Rebuilding a Tinkerbelle sister ship

In 1965 Robert Manry sailed Tinkerbelle, this decked-over Whitecap daysailer, across the Atlantic. Photo courtesy Wikipediua/jm19671980

By Roger Crawford
For Points East

In the late summer of 2019, I received a call from a gentleman named Steve who asked if I’d be interested in restoring a small wooden sailboat. Steve had wanted a project for himself, and after some searching found a boat for sale built by the Old Town Canoe Company, in Old Town, Maine. The model was a Whitecap, and had been in a barn in Linden, Vermont, for 20 years. Apparently, the previous owner was a retired boatbuilder, and had passed away before he could do anything with the Whitecap.

Steve fell in love with the romantic notion of keeping this little treasure alive, and the price was right. The boat then sat in Steve’s yard in Norwell, Mass., for a good while until Steve realized he’d bitten off more than he could chew, and brought the boat to me.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that it was none other than a sister ship to the one Robert Manry sailed across the Atlantic – from Falmouth, Mass., to Falmouth, Cornwall, England – back in 1965! Tinkerbelle, Manry’s 13½’ Old Town Canoe Whitecap daysailer, had been decked over, and a small cabin added. The voyage took 78 days. Even today it’s considered a remarkable feat.

Today, there are only a handful of the Whitecaps left in existence.

As I write this Tinkerbelle sits in a museum, and one of her few remaining sister ships sits in my shop, undergoing a restoration to “like new as possible, no expense spared.” It’s hard to relate how exciting this project is for me.

Apart from a few minor structural issues to remedy, the boat is basically quite sound. Not bad for a lady probably well over 60-years-old. Her ribs, planking, transom and deck beams are surprisingly quite sound. We’ve removed her old deck and replaced it with African ribbon stripe mahogany plywood. We stripped the lapstrake hull down to bare wood and applied so many coats of white paint that it nearly looks like new fiberglass. The native Maine spruce mast and boom were stripped bare and now have about 10 coats (and counting!) of fresh varnish. Same for the mahogany transom. A new epoxy encapsulated mahogany rudder and varnished oak tiller are in the works.

The seats: I’ve never seen red cedar seats before. They are light, yet strong. We took them down to bare wood and repeatedly coated them with my favorite varnish, Epifanes gloss. They now have a true “mirror” finish, and the reddish-brown cedar is unusually beautiful. The interior of the hull is gray.

It’s a boat builder’s dream to have a project like this to work on through the winter months. With so many less interruptions, phone calls, emails and all the other distractions that are a part of a work day here in the busy months from April through September, it’s a true pleasure to be able to dedicate hour after hour to one extremely gratifying project.