Lady With Good Bones Seeking Gentle Hands | West Wind Hardwood

Rainbow Skiff

photo courtesy of LMS Museum.

Robert and Margaret Lawson (Ladysmith, BC) of Brisen Boatworks donated this HMCS Rainbow Skiff to the Ladysmith Maritime Society (LMS) in 2010.  She entered retirement through public auction in 1929, and since then has languished as a lady of leisure – enjoying recreational ownership until 1977.

At that point, Barry Philbrook took her over until passing her onto Robert and Margaret in 1999; having never fulfilled his dream of restoration.  As an aside, Barry built our treasured 35’ Ed Monk Sr. cruiser as a custom runabout for Owen Fowler; a means of commuting between Sidney and the Tortoise Islets (off Portland Island).  We are told this was Barry’s 3rd boat while still under apprenticeship; built at Philbrook’s & Son Boatyard (Victoria, BC) in 1957.

For the next 11 years, between Robert and John Rodd, much work was accomplished on the Rainbow Skiff; both archival information and actual restoration.  She was donated to the LMS in hope that restoration could find completion.

She is still waiting for her final make-over; task list available.  Person(s) with skill needed!!

Here’s the story.  Enjoy the read.

A Greasy Pole contest
A Greasy Pole contest

It was 1898 when this 16ft “Skiff Dinghy” was mentioned in public record, a greasy pole contest put on by the HMS Pheasant, a Royal Navy Sloop based in Esquimalt. The incident was documented with the grainy photo above and to the left. Obviously built prior to 1898, she ended up aboard the HMCS Rainbow which was sold to Canada from the British Admiralty in 1910. Esquimalt was this warship’s home and where she protected the entire west coast of North America during World War I. Rainbow’s service unfortunately ended and she was scrapped in Seattle in 1920. The skiff and other remnants of Rainbow fared a little better.

Initially left behind in Esquimalt after the decommissioning, it was 1929 before the skiff and the rest of Rainbow’s ships were auctioned off to the public, hence, in 1930 and on she became known as “Rainbow’s Skiff”. Mr. Reg France of Sidney, BC was the lucky fellow to purchase it. He moored it to Mermaid Creek in front of his property where it spent nearly 50 years being enjoyed for fishing and boating. In 1977 Mr. France passed away leaving the skiff in a state in disrepair to his nephew Barry Philbrook.

Rainbow Skiff in 1977
Rainbow Skiff in 1977

She may look old now, but underneath that rough exterior there is clear indication that in her hay-day she was a prime specimen and was most likely was the base commander’s personal skiff. Upon close inspection you can see the larch or Baltic pine used for planking, the deadwood is teak, and the ribs fashioned from oak all premium quality materials at that time. Even the fastenings too are made from copper or brass; there is even a unique breast hook that is finely cast in bronze. On another interesting note: the skiff is considered what is called a clinker or lapstrake, where the hull planks are overlapping, this method of boat-building goes way back to northern Europe in Viking times.

18ft cutter 2 drawings 1914 Admiralty specification

Barry Philbrook held onto the Rainbow’s Skiff for nearly 20 years in hope to eventually restore it to former glory, alas, no such day came and Barry gave it to Robert and Margaret Lawson in 1999 and taken to Boat Harbour. But in 2000 a storage issue arose and the Lawson’s decided to pass it on to John Rodd, whose uncle in fact bought and converted another of Rainbow’s offspring – it’s pinnace in that 1929 auction.

The Skiff in 1999. Notice the rotten outer stem, this was not original.

John put several restorations into motion over the course of eight years. Most notably he replaced the stem and the lower half of the inner stern post. In 2008 he returned to the Lawson’s where Robert took it upon himself to complete some serious restorations, 500 hrs of work that included rebuilding the transom, removing the twist in the hull, repairing the gunwales, removing 7 layers of paint, and repairing the brass bindings on the stern. Robert then donated the skiff in 2010 to the Ladysmith Maritime Society, where it still rests today in their floating museum.

Stern before and after repair. Also the bronze fittings removed for refurbishment.

There is still work to be done on this beauty of a boat and quite likely the only one left of it’s kind; a true piece of Canada’s maritime history. She has good bones, thanks to her meticulous shipwrights, with some gentle hands she could look like new again. Isn’t there something to be said about a second lease on life?

Thank you to Robert Lawson and his sources at BC Archives, Esquimalt Military Museum, Maritime Museum of BC, National Archives Ottawa, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, US Coast Guard Archives, Vancouver Island Regional Library, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and also David Barker, Gregory Brown, Robert Lally.

If you would like more information on Rainbow Skiff’s restoration we can provide you a task list, however, if you want to contribute in other ways the LMS Society have established a fund to raise money for her continuing restoration. Any donations will be gratefully accepted and LMS has the authority to issue tax receipts.

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