by Bill Buchan

This guide to buying an older Star and making it competitive is a result of a project which I took on in 2004. With the recent increase in interest in renovating older Stars I thought the various considerations involved in finding an older boat worthy of refurbishing and what is involved in renovating it would be of interest to others.

Early in 2004 I went through a refurbishing of the last boat that I built, #7260. Admittedly, it isn't all that old, being built in 1988, but boats do get tired with age and need a certain amount of refurbishing after years of use. “Old Faithful” was purchased from its Canadian owner for less than $5000 US.

I stripped the boat down completely and repainted the boat inside and out. While in the process of rebuilding the boat I thought that maybe I could get better performance with a new keel, so I flew in a new keel from Folli.

One of the thoughts about the Folli keels is that if the keel is as close as possible to the final shape then less filler is needed to achieve the desired keel shape. This means that the overall density of the keel is greater than one which uses filler to achieve the final keel shape and thus has more righting moment when the boat is in the water.

One of the recent trends in setting up Star boats is to have more weather helm than we used to have. In reattaching the keel to #7260 I am trying the maximum-forward position in order to create more weather helm. I was of course concerned about how this change would affect the boat’s performance. I have been sailing the boat for the last two seasons, including at the 2005 North American Championships in Marina del Rey, and I feel that the change has indeed made an improvement in the boat’s performance.

Chris Rogers and Bill Buchan setting up “Old Faithful”, #7260, during the 1992 World’s

The following are some thoughts and suggestions that have occurred to me to help those that might wish to take on a refurbishing project: 

1. I urge you to only consider a glass boat if you have any intention of racing and winning in a competitive fleet as, for the reason given below, they are just plain faster. If your primary goal is to have a fulfilling project to bring back something of beauty to its original or better than original condition, then by all means go for it, even though it might be a “woodie”, but don’t expect to be competitive with the newer series glass boats.

2. In going with the glass boat, it is absolutely necessary that the bond between the skin and the core is sound and that the hull hasn’t picked up any weight. As well, there shouldn’t be any cracking except perhaps at the deck edge where a reinforcement and repair is relatively easy.

3. Boats built prior to 1980 most likely will not have a keel that is competitive, especially off the wind. I have found other builders to be willing to sell me their keels. The problem is shipping the keel. I would suggest airfreight. Removing a keel and installing the new one is no picnic but it isn’t as difficult as it might seem. If you are not up to the task, your local boat builder should be able to give you an estimate of the cost. The weight of the keel will, of course, need to be certified and the various keel measurements checked by a Class measurer so that your Measurement Certificate can be brought up to date.

4. As for the hull shape, it appears to me that not much has changed in the last 30 years or so.[1] If what I hear is correct, the current Lillia, for instance, which is certainly competitive, is basically the same shape as what they were building in the early 1970’s. This would lead me to believe that the Gerards, Lippincotts and Duplins, as well as the boats that I built would be fine with regard to their design. Once again, the hull must be in good shape as nothing would be more discouraging than repairing a hull that has delamination or water in the core. Even though I built many successful boats that utilized balsa in some areas of the hull, I would avoid those boats unless they are surveyed extra carefully. Again, weight gain would be a tip off that there is a problem.

5. Boats of the vintage that we would be dealing with, even though they might be glass, will most certainly need to be faired and painted. It is important that enough of the original finish is sanded off so that a minimum of weight is added.

Weight in the ends of the boat

The weight in the ends issue of course started with the early glass boats that were built by Lippincott that seemed strangely fast when their wooden boats hadn't been that competitive. As a point of interest, I called Bob Lippincott prior to the 1968 Olympic Trials to purchase one of their boats as there were rumors of their speed in the hands of sailors that until then hadn't been going all that well. Needless to say, they couldn't take care of me so I was confronted with being a glass boat builder myself, which of course is what I did for the next season. As to when the lightness went to another level, I can't say for sure, but I'd say it was in the mid to late 80's, meaning boats of the 7200 to 7400 series.

It should be mentioned that for quite some time now builders have been squeezing out as much of the resin as possible, mainly through vacuum bagging, creating what is termed a “dry lay-up” in which the fiberglass cloth appears to be dry. The weight of the resulting lay-up has remained fairly constant over the years, at about 0.7 lbs. per square foot. While the Star Class specifications read “The weight per unit area of any part of the hull, including a representative portion of any structure required to stiffen the surface, must equal or exceed 8.8 kg/m² (1.7 lbs/ft²),” note that this includes structural elements. The 0.7 lbs/ft² is just the foam core with glass and gel coat. The point here is that over the last 20 years or so there has been very little change in the weight at the ends due to construction techniques.

From time to time, a swing test or something similar has been brought up as a way to control the situation but so far nothing seems practical, at least as something that could be done at a regatta. How this affects the practicality of the old boats versus the new is somewhat immaterial as the club level sailor sails primarily in smooth water anyway and the difference only really shows up in ocean, open water, conditions. It's certainly something that needs to be considered though, if the prospective purchaser of the older boat plans on racing in the "big time".

In summary, I would say that for a relatively modest sum of money and a lot of hard work, it is possible for someone to have a boat capable of competing against anyone, anywhere. The candidates are out there. With a little research you might very well find something really special.

(Editor’s note: Bill started building Stars at the age of 13 in 1948 with the help of his father. For a history of Bill’s boat building career see the article “Buchan Boats” which appeared in the March, 2001, issue of Stardust and is available on the Star Class website. Bill used his boats to win three World’s Championships (1961, 1970, 1985) and an Olympic Gold medal (1984). Bill has been a member of the Technical Committee, now the Technical Advisory Board, since 1979 and was its chairman from 1996 through 1998.)


Bill Buchan with his refurbished Star #7260, “Old Faithful”

[1]A builder has to take into consideration the fact that the hull shrinks as it cures. A boat built in a mold built to the correct measurements will not measure in because of this. Thus, the hull mold has to be built somewhat larger. Further, depending on the way the hull was laid up it will shrink in various directions which are not completely predictable until after the fact. The tolerances in the Table of Limitations attempt to allow for the result of vagaries due to shrinkage. However, given that the tolerances are now in a fairly narrow range and have been since the Table of Limitations was revised in 1977 and again in the late 1980’s it is questionable that there is much difference in terms of potential boat speed by taking the hull to the maximum or minimum dimensions at the various measurement points.