“The history of PHEON YACHTS LTD"
written by Pete Wheeldon owner of "Market Lady" (Vancouver 32)
A BLUE WATER CRUISING YACHTS
The History of PHEON YACHTS LTD
Vancouver 27 and
Vancouver 32 can be described as, nothing less than icons in the
yachting world. Both vessels, from the drawing board of the same designer
- Robert B Harris of Canada - are yachts that have stood the test of time,
truly deserving the accolade so often bestowed upon them of being …….
“THE ULTIMATE CRUISING YACHTS”
Many of these beautiful yachts are still sailing far and wide, some after more than thirty years. Though sadly no longer built by the original builder - Pheon Yachts Ltd - the Vancouvers are still built today, by Northshore Yachts, the company who have always supplied the moulded hulls.
The chemistry that came together to create the birth of these yachts, itself provides a story. It was in the early sixties that a family man, living in Sevenoaks and earning his living from what would now be described as “The Recycling Trade”, set about building in his back garden a 19ft gaff rigged bilge keeler. There was no other reason in his mind at this time, other than for his own family to enjoy sailing in their own boat. She was named “Pheon”, later to be known affectionately by the family as “Little Pheon“. Who knows, but this may well have been the initial spark, which in 1972, encouraged this man, John Dandridge, together with his wife Peggy, to set up a business near Newhaven, building yachts. The company was called “Pheon Yachts Ltd” after their much loved “Little Pheon”. From the very beginning the company was built by grit and determination to see the job through, a facet demonstrated by the whole family throughout the company’s existence. There had to be an enclosed unit to start building, so an old scout hut was demolished, and the salvaged materials used to erect a large shed, in a quarry at South Heighton. The plan was to build custom built “Hurleys”, the shed being large enough to accommodate the “Hurley 38”
The very first
yacht fitted out, a “Hurley 24” could so easily have seen the demise of
the company, for no sooner had it been completed than the Hurley company
went into liquidation. Pheon Yachts was commencing business during a
great growth period in the yachting industry, yet ironically at one of
the most difficult, economically - who can forget the power strikes and
three day weeks of the early seventies! Undeterred, John looked for an
alternative design and soon commenced work on a 20ft Vagrant, building
it as a cold moulded, one-off yacht.
It was during the construction of the Vagrant that John Dandridge demonstrated amazing insight. He read in a magazine about a yacht, designed by a Canadian designer - Robert B Harris - for a couple, who wanted to sail from their home in Seattle, to New Zealand. The criteria demanded by the couple, it had to be small enough to be easily handled, yet tough enough to take anything that could be thrown at it. The design was called ‘The Vancouver 27‘. All John knew about the yacht was what he saw before him, a magazine write up and a small side outline line drawing of the hull and rig, yet instinctively, his canny sense for recognizing a winner came to the fore, his heart jumped as he shouted, probably to the alarm of the rest of the family, “That’s the boat for me”. He immediately knew, this was the boat he wanted to build, so contacted the designer requesting permission to build one in Britain. I wonder if like John, Bob also recognised a winner, for no sooner had the request been made, than Pheon Yachts Ltd were granted the rights to build for all Europe. Stopping work on the Vagrant, John immediately threw himself into building a cold moulded Vancouver 27 in the shed at South Heighton, at the same time advertising it in Yachting World. The response was immediate and very quickly Vancouver 01, later to be named “Strider” was being built for a Dutch client.
John with cap and pipe aboard "Strider",
the beginning of a legend
that was being aroused in this new yacht was immense, and it soon became
very clear that wooden one-offs were not going to work. The future lay in
GRP. “Strider’s” launch coincided with the completion of the plug for GRP
construction, but whilst she sailed beautifully she was found to be a
little too tender and had a tendency to roll a bit too much. Bob Harris,
who had flown over to see the new plug, on being told of the problem with
“Strider”, suggested adding three inches to the beam at the waterline to
make her stiffer. The advice came in the nick of time. The plug was
altered, using quite a few buckets full of P38 car body filler, the
result, the distinctive and much loved sea hugging tumblehome, found only
on UK built Vancouvers.