When Martin Hughes lost his wife he found solace in restoring a rare 1957 Bates Star Craft 40 that he’d bought sight unseen for £15,000
I was born in Ramsgate, Kent in 1945. There was still commercial shipping coming in to the port at the time and as a schoolboy, the sight of all those big ships made me want to join the Merchant Navy. I’ve loved the sea ever since but it wasn’t until my wife and I sold our newsagents business in Ramsgate and Clintonville that we bought our first boat.
It was a 36ft ex-Broad’s cruiser built by Broom and for around 12 months we lived on her in Rochester until the opportunity arose to buy the dock at Conyer on the River Swale. Five of us put up the money to buy it and we’ve lived here ever since.
Sadly, my wife died in October 2011 and in the middle of 2012 I began looking around for a suitable restoration project to keep me busy. After a bit of searching I stumbled across a classic six-berth cabin cruiser called Kay’s Venture moored at Bray on the River Thames. Kay was my wife’s name so it seemed destined to be. I didn’t even look her over; I simply bought her sight unseen and paid £15,000.
Kay’s Venture is a Star Craft 40 built in 1957 by William Bates & Sons of Chertsey. She is built of double diagonal mahogany planks on oak frames with teak decks and cabin sides. Star Craft had a reputation for quality and Kay’s Venture was one of the very few to have a full flybridge, added by a previous owner.
Normally they just have an enclosed saloon with a raised outside helm station. When I finally got to see her, it was immediately apparent that she was in a terrible state. As I walked around her, I started to add up all the money I’d need to put aside for each aspect of the rebuild.
Next, I contacted the Star Craft Owners’ Club in an effort to locate photographs of Kay’s Venture in her original condition. Meanwhile, we brought her down to Conyer and from then on I started planning how I was going to rebuild her. After looking at the old photos of her, I was determined to recreate her original look and feel, complete with the beams, beam hangers and elegant varnished interior fit out, and I’ve stuck to that.
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From the outset it was clear there was a huge amount of rot in the superstructure as well as the flybridge base and cabin bulkheads, everything would need to be replaced. In contrast around 80 per cent of the hull was still in good condition, clearly a tribute to her durable mahogany planking and sturdy build process.
At this point I made arrangements through a friend, who undertakes a considerable amount of work on boats, to purchase the timber we needed from Robbins Timber and East Kent Timber Supplies.
We started in the aft cabin as this was in by far the worst condition. I systematically removed everything, taking the structure back to the bare timber with the exception of the original windows and window surrounds. The framework was badly infested with severe mildew, which had to be thoroughly cleaned off using a fungus treatment before the whole cabin was fumigated. I wanted to make absolutely sure it wasn’t coming back!
Next we turned our attention to the main saloon and soon realised this was in a similar state and needed stripping, cleaning and fumigating as well. With the roof removed we also made a start on the engines. At that point it became apparent that both powertrains needed a complete overhaul as well. They were stripped down, cleaned and fitted with new main and big end bearings.
The gearboxes were taken out so they could be overhauled on the bench. While this was underway we realised that the rubber engine mounts had completely perished so these were replaced as well. The mechanical side of the restoration alone cost around £18,000.
We then moved on to the forward heads and shower facilities. Again, these were completely gutted and refurbished with new fixtures and fittings. We then turned our attention to the galley and installed new units, work surfaces, a Dometic three-way fridge and a Delonghi cooker.
Around half way through the restoration, our insurance company requested an up-to-date survey of her condition so I had her taken to Iron Wharf in Faversham where she was lifted out. This gave us the opportunity to complete the work on the undersides. With the help of my son, we sanded the hull back to bare timber, sealed the seams and then applied a fresh undercoat, several topcoats and boot topping antifoul from International Paints.
While this was going on an engineer friend replaced the rope cutters on the propellers and serviced the shafts and seals. By this time we’d already spent around three years getting Kay’s Venture to the way I wanted. The last area to be restored was the forward VIP cabin and like the rest of the interior it required nothing short of a complete strip out and rebuild with new custom-built wooden cupboards and berths.
The chain locker, which is located in the vee between the bunks was completely exposed and had to be rebuilt as part of the project. I even kept the original anchor chain and anchor as well as the Lawrence windlass on the forepeak above to retain the period look but did enclose the chain locker itself.
We replaced all the decking with new teak as, like so many other areas, it was totally rotten. Inside, marine ply was used to make the cabin furniture, which was then lined with sound insulation material on the underside to help reduce engine noise and vibration.
Apart from the engines, I did it all myself with occasional help from friends and family, except for the roof beams because I don’t have the steam equipment needed to create the curved profiles.
Happy ever after
Despite her age, the interior feels remarkably light and airy with large windows and a new Eberspacher diesel heating system to make her cosy when the temperature drops. We also replaced all the wiring with a 240-volt ring main system and additional wiring for the navigation aids and engine electrics.
I cannot describe the huge sense of elation I felt when I pressed the starter buttons for both engines for the first time after the rebuild and they both burst into life. After pouring so much time and effort into the rebuild, it was a truly momentous moment.
It made all the hard work worthwhile. Gratifyingly, I’ve had her surveyed twice since the restoration was completed and one of the surveyors commented that it was nice to see a classic boat like Kay’s Venture so well restored and looked after.
I am the marine services manager for Peel Ports in Chatham and my first trip after the rebuild was to sail Kay’s Venture into the Chatham cruise terminal for everyone to see. We closed the office for a couple of hours and I took the whole team for a trip up the River Medway. It was a wonderful experience and everyone was so complimentary. Now I mostly use her for local trips and outings but I did take her up to Chertsey on the Thames to revisit the place where she was built.
Looking back, it wasn’t until I finally got started that I realised how much of a worse state she was in than I expected. Inevitably, that meant considerably more work and money than I’d reckoned on. Overall, I’ve spent around £50,000 on her refit. However, I have now got Kay’s Venture exactly as I wanted her and I couldn’t be more pleased.
When I was in the process of buying her I met someone who had crewed for the previous owner. He told me they had once cruised Kay’s Venture across the Channel and up the Seine to Paris. I plan to retire in six months, as I’ve recently had a health scare and may have to replace Kay’s Venture with something smaller but before I sell her I’m determined to make that same passage across to France.
It would be a fitting tribute to my late wife and the project that got me through a tough time in my life.
Make: Bates Star Craft 40
LOA: 40ft 0in (12.1m)
Beam: 11ft 0in (3.35m)
Draft: 3ft 10in (1.2m)
Engines: Twin 1978 Ford FD120PT diesels
Purchase price: £ 15,000
Engine rebuild: £18,000
First published in the June 2020 edition of Motor Boat & Yachting.