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by Kelly Trafford - Toronto, Ontario - Canada

The Restoration of Mirror 14364

I first learned to sail back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when the Mirror Dinghy was at its height in growth and popularity. It seemed like you couldn’t go to any body of water without seeing one of these little boats with their bright red sails. This was at a time before sailboats regularly had sails that were any colour but white so they really stood out.

The design always intrigued me – a small sailboat you could build yourself from a kit – one that you could row or even put a small outboard on! And one that was very actively raced – complete with a main, a jib AND a spinnaker! This boat was one of the original stitch and glue designs making its debut in 1963 at the London Boat Show. It was designed by well-known designer Jack Holt and TV DIY expert Barry Bucknell at the request of The Daily Mirror newspaper. The boat came in kit form and cost 62 British Pounds complete with sails. The Mirror measures in at 10’ 10” but is “big for its size” given the pram bow. It utilizes a gunter rig – a great overall compromise – especially for the home builder as it keeps the spars short – no fancy mast building techniques required – full length lumber in one piece makes each of the spars. The other bonus is that the spars all fit within the length of the boat. Easy to store too. This new style of stitch and glue boat building and the attractive price coupled with the promotion of The Daily Mirror made this very popular with the working man. To date close to 80,000 Mirrors have been built making it one of the most popular sailboats in history.

Back in about 1968 or 69 my father took my brother and I out to Seagull Sailboats in Toronto to look the kits over one day. My father chose to go with a larger boat for our family of 4 – the Albacore (another British design). I used to “sail” it in the driveway when it was on the trailer – had imaginary pirates walking the plank – the whole deal. I was about 5 years old and my legs were pretty short. One day as I was hiking in the driveway my feet came out from under the straps and I did a perfect aerial somersault backwards out of the boat – I’m sure it would’ve been quite the show if anyone else had been there to see it. Luckily there wasn’t – a pirate has to retain his cool factor after all…

Anyway after building a fair number of stitch and glue boats myself over the years – kayaks, small sailboats etc, I still hadn’t forgotten about the Mirror. I began trolling around for an old one to restore. I’d been making regular visits to the Ontario Mirror Dinghy Association website and one day I saw an ad for an old Mirror (#14364). The owner was offering it for free to anyone that could/would fix it up and get it sailing again. This sounded like it was right up my alley so I contacted the lady and made an appointment to go down and see the boat – she warned me that it was in need of “significant restoration” – (sounded like it was one step beyond the more commonly used “needs a little TLC” which can mean anything from a good cleaning and re-varnishing to replacing the hull…).

I swung by the lady’s house after work and you could tell she kind of hated to let it go but she also didn’t want to see her husband’s hard work just rot away – he’d passed away a few years before and there were doubtless many memories tied up in the old boat. I think at that point if the rudder was the only thing left of it I would’ve promised to rebuild a boat around it for her…

After 45 years it was indeed in need of some work. The boat had been sitting in the lady’s garden upside down so while the exterior was rough the interior was pretty good…

The first job was to strip the boat down to the bare wood to see what kind of shape it truly was in. I started off with a heat gun and a paint scraper. It was working but it was taking forever - there were quite a few coats of paint on the hull.

I soon switched to a small angle grinder with a sanding disk on it and it made the job go a lot faster – although a LOT dustier. Gotta take the good with the bad I guess.

Once I had the paint all stripped off it was time to assess things, there was some serious rot that needed to be looked after.

Undaunted (well okay - maybe I was little daunted) I began cutting out large parts of the boat. I had lots of scraps of good marine grade plywood kicking around from other projects so I cut out patches, beveled the edges of the patch and the hull and glued them in place.

I replaced the top half of the transom as it was really rough. Most of the corners of the boats needed replacing as well as numerous other smaller patches throughout the hull.

The original butt joint required a sizeable patch as did the bottom on the starboard side.

I chose to fiberglass the hull as I intended to use the boat for cruising and felt that the extra strength and abrasion resistance in the hull would be nice on the rocky shores. The red paint job makes it faster of course, making up for the extra weight of the fiberglass – I know all the tricks.

The old Mirror got finished up with a little help from my son and sailed again late last summer – what a great little boat. I re-launched it with my father, the man who taught me to sail and build boats so many years ago. I sent the lady I got the boat from a bunch of photos of the restoration process and the re-launch and she was thrilled to see the boat back in the water.

It still needs some finishing work and it certainly isn’t a showpiece but then again it’s out there sailing again!

The lady’s son was really moved by the fact that his father’s boat was sailing again and that I’d taken the time to send them photos. He sent me the following:



There is a Mirror between Us

there is a picture of a man and boy and a boat
a happy memory that speaks of the best of times within a family
this good father had built the boat that sailed so well
and his happy son was discovering his joy for sailing
good memories indeed

as time had turned to the present
much time had gone by
the old man's beloved dinghy had come into disrepair
our little boat needed a new home
there is a mirror between us, for .....

there are pictures of a man, his father and a boy
and a boat, the same boat as before
these happy pictures are in the now
of a boat that sailed so well
magnificently restored
with such care and skill
by a man and his family
good memories indeed

this little boat had a wonderful past
and now has a wonderful future
and these are reflections between two families
in a mirror
a Mirror dinghy

Made me start looking for another one to save…

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