A North Sea sailing cruiser, homemade in aluminum
The sloop Faye stands out among the sailing craft at the Galveston Yacht Basin because of the enclosed pilot house with forward-slanting windows aft of her mainmast. She looks as if she’s ready for a winter passage in the North Sea.
But Faye’s main point of distinction is that she’s built entirely of aluminum, and she’s homemade.
“My husband built this boat,” Marta Lawrence said, as she and Derry Lawrence broke from an afternoon work session aboard her.
“It took me a while to do it,” Derry Lawrence said. “I first laid the keel in 1975 and launched her in 2005. I think I enjoy building boats more than sailing them.”
Lawrence built her in aluminum because metal-working was his first love.
“When I was a young guy, I worked in metal with my dad,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do. But my mother wanted me to be a doctor, so I enrolled in medical school here at the University of Texas Medical Branch.”
After graduation, he enlisted as a medical officer with the U.S. Army and served in the Vietnam War. As if that weren’t enough stress for a lifetime, when he returned home, he went to work at the medical branch as an ER doctor.
Meanwhile, he began building his boat.
Faye, named after Lawrence’s first wife, is distinctly a “Colin Archer-type” boat — double-ended, flush-decked and relatively beamy, with full, rounded lines fore and aft. Colin Archer was a naval architect and boat builder working in Larvik, Norway, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He specialized in revolutionary designs for sail-driven pilot boats and rescue boats able to work in the worst weather the North Sea could provide.
Archer also built sailing yachts along the same robust lines that became popular with long-distance cruisers and round-the-world sailors. The design concepts in Archer’s boats have persisted, interpreted in wood, steel and fiberglass, into the 21st century.
William Atkins was an early successor to Archer. His 1934 boat, Thistle, is the immediate model for Faye, which is one of the few of this design to be built of aluminum.
“Aluminum is about one-third the weight of steel, but two-thirds as strong,” Lawrence said. The weight in an Archer design is carried in the keel to balance the heeling force of her sailing rig.
Aluminum isn’t just aluminum, though. There are many different alloys of aluminum, each with different properties. Lawrence researched and experimented, and found Marine Aluminum 5086, which would stand up best to a marine environment — at least the part that’s out of the water. It has to have an epoxy coating below the water line or it will rot.
“Aluminum is very tricky to weld,” Derry Lawrence said. “You have to get the temperature just right, or the plate will crack.” He lifted one of the seats lining the aft cockpit to show the neat, narrow beads of welding that hold the hull plating together.
The Lawrences live most of the year in a cabin they built themselves — from the ground up — near the headwaters of the Little Buffalo River in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. They raised their three sons there, and they are still building it. Just now, they have completed an adjoining greenhouse, so they can grow vegetables year-round.
“We make or grow almost everything we use,” Derry Lawrence said. “We do our whole life by hand.”
That goes for the sloop Faye — everything from the turnbuckles tensioning the rigging, to the sails, to the old-fashioned style anchor, is the product of their own hands. They are still building her.
“We have big plans about sailing her to Hong Kong,” Marta Lawrence said. “But not soon.”