FMF’s Lord of the Rings doing a yeoman’s work

Ryan Yeomans, a craftsman at FMF Cape Breton, works on a kisbee. ***Ryan Yeomans, artisan de l’IMF Cape Breton, fabrique une bouée de sauvetage Kisbee.

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By Peter Mallett

If you’ve wondered who creates the decorative Kisbee rings that adorn Royal Canadian Navy warships and units of CFB Esquimalt, you aren’t alone says their maker.

Craftsman Ryan Yeomans works his magic on those doughnut-shaped flotation devices from an art studio in Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton. For the past 12 years he has been the man responsible for transforming the safety rings into ceremonial display items.

“They are the first thing you see when you cross the brow on a ship, but most sailors think they come from a warehouse and are made on an assembly line. They don’t realize how much work goes into creating these, and that they are all done by hand.”

It’s a complicated labour-intensive process involving continued attention to detail, says Yeomans.

The lifebuoys are made of plastic, filled with foam and orange in colour when they come to his shop from manufacturer Aer-o-buoy.

He removes the manufacture’s rope that covers their circumference. A thicker more attractive gage rope will be attached later by workers from the rope shop.

He then washes the ring, sands it, and sprays an epoxy sealer and polyurethane finish before adding coats of navy blue and white paint. It can take up to two days for the paint job and layers of protective coating to dry.

It is at this point Yeomans’ steady hands are showcased.

He carefully outlines the ship or unit’s name on the blue ribbon he’s painted on the ring. Then he fills the letters with sizing glue, waits an hour for it to dry, and applies 23 carat gold leaf sheets. The sheen from the gold is what makes the letters pop, and gives prestige to the ring.

After that, he adds a drop shadow and maple leafs.

“For this part you really need a steady hand and there is lots of eyeballing involved,” said Yeomans. “It takes practise and it’s not something that comes overnight. I have been learning over the years how to better refine my skills.”

He learned the ins and outs of his craft under the guidance of former FMF Paint Shop worker Stu Guilbault, who recently retired. Yeomans, 50, has some experience in this line of work; he once worked 16 years as a body repair, paint and air brushing, and pin striping specialist at various auto body shops.

While most of his work is on regular painting projects, the Kisbee ring is by far the most rewarding part of his job.

“It’s great to know that some of these Kisbee rings are now sailing around the world on our warships and it gives me a feeling of great pride knowing I was the one who created them by hand,” says Yeomans.

Kisbee ring making is unique to Esquimalt. On the east coast, the rings are created via computer.

“It’s an old-school technique that I don’t want to ever see go by the wayside,” he said.

What’s In a Name?
Kisbee Rings are named for inventor Thomas Kisbee, who was born in Farcet, Huntingdon, England in 1792. Kisbee served as the First Lieutenant on HMS Driver, the first steam paddle ship to circumnavigate the world (1842-1847) where his invention was first used. Widespread practical use of the rings, then made of cork, became the norm when Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution started using them in 1855. In recent years, due to safety concerns over injuring the casualty or nearby swimmers and doing more harm than good, the Kisbee Ring has been phased out in favour of the torpedo buoy.

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