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Thread: Cheoy Lee Mystery

  1. #1
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    Default Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Okay, this isn't really that intriguing a mystery, but it's sort of a fun exercise ... I've been on a kick recently where I want to get LOTUS (1963 Cheoy Lee Lion) a builder's plate. Assuming there was one originally, it has long since disappeared. I contacted Cheoy Lee in Hong Kong and received a quick response to my inquiries about the availability of replacements and specifics concerning Yard Numbers:

    We have some standard oval builders plaques in stock, ready to be engraved. The plaque has blank spaces to enter the yard number and year of manufacture. If you could let us know the (4-digit) yard number of your yacht, and also provide a photograph, so we can verify the type of vessel. Please also let us have a copy of any relevant documentation you have showing the hull number. We normally only issue builders plaques at the time of build. To issue one now, we need to be sure that the yacht is exactly the one that we are producing the plaque for. We have no record of the US documentation details at our office here in Hong Kong.

    The "yard number" is our own identification system for each yacht built.
    Each boat, each Lion, will have a different, specific and individual yard
    number. Yard number 657 (for example) in fact represents the 657th boat built by Cheoy Lee since this numbering system was introduced in the 1940's. We are now up to yard number 5000 (a 150' motoryacht).

    As you know, the yard number would have appeared on the builders plaque. You
    will also find that the yard number would have been written (in hand
    writing) on various components of your boat as it was being built, to tell
    our installers which boat they were destined for. For example, (possibly) on
    the bottom of drawers, pre-made cabinets etc, where they would not be
    visible once installed. If you can find any potential numbers, I will cross
    check this with our order book. That would be a reasonably conclusive
    means> of identification.

    I have attached a photo of our builders plaque for your reference.


    Best regards,
    Jonathan Cannon
    Cheoy Lee Shipyards Ltd.
    89 & 91 Hing Wah Street West
    Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong



    Which brings me to my question ... any Cheoy Lee mavens out there ever locate the hand-written yard number described above? I've poked around LOTUS, but haven't had any luck. I was thinking about contacting Lion Yachts in Connecticut to see if they had any ideas - Dave Toombs, who I believe still runs the brokerage, apparently put together the original importing operation way back when. Maybe they have some ideas ...

    Ben

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Yep. I have a Cheoy Lee Vertue, 1963, hull number 1154. I have handwritten numbers in pencil on the underside of drawers. Look for such notations on bare wood inside lockers and so on. Anything where they might have been inclined to build it in the shop and then install it later in the boat. I also have some Chinese characters here and there, such as scratched into the underside of the main companionway metal hatch runners.

    What I don't have either is a builder's plate. I've seen them. They mounted the metal place on a teak oval. My boat didn't have one and doesn't ever appear to have had one. Did Cheoy Lee give you a price for one of those suckers?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Did Cheoy Lee give you a price for one of those suckers?
    Negative. But I'm thinking it will be around $100 (I ran across another website where a guy had paid $95 for his). I'll ask.

    Interesting you should mention the metal hatch runners - I have them off at the moment, as I just finished the dynel/epoxy job on my cabintop. I'll inspect them closely for any numbers, characters, etc. I don't have any drawers on Lotus, so no luck there ...

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Does yours have one (or two) of these?


    Hull #1066, 1962, Frisco Flyer
    Hey! It's MY Hughniverse!

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Does yours have one (or two) of these?
    LOTUS has one of the dragon carvings (different shape than yours - about 6 inches from top to bottom, but about 4-5 feet wide and curved, extending across the overhead where the doghouse and cabintop meet). There are also four highly carved hanging knees (but no dragons on these).

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    I'd like to comment on how surprising it is to read such a well composed and pleasant reply.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Yeah, Gareth, but it was a Brit that replied.....the last time I was in the yard, I had trouble getting directions to the main office...
    Wakan Tanka Kici Un
    ..a bad day sailing is a heckuva lot better than the best day at work.....
    Fighting Illegal immigration since 1492....
    Live your life so that whenever you lose, you're ahead."
    "If you live life right, death is a joke as far as fear is concerned."

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    All Hong Kongese are Brit's in my opinion. I guess the ones who are good at giving directions have better paying jobs.

    Quote Originally Posted by paladin View Post
    Yeah, Gareth, but it was a Brit that replied.....the last time I was in the yard, I had trouble getting directions to the main office...

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Many of those working at the yard were from the mainland....they had a bus that took them to the gate at night.....as I recall they worked 3 or 4 day shifts, sleeping and eating at the yard, then went home for a day or two then reported back to work. It was interesting to see one or two fellows working in a small shed with nothing more than a few hand tools and a pile of lumber, making much the same thing every day....then after a month or so, moving to another job. Back then Cheoy Lee was really busy...I ended up having work done at Anthony W.K. Wongs yard adjacent to Rolly Tasker...
    Wakan Tanka Kici Un
    ..a bad day sailing is a heckuva lot better than the best day at work.....
    Fighting Illegal immigration since 1492....
    Live your life so that whenever you lose, you're ahead."
    "If you live life right, death is a joke as far as fear is concerned."

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    I went through the boat pretty carefully over the weekend - nada. Still no sign of the Yard Number scrawled anywhere.

    But then I got an email from Dave Toombs, the guy who is responsible for launching the Cheoy Lee importation craze back in 1960. I had sent him an inquiry listing the original date of import and the first owner here in the States (information I had from the title search document produced when I purchased the boat). Mr. Toombs told me all his records were destroyed by fire in 1984, but he did remember LOTUS' original owner, and suggested I see if he's still around (he was associated with MIT in Boston).

    And he provided another tantalizing clue ... he said to take a close look at the hatch frame for the lazarette. The Yard Number was sometimes carved there. One of the few places I haven't checked ... can't wait to go by the marina this evening ...

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Hi, Thank you for posting the builder's plate info. My Frisco Flyer, "Cheoyous", will hopefully be finished by next July. I was disappointed that it didn't have the plate. Never occurred to me that the yard would still sell them. Further down, in one of the replies there was a discussion of the hull numbers, which led me to finally find my boat's hull number. I'm forever grateful.
    Sincerely, Terry

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Ben, Forgot to mention before, I found my hull number on the backs of the horizontal teak slats lining the cabin.

    Terry

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    To tell the truth, I'm not sure all Cheoy Lees of the wooden era had builder's plates installed. Why, I don't know. These weren't really "production" boats, although they were built to the same lines. At first, CL built "bespoke" boats on custom orders from a selection of stock models. These were designed by well known NA's. CL built the well-known Laurent Giles Vertues, of course, but also Alden 32 motorsailors, Giles Wanderers, and, this for you trivia freaks, even Herreshoff Rozanantes... all in teak. Each hull required a "license to build" and royalty paid to the designer. Some of these were built to be sold "on spec" by various brokers in the US and the UK. All, however, were custom, so each is a bit different. If you look at the Vertues, of which a few dozen were launched, you will see quite a bit of variation. Some have the famous CL carvings (rare), some have all teak decks, some glassed ply decks, and so on. Lot's of little variations both as a result of an owner's requested options, and because they were built by hand one-off.

    CL customarily placed the builder's plate screwed to a wooden backing base on the forward bulkhead of the doghouse. Where a builder's plate is missing, I've never seen screw holes in the bulkhead which would suggest one had been present and later removed. It may well be that at times they ran out of builder's plates in stock and just didn't bother installing them.

    Eventually, CL realized that by commissioning their own proprietary designs, they could avoid the expense of paying NA's royalties. So, they started building a line of boats that replaced the existing models. A number of these were Robb designs, such as the Lion, which is a really great boat that, IMHO, has never gotten the recognition it deserves. They brought out a carvel planked Folkboat knockoff, called the "Pacific Clipper" and later another called the "Frisco Flyer," although there is some confusion between the two models, one having a Vertue-like raised/stepped doghouse.

    About this time, the late '60's, CL bit the fibreglass bug and came out with their "Offshore" series, some of which, I believe, were also Rob designs. Their Offshore 30, which sort of replaced the Vertue in their line, was actually a Herreshoff H28 with an extra strake and a stepped doghouse. (Herreshoff measured his H28 at 28' on the waterline. CL measured it at 30' between perpendiculars. Today, I guess they are advertising them as "Herreshoff 34's," since it seems people now measure boats "LOA" like a monkey measures his dick... from the end of his tail.)

    Today, CL has moved from its original yard site in Hong Kong and is across the bay or up the rivier or whatever, but in any event in Red China outside the original geographical limits of the old Hong Kong. Still turning out boats, but now, like a lot of yards, catering to the mega-yacht and commercial crowd. Sadly, the finestkind virgin Burmese teak (twenty and thirty foot long unbutted planks!) that CL used to build the boats that made them famous just doesn't exist any more and it is doubtful it will ever be available again, certain not in any of our lifetimes.
    Last edited by Bob Cleek; 10-15-2008 at 03:52 PM.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Still no luck finding Lotus' yard number. Interesting about the teak slats, Terry, but I don't think I have any ... I guess I could pull a piece of ceiling (which is just plywood on Lotus) and see if there's anything hiding under there.

    Some good CL info there, Bob. I've always thought a Cheoy Lee retrospective would make an interesting WoodenBoat magazine piece (nothing has ever been done, to my knowledge ...)

    Ben

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    I have a 1959 Lion and can offer my 2 cents. Aside from the excellent ideas already given try looking at the bottom of the slats under the berths, a few of these have the number on my boat (Terry this may be what you mentioned?). I also have the number scratched into the bottom of the sole planks and if you want to get really crazy it's also scribed onto the underside of the stem fitting

    Also, it may be a three digit number rather than four digits, mine is only 3 and Lotus is only a few years newer. The plate in your photo is the newer style, I think your boat would have had the older style but I'm not sure what year CL change the plate style.

    All the Lions I've seen with plates have the builder plate mounted on the front of the cabin above the v-berth. To Bob's point I did see one boat without a plate and with no obvious screw holes where it should have been.

    CL trivia---The dragon carving at the forward end of the doghouse is the signature of the family that finished out the interior of the boat, each family had their own design. I have seen octopuses, different styled dragons, birds and peacocks, I'm sure there are other designs out there.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Good thoughts, Lion. I've already checked beneath the floorboards without success - wish I'd taken a closer look at the stem fitting a few years back when it was removed for the new deck! I don't have "slats" under the berths - on Lotus it's just painted plywood. I've been concentrating on pieces that were more likely to have been made off the boat but, again, no luck. Lion, you've given me some ideas about hardware ... I do have a few original pieces down in the shop that haven't made it back on the boat yet ... I'm on my way to investigate.

    I've heard that CL trivia about the carvings being unique to the family that finished out the cabin - yet another interesting tidbit for the WB article!

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Hey Ben, Since writing last, I found the number in one more place...the backside of the carved hanging knees. I expect the full-width dragons had it at one time, but they're not there now. You mentioned some parts that haven't been re-installed. Hope that's one of them. Good luck. Terry

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    More CL trivia:



    The old CL yard in the early sixties or so, full of Pacific Clippers under construction. The fourth and fifth boats from the left in the foreground, are Vertues. The site, where CL moved from Hong Kong in 1936, is now occupied by the Hong Kong "Disney World." The yard moved up the Pearl River several years ago.

    Incidentally, the "USS San Pablo" used in the movie "The Sand Pebbles" was actually built by CL. She cost $250,000, the most money spent for a movie prop up until that time. She was actually powered with Cummins diesels. Her triple expansion engine in the movie was acquired from a knackers yard up Seattle way and set up on a Burbank movie set for filming. It was eventually bought as studio surplus and installed in the Lane "Victory." The "San Pablo" was bought from the studio by a construction company working out of Vietnam and her whereabouts are unknown.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    I found the number in one more place...the backside of the carved hanging knees.
    All Lotus' carvings (knees, doghouse overhead, etc.) are thankfully still intact. Would I have to remove the knee to expose the number you mention, Terry?

    Bob, you are hereby nominated to write the CL article for WB.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Cleek View Post
    More CL trivia:



    The old CL yard in the early sixties or so, full of Pacific Clippers under construction.
    Bob,
    My Pacific Clipper/Frisco Flyer is #1066, built in 1962. It's entirely possible my boat is in the picture...or at least I'd like to imagine so. How can we find out more about this pic? And, get a higher resolution image? And, is that Chris Coose's catboat (also 1962, IIRC) in the back?? <grin>
    Hey! It's MY Hughniverse!

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Cheoy Lee Mystery

    I found it on the Cheoy Lee Owners Association website.

    http://www.cheoyleeassociation.com/W...ug/history.htm

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