How a boyhood obsession, a classified advert and a tip-off from a friend led to former RNLI crewman Crispian Jones restoring a classic Levi Triana Tropica called Amazing Grace.
During August 2019, a Gumtree advert caught the eye of Phil Speed: a Triana Tropica called Amazing Grace was up for sale for £3,000. Phil had been infatuated with the Tropica since he was a young teenager.
Not only had he seen one parked in someone’s driveway numerous times on annual holidays to Abersoch, but he had repeatedly watched a short TV film called Ride the White Horses which formed part of a BBC2 test transmission.
The film was a documentary about the 1969 Round Britain Race and featured a couple of Tropicas. “I always used to hope that it was on when I came home from school as I was obsessed with it,” Phil told me.
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Designed by Anglo-Italian Renato “Sonny” Levi, the Triana Tropica has its roots in Levi’s 23ft offshore powerboat Trident, which finished a creditable seventh place in the very rough 1966 Cowes-Torquay race.
Levi then used this experience to create the Triana 25, which went into production in 1968. The hulls were moulded at Tyler Boat Co while the fitout was done by Trident Marine.
The following year one of the early Triana 25s, Miss Bovril II, finished 15th overall in the Round Britain Race. Trident Marine built about 25 Trianas before the fitout was taken over by Triana Boats who made some small changes to the superstructure, rebranded it the Triana Tropica and then built about ten of them in Wimborne, Dorset, during the 1970s.
Power of persuasion
“She is built especially for the sportsman who wants a craft which has a much higher performance than is available today and yet retaining the advantages of a luxurious offshore cruiser rather than a stripped out, hot-rod racing boat,” declared Triana Boats’ sales brochure.
At the time Phil saw the Gumtree advert, he already owned two Fairey Swordsman (another obsession which began with Ride the White Horses), the second of which he had bought just a few days earlier “as a project”.
Otherwise he would almost certainly have bought Amazing Grace himself but, realising that “three boats would be too many”, he phoned his friend and colleague Crispian Jones – a former RNLI St Ives lifeboat crewman of 19 years standing who has worked as a chef on superyachts and is now a director of an offshore wind company – and told him that “you need to buy this boat”.
After Phil convinced him that the boat really was a good deal, Crispian contacted the owner, Roger Perrin (who, incidentally, had previously restored a Fairey Huntsman which had appeared in the James Bond film From Russia With Love).
Apparently there were ten other people interested in buying Amazing Grace but Crispian’s persistence ensured she would be his, and soon he was arranging for a low loader to transport her from Norfolk to Islington Wharf, Penryn, Cornwall.
Crispian was under no illusions that there was a lot of work to do. Amazing Grace had been laid up for about 20 years and for some of that time had been uncovered, as a result of which the bilges were full of rainwater to a height about two thirds of the way up the front berth.
And, as it turned out, there were two dead birds and a dead rat in the bilges as well. But how much of a good deal Crispian had made mostly depended on the condition of the engines – two Volvo Penta AQ171 170hp petrol engines which had been installed not long before the boat’s long period of lay-up and which, apparently, had hardly been used.
The question was, how much damage might they have suffered from the bilge water?
During Phil’s varied career, a period of which was spent at a Volvo Penta dealership, he became “reasonably familiar with the range of Volvo engines and their quirks and what they needed, liked and didn’t like, and also which bits were expensive and which weren’t,” and his experience and hard work would prove invaluable to the project.
One of the most important things to ascertain, Phil thought, was that the electronic ignition systems functioned because they would be particularly expensive to replace.
Once that was established there was every reason to expect that the engines could be restored economically. They were removed from the boat and taken to the workshop of AJ Marine, also at Islington Wharf, where experienced Volvo Penta engineer Adrian Hingston (an old friend of Phil’s) helped out and allowed Crispian and Phil to use his workshop and tools.
Phil decided that there was no need to strip the engines completely “because they were spotless inside having done no work” but the most important thing to address was “corrosion on the ends of the crankshaft due to the bilge water, because if that corrosion is allowed to revolve at speed, it will just tear all the oil seals to pieces and allow the oil to spill out and spray into the bilges, and would probably cause irreparable damage to the engines.
So we cleaned all those surfaces and re-machined some of them, and then rebuilt them with new seals.” Ancillary parts such as starter motors and alternators were renewed, and the carburettors were rebuilt. Both engines were then run up in the workshop and proved to be working perfectly, at which point they were refitted into the boat.
Meanwhile a great deal of work had been carried out on board. The 450-litre GRP fuel tank still had some leaded petrol in it. Crispian cleaned this out himself: “It was full of gunk. Even the rubber gloves were dissolving.”
He was aiming to just refill it, but the expectation that the ethanol in modern unleaded petrol would soon eat away at the GRP persuaded him to remove the tank. To do so he used a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, a jigsaw and a grinder, “and it was the worst job I’ve done on a boat for a long time!”
A 300-litre stainless steel tank and a 120-litre proprietary plastic tank have now been fitted: a slightly smaller capacity than before but Crispian thinks it will give about six hours’ cruising at 20 knots.
The trim-tab pumps, which were probably original, were seized up so all of the trim tab components were removed with a view, initially, to not have any trim tabs at all as Crispian and Phil both thought that trimming the legs would do the job.
But it just so happened that during the restoration, Crispian made contact with the owner of another local Triana Tropica. Steve Kay bought Jaykay (which, at some point in her past, had been taken to the Mediterranean via the French canals and back via the Bay of Biscay) in 2013 and keeps her across the Fal estuary at St Just-in-Roseland.
Steve advised that it would be unwise to do without some sort of trim tab system so Crispian chose Humphree Interceptors.
Much of the timber and general boatbuilding work was carried out by David Brunyee and his team at Metre Yacht Restorations.
Crispian asked David to save as much as possible and so – although the cabin sole, headlining and galley worktop were renewed – much of the other joinery was refurbished.
The windows were removed and refitted and, not surprisingly, the engine beds were in a bad way so new ones – timber, glassed over – were fitted. Tim Seaman of Formation Marine carried out much of the GRP work; and the upholstery, sprayhood and awning were made by Neal Brenton at Kernow Covers.
In addition to the particularly unpleasant job of removing the old fuel tank, Crispian did most of the rewiring, installed a new windlass, and “did lots and lots of scrubbing and cleaning.”
For reasons which many people may identify with, he found this work particularly therapeutic. When he bought Amazing Grace, he was engaged to be married.
His fiancée, Leoni, was as enthusiastic about restoring the boat as he was, even to the point that it was Leoni who removed the dead rat and birds.
Furthermore, it was her suggestion that they should endeavour to finish the work in time for them to spend their honeymoon on board.
“But then Covid came along and we went our separate ways,” said Crispian. From then on Crispian found that working on Amazing Grace was a really important distraction.
“Instead of thinking about my relationship going down the tube, I thought about the boat,” he told me. “Amazing Grace helped my mental well-being hugely. She became like my therapy.”
Triana Tropica: A savvy purchase
When Crispian bought the boat, he realised that he was taking a risk with regard to the engines as it might not have been possible to save them, or at least not in an economical sense.
So the fact that they were restored relatively easily has put the project in a good place financially. Crispian was happy to tell me that he has now spent a total of about £30,000 (including the purchase price), that the insurance valuation was £35,000 and that he has seen sisterships advertised for around £40,000.
“So she doesn’t owe me anything at the moment,” he said, “and that’s quite good in this day and age.” But he is on the lookout for a pair of suitable diesel engines with a view to replacing the petrol ones in the future, partly with a view to fuel economy but also because he knows he can’t expect the petrol engines to last forever. “We’re going to look after them and see how far we get.”
But in the meantime he has started to enjoy Amazing Grace. Before he loaded her up with full tanks of petrol and water, he managed to get 35 knots out of her, and has since done 30 knots with six people on board. This compares to the 50 knots which Jaykay, with her V8 5.8 litre engines, can do.
“But I’m not interested in racing around at that sort of speed,” said Crispian. “I’ve done that in my time.” Crispian has also taken Amazing Grace out in “some fair old big seas,” and he was really pleased with the way the boat “just went straight through them,” giving a “really, really comfortable ride.”
He has plans to enjoy using Amazing Grace throughout the West Country – he talked about the Scillies, for instance, the possibility of attending a Fairey owners’ event in Dartmouth, and just anchoring off local beaches – sometimes on his own or with friends or his 13-year-old son.
“She’s a great little boat,” he says, “easy for me to handle on my own and big enough to take friends out as well.”
First published in the August 2021 issue of MBY.
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