Video: Restoring Vela – Episode 1

When Mike Zani’s 1965 classic sailboat, the Graves Constellation, “Vela,” rolled into the TotalBoat Workshop we knew we had a great video series about to unfold right before our eyes. Welcome to video 1 in the series on restoring this beautiful keelboat. It’s a project that was too big for experienced yachtsman, Zani, who had previously pulled off a total restoration (with help) on his former boat, Go Dog, Go!, a 1962 Cape Cod Marlin.  Zani, for this project, pulled in a team of crack boat builders and tinkerers with Naval Architect, friend and fellow sailor Ezra Smith, at the helm of the design wheel and with Dan Shea of Bristol Boat Company heading up the hard work that was about to unfold. 

What took place under our time lapse cameras in the workshop has been nothing short of amazing. The transformation of this tired sailboat has brought a sincerely beautiful hull form out from hiding under a homely cabin house and it’s now the centerpiece of this major restoration. With the existing cabin house, deck and rigging dismantled and cast to the dumpster – it was time for a fresh look at what was possible with a naked but promising shell of a boat. Everything was open for consideration as they tackled the plans for reconstructing Vela with an eye on day sailing and gunkholing with Mike’s young family.

An avid racer, Mike and friends sailed Vela for all of the 2016 summer regatta series in his backyard in Mt. Hope Bay, Rhode Island. He recognized the potential and had a good feeling for what was lacking in the current set up. He wanted a longer cockpit for comfortable (old-guy!) seating without hiking and hanging off the rail, and he needed to maintain cabin space to accommodate his wife and sons who enjoy the occasional overnight and don’t mind sparse digs in favor of a cooler, faster, more solid boat.

Leaking decks needed replacement with the old decks torn off to the deck flange, a handy option for future new deck attachment.  The cockpit would be lengthened by a whole human (or about 4-feet), and the mast and rigging which needed beefing up for the new design would see the chainplates moved inboard and attached to bulkheads through the deck. And TotalBoat epoxy, Thixo, paints and primers were at the heart of the project…proving yet again that it’s the little brand that could [do the big jobs!]

As an avid boater and sailor myself, it was absolutely amazing to watch fine wooden boatbuilding meet good old fashioned fiberglassing. The hull on Vela was plenty thick with fiberglass, as was the practice in the mid 60’s with the recent invention of this marvel boat building material. Dan Shea, of Bristol Boat Company, brought a host of serious skills to the project and it was amazing to witness the steady transformation from homely daysailer to polished, gorgeous “pocket rocket.” We learned about carlins and deck beams, layups of douglas fir met 2:1 epoxy and some good old fashioned bending. Old planes and rasps danced alongside Festool sanders and peel ply in a true symphony of boatbuilding.

Zani knew enough to keep all the specs and tweaks inside of the Graves Constellation Class rules so he could continue to race one-design in his weekly regatta series.  And as much as he can’t wait to get out there – neither can we. And we will get out on the water aboard Vela, too – but not until we show you how this boat was transformed.

We hope you will use this video series as inspiration to see the beauty in the tried, old hull shapes of yachting’s past. Hulls like Vela, loaded with promise and possibility, are all around boatyards waiting for their big shot back on the water. Don’t throw history to the wind, throw it inside a shed and reinvigorate beauty into form and function.

Leave a comment