Tortola Sloops are a large part of
the culture of the British Virgin Islands.
Youth Instructor, a Tortola Sloop built
in the 1990s by Osmond Davies of East End, has
for various reasons gone through three masts since her original launching.
After the third mast broke, the day before Foxy’s Wooden Boat Regatta
this year, Gov. Macan met with Dave Cooper, Commodore
of the WEYC – organizers of the races under which the Island Sloops sail,
and expressed a desire to have a proper mast made for Youth Instructor. The Governor wanted to make sure that the boat
was ready for the Island Sloop Shoot-Out during the BVI Festival. Cooper went
to Mike Andrews, General Manager of Yacht Restoration at Nanny Cay, and asked
him for a quote on the job. The results were viewed as Youth Instructor raced against Moonbeam
two months later.
The Tortola Sloops are fractional
rigged boats – the foresail stops six feet from the 32.6’ masthead.
The process of making this mast is quite interesting. Jason Holmes was in
charge of the project and his excellence as a shipwright is seen in the
finished product. The 40’ long & 12” diameter
log, from which the mast was made, was de-barked and treated before arriving in
the BVI. Because the center growth ring is usually never in the center
of the tree, the first thing Jason had to do was center the trunk.
“I set up a round disc that
was to be the size of the finished mast and centered it on the rings. The more
centered the trunk is the more stability it will have as a mast. I squared the
log on the center growth ring to begin the project, which would make each of
the four sides between 7” and 8”. At this time I also put the taper
in so that it is smaller at the masthead than at the heel. (
Youth Instructors’ masthead is
3.5” in diameter and her heel is 6.5”.) I began
“sizing”, which is a geometric way of making something round out of
a square. The process is complicated as I size and taper at the same time. During
this process you can’t walk away from it because you lose your eye, or
your “feel”, for it. That mast was in my dreams for two
The mast was transferred to four
chocks and planed, with the grain, from the heel to the masthead. This process took
8 hours a day for seven solid days. Once the chocks are level and straight you
work one side at a time. Jason started with the worst side first, to get it
centered, and then planed from there. It is then turned 180 degrees and the
process is repeated with each rotation – planing,
sizing, until it is round and of the size required. It is sanded, primed and
painted – Jason used a hand planer at the end for a proper finish.
This is the first mast, out of the
four that Youth Instructor has had,
that was made out of a solid tree. The others were “glued up” with
pressure treated pine of 2 x 6s. The first mast broke under sail due to too
many knots in the wood. It was repaired quickly in order to sail in a regatta.
It then broke again as some other knots were too flexible for the boat.
Another mast was made, similar to
the first and it was also too weak and delaminated at the glue joints. The
third mast was donated by a wooden boat owner whose boat had been given to
Neptune – a conversion was tried which failed when the
mast was stepped, the day before Foxy’s. Governor Macan
races on the Tortola Sloops each year and has had a true concern for the fate
of the Island Sloops since arriving in the BVI. He tells me,
“Sloops were a cornerstone
of the economy of the Virgin Islands, and it
is vital that we keep examples afloat and in working order so that
today’s kids can understand their history. I am delighted that, with this
new mast, Youth Instructor’s continued success can be
As lovers of these classics, we
all thank him for coming to the rescue – and also to Jason for having the
talent to sculpt a mast truly worthy of a Tortola Sloop.
Jason Holmes is from
UK, where he apprenticed with Combes Boatyard for 5 years in wooden boatbuilding. He has
been a Shipwright for 13 years and specializes with wooden masts. He was the
Foreman for the 80’ mast on White
Wings, a famous Alden classic sloop featured on the cover of Classic
Yachts. “Youth Instructor is a well built boat and now has a mast to suit
the boat. They shouldn’t have any trouble with the rigging. I enjoyed
doing it and lost 2 stone in the making. It was nice to do – something that I
haven’t done in a long time – the “Zen” of woodworking – very