There’s something quite remarkable happening in the PSS shipyard in Satun: it’s the restoration of the classic yacht, Cariad, built in 1896 by Summers & Payne of Southampton, England, for Lord Dunraven. She won the 1898 Lisbon to Bombay Vasco Da Gama Cup and she is the largest and oldest gaff ketch in the world today. Yet just a few years ago, she lay rotting at pier in Laem Chabang after being abandoned by her Japanese owners. It took the foresight of businessman and yacht enthusiast Stuart Williamson to bring this beautiful vessel back to life.


Cariad (the word means beloved in Welsh) is one of the last of the big classic yachts left in the world today. When restoration is complete, she will stand alongside other famous classic yachts in the Mediterranean and measure up to the strictest scrutiny.
The Cariad Restoration Project is a look into a bygone era. A look at the work carried out by craftsmen 100 years ago, providing opportunities to rebuild, duplicate, and restore the craftsmanship from the last century. The restoration of this famous classic yacht is a 111-year journey in time.

In 1993, Cariad was left abandoned by the Japanese corporation that owned her as it was about to go bankrupt at the burst of the Japanese economic bubble. The Japan Charter Yacht Association heard about her and decided to see if she could be saved. They took up a collection from interested members and bought Cariad from the corporation shortly before it went bankrupt. Extensive repairs were done in Singapore.
For a while, she was active as the flagship of the Japan Charter Yacht Association in trying to promote charter sailing and ocean leisure in general. But from 1996 to 2004, she fell in to disrepair again and was virtually abandoned in Tokyo. In 2004, she was sailed to Thailand and left at anchor offshore Laem Cabang.

Des Kearns at his office in the PSS Shipyard in Satun

It was in July of 2006 her fate changed. Alan Pickering, a former skipper of the boat (he once sailed her from Europe to Singapore), persuaded Des Kearns and Stuart Williamson, the CEO of the Montpelier Group, to travel with him to Laem Chabang to have a look at her. It took Stuart about an hour to decide to buy the boat and Des and his company was given the task of restoring her.

With Pickering coordinating in the background Gerry Hood, Ian Harbour and Lek Lanchanta did an exemplary job of delivering the “derelict” to Langkawi from Laem Cabang with only the main engine and the manual steering gear operational. There was no water, no sanitation – nothing worked. Electricity was supplied by a small gasoline generator for navigation lights and charging mobile phones.

After the innards were stripped in Langkawi, the vessel was moved north to Satun where she was slipped at the PSS Shipyard on 8 September 2006 where Des’ crew started work. It quickly became apparent that the entire steel framework needed replacing. This meant complete de-planking before work could began. It also meant Des and his crew would virtually have to build a new ship.

“How she made it to Satun, I just don’t know,” recalls Des. “When we pulled it up on the hard she was just as rotten as pear, cancerous all the way through. We initially thought we could do a refit. But when we started to pull it to pieces it became very apparent that we couldn’t save anything. It was a composite (teak planking, iron frame), but it was all rotten.  So each frame was removed and copied individually.          

“The only thing salvageable was the keel, if we had had to replace the keel, it would have added on another 6 months at a considerable cost to the project. The dismantling of the boat took about three months. On 15 Dec 2006, building commenced, replacing about 95% of the steelwork in the boat. We finished that on the 15th of June 2007 with all the work being done under Lloyd’s supervision and certification. Then we put the steel deck on. Luckily, the project was able to source a Thai world class steel team.” Des’s crew consists of five teams: planking, fine woodworking, engineering, steel and general purpose. Each team has a Thai team leader. And two western specialists act as advisors: Mike Howett, for woodworking, and Jory Lord, for engineering and design.

Burmese teak was fashioned into deckhouses, skylights and hatches to match the original 1896 design. Planking and deck surround bulwarks was finished in November (using Takian Tong, a greenish oily timber from Laos). The planks were then fastened on to the steel frames with 5,500 silicon bronze bolts custom-made in upstate New York, a company that guaranteed flawless bolts. “If one bolt fails, with a latent defect or a crack in it, the whole boat’s condemned. In was one of the areas that no matter what the cost was, we couldn’t compromise,” Des says.

Jory Lord making sure everything has been done according to plan

Because it’s a British Classic boat, the yacht required a British classic engine, that being the famous Gardner 8LXB Diesel Engine, which is built to last a lifetime. It’s a workhorse engine that is reliable and runs forever before it needs an overhaul. The biggest problem is the masts, because Des’ crew is returning the rig to its 1896 full height. The Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce were bought in British Columbia but they were caught behind the lines of logger’s strike. The timber has been milled and kiln drying in Canada and Des is waiting for it to be shipped to Satun. But as the masts will be built on site, this could delay the launch date.

The hull’s finished but not yet faired and painted; all the varnish and trim work is done; the deck houses are built. The engine is installed. Generators and wiring being installed. Only part of the interior fit-out will be done in Satun. The Team has a choice of either going to Yacht Haven or Langkawi to do that.

Commenting on why he choose Satun to do the restoration, Des says, “We scouted shipyards from Burma to Singapore and we selected Phitak Shipyard & Services (PSS), not because it was the best yard, but because the attitude of the four-person management team (headed by owner Phithak Hongvaranon) is fabulous. Whatever we want, we get. PSS owns hardware shops in town, so they can easily bring in any material we need. And we have this giant framework of good people. We have a liaison person in the yard named Boonsiri ‘Oh’ Limsaku. She has a Doctorate in Industrial Engineering from Lamar University in Texas, and she’s a very, bright, sharp lady who is the direct link between the Cariad project and the PSS shipyard.  We only deal with her. And she deals with everyone else for us. Anyone who was negative and couldn’t work in a multi-cultural environment was quickly weeded out. I also must thank Satun Governor Kwanchai Wongnitikon for his continued support.”

Mike Howett inspects the craftsmanship

Des says his team may do future projects with Stuart Williamson, “He’s a really nice man, good to work for, and we’ve developed a good two-way trust.” Williamson just bought another boat called Ayah, which will be the support vessel for Cariad. It’s a small 30 footer with beautiful bronze fittings, and it was built in the UK in 1897 (a year after Cariad) by Cariad’s same builders, Summers & Payne.

Everyone working on the Cariad restoration project feels a great sense of accomplishment, because they know that as the Cariad sails the high seas their handicraft will be on display for all to admire. And there’s a lot to admire.

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