A well-traveled sailboat makes its way back to owner
On June 6, 1969, at the Halmatic boat yard in Wymeswold, England, sailboat hull No. 23 was made and shipped to Alex Robertson & Sons Yacht Builders on the salty shores of Holy Loch, in Sandbank, Argyll, Scotland, to become a 24-foot Piper sailboat.
Robertson began working on boats in 1876 and became the premier boat builder in the River Clyde area in Scotland. The company went on to build two America’s Cup challengers — in 1958 the Sceptre and in 1964 the Sovereign. Both of those racing yachts were designed by Scottish-born designer David Boyd, who later designed the Piper class sailboat for racing on the River Clyde. The elegant lines of these early America’s Cup challengers are easily recognized in the Piper sailboat.
One of seven Piper sailboats to ever land on the shores of the United States was originally sold to a Mr. Haley from Helensburgh on the Clyde River in Scotland. It is believed to have first been delivered to the Massachusetts area, and later found in poor condition in Rockport, Texas.
In 1987, Clear Lake Shores yacht broker Kent Little and a friend of his bought the boat, which at the time was named Carnival, for $600. Little at the time had been working on boats for a living. As it often happens in such partnerships, Little soon bought out his friend. Carnival was Little’s first sailboat, and he painted her with a roller as you would the inner walls of a house. He also renamed the boat Piper. It was the first sailboat Little and his wife, Liz, would ever sail together. In 1990, Little had her painted by master painter Alfredo Duran of Cosmetic Boat Repair.
“The paint job alone took months,” Little said.
In 1994, with increasing family obligations, Little sold Piper to a fellow Texan who put holes in both sides of the hull in a trailer accident. When the boat was backed into the water, the wooden cradleboards on the trailer floated away, and the remaining metal supports speared the hull on one side. When the owner pulled the boat back up the launch, the boat listed to the other side, spearing that side in the same manner. The owner abandoned her and she went on to several other Texas owners from 2000 and 2004, but was never refitted.
“When I sold the boat I remember thinking, ‘this may be the biggest mistake of my life,’” Little said.
In 2013, Little wondered what had ever happened to the boat, and set out to find her. When he did, she hadn’t been in the water for 15 years, and her deck was completely soft and ruined. She was still in Texas and Little persuaded the owner, who was reluctant, to sell her back to him.
“If you sell this boat back to me, my wife’s going to kill me, but I’ll restore it,” Little told the seller.
Little decided, at enormous cost, to give the boat a complete refit. This began with ocean-crossing sailing friend Bill Matheson, who transported the boat to his house in Dickinson. Matheson had to remove the entire deck, leaving the boat looking like a bathtub. He went on to build a new deck with West System Epoxy and beautiful teak strips he milled from solid teak timber.
Throughout the entire refit, all the original hardware was used, including mast, winches and cleats where possible. Little credited Matheson for the deck/teak work and for getting the boat to the Galveston Bay area; William Chalmers for helping with “everything”; and Alfredo Duran of Cosmetic Boat repair for the awl grip painting of the hull and the mast.
“I didn’t do anything but write checks,” Little said.
The careful, detail-oriented and professional refit took almost three years, and the result was enough to win second place at Lakewood Yacht Club’s prestigious Keels & Wheels show in 2016.