The SYH Blog

Scorpion: a labour of love


Tom Dennis in Scorpion's refurbished cockpitScorpion of Wyke is one of the longest standing residents of SYH. The Alan Buchanan-designed classic has been in the marina since 1986 – and in the same ownership all that time.

Tom and Pam Dennis bought the boat, which was built in the winter of 1964-65 by Sutton and Wiggins at Great Wakering in Essex, almost by accident, says Tom.

They had a Folkboat, which was proving rather small with two growing daughters in the crew, and decided to replace her with a Contessa 32. While on the South Coast looking at Contessas they found Scorpion for sale in Birdham Pool and decided to take a look.

"She is absolutely cavernous inside compared to a Contessa 32," said Tom. So they bought her – and nearly 30 years later they have no regrets!

With the help of SYH, Tom is completing a major refit which will set Scorpion up for the next 30 years. He says this too was an "accidental" decision. For they had decided to sell her, to buy a bigger boat for retirement cruising.

"It was just as the recession hit. The sale fell through. So we decided to keep her and start the refit, with a view to extended cruising. We had had a number of jobs done on her in the past by the SYH yard, all very satisfactorily."

Work on Scorpion's hullSo work began in the SYH workshop, in late 2010, with the refit of floors and fastenings and a couple of planks.

Jonathan Dyke, SYH managing director, said that Scorpion was one of the best built boats he had ever seen – "like a piece of Chippendale furniture."

Some corrosion and rot is inevitable in a wooden boat after 40 years, but the fact that only a couple of planks needed replacement was testimony to the quality of her original build.

"That work set the boat up for the next 40 years," said Tom. And once those fundamentals were dealt with, he then set to work with the yard modifying the accommodation and the cockpit, to bring the boat right up to date with today’s cruising requirements.

"Now we have done this extra bit of work, the combination of a good build to start with, and the work that SYH has done has turned her into a really, really special classic."

The most obvious improvement is the teak laid cockpit, a stunning piece of craftsmanship carried out by shipwright/joiner Steve Martin.

"Jonathan and Steve came up with a formula which completely rejuvenated the cockpit. Now we have got a dedicated gas locker. We got rid of end-grain ply issues, and fitted proper sea-going latches."

Detail of Scorpion's cockpitTom points out the rolled edge of the teak, and the new brass cockpit drains, which add to the concours d’elegance finish.

"The whole essence of the success of this is working with the yard. It is a team effort.

SYH is run by yachting people," says Tom. "They are always there with a good idea just how we can improve her a little bit."

Another major project was the redesign of the mast step: "a combination of everybody’s input and thinking. SYH pulls together quite a wealth of resource, that is the thing. And they allow you to join in. You are part of the work as much or as little as you want to be."

Tom spent a lot of time in his overalls, working alongside the team.

"They really have got some talent in that workshop," he says.

Other modifications have included putting the service batteries right up front to trim the boat better and to make way for a fridge under the chart table.

"We have got rid of the fifth berth to provide more volume for sail stowage down aft. We are putting an anchor windlass on. We have modified the galley so that we can lower the cooker a bit. It is part of the ongoing programme which we will finish this year. It is really a million odds and sods to upgrade the boat and set her up for the next decade."

Tom and Pam hope soon to be heading for South Brittany.

"Now we have done this work, the boat is fit to go as far as we want. We’ll just have to see how far that is!"

Inevitably, he says, there are still "a few bits and pieces to do. There is some timber that has gone slightly soft in the forward lockers. At some point there are four iron floors forward which need refastening, probably getting out and recoating." He will have no hesitation about sending Scorpion back into the SYH workshop for that to be carried out.

Looking round at all the work done on the boat, he says: "I am really pleased. I am not sorry we didn’t sell her. I am really glad we kept her."

The beauty of Scorpion, he adds, is that at 32 feet, she does not have "horrendous running costs" and with her long traditional keel, "swinging two and a quarter tons of lead," she draws just under five feet, which makes her ideal for exploring the rivers and hidden anchorages of Brittany.

Scorpion was originally built for offshore racing. She came third in her class in the legendarily tough RORC North Sea Race in 1965. She was raced on the South Coast until Tom bought her. He has raced her in the SYH Classic regattas, but cruising is his real love.

Tom and Pam’s three grandchildren enjoy sailing on Scorpion. After all the loving care that has gone into her refit/restoration, it must be tempting to think of her as a family heirloom.