes it easier — knowing that we know little about what we’re doing. We learn from other people’s mistakes, yet we also learn from our own.
The final coats of a paint are applied by a professional, Dave Gun. For a week, we step back and let him do his thing. In the meantime, I tidy up Flying Cloud and manage to find her an owner. It’s sad to say goodbye to a boat I’ve shared so much with, she’s become an extension of my own personality. It’s unfair of me to let her sit unused at the back of the yard, rejected, while I spend all my time with another boat. I find the perfect new owner, who coincidently lives on the same river where she was built 65 years ago. He plans to take her back home to the South Coast of Devon. She’ll be used as a daysailer, which is after all, what she’s designed for.
Rebuilding the Puzzle
Painter Dave does a fine job. We sit on the staging and gaze at our reflections in the topsides, giggling like babies in front of a mirror.
The next stage involves re-attaching the deck fittings. The archaic air polisher brings life back to Elixirs stainless steel. There’s something very satisfying about re-attaching the fittings to the glossy deck. It takes two to tighten up the bolts, and the person outside of the boat gets the satisfying job. They glue down each fitting, before screwing in the bolts so that their heads line up. Meanwhile, whoever’s on the inside fumbles around awkwardly with a spanner.
We scarph together some long, teak toe rails. Bending them into place along Elixirs curving rails is difficult, and we snap one. I almost cry, but luckily, the timber breaks along a scarph, so it’s not a big fix. Teak secretes a fine oil, which stops the epoxy from impregnating into to the wood. We learn that when gluing teak — always wipe down the mating surfaces with acetone first, to ensure the epoxy sticks.
One of the more useful tools that we have access to, is a CNC machine. We’ve saves a lot of time on the careful thought and planning required to cut almost any piece of wood by hand. Cleats, handrails, winch bases and even our polycarbonate windows were forged by the clever machine.
Mistakes are rife. I try to save time by skipping the dry fit, before realizing that the fitting is on upside down, backwards or wonky. We then have a messy job of frantically pulling it off again before the glue sets. Out of date varnish doesn’t dry. Chloe drills holes through the hull. Dom Loctite’s a seacock in the wrong position. Harry drops the rudder on the floor. George gouges the deck with a screwdriver. Each time a valuable lesson is learnt.
It’s September, and we’ve quit our jobs. Harry goes first, then it’s my turn, then Chloe. Lily hands in her notice, she’s made the decision to come and join us in Portugal, after the Biscay crossing.
The previous three weeks have been a blur. My body aches from a prolonged period of working 14-hour days. The work has been physical, but not without its mental challenges. Elixir has become an obsession; never have I been so focused on a single aspect of life.
Friends and family gather at the front of the shed — it’s already dark. She shines in the fluorescent lights, and her perfect paintwork is enhanced by the deep blue antifoul. This is the most beautiful she’ll ever look. Stripped down to her bare curves, without clutter to take away from the grace of her lines.
The boatyard crane lifts Elixir from her shores while there’s still a handful of unfinished jobs. We could still use the shelter of the shed, instead we’ll wait for a dry day. Time and tide wait for no man — this was our window, and we’re going on the water regardless.
She floats without any leaks. It starts to rain, and then the engine refuses to start.
‘I need a cup of diesel and a size 14 spanner!’ Dave shouts from the companionway to no one in particular.
Both things appear and we manage to get the engine started. We motor for a little while before the engine cuts out again. A workboat from the yard tows us to Mylor Yacht Harbor, a well-kept marina located at the bottom of the creek. We get charged a small fortune to keep Elixir there for three days, whilst we fix the diesel issue. Once sorted, we motor round to a pontoon berth in Falmouth, where we finish the refit.
Before we knew it, we were back at Mylor Yacht Harbor. Elixir’s mast lies flat on trestles, in front of the rigging workshop. The clever riggers are going to make up new standing rigging, as well as stepping the mast and fitting the new furling gear. We replace the sheaves, lights, conduit, winches and chase through the new halyards.
The staff at the harbor are very nice, if you fit into a certain demographic — old, white, rich male. We receive a few polite messages from the marina manager.
‘Please, can you stop using the angle grinder, as it’s distracting our staff in the office’.
‘Please can you turn off your music, we’ve received some complaints’.
‘Please can you move your car? You can’t park here, only members of the marina can park here’.
We smile, and do what we’re told, but it’s annoying. It’s clear that the marina exists to capitalize of wealthy, weekend cruisers, who consider yachting a hobby. The place feels very dissociated from both the open ocean and the passionate blue-water sailors that I’d met on my travels.
The weather delays the process. We wait for a dry, windless day — in the midst of one of the wettest winters ever. Weeks pass, but finally the day comes, and we motor Elixir round to MYH, to add the last piece of the puzzle. The mast is 60’ long, with two sets of spreaders, and seeing it erect for the first time is emotional. She’s a complete yacht, and as we motor out of the marina, I can’t help looking up.
Harry and Dom are there to, and together we relish the moment. The boatyard slog is over, and I’m overcome with a mixture of fatigue and happiness. The kind of satisfaction that follows a long period of physical exertion. Elixir’s floating! She’s gliding through the glassy evening, with a mast, an engine, and all the other necessities to cross oceans. I’m tired from the work, but being on the water gives me a new burst of motivation. The transient lifestyle is close now, I can feel it. I remember the highs and lows that I found in Flying Cloud — the joy and simplicity of passing time at sea.
The next few weeks fly by. We slap a load of cruising gear onto Elixir’s decks, and sail her at every possible opportunity. Lot’s of people are negative about us leaving in winter. Several point out to me that I’m insane, both for leaving so late in the year, as well as having an amateur crew. This made me doubt myself, maybe I am being insane? I have no desire to leave unless the forecast is perfect, and I know that Elixir is as strong as she can be.
Its’s mid-January, a high pressure settles over the UK and four days of northerlies present themselves to us. A frantic final rush ensues — provisioning, packing, and tidying up any unfinished jobs. We pencil in a leaving date, a weekday morning, and a small crowd of friends and family come to wave us off.
It’s bitterly cold. The pontoons, decks and sail covers have all been dusted with a layer of frost. The thought of the first few nights at sea makes me a little uncomfortable. Saying goodbye is hard, but the heartache is forgotten as the silhouettes of our loved ones become blurred. Falmouth is a special place — the last safe haven before the western approaches, and gateway to the north Atlantic. It would be so easy to pass the rest of winter, nestled in the mouth of the River Fal. The comfort zone is boring, and I have a burning desire to leave again. To chase that euphoric joy which comes when travelling on a sailing boat. Falmouth dissolves into the wintry haze and we gaze south, towards open ocean and adventure.
We poll out the genoa and relish our final views of the lizard. Our next sight of land will be Finisterre, 450 miles south.
This is a section to thank everyone who has helped the restoration.
Dave Cockwell — One of the most skilled boatbuilders around. Thank you for your invaluable mentoring and help with all the difficult parts.
Dom Smith — Seriously clever and annoyingly good at everything. We LOVED having you come and help us with Elixir. We’re lucky to have you as a friend, and can you please come and sail with us now.
George Maisey — Another friendship that we’re grateful for, such a good man. It’s so good to have friends that are handy, there will always be a birth for you on Elixir!
John Sims-Hilditch — Donor of Elixir’s shiny, self-tailing Lewmars. Thank you for letting us use them, we are very appreciative of your generosity.
Keith & Jake Buchanan — Keith, from Rat Island Sailboat Co., made up a spray hood for Elixir, and his son Jake gave us a hand fitting it. We’ve had a lot of solid water on deck, and it hasn’t leaked a drop. It looks really good too!
Andrew Wood — Andy (Woody) from Solo Sails in Newlyn helped us make the most of Elixir’s tired sails. He’s a very knowledgeable and innovative sail maker, and were extremely grateful for his tutoring, and for letting us use his loft.
Dan Shenton — Danny, from metalcraft, is the best welder/fabricator we have come across yet. He helped us rebuild the wind vane, after others turned us down. He’s a cool guy, and we’re thankful for his help.
The Royal Cruising Club/Noel Marshall — The late Noel Marshall has supported Elixir’s restoration from the start, through the Marshall award. The Royal Cruising Club is fascinating, and this trip would have been very difficult without Noels support.
The Scott Family — As well as helping out with the refit (Hannah), thanks for the cakes and pasties (Sue) and helping us cover the cost of re-rigging Elixir. There will always be a berth for any member of the Scott clan on board.
James Campbell and Jo Byrd — Thanks for your prolonged stints in the boatyard, we really appreciate your hard work. Can’t wait to sail with you both somewhere warm!
Paul Lewis — For fitting the carpets in the forepeak, and providing us with a million murray mints.
Everybody who bought a tee-shirt/donated to the Crowdfunder—Stepping the mast was a massive unforeseen cost and felt like the final hurdle in the restoration process.
The Cockwells Staff — Will, James, Rich, Robin, Josh, Matt, Lee, and everyone else who helped us out in the boatyard.
Jilly Easterby (Curlew PR) — For writing a brilliant press release.
Dr Davin Clarke — For providing us with medical advice and giving us the knowledge to deal with a medical emergency, should it happen.
Bethany Allen —For helping out with the restoration, and documenting the process with your wonderful words.
Un_rap – For sorting us out with provisions, without the burden of heaps of waste.
Tom Marmoy — For designing a rad logo
Millie Winston — For creating a really cool hanging basket for Elixir’s interior.
Matt Butler (photography) — For jumping in the water, mid-winter, and getting some epic shots of Elixir under sail.
Clare James (Photography) — For her artistic images, capturing Elixir in her early days the boatyard, as an empty shell.
Ed Smit (Carrick Roads) – Filmaker are useful friends to have, thanks for the footage Ed.
Adam Watson (Twin Fin Film Co) – same as above, thanks for the drone footage too.