The yacht Ramage is a classic wooden yacht of 54 ft overall (16,4 m), now 42 years old. Designed by the Argentinian Jorge Ithurbide and built of selected South American hardwoods in La Plata/Buenos Aires, her first owner was Amancio Alcorta, an Argentinian diplomat. No money was spared during her construction, which was under the control of Mr. Wolf, a German boat builder renowned for his high standard of quality. La Plata was then the yachting centre of Argentina and Ramage, under her original name of Varuna is remembered there still today as one of the bigger and more elegant yachts, her powerful ketch rig giving her the speed needed to impress.
The recent restoration of the Yacht is the result of research, done with much help from various Argentinian friends and using their SSB radio to communicate with the old boatmen of La Plata.
Varuna spent her first years in South America and the Caribbean, cruising with her owners and paid hands. She was renamed Ramage in 1968, when she was bought by Dudley and Kay Pope and named for the major character in his novels. They had to choose a different name because Varuna was already taken on the British registry.
After twenty years of cruising, later including their daughter, the Popes had to sell Ramage due to illness. Even though the boat was maintained well, she needed some more serious work by this time. Thirty years of much use have the same effect on any boat.
She briefly passed through one owner and then fell into the hands of Derek and Janet Little. From 1991 to ´95 they spent much time, enthusiasm and money into rebuilding their dreamboat. We are indebted to them and all other owners of Ramage for giving her all the possible care and love. But for that, she would not be alive today.
Hurricane Luis, which passed through the Caribbean in September ´95, smashed that dream in a matter of hours. Luis was a force 5 hurricane with sustained winds in excess of 120 mph, who rested above the island of St. Maarten for two days, causing much destruction on shore and wrecking over 1400 boats off the then 1600 anchored inside the lagoon, which was considered one of the best hurricane holes in the area.
Ramage did not sink, but received a bad beating by many other yachts dragging their anchor. Derek and Janet, who stayed on board during the storm, decided to cut her anchors during the last hours to save her from more beating. This drove her ashore, where she ended up on top of the pile of yachts already stranded. They re-floated her later, but could emotionally and financially not start repairing the boat all over again. She was up for sale once more, being used only for two more occasions, providing a background for the film work on Speed two and in May 1997 for the sad work of spreading the ashes of her former owner, Dudley Pope.
In September 1997 I was looking for a bigger boat and I flew to St. Maarten after hearing about Ramage. A week later she was ours and we were packing our bags in England to move onto the boat two months later. We decided to rebuild the hull in a Venezuelan Boatyard and that meant to get the boat into a seaworthy state, fit for a voyage of 500 nautical miles through the Caribbean sea.
This process involved a total rebuild of engine and gearbox, both 42 years old and full of water for probably one of them. We then concentrated on the mast, rigging and sails, eliminating termites, metal-fatigue and some holes, once more: respectively. All that done, with much help of Dr.James Waters who flew in from the U.K., we baby-proofed as good as we could, strapped the unfinished mizzenmast on deck and set off on a voyage that deserves it's own story. Each Island was visited for emergency repairs and to rest our arms from the constant exercise of the manual bilge pump, needed in addition to the three existing electric ones. We arrived in Cumana, Venezuela on the 8th of May 1998, happy, content to have found a good boat and ready to start work.
Our first real survey of the hull structure revealed three kinds of damage:
1. There was the obvious damage received during hurricane Luis, mainly broken planks, frames and stanchions.
2. This damage was due to a lack of maintenance during the last ten years of her life. This consisted of wood-rot not detected and treated in time. Freshwater allowed it's way in caused extensive rot at the stem and along the beam shelf in the way of the chain-plates. Internal chain-plates, leading through the deck, always cause this problem and due to the superior wood species used on Ramage, damage was less than I had feared. This goes for the whole boat in fact, which, sitting in a stagnant lagoon for years with most of her bottom paint scraped off, would have been totally destroyed by rot and worms had it not been built from the best of the tropical rain-forests (in a time where there was still plenty of it).
3. The most extensive damage was caused by a fault of construction that deserves a little explanation. Although Ramage was built to the best standards of her time, certain materials for boat construction were simply not available at the place and time (and are still not, we found out).
In Europe and North America lead was used for keels and bronze for bolts in
yacht construction. Argentinian boat builders could obtain neither and instead used iron. The great disadvantage of iron is it's tendency to oxidise (rust), not so much where it is constantly immersed in water because of the lack of oxygen, but very much near or above the waterline, where moisture and oxygen are abundant.
Ramage's beam shelf, a longitudinal piece of timber, reinforcing the hull to deck area on the inside of the hull, was bolted to frames and planks with 10 mm iron bolts, now mostly reduced to nothing. A chemical reaction with the acid contained in the wood caused total destruction of the two top planks and widespread local damage to the beam shelf. This together with all the bulwark stanchions broken or rotten out meant we had to completely rebuild the entire top end of Ramage. We decided to tackle one side of the boat at a time, so we could keep living on board and use at least one side of the interior. Many days of removing broken and rotten wood followed, laying bare the skeleton of our pride and home.
I often compare boat restoration to dentistry, digging out the rot and then filling the voids, keeping in mind the integrity of the whole. This last point of keeping the integrity is a very important and complex one on an ever flexing construction like a sailing boat.
Franc and Martine from Holland are students at a furniture- and boatbuilding college in Amsterdam and came to Venezuela to gain practical experience on the subject. I was only too happy to offer them just that, nearly more than they could take at times. In the two months they were on board, we finished all planking work on the first side, re-framed and started planking the other, rebuilt the stem and finished, rigged and stepped the mizzenmast.
The refit of Ramage has consumed over one cubic meter of purple heart, a wood similar to her original building timber, 1600 copper nails, 1000 bronze screws, 40 meters of 10 mm bronze rod to make 150 bolts, 20 kilos of putty, 10 litres of epoxy, 20 litres of paint plus uncountable amounts of drill-bits, saw-blades, sandpaper, paint brushes and the like.
Our last month in the boatyard was filled with a lot of work but lifting spirits as Ramage took on more and more the appearance of a proper yacht. Each new coat of paint convinced more observers that we might really succeed in re-launching our boat.
With the launching date fixed for the 28. December 1998, we had to sacrifice a lot of Christmas atmosphere, but managed to keep it up just enough for Jaspers sake. Venezuelan climate allowed us to work and paint day and night, which we did in the end, only stopping to eat or sleep. This way we applied another 50 litres of paint, filling and fairing all the time, while Jessica finished caulking and puttying all of the underwater hull.
Launching day came and went in a bliss, spent trying to get the engine running and returning enormous amounts of water to where it belongs to. Any traditionally caulked wooden boat left to dry out for extended periods of time will leak once re-launched and this is just what Ramage did. To an extend which frightened me to be perfectly honest and the reluctance of the engine to start was quite welcome as it meant that we had to stay alongside the wall, where electricity was easily available to run the bilge pumps.
Ramage took about a week to completely stop all her leaks, we have now achieved our goal of dry bilges.
On the 31st of December 1998 we finally left the Navimca boatyard, hopefully for ever. The night was spent in the most secluded anchorage available and the next day we moved on to our present location, anchored off the friendly hotel of Medregal Village in the Golfo de Cariaco.
Ramage was back in the water and floating happily in clean waters off a sandy beach.
Konstantin, Jessica & Jasper troje-Tuck
We are Jessica, Konstantin and Jasper Troje-Tuck, aged 30, 29 and 2 years respectively. To most of you we are well known, after all this letter will start distribution in the circle of family and friends. I will nevertheless try a short introduction. I (Konstantin) come from near Frankfurt/Main in Germany and started sailing at the age of five on a
Black Forest lake. There it remained until, in 1989, after 14 years of school, I left for Hamburg with the intention of going ocean cruising. I have since sailed in different positions on many different yachts, accumulating in excess of 40000 NM and attaining certificates up to the RYA Yachtmaster Ocean. Jessica grew up in Somerset, England. She learned sailing on
England's south coast before embarking on an Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean. She then crewed on boats there and in the States for several years. We met in the Caribbean 8 years ago, both working as crew on sailing yachts. We then embarked on many travels on land and sea before settling in Cornwall for some years to study
boat building and sign writing, also respectively. We left the U.K. again in 1995 to sail back to the islands in our little converted wooden lifeboat, only to realize Jaspers arrival. He was born in August the following year back in Cornwall where we had returned with
Harmony after spending the winter in the Canary Islands. Then we acquired the Ramage!
On our last night in Venezuela we start a new chapter yet again. For the past three days we motored 180 nautical miles against the tradewinds along a spectacular coastline and tomorrow we will cross the Gulf of Paria to Trinidad and the arrival of our first guests. There remains a lot of work to be finished, but we are definetely under way again and happy to be so.
From now until late May we will be cruising the Caribbean islands and for some of this time we can still be booked at special low rates. We are particularly still looking for an interested party to join us for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, the Caribbean's main event of that sort, taking place from the 16. to the 21. of April. We are also now taking bookings for the winterseason 99/2000 when Ramage will again sail in the islands where she could provide you with a special holiday designed around your own preferences.
Mail : Troje-Tuck Am Berg 1 65779 Kelkheim, Germany Tel./Fax.:..+49 (0)6195 4404
This article is a compiled and edited version of Newsletters sent to friends by Konstantin Troje-Tuck in 1997-1999.
Report from Konstantin Troje-Tuck June 2002: We are still with the boat, now in good condition. We are based in Antigua once more, a place where Dudley stayed with the Yacht for a long time.The yacht is for sale at the moment and we might sail her to Europe next year, so the adventure continues.
Report from Konstantin Troje-Tuck October 2002: In the meantime we have had another daughter, now aged two and have very recently moved on shore in Antigua. Ramage is at the moment tied up in the mangroves, but with the end of Hurricane season in sight, we will pull her back out soon and recommision her. Please note also our new e-mail adress, now at firstname.lastname@example.org, from where we have a much easier acess to the net.