The ‘racing tender,’ the 79ft gaff schooner now called Kelpie of Falmouth was designed by Francis Sweisguth and built in Bristol, Maine in 1929. When she was found and bought in California in 2012 she had a Bermudian staysail schooner rig and was in need of restoration. She was sailed 9,000nm back to Cornwall for her restoration at Gweek Quay. 18 months later and we were sailing a Kelpie that looked as good as new, restored with a gaff schooner rig.
That final day of the Pendennis Cup had been a charmed occasion and one that fittingly capped Kelpie’s relaunch. Kelpie’s owner took the helm for the first time. An offshore breeze surprisingly materialised to ripple the glassy seas in time to squeeze in one last short race before the Red Arrows display. By placing second Kelpie had pipped Mariette and Adix to the schooner class overall. All aboard were elated.
Kelpie’s owner on the helm with his other schooner Mariette behind
The Pendennis Cup this May, was her first event since her relaunch and it took place surrounded by the craftsmen that rebuilt her. Ben ‘Basher’ Sellen, helped fare and paint Kelpie’s now gleaming topsides. His father Ian, sweating halyards at the main mast, fabricated the many detailed stainless steel fittings.
“Charlie [Wroe] found this unlikely place in Gweek with no phone signal and set about refurbishing her,” Kelpie’s owner told. He has been the ‘custodian’ of Mariette for 10 years and the two schooners made a resplendent sight rafted together. “She [Kelpie] will be one of the best refurbished boats because the team did it as if they were doing it for themselves.”
The need to replace the whole of Kelpie’s aft end presented the biggest challenge. It was entirely rotten when she arrived from California at Gweek Quay. Wilkinson rebuilt her now beautiful counter stern by eye. “I always think that if it looks right, it probably is right,” says Wilkinson. Kelpie’s transom is now 11 inches narrower each side. “She is the most symmetrical boat I have ever worked on.”
Kelpie’s new counter, seen from Mariette during the Red Arrows display at the Pendennis Cup
Kelpie has been restored to look good and race hard. Her sails and sheets are of a manageable size and modern gear including self-tailing winches and dyneema ropes are used where practicality makes sense. Kelpie departed her Cornish second home for the busy Mediterranean classic boat circuit this summer.