Fixitor Positioning-35 - Copy

Fixitor – Could This Be England’s Oldest Existing Race Boat?

Today we are featuring Part 1 of a 2 part story about an early English race boat believed to be from the very early 1900’s. This great story came to us from fellow Woody Boater Wint Taylor in England, the owner of “Fixitor” – with help from an amazing transportation photographer Peter Zabek. Peter’s photography also helps to bring the boat alive in Part 2 of Wint’s story tomorrow.

Art Nou·veau (är n-v, ärt) – A style of decoration and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized particularly by the depiction of leaves and flowers in flowing, sinuous lines.

The Victorian period marks a time when the British Empire was at its strongest under the rule of Queen Victoria, which took place between 1837 and January 1901.
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The original e-mail we received from Wint Taylor from back in March as we were leaving for Florida, and it read:

Dear Matt & Texx,

As a Woody Boater fan I thought you might like to see what an early English racer (circa 1900) looks like. It is a typical “Trials Boat” developed for the early Harmsworth Trophy races and may be the earliest still afloat.

I finished the restoration of “Fixitor” last year and it took part in the historic Queens Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames through London last June and seemed quite popular.

Do you have historical racing boats of this vintage in North America? I do have some more images of the project if you would like to see them? I am very grateful that Peter Zabek does my archive photography, and would be happy to share some of the photos with Woody Boater to help tell the story of “Fixitor.”

Very best regards to all you boaters.

Wint Taylor
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The Queen and members of the Royal Family on board the Spirit of Chartwell Royal Barge cruise along with a 1,000-boat flotilla down the River Thames for her Diamond Jubilee celebration in June 2012. Wint Taylor and “Fixitor” joined the 1,000 boat flotilla that day.

Royal barge Gloriana leading the royal flotilla

Royal barge Gloriana leading the Royal Flotilla June 2012 – Guardian.co.uk / Andy Rain EPA

We were excited to learn more about the history and recent restoration of “Fixitor” so thanks to Wint Taylor and photographer Peter Zabek we can share the story with the Woody Boater community today and tomorrow. We are going to let the photographs tell much of the story with commentary from Wint Taylor.

Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat
by Wint Taylor

We first came across “Fixitor” for sale as a hulk without any superstructure upon a trailer at the Thames Trad Boat Rally on July 20th 2009. Colin and Steven Messer and I were struck by a number of things:

All the fixings on the hull planks under what was left of the paintwork were very carefully doubled up and in line and with no disrespect for boatbuilders, this is not a regular feature unless the boat is of very high quality.

WINT BOAT-01 copy
She was of very lightweight construction and so built for speed we fancied.

There was not a straight plane anywhere on the deck area or the hull. She had this very special organic “Art Nouveau” design style and would have been difficult to design not to mention build. The two images (below) demonstrate the “Original” seat position in the main cockpit of “Fixitor” as a racing trials boat, the ribs demonstrating the original set of the turtle deck and the special conection point witin the boat for the tow rope (these were not the most reliable boats).

Fixitor 1
She was plainly very old though the mahogany hull planks were amazingly rot free and of very high quality.

Fixitor 2
All the fittings were custom cast bronze and of irregular shape including the rudder and were incredibly high quality, some of them puzzled us.

Fixitor 3
I bought her and she was delivered to Colin and Steven Meser at Classic Restoration Services at Clewer Boatyard Windsor on the River Thames Near London.

Fixitor 4 Fixitor 5

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We started researching the boat which had been well known in the 1950’s onwards as an interesting shaped cabin cruiser. Indeed over the years there had been some articles in the Boater Magazine speculating that she had been an air launched WW2 lifeboat or Windermere Canoe. Our later reasearch would prove that speculation to be incorrect.

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A vintage photo of the same boat after being modified – Note the name “Fixitor”

Ann and Michael Hawkins had bought “Fixitor” then known by another name in 1949 in a cabin cruiser format. They restored and used the boat until 1996, when she was laid up and sold it on. When we bought her in 2009 she had been laid up for 10 years or more.

The Hawkins had bought the boat in 1949 from an army officer who had bought her prewar in the cabin cruiser format and moved her from the Soar to the River Fleet, then he sold it to the Hawkins when he was posted to the British Army on the Rhine.

Nothing conclusive is known about “Fixitor” from circa 1900 until the late 1930’s though research continues.

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When we spoke to the Classic Boat Museum on the Isle of Wight, they identified the hull as classic state of the art 1900 racing yacht design and the fitting we had trouble identifying was identified by them as a bronze guide for a tow rope hole of a very early trials boat as subsequently used on the 1903 Harmonsworth Trophy Boats and of those that took part in the 1908 Olympics Power Boat Race around the Isle of Wight. (only one finished, the others suffered engine failure hence the need for the tow rope arrangements). Indeed the in situ towrope arrangements are still in place on “Fixitor”.

So Fixitor had lasted well over a century and now we had an interesting Restoration Project. We have yet to precisely identify the original maker or name though work continues. Here are some photos of the restoration process that was successfully completed by Classic Restoration Services at Clewer Boatyard, Windsor on the River Thames.

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Although the 100-plus year-old boat still retains much of her original wood, the work to bring the boat back to life is painstaking and labour intensive.

Fixitor 39
Rebuilding the topsides & decks to ensure that the original shapes, structure and design features are maintained, but never compromised to the best of our ability.

Fixitor 51 Fixitor 30

Fixitor 31
Locating the engine hatch and cockpit areas.

Fixitor 54 Fixitor 53

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And finally ready for some stain and varnish, etc.

Fixitor 9 Fixitor 8

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Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat as we see the amazing engine installation, historic relaunch and the completed project now back in service and being used as she was meant to be.

Thanks again to owner Wint Taylor and photographer Peter Zabek for sharing thier story with us here at Woody Boater. If you have any questions, please feel free to note them in the comment section or you can e-mail them to [email protected] and we will try to get them answered for you directly from Wint Taylor in England tomorrow.

We just love these international stories and it’s fun to see and learn what Woody Boaters around the world are working on and saving from extinction. Nice work guys!

Texx
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27 Responses to “Fixitor: Victorian Art Nouveau Gentleman’s Racing Boat – Part 1 The Restoration Begins”
    • Texx

      Johnny – I can’t “spill the beans” on the engine until tommorrow, but you will be shocked and amazed!

      (clue – note the large engine hatch…)

  1. m-fine

    A tad early to have a Rolls Royce or for that matter any aircraft engine. Whatever it was, I bet it was fun to start and I am thinking neutral and reverse were not available options.

  2. brian t

    My mystery engine choice is a Napier. Check out a similar craft of the era below – Dorothy Levitt in 1903.

  3. Paul H.

    What a great story, and a very, very elegant boat. Very nice to read about something so totaly different and unique. It is also pleasing to know that hobby folks in England are interested in researching and preserving early power craft, just as we in North America appear to be. Can’t wait for the conlusion toorrow! I really hope that research will reveal her early secrets for the owners.

  4. brian t

    The Napier Lion engine was not done up until 1916 or so, so I would think that at least initially Fixitor was fitted with a smaller engine. The Lion is most likely too large for Fixitor anyways. Interesting thing, the Lion engine was a W-block 12 cyl engine – far earlier than VW tooting their horn about building a W-block 16 a few years back. Look at the mechanical design work though – what a beauty.

    • Sean

      Okay, that green/gold W12 Napier is just plain mechanical porn.

          • Sean

            To clarify, it was a Napier in 1903 for the British GP held in Ireland… But Ireland is the “root” of the green. 🙂

          • m-fine

            I believe the Irish were part of the British Empire until the 20’s, although I guess that can be a sore subject.

          • m-fine

            Upon further review, the Napier car of 1902 was already green before it won the British the right to host in 1903 in Ireland, so I go back to my original statement that Napier is the root of British racing green, whether or not you consider Ireland to be British at the time.

        • Sean

          Politics aside, I simply meant that the RAC adopted BRG for their National sporting colour as a Thank-You to the Irish.

          Not necessarily because the team that was responsible for the event used a Napier (in a green livery). Which was a happy coincidence.

  5. m-fine

    I don’t think Napier had any decent sized engines as of 1900. Everything I can think of pre 1905 or so was pretty small and weak, or steam. Things progressed rapidly in the second half of the decade and into WWI, but I am at a loss for a large race engine for that boat.

    Could it have been a steam powered racer?

  6. Greg Lewandowski

    It will take some power to push what appears to be that diplacement hull through the water at any great speed.

  7. Alex

    Someone needs to tell that Royal Floatilla they’re all driving on the wrong side of the Thames.

  8. Alex

    Wint (and Peter), thank you so much for sharing this story with us. What a treat to read about and see such a rare and shapely boat.

    Eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s engine unveiling.

    Cheers!

  9. Texx

    You guys are getting close on the powerplant.

    Let’s just say you are on the dance floor but can barely hear the music…

    • m-fine

      Are we talking about the original circa 1900 powerplant? Also, how close is circa? By 1905-1906 there are a lot more suitable possibilities than 1900-1901.

  10. m-fine

    If it weren’t for the exhaust visible in the header I might make my next guess an electric power plant. Common at the time and a good play on “shocked” from Texx’s first comment today. Hmmm.

    On the dance floor……

    • Texx

      m-fine (aka: vintage boat detective)

      Tomorrow we will reveal the shocking news on the remarkable English power plant…

  11. brian t

    Back to the drawing board since Napier appears to be the wrong engine…. Rats.

    There are many choices then. Coventry-Simplex (later Coventry-Climax) built small engines early on but their usage was mainly to produce electricity. Lister had the Lister Safety Petrol engine in 1909 which makes them too late. Crossley pioneered the first 4-stroke engine way back in 1876 so there is a chance that they had something large and powerful enough to get Fixitor up to a good clip. British Polar had 2-stoke diesels which were very powerful as well but I’m not sure they could produce speed.

    Wolseley teamed up with Vickers Armaments in 1901 and from 1904 had horizontal opposed engines with over 20hp and by 1913 they were the largest car manufacturer in England. A maybe.

    But I guess my new choice is perhaps the Coastal Motor boats / Thornycraft. Thornycraft by 1910 had a 120hp, 25ft speedboat – a single step hydroplane – named the “Miranda IV”. In theory then, the Thornycraft engines had the grunt to push Fixitor up to 35 knots – if that is the correct engine.

    I am probably way off but no worries as I have learned much in the last hour.

  12. Paul H.

    Wild card engine guess – a Naptha engine?
    Not sure how it could fit if the boat had the current deck/cockpit configuration back then, but hey, it was worth a shot. I also thought of Maybach, which powered dirigibles but this boat was too early for that.

  13. Texx

    According to Wint Taylor who we communicated with from London earlier today, “Fixitor” is now capable of 15/16 knots with her current power plant.

    The gull wing hatches and electrically actuated.