Grayhound 2012

Wednesday 11 July 2018

During the late 18th century, the Cornish coast was rife with smuggling, so to counter, revenue luggers were employed to patrol the coast. On spotting the culprits they would make chase, before impounding the illegal vessels and selling the goods at auction. Three-masted luggers were the vessels of choice on both sides due to their speed – ironically the same builders made them for both the smugglers and the revenue. Eventually, the government banned the building of three-masted luggers in a bid to end the smuggling trade – a law which Marcus Rowden and Freya Hart are hoping is now defunct, as they have just spent a year building one of their own! This is the Grayhound 2012, the first three-masted lugger to be built in the UK for over 200 years.

The dream

Several years ago Marcus and Freya had the seeds of an idea to build a large vessel on which they could sail the globe, while taking paying passengers with them to make the whole thing viable. Having met in 2004 working with the Trinity Sailing Trust, and with experience working as skipper, mate and cook, they had the know-how needed to back up their passion for a life on the water. Sailing back from Brittany in the summer of 2010, they passed the French lugger La Cancalaise, and were suddenly inspired. Their plan started to take shape; they would find and build an English version of the three-masted lugger.

With friend and respected boat builder Chris Rees, the couple looked over the plans for the original Grayhound, a 130ft revenue and privateering lugger built in 1776 in Cawsand, Cornwall – a mere two miles from where they would build their own 5/6 scale replica. It was the perfect choice for Marcus and Freya, traditional sailors who love ocean sailing and racing; Marcus sums the Grayhound up as “simple, fast, and very much linked with our local Cornish history.†Chris took on designing the new Grayhound, and would head the build at Voyager Yachts Ltd in Millbrook.

The build

The first thing to do was to source the wood. The oak (Quercus robur) for the frames and treenails was all locally sourced from Launceston and Exeter, including some trees felled by Marcus in his mother's fields. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) for the masts, spars, bulwarks and interior came from Haldon Forest in Devon. The seasoned larch (Larix deciduas) for the planking came from the Forest of Dean. Much of the remaining timber needed was reclaimed. The stem, deck, hatches and deck rooms are made with opepe (Nauclea diderrichii). Six full-time shipwrights including Marcus and an apprentice from the village were assembled, with Freya and baby boy Malachi running the business end in the office.

The build began with the laying of the keel – the spine of the boat, constructed of the extremely hard wood greenheart (Chlorocardium rodiei), which is used in marine work for its high durability, resistance to pinhole and marine borers and capability for saltwater application. The laying of the keel traditionally signifies the starting marker of the build, and the team threw a keel laying party on site, where many well-wishers gathered to toast the Grayhound's inception.

The oak framing was assembled from forward to aft, “We couldn't have done it without the flatbed truck,” Freya tells me, “we used it to transport all of the wood and lift all of the frames into position,” – you can watch this process on the somewhat hypnotic time-lapsed construction video on their website.


Five months of planking followed – with no steam involved in the bending – the larch planks were scarfed together along their length with epoxy adhesive. The Grayhound is carvel-built, meaning that the planks butt up against each other, as opposed to clinker-built, where the planks overlap.

The larch planking was fastened with over 4,000 treenails – wooden dowels traditionally used in shipbuilding, as would have been used on the original Grayhound. It is a method that has been out of common use for a long time now, with the mass production of steel nails from the mid 1800s making joining faster and more convenient, without the need to predrill. However, the use of treenails has great benefits, as traditional – if more taxing – methods so often do. One advantage of using wooden fastenings over metal is eliminating the occurrence of 'nail-sickness', a term for the accelerated decay of the wood concentrated around metal fastenings. The wooden fastenings also expand as water seeps into the end grain, causing the planks to grip tighter as more seawater is absorbed. If cared for well, treenail fastenings should last for 80-100 years, in comparison to the 25-year life expectancy of metal fastenings. A further 1,000 treenails were used on deck. Freya and Marcus came up with a novel way for the public to support the project using the treenails; for £5, you could sponsor a treenail and have it marked with your name or a message. With around 2,000 treenails sponsored – many online from all around the world – in a sense, the couple will be taking all of their supporters with them! Another signature of the Grayhound is carried on the metalwork, which was also produced by Marcus, and signed with carved metal hearts symbolising Freya's surname.


The caulking of course had to be secure beyond all doubt, and could only be carried out by someone with experience; Marcus took care of all of the caulking himself. The traditional filler of oakum, a hemp fibre soaked in pine tar, was used to fill the seams between planks. Using a caulking hammer Marcus felt and listened to the sound of the boat, which begins to sound like a drum as the seams are tightened. The final sealing stage is known as 'paying the seams', where the caulking is covered with black bitumen before it is painted.

The interior is built in a rustic style, intentionally simple and as basic as can be. Eight bunks up forward are made of Douglas fir and oak, and all of the interiors are oiled with Danish oil and turpentine; both healthy to breathe and pleasant smelling. The rest of the Grayhound's timbers are naturally oiled with a combination of boiled linseed oil, turpentine and wood preserver, apart from the deck, which is left natural. As well as building the pilot house with seating and navigation area, Marcus has also built a wooden saloon table to seat 17 in the middle of the ship beneath the wide opening hatch for dinner by starlight.

The Grayhound had its launch on 4 August 2012, and will start sailing the Atlantic in May 2013, with an itinerary which takes them through a multitude of destinations including the Isles of Scilly, the Northern Rias in Spain, down the Portuguese coast to Lisbon, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verdes, before embarking on a full Atlantic crossing which will end in Barbados. Their final passage North will see them sailing back into a Cornish summer in July 2014. If you are interested in joining them for one of many voyages, or even for a year at sea on the Grayhound training programme, see their website. My thanks to Freya Hart for kindly supplying us with images and information. We wish Freya, Marcus, Malachi and all who sail on the Grayhound 2012 a wonderful and safe journey.