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Anguilla’s Charming Schooner

Gleaming in the sunlight and rocking gently in the turquoise waters of Road Bay, Anguilla, is the magnificent 50’ Alden Schooner, Charm III, originally built in 1925 in Sweden.   A head-turning old lady, she is the pride and joy of owners Richard and Maryse West.

The couple first saw the vessel advertised on a visit to the Southampton Boat Show and purchased her in Plymouth, England in 1980, in what Richard wryly describes as, “a moment of stupidity.”  Running Charm III as a charter boat, they soon realized that there was something wrong—she needed an almost complete rebuild.  “We certainly bit off quite a thing with this boat,” Richard admits.  “The hull was rotten at every iron frame.”

So began a period of works on the schooner which lasted sixteen years.  The entire stock of timber of a closing Dutch shipyard was shipped to Anguilla, where work was carried out on Sandy Ground beach using traditional methods.   Maryse recalled, writing in Anguilla Life magazine, (Camaraderie and Cooperation, The Re-launching of Charm, 2002), that she teased Jaap Tromp, one of the Dutch shipwrights who worked for two years on Charm, by saying that, ‘he would never again meet anybody as crazy as us to rebuild a deep keel classic wooden boat on a Caribbean beach.’

The Wests rebuilt the hull in West African Iroko wood because it is toxic to the marine boring worms in the Caribbean waters.  “Their favourite is oak,” says Richard.  Only the keel, the coach roof sitting on deck and the pitch pine masts are original.  The couple redesigned the interior into an open plan area.

“I started off with cardboard and modelled the inside to make sure there was enough space for people to lie down and store things, and then I just started work,” says Richard, who had no formal carpentry training.  “We wanted it to be really open.  In the old days when these boats were built they were divided up because there were paid crew, who were always up forward.   Obviously in this climate you need air so we opened it.  I suppose in terms of actually doing carpentry it took me two years.  The forward cabin is teak as is the panelling and then I ran out of teak and could not afford any more, so the whole of the rest of it is mahogany.”

Richard’s affection for his vessel is evident, “Some people boast that they have had nine boats.  I have had one and this is the boat.”

Charm III is currently running day sailing cruises along the coast of Anguilla to raise money for the Anguilla Youth Sailing Club, which the couple co-founded.  The youth arm of the Anguilla Sailing Association, which aims to teach the island’s national sport, the Club wishes to send a team of youngsters to St Thomas for the 2008 Scotiabank International Caribbean Optimist Regatta in June.  Junior sailors, average age just thirteen years, crew the schooner on these fundraising sails.

Maryse explains, “It was my idea to run the cruises as we needed some money and like to have the kids around the boat.  This boat has been rebuilt here on Sandy Ground, it needs to give back.  For me it is nice to have them sharing it, and we can help build a vocation.  We recently took three of the boys to St. Maarten for a Regatta and they did very well.”

For Charm III information and reservations, telephone: (264) 235 8200 or (264) 584 3826. The Youth Sailing Club is located at Sandy Ground, Anguilla.  The Anguilla Sailing Association can be contacted at www.sailanguilla.com.

British-born Penny Legg has a column, ‘Thoughts of an Expat,’ in The Anguillian, www.anguillian.com. She writes for magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean, US and UK and currently lives on Anguilla.

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