Cheers 1967-2006

The first Atlantic Proa in history was imagined,designed and constructed by Dick Newick.

Cheers was relaunched at Port Saint Louis (south of France) after being fully restored by Vincent Besin and friends.

For Vincent Besin at all started in 1968 when he discovered offshore sailing aboard the Pen Duick III ,he soon learned that the future of offshore racing would be turned upside down by a new approach to naval architecture.

In 1968 at the start of the Ostar (Observer single handed Trans-Atlantic race) there were many different architectural designs offered, from the classic to the crazy, The race itself came for the imagination of Blondie Hasler in the hope that new ideas in marine equipment would materialize. Side by side in the basin of Milbay dock, Cheers and Hasler's Jester expressed the creativity sought by the founders of the race.

Cheers was designed and built in 1967 in the Virgin islands, to participate and hopefully win the OSTAR in 1968. To design this champion, Dick Newick took up the idea of the South Pacific island proa to create a strong, light structure capable of being sailed fast by one person in almost any weather.Two masts spread the sail area, making the boat easier to self steer when the solo skipper was sleeping. All possible weight was kept on the windward hull to maximize sail carrying power. Modern technology of the time was combined with hundreds of years of native experimentation by the ingenuity of Dick Newick to create a new class of vessel named the Atlantic Proa. Due to the ability of the hull to be sailed in both directions only one outrigger was required, resulting in a major increase in power and speed with a reduction in weight and cost. This was turned into reality and was launched in 1967, sailed from the Virgin Islands to Plymouth (England) by Tom Follet, ready to participate in the OSTAR. The race committee had previously discouraged this radical entry after hearing about a capsize on a trial sail. Tom's uneventful 27 days passage to England, was combined with approving survey by a respected surveyor dispelled their concern. Cheers was accepted, given a race number of 41. She and her captain Tom Follet finished in third place overall, first in the multihull category, this was a monumental achievement for such a small vessel. Amongst other accolades her achievement was officially recognised as a historic event by the French government. There were 35 starters and 18 finishers.

In 1999 Nelie and Vincent cruised the Mediterranean in there Dick Newick Designed trimaran "Tricia", when Nelie discovered the Proa and thought that it would be a lot more fun to sail than the Trimaran. The couple visited the "Conservatoire de la plaisance" in Bordeaux were the vessel laid unrecognized and forgotten and in urgent need of more than just a good coat of paint. On further investigation it was discovered that most of the structure and hulls were rotten, this historical vessel was left in the water and neglected for more than thirty years, resulting in the need to be completely rebuilt. Both being doctors they viewed this situation as they would view an injured child prodigy. Nelie simply said, "we must take care of her" Vincent in turn planned and organized the rescue operation.

We would like everyone to understand that our passion for saving Cheers was born of the wonderful experiences aboard our trimaran (a Dick Newick design), and of a strong friendship forged with the inspired and delightful Richard Newick, whose designs were victorious from 1968 to 1984 and still gain the top positions in there respective classes, even though there are a few decades old!

The 16th of march 2000 Nelie and Vincent Besin become official owners of the vessel. The 31st of January 2001 she was declared a national monument, and in 2002 when all finances were in place aided by the ministry of culture work commenced.

The major problem to overcome was that the hulls were originally built on a wooden mold which created a smooth egg shell like form without ribs or bulkheads, and the plans were not precise enough to work by due to the fact that the original plans were no longer available.

The different stages of work necessary for the project were as follows:

  1. The plans, without the original plans we had to trace the boat point by point, then transfer measurements on to pieces of plywood in our workshop to enable us to have accurate measurements when needed.
  2. The female mold, the vessel was made using an eggshell design which has no need for ribs or bulkheads, a female mold is require so the vessel can be dissembled without losing its form.
  3. Remove all of the rotten wood from inside.
  4. Construction of a male mold inside the existing hull, braces every 20cm (8 inches) and ribs every 10cm (3 inches) to be able to consolidate the wreck, to turn over it, remove the rot from the hull, and to finally start epoxying the 3mm mahogany strips into place 3 layers thick.
  5. Fairing and smoothing the hull with a hand plane, then adding an exterior skin of 300gr glass fiber and epoxy resin.
  6. Construction of the mold for the joining arms in sitka spruce of aviation quality, eight plies, to obtain hollow arms of 20x20 (8'x 8').
  7. Assemble the pair of arms with the two hulls.
  8. Construction of the cabin and decks on separate molds.
  9. General survey of the vessel, prepare and paint.
  10. Fit all equipment on deck.

The masts are those of origin, only miner repairs required.

When finished she looked exactly as she did at the start of the race on the 1st June 1968.

Throughout the project I could count on Dick Newick's help by way of Internet, I also had the pleasure of meeting Dick in Maine, USA, who kindly showed me the best workshop's and craftsmen that his magnificent region had to offer, also meeting Walter Green and Swifty a souvenir that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Help in France was also in abundance, Mr Daniel Charles expert for the ministry of culture, the representatives of cultural affairs in Aix en Provence, the town of Port St Louis, and finally the company's like Navy Services, Port Napoleon and Sicomin who's technical support was most crucial to the success of the project.

The 10th September 2006 Dick Newick arrived in Port st Louis du Rhône from California to help with the final touches, his experience was indispensable, threads which had been long lost would have certainly never been found without him.

The 16th September 2006 Cheers was transported to the water in exactly the same way as Dick, Jim and Tom had done in 1967 at Saint Croix (Virgin Islands). She was put on a trailer and pushed by a powerful tractor to the waters edge, accompanied by a mass of spectators who were proud to share this historic moment, like the people of Saint Croix when they knew she was leaving to the conquer the Northern Atlantic.

At the waters edge she was placed on a bed of fenders, masted and finally rolled into the water by the population of Port st Louis du Rhône after being baptized by her new godmother Rubie Besin 4 years old, who takes over from Tootie Morris godmother in 1967.

The celebrations continued in a expedition hall which was dedicated to all of Dick Newick's designs and inventions, the Atlantic Proa in the middle surrounded by photographs and models of all the praos built worldwide after Cheers, followed by a live concert of old folk music continuing late into the night.

I must say that one has seldom the conviction in life to do something of this magnitude,to save an invention of such splendor gave me enough courage and force to carry out the 5500 working hours needed to save this historical monument of the sea.

Cheers will be kept ready to sail for six month of the year, accessible to the public, in Port Saint Louis du Rhône yacht harbor.

First sea trials

Vincent Besin

December 2006

Vincent has set up a Yahoo Group with photos of all stages of the rebuilding:
praocheers: Les amis de Cheers
Dick Newick's site
A page about Cheers
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