Cresset.... by Gerry Palmer, 1982
There must be some very redeeming features about an old wooden sail boat – 53 years old that has had only three owners. The first was Douglas Urry, who, with his brother and sister in-law, Wavell and Vicky Urry, sailed her for twenty-four years, the second owner passed away in his sleep on board Cresset in his fifth year of ownership; and myself, the third owner, who with my family has owned her for twenty-six years.
Cresset was designed by Doug and Wavell Urry in 1926 and ‘27 as an alternative and probably less expensive cruising boat than their three earlier designs – the Nonsuch , a concept only, the Cogette and the Cogge – completed designs. Cresset is similar to the Cogette from the mast forward; the aft cabin dream had to be forsaken, hopefully to be built later.
Built by George Askew and launched in the spring of 1929, she was roughly fashioned by today’s terms, but was built to last of strong, good timber and lots of fastenings – long life and durability.
The lines drawing show an elegant shape – an easily driven hull with a long waterline – all this translates into a classiclooking vessel of easy motion and good sailing characteristics; with fine sea keeping ability and I suggest these have been her “redeeming features”. As Doug Urry wrote in Yachting in 1925 when first expounding on the concept of the Nonsuch. On paper and in model she shows a sea kindly and easily driven form; good length of floor and clean running buttock lines, a vigorous sweep of shear, bold forward and saucy aft, as a sheer should be. In all, a blend of old fashioned courtliness with modern sharpness of lines.
She is 40’ on the deck, 10’ 4” beam, 31’ on the waterline and 6’ 6” draft with a displacement of 24,000 pounds. Her stern and stem posts are Australian gum, her frames steamed oak and the rest yellow cedar with teak trim. The wood keel is 10” x 20” amidships, the frames are 1 1/2” x 2 1/2” spaced 9”; except 4 1/2” spacing for four feet in the way of the mast. The floors are 2 1/2” x 10” deep and at every other floor the frame is doubled, from bilge stringer across the floor and up to the other stringer, side bolted to the frames and bolted down through the floor to the wood keel. The planking is 1 3/8” finished and the decking is 1 1/2”. As she was built she was painted throughout with several good coats of red lead and preservative, and this, coupled with the bilge being soaked in diesel fuel for many years, has helped keep her sweet down below. Cresset has had very little money spent on her for major refits and this is a result of proper construction and protection.
As launched on June 20, 1929 she was gaff rigged with a fiddled topmast, setting a gaff topsail and three jibs. Down below she was fitted out simply, galley to port, navigation area to starboard, two pilot berths and two settee berths in the main cabin. The open fireplace was the focal point of the cabin, with the chimney passing into the head to keep the “loo” warm and then up though the deck. Across from the head was the basin and hanging locker, the fo’c’sle was for sail storage and had two narrow folding pipe births.
When launched, Cresset had no engine, but was bored out to take one, but with no aperture. I believe she is on her fourth engine; the first was a single cylinder diesel started with a punk or “cigarette”. The second was a fine three cylinder Atlas diesel with a wooden and water cooled exhaust system. Third engine I put in about 1960 and due to cost it had to be a four cylinder Universal gas engine. This Super four gave us many years of good service – although the concept of a gas engine, propane stove and open fireplace would make some people nervous these days; we were careful and never had a problem. The final engine, a three cylinder Volvo, was installed in 1977.
Some time in 1938 or ‘39 the Urrys changed the gaff rig to a marconi cutter – for its time the new rig had lots of what we now call “go fast” ideas:
Custom elliptical hollow spruce spar; cast aluminium mast head c/w 2 sheaves and all tangs; mechanical main halyard lock at hoist and two reefs; twin forestays c/w release lever, for jib changes; magazine track for a storm trisail luff; lever backstay adjuster with block purchase; bendy rig with swinging spreaders; plank on edge boom rotating axially c/w reef blocks; all blocks home made with roller bearing sheaves.
All these innovative ideas were worked out by the Urrys. They designed everything, made patterns and had bronze casings machined out and then fitted to Cresset. Some are very intricate – the tiller end cast in the “lost wax” process and featured in the July 1929 article on Cresset in Yachting magazine.
I was told the old main and top mast were given to the Sailor’s home on Robson Street and stood there for many years.
I spent many a happy hour with Clair – discussing his sailing experiences, how the boat behaved offshore and reading his monthly newsletter from an offshore sailing association. He continued to cruise and live on the boat and actually died on board in the fall of 1956.
In the spring of 1958 we had to purchase new sails – from Jeckyls in England and made of terylene. They made a terrific difference, and with the boat all painted up, a few new manila halyards and off we went cruising and some racing. We entered the 1958 Swiftsure race and finished 12th overall and the second Canadian boat finishing at 7 PM on the Monday night, In the ‘58 racing season we got 5 seconds and one first in six races, which was great fun. We raced the boat on and off for the next three or four years, but the raising of two young children kept the budget down and limited activities to weekend cruising and Summer holidays.
Cresset was a great boat for cruising, people were always interested in visiting on board; old crew members turned up to reminisce about past races and cruises and tell tall tails.
We spent a minimum amount of money on upkeep, usually covering the boat for the four winter months and doing most of the maintenance ourselves. One of the minor problems was the yellow cedar decking caulked and payed with Thiokol and yacht tar, It tended to leak in hot dry weather and would take 24 hours to tighten up in the rain! So we kept plastic drip catchers handy.
I kept modifying and updating the boat through the years - roller reefing, Dacron halyards and good used sails of shape for racing. I was able to put a new lighter aluminium mast in Cresset in 1975 and this weighed half a much as the old spar, and coupled with a nice second hand main off Nambia, Cresset felt like a different boat, better balanced, stiffer and with less pitching motion, a great boat to sail either single handed or with family crew.
With our family grown up and getting other interests, we put Cresset out to pasture and purchased a fiberglass cruising ketch with all the comforts of home.
Being an avid photographer, we have hundreds of photos of sailing on Cresset going back to 1957, and these coupled with all the wonderful memories of good time have provided our family and friends with a sailing background in a fine old wooden boat. An experience that is becoming harder and harder to duplicate in this day and age of graceless plastic boats, crowded anchorages and short lived boating experiences.