Taipan

18 foot skiff designed and built by Bob Miller/ Ben Lexcen 1959

Restoration Team 1991

Shipwrights: Bob Mcleod, Simon Sadubin
Apprentice shipwrights: Troy Lawrence, David Wallace
Sailmaker: Bob Hamilton
Signwriting: Howard Lambourne
Historical advisors and Rigging: Carl Ryves, Dick Sargent
Conservation Report : Michael Staples
Curator – Research / Drafting : David Payne

What we did

TAIPAN is a revolutionary lightweight plywood and timber 18 foot skiff. This boat changed the evolution of 18 footers. They became efficient lightweight planing hulls. The modern 18 foot skiff is directly linked to the TAIPAN. Even more amazingly, Ben Lexcen’s development of the winged keel as used on the America’s Cup winning 12 metre yacht Australia 11, was first conceived and trialled in the form of endplates used on the centreboard and rudder of TAIPAN in 1959.

TAIPAN is a part of the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum
(ANMM). By 1995, the hull of TAIPAN had survived 36 years. Remarkably almost all of the hull skin is original. The restoration of TAIPAN happened because of a chance discussion between Carl Ryves ( a life long friend of Ben Lexcen) and Simon Sadubin. Carl was toying with the idea of building a replica of TAIPAN, as a tribute to Ben. Simon mentioned that the original hull was stored in the large object store at the ANMM, and Carl was amazed that the boat had survived at all.

Carl and Alysoun swung into gear and organised a fund raiser for TAIPAN. Before long the ANMM was able to proceed with a detailed restoration of the hull, and a recreated sail plan. A condition report was prepared for the museum by Michael Staples. It was valuable because it clearly identified the many layers that had been added to the original hull. It differentiated between what was original structure and what was not. The ANMM trolled through its extensive Ben Lexcen archives and found hundreds of photographs, line drawings, and articles related to TAIPAN and his later 18 footer, VENOM. All of this was collated and examined. Curator David Payne was then responsible for drawing up detailed construction plans of TAIPAN as she was originally constructed in 1959. All of the details were lifted off original photographs, and original drawings. These plans are now available through the ANMM to anyone who wants to build a replica of this revolutionary skiff.

SWB undertook the conservation of the original hull, and then replicating all the missing structure – the deck, centreboard case, rudder, spars, and handmade fittings. Shipwright Bob Mcleod was employed. Bob had served his time with Billy Barnett in his Berry’s Bay boatshed. Bob had also built and sailed his own TAIPAN clones in the 1960’s notably the BANDIT, so he was the perfect man for the job. Simon provided the museum approach where original structure was carefully conserved. All original material had to be preserved. The interior bow section of TAIPAN was perfectly preserved inside a later added buoyancy tank. Much of the varnish in this region was intact and could be carefully sanded and refinished with a couple of topcoats. Later additions had to be very carefully peeled back and removed, without damaging the original structure.

All the materials used in the conservation and restoration of the hull, and replicating the missing structure, sails and fittings use the same materials as the original build. All the fittings sourced are period 1960 Ronstan or Field Instrument COmpany (FICO) fittings. All of the handmade fittings are replicas of the originals – complete with drilled lightning holes.

Carl Ryves and Dick Sargent assisted in drawing up original details such as early venturi bailers and also assisted with the rigging of the spars. The mast-head fly was hand made by Carl in exactly the same manner as the original using a weighted birds feather.

The sails were replicas of the originals with the same cloth layouts, beautifully made by Bob Hamilton a well known Brisbane Sailmaker and contemporary of Lexcen. The famous sail insignia of a striking Taipan was copied off photographs.

One of the nicest moments of the TAIPAN project was when Signwriter Howard Lambourne, a personal friend of Ben Lexcen visited the Chowder Bay Boatshed and hand painted the boats name on the side of her hull, in exactly the same manner as he had done 48 years earlier. It was the finishing touch to a fantastic project.

TAIPAN was relaunched at Clifton Gardens in 2007. The original rescorcinol glued, plywood hull is still strong enough to sail with sparkling ease. Her crew that day were: John Bertand (Skipper), Carl Ryves ( mainsheet), Dick Sargent

( for’rard). All three came off TAIPAN with grins from ear to ear.

Carl said – “she is just wonderful, effortless speed”