Restoration of Unicorn K756


My love affair with the Unicorn “A” Class catamaran started in 1975, when I was just 16.  I had learned to sail in the early 1970’s in a ‘Poole AB’ sailing dinghy, which was basically a smaller version of the Mirror.  In fact, being keen to progress, I had just helped to build a Mirror with my brother and Dad, and we raced her at the Ayr Bay Sailing Club on the Firth of Clyde.

The Commodore of Ayr Bay SC, the late Raymond Lewis, had managed to attract the Scottish Single Handed Sailing Championships to our humble wee club, and my best friend and I were asked to take on rescue boat duties for the weekend.  The competitors gradually started appearing early on Saturday morning.  A Firefly, some Phantoms, Toppers, OK‘s, and various other similar dinghies were all getting rigged in the car park next to the beach.

…and then they appeared!  I’d never seen anything like it.  Three absolutely stunning Unicorns, being towed on trailers that seemed too wide to be on the open road!  Stuart Buchanan, Hamish Ramsay, and another chap had all driven over from the Royal Tay Yacht Club at Broughty Ferry, Dundee, with “Double Trouble”, “Banana Split” and a 3rd Unicorn I can’t recall the name of.  I think it was something like “Revolution”, but it’s over 35 years ago now, so I can’t be sure.  We had a fantastic weekend, including the spectacle of one of them (possibly Hamish?) pitchpoling, and then flying through the air in front of his boat.  Unfortunately he split a hull and had to retire.  Raymond, our Commodore, was also a freelance journalist, and I’ve still got the fading yellowish photos from the local paper.  (see photos 1 & 2)

Being a teenager, my sailing career continued on a ‘shoestring’ but my brother and I managed to progress to a Fireball and then a 505 before we went our separate ways to university.  Whilst at university I longed for a Unicorn but couldn’t see how I could get my hands on one.  I used to pass the former Troon Sailing Club on the train and noticed a rather sad looking Unicorn (K434) called “Top Cat”.  The port hull was completely red and the starboard one completely green.

I approached the club but they said that they had no record of the owner and that she’d been sitting there for several years.  There was no trampoline, but the mast, sail, cross beams, etc, were all stored in the club shed.  The club asked me for a donation (£60, I recall) and she was mine.  A friend helped me get her back to Mum & Dad’s house in Ayr, but unfortunately the hulls turned out to be waterlogged and beyond repair.  However, I’d also noticed an “Australis” A Class catamaran sitting in the dinghy park, with fibreglass hulls, wooden decks, daggers, rudders, cross beams, trampoline, and a broken mast, so I returned to the club.  You’ve guessed it, …another £60 donation to the club and I’d acquired another “A” Class Cat.  I spent a few months repairing the Australis and used the Unicorn rig to get us on the water.  For 2 or 3 years I enjoyed exhilarating sailing from the Ayr Yacht Club (it was fun dodging the fishing boats as I tacked my way out of the harbour!) in my A Class ‘mongrel’, which I called “Two’s Company”.  (see photos 3 & 4)  The Australis design emerged in the late 60’s but disappeared fairly quickly as the Unicorn and others became more popular.  Despite the fact that I last sailed her in 1981, I’ve still got her but she needs a lot of work to get back on the water.

My sailing came to an end when I emigrated with my new wife Valerie to South Africa.  When we returned to Scotland we got jobs on the east coast where we moved around a bit before settling in a lovely wee village just outside St Andrews.  I got involved in many other things and sailing became a distant memory.  However, in 2004 I felt the urge to get back on the water, but decided that I wanted to bring an old Unicorn back to life in the process.

I found K756 on the internet one night and phoned her owner, a sailing instructor from the Lake District.  He’d only had her for one season, but wanted to get back to monohulls.  She was built by Trowbridge & Sons, and came with a measurement certificate and lots of original receipts and paperwork, including Bob Dorks’ and Vic Croft’s book, “Unicorn Technology”.  Her name was “Banana Split Too” and I’ve tried to find out if there was any connection with “Banana Split” (the Unicorn I saw at Ayr Bay in 1975) but haven’t come up with anything.  She was basically dry and sound, but the paintwork was very rough and the tramps were made out of heavy plywood!!  (see photos 5 & 6)  The road trailer was also very rusty, and I wondered if we’d make it back up to Scotland in one piece!  …but we did.

As with all such restoration work, a job which I thought would take me a year or so, turned out to be 3 years.  Mind you, I only dabbled at it and had long periods away from it, but I must say the wait was worth it, and I’m delighted with the result.

After removing the decks I strengthened the hulls with extra bulkheads, since I was more interested in structural strength than racing lightness, and I coated the inside of the hulls and the undersides of the new decks with several coats of paint.  I had to rebuild one of the rear beam saddles, and replace the rear beam using a section from a broken mast I acquired from someone at St Andrews Sailing Club.  The front beam had been thickly painted with black gloss (yuck!) and so I spent some time carefully removing the paint and polishing the aluminium.  New tramps were required, but I was reluctant to have them made for me (must be the thrifty Scot in me!) so I bought heavy duty tramp mesh from a dealer in Southampton and made them up myself using a sailmakers needle and black whipping twine.  The beauty of the heavy duty mesh is that you can line up the holes in it and simply pass the needle though the gaps.  It turned out to be quite a long job, but I’m happy with the result, even although I don‘t think it strictly meets the class rules. (see photos 7 to 12)

On 12 August 2007 we finally hit the water.  (see photos 13 to 16).  Life has a funny way of working in cycles, and the club I joined was the Royal Tay Yacht Club, (which is where the 3 Unicorns that first ‘blew me away’ in 1975 came from).  Sadly there were no Unicorns left at the club in 2007.  The last one was “Glasgow Kiss” (K1084), which went south a year or 2 earlier.  I’ve seen the photos of her on the website and it looks like she’s gone to a good home!  However, the chap who sold K1084 now sails a superb “A” Class cat, and Stuart Buchanan and Hamish Ramsay (2 of the chaps from 1975) sailed a Hurricane together but they‘ve recently called ‘cat sailing’ a day and now share a keelboat.

It was a reasonably gentle breeze for our first outing, and therefore I was happy to leave the trapeze till later on.  However, she turned out to be beautifully balanced and showed a good turn of speed with the windward hull just starting to fly.  I savoured the feeling of being back on the water with such a beautiful classic boat from my youth.  I’ve not been able to get on the water as much as I’d like over the past 5 seasons and am now based at St Andrews SC.  Nevertheless, my daughters come sailing with me and they are happy to take the helm.  They’ve not been out on the wire yet, but maybe next season?

2 or 3 years ago I received a phonecall from someone who’d got to hear about my restoration of K756.  He said that he had Unicorn K169 (called Easy Action), which he bought over 20 years ago as a project after she’d been pitchpoled, but he’d never quite managed to get round to doing anything with her.  To cut a long story short, I‘m now the owner of Easy Action  …but she‘s still in my garage waiting for restoration!!

This article is clearly more of a trip down memory lane rather than a technical article on restoration, but I hope you’ve found it interesting.

To capitalise on all this Unicorn nostalgia, by pure coincidence the Royal Tay Yacht Club published some photos a few days ago in their photo gallery under the title “Blast from the past”.  It’s about the guys who inspired me at Ayr Bay SC in 1975, when they were actually building their boats in 1973!!  You can find it at …

All the best for a great sailing season in 2012...

Alistair Clyne - St Andrews

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