A Star Re-Born: Fairey marine classic gets the Mylor Kiss of Life

Rarely has the task of restoring a classic power boat caused such a buzz among marine experts as when Stuart Sawyer’s Fairey Swordsman 40 “Freebird” was placed in the hands of Mylor Yacht Harbour’s marine engineers, shipwrights, technicians and associated craftsmen.

Fairey Swordsman 40 on sea trail in Falmouth

From Stuart Sawyer’s own boyhood dreams of being James Bond, to lead marine electrician Mark Howard’s memory of racing his radio-controlled model Swordsman as a child, to Mylor Yacht Harbour owners Roger and Dinah Graffy’s lifelong passion for the beauty and heritage of these Fairey classics – the mission involved transforming a 1960s marine icon from neglected and broken to prime condition.
The project was far from straightforward – from finding and purchasing the right boat with the understanding that both original Caterpillar C7 engines had serious issues through years of disuse – but careful management with a team of brilliant craftsmen and marine experts has got the job done with spectacular results, Covid 19 notwithstanding.

As an “in the blood” waterman Stuart’s previous power of choice has been the wind which has propelled him through a world-class sailing and windsurfing career. But when it came to seeking out a boat for his whole family “Freebird” with its classic lines appealed to everyone – despite her mouldy decks, oil filled bilges and rotting mast.

“I love that Fairey represents the best of British classic design, for both sailing and motor craft,” says Stuart. “Their commitment to performance and seakeeping remains timeless even today, with Sir Richard Fairey founding the firm around his passion for aviation and boats in the 1940s and his son producing the first motor cruisers in the 1960s as a fan of off-shore racing.

“I knew through friends and colleagues that Mylor Yacht Harbour’s Marine Team do a fantastic job. The engineers at Mylor had just re-powered Arrow, Falmouth Harbour Commission’s Pilot boat, and done a great job – so Mylor was top of my list for works.”

Mylor’s owner Roger Graffy confirms it was exactly the kind of project Mylor wants to be involved in: “As a child of the 60’s I have always loved these boats and it was daunting, but also a welcome challenge, to have one coming to Mylor Yacht Harbour for such major works. Freebird is an exceptional boat and I know I speak for everyone at Mylor in expressing our pride in our involvement in this special project.”

A survey confirmed the vessel was suffering from lack of use, care and maintenance, but sea trials in the Carrick Roads off Falmouth exposed major issues with the engines and the dawning that they would need to be replaced.
The Freebird “project” encapsulated the depth of skill and knowledge within Mylor’s Marine Team and also their willingness to collaborate with a vessel’s owners and other experts in the field.

Over a period of four months Mylor’s engineering manager, Nathan Percival worked closely alongside Stuart, while lead engineer Chris Powell headed up all the engineering works which included the sourcing of the new Caterpillar C7.1 engines and the difficult task of fitting them into the vessel. Due to the classic design of the Fairey Swordsman 40, modifications had to be made to the engine beds and mounts to ensure they fitted like a glove and, having been sat dormant for a while, the fuel systems were fully cleaned to ensure optimum performance which is always good practice for any vessel. Then, to complete the installation, new exhausts were fitted.

“The biggest challenge was fitting a modern version of the original Caterpillar engines into a slim classic design,” says Chris Powell. “To keep the heritage and the distinctive Swordsman ‘sound’ we supplied two new 455hp Caterpillar C7.1 engines but they are slightly deeper than the originals, so we had to redesign, modify and rebuild the engine bearers and mount points to accommodate them.”

Mylor marine engineers fitting new engines into Freebird    ylor Engineer's carefully fitting the new Caterpillar engines into Fairey Swordsman

Attention to detail and authenticity was key: with the main dashboard and cockpit control panels rusted and missing buttons, Mylor managed to find the original supplier and arranged for new panels to be cut and powder coated to maintain the original look and feel as Stuart ‘insisted on having the look and feel of the original analogue guages’ – which meant integrating the new engines’ LCD control panels and a modern chartplotter around them.

As an approved service and sales dealership for world-leading marine electronics firm Raymarine, the Marine Team installed an Axiom 9 control system and AIS 700 chartplotter. To ensure the Axiom’s “look” was in keeping with the Swordsman’s classic style, Mylor Yacht Harbour’s lead electrician Mark Howard managed to source the original style white and chrome analogue dials to replace the digital controls of the new Cat engines.

The work held a special place in the heart of Mark who says, “I’ve still got the radio-controlled model of a Swordsman I raced as a kid and it’s great to be working on Freebird, making sure her looks are just as good as her performance – I have loved it.”

While the Mylor Marine Team focussed on the engines and electrics, Stuart asked local marine tradesmen Tim Seaman from Formation Marine and carpenter Rob Holdroff to work on the exterior repairs and interior fit-out respectively, completely restoring the external lockers, teak decks, topsides, structure and mast and fitting out all interior lockers, berths, galley, hull fittings and heads.
Stuart says,
“The restoration of Freebird was great to watch unfold: it was a real bonus having such a connected Cornish team who genuinely wanted to work on her, all interested in every aspect of the refurbishment and delivering real craftsmanship and high quality as the classic boat started to shine though again.”

Freebird was re-launched on 18th August with the Graffys joining the owner to put her through her paces (she opens up to an adrenalin-filled 34 knots) – and Roger declaring her boathandling as an “absolute dream”.

Freebird in the hoist ready for launch at Mylor Yacht Harbour
She lived up to the Sawyer family’s hopes in every way as they tested out her peak performance and luxurious creature comforts during autumn trips and overnights around the Carrick Roads and the secluded Helford River.
Now Freebird is wintering back at Mylor Yacht Harbour – with Stuart’s racing yacht Black Dog joining her for some winter TLC from the Marine Team ahead of busy seasons on the water in 2021.