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WITH THE PERFECT COMPROMISE BETWEEN RESTORATION AND INNOVATION, ARCHITECT STEFANO FAGGIONI GAVE NEW LIFE TO THE GAFF CUTTER LULWORTH. AND ENABLED THIS HISTORIC BIG CLASS TO RENEW ITSELF WITHOUT LOSING ITS OLD-WORLD SPIRIT.
A wreck, worn out by the years and then cruelly abandoned. Rotted by the mud of the river where she spent 40 years converted to an houseboat.
The cutter Lulworth was in bad shape indeed when the very farsighted Johan Van Den Bruele took up her case. Not satisfied with restoring the 30-metre steel-hulled ketch Iduna in 2001, he bought the historic big class gaff cutter from the Beconcini Yard of La Spezia and moved her to the Cantiere Darsena in Viareggio. There began one of the most spectacular restoration projects of the recent years.
Lulworth (ex Terpsichore) was built in the 1920s at White Brothers of Itchen, Hampshire, Great Britain after a Herbert W. White design. Built from Honduran mahogany planking over a iron frame, the 36.5-metre had a beam of 6.63. She cut a wonderfully majestic dash under sail and was one of the Big Five along with Shamrock IV, White Heater II, Britannia and Westward.
The question when Van Den Bruele bought her was how she could be restored to her former glory. Stefano Faggioni, the young owner of the naval architecture studio charged with that delicate task, explains: "When a boat arrives in such a dreadful condition, the first thing to do is retrace the story of its former life.
Lulworth was lucky because we could piece together her history from the original designs and the bits of her furnishings that had survived." But how much is a restoration project about replicating the past? "The general plans centre around the saloon and the surviving bulkheads which are hugely symbolic, a sacred space of which every inch has to be respected," answers the architect. "All the rest was completely designed from scratch in tune with the look of the Honduran mahogany panels and furnishing in the saloon which were used as a model to help ensure a certain uniformity of style."
Faggioni is very clear about one thing, however: the backbone of a project like this one is striking the right balance between the desire to be conservative in the restoration work and to include something of what the owner hopes for the future of the boat. It's impossible for even the strict purists to ignore the high-tech instruments and accessories on offer today (electric winches and satellite communications to name but a few).
But it was inconceivable that the designers would fail to include comfortable bathrooms for the owner and his guests. And while this is comfort-driven reasoning, technology would also be able to do the work once done by a large crew, courtesy of electric winches. It would be anachronistic to bring 30 professional the chart and crew areas the most modern cooking, monitoring and other technologies are neatly hidden away therein. Lulworth is a rare example of a complete meeting of minds between the owner, project manager and architect.
The background and professional skills necessary to bring a floating historical monument of Lulworth's ilk properly back to life become obvious when the details are examined at close quarters. One good example in this case being the reading lights that were designed to be completely in harmony with the original accessories. It is actually very difficult indeed to distinguish between the furnishings designed by the studio and the original ones.
Owner Van Den Bruele was thrilled with the end result. And he knows that a sailors aboard to hoist a huge mainsail like Lulworth's.
"The important thing is to retain the spirit of the yacht," continues Faggioni stressing the professional code that cautions architects not to allow their hand to be forced by owners' demands. "One has to avoid at all costs changing the original nature and atmosphere of the boat when redesigning has to be done from scratch.
But this is where we get to see how well the owner adapted to a very unusual situation in which comfort, technology and beauty must be harmonised with the historical value of the boat."
From this point of view, Lulworth's refit is per se positively extraordinary. The owner bought this old cutter with the intention of doing a conservative-type restoration job on her, even though in the galley as in restoration project of that complexity simply can't be rushed. Until the spring of 2005 when Lulworth returns to the sea, Giuseppe Longo will be acting as project manager ensuring that everything goes according to plan. "A restoration project doesn't end on paper. The designer stays with it until the boat is relaunched as he has to make any necessary modifications as the work progresses. And there will be changes because of the incredible amount of subtle complexity involved in every major refit," concludes Faggioni.
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