How boats were built at Winfield’s – letter from former employee Keith Graham

I am a joiner and was accepted at Michael Winfield’s in `68 when I was 21yrs to help with the building of this now famous marque. I am now 64yrs so a tad slow in my thoughts but do have a superb memory of everything I have done in my trade.  I have attached 6 pictures.  

You will see the wooden mould being made up side down, the person kneeling is not me, the mould had to be perfect, then a 2″ plywood flange was fixed all the way around the centre line of the hull. The wooden mould or “plug” was already painted white and the black gel coat could be applied to half of the mould ready for the tissue layers and fibre glass mat to be applied. The plywood flange was then removed and the gel coat applied to the other half, releasing agent of course was applied to the flange as well and the whole process carried out for the other half.  Wooden structures were applied to the then finished hull mould and then wheels were fixed to the structures so that when turned upside down the whole thing was level on its wheels. Bolt holes were drilled at certain intervals along the flange to enable the mould to be brought together again afterwards as the finished hull was laid up in two halves.

The S&S 34 Wooden Mould, 1968 (click to enlarge)

The finished fibreglass mould, 1968

The finished fibreglass mould, 1968 (click to enlarge)

The whole structure and hull had to be left for 10 days to cure and the mould was turned through 180 degrees with ropes and tackle so that it then could support itself on the wheels which were glassed into the mould.  So, the mould was standing on it`s wheels under it`s own weight and was the exact opposite copy of the hull to be laid up again inside it. The mould was supported, the bolts withdrawn and the halves separated with a crack that made your hairs stand on end due to the static electricity. Your hair would stand on end its full length, if you had long hair it could have been 12″ standing upright from your head and was also a weird feeling when walking between the two halves which had just been parted.

The two halves were laid on their backs and cleaned and polished ready for the lay up of each half, where the join or flange was the fibre mat was tapered when laying up. then the two halves were hoisted upright on there wheels and joined together with the bolts around the flange. The whole lay-up procedure was then done again where the join was to complete a very strong hull. The bulkheads were then fibre-glassed in to strengthen the hull ready for separation. Also where the keel was fitted the lay-up was incredible, done in 3 layers at a time so not to overheat and crack the glass. It was very, very thick.

After another ten days to cure the bolts were taken out with the whole lot supported and the two halves of the mould were wheeled away which left the white hull supported in the air which was then lowered onto the shaped wooden carriage to support it which is where I am stood, the actual hull just being separated and I was washing the blue release agent off it.

Finished hull just released from mould (click to enlarge)

Finished hull just released from mould (click to enlarge)

I hope I am not boring you but I am trying to bring back to you the excitement of the very first S&S 34 to come out the mould.  I can remember doing another black mould for another company but of course us on the workshop floor never knew who they were for we just did what we were told.

When the cabin top was made I was involved with the foreman boatbuilder to produce the wooden mould as I was a skilled joiner. The same process was carried out to make the black mould from the wooden plug. The finished cabin top of course had then to be  glassed to the hull, which had been taken to Burham-on-Crouch in Essex which was quite a few miles away from our factory. It was being sorted for the Boat Show at Earls’ Court, fittings that were applied before the cabin top went on.

The very first couple of boats should have a piece of fibre glass bolted to the keel at the upper forward end of it because there was a mistake in the calculations of weight and confusion with the metal casting company which eventually led to the wooden mould for the keel being too large. This was indeed a mistake as I was involved fixing on the glass piece of keel. The first trials on the River Medway which I was present at, gave the boat a front heavy stance and was lower in the water hence the light glass cone was made and fitted.  The later models were soon fitted with a reduced weight keel to allow the boat to sit correctly along the Plimsoll Line with the correctly weighted and all lead keel.

Well, a team of us turned up in the evening on a Friday after working all day at Burnham-on-Crouch and we started to bond the cabin top on the hull, all went very well, of course I got the job of laying glass right up in the forward end and being so cramped and the styrene from the fibre glass made your eyes water and take your breathe away…..we are talking pre-health and safety here otherwise nothing got done!!…..

I remember driving back home the following morning, we had worked all day and then all night in a confined space all night with fibre glass laying-up and it really did make one’s head go around, I was glad to get home after taking home our Manager who was by interest a previous employee from Tyler Products at Tonbridge in Kent, they produced fibre glass small buildings and all that sort of thing and he was known to be excellent at his job. He rented a house at Hoo in Kent as his family home was Tonbridge, too far to travel each day as he did not drive a car.

That is about it, I am pictured kneeling and standing in the pictures and I am 21yrs old, these pictures are the very first S&S 34 which was at the Earls Court Boat Show and was then bought by our then Prime Minister Edward Heath, I was at the launch party and did shake hands with him, which I was proud of, so you can put together whatever I have said in these emails and together with the pictures make something really interesting out of it. I do have a very, very short video of the trials in the River Medway but it is just seconds, if interested just let me know.

I am very proud to of been a small part of the birth of this S&S 34 and it is my only claim to fame during my life, but I will never forget.

Send me a tin of Fosters.

My Best Regards,  Keith Graham

More photos (click on photo to enlarge)

Checking the first new boat (to be"Morning cloud") at Winfield & Partners, 1968

Checking the first new boat (to be”Morning cloud”) at Winfield & Partners, 1968

New boat coming out of the factory at Winfield & Partners,  1968

New boat coming out of the factory at Winfield & Partners, 1968

Factory Address 1968

Factory Address 1968

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