Tea time at IBTC
There was a leaving do at IBTC this week; every few months the college lays on some beer, wine, bread and cheese to launch another new batch of boat builders into the real world, it’s a fine spread and usually timed to coincide with welcoming a new intake. Class 113 started this week and we got to meet them at the first tea break on Monday. They came in looking a bit quiet and nervous as I’m sure we all did when we started, they got their teas and … horror! sat at the table reserved by the old lags; this is the table where the senior students sit and pontificate on boat building and the world in general while we all sit in awe. Sitting at their table with them would surely be frowned upon at the very least? What would happen? Well … nothing; because it soon became apparent that there aren’t any seniors any more, or that is to say, we are them. So what advice could I pass on to the new boys from this exulted position? Apart from having a good supply of plasters (my thumb is still sporting a tatty one as I type) and Ibuprofen for back pain (if you’ve come from an office job), the main thing you need for boat building is patience.
Naiad’s centreboard case
Michael and I have been working on Naiad for a couple of months now, every job seems to lead to lots of other jobs; there’s always something to snag, or varnish or prime before something else can be reassembled. Learning to do things in the right order helps, but even then it’s labour intensive and time consuming. Naiad is gradually rising again from the rotted planks and timbers which made her so fragile when we first got on board. She’s quite robust now with new timbers and reconstructed centreboard case. The thwarts are nearly ready to go back in permanently when we’ve successfully aligned and drilled all the nail and screw holes through the knees, thwarts and risers to hold them all together. There’s plenty more to do, but it has become what we do all day; there doesn’t seem to be much progress day by day, but it all adds up, and we love it.
One of the jobs I particularly enjoyed was rebuilding the thwart knees which had broken at each end. This was partly due to a fault with the original manufacture, in that they had short grain at the extremities, so were prone to snapping. But to be fair, they have been on the boat for a long time doing their job of supporting the thwarts. I made replacement ends from oak and bonded them on with epoxy. The top end has a tenon inside to support it, and the bottom end has a scarph joint. It’s still short grained at the thick end, but the grain runs along the bottom end. I wonder how long they’ll last before they need patching up again.
Wounded knee: spot the surgery
Annie on test
“There is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” says Rat in the Wind in the Willows. I guess that many of us at IBTC must share this sentiment as we spend every day messing about in boats. At the moment we generally do so in a freezing cold boat shed, rather than sculling along the river with a wicker luncheon basket full of cold chicken, ginger beer and other goodies.
The boat that Michael and I spend all day in is Naiad, but she’s laden with tools and bits of wood that have either been taken off or are being put on. In the past few weeks we have replaced 17 of her timbers with copies that we fashioned out of 2 slices of an oak tree, we’ve roved in over 200 copper nails to hold the timbers to Naiaid’s planks and we’ve started reassembling the centreboard case.
The Artful Dodger
Messing about in boats took on a more Wind in the Willows turn this week when we went out to Lake Lothing on a sunny afternoon for the test launch of two recently completed boats: ‘Annie’, a river Cam skiff from around 1908 that has been restored after her bottom almost rotted away and a newly built Herreshoff Columbia dinghy
The lifeboat wasn’t required this time
called ‘Artful Dodger’. It was a tense moment as they were carefully lifted into the lake, but both were pronounced dry and we took them out for a spin to see how they performed. They are both great little boats for a day out on the river, light to row, and look great with their highly varnished finishes. It was a brief foretaste of summer in the middle of winter. We went back to the boat shed with a spring in our step (or was it the sea weed that was helpfully stuffed into the boots left on shore during our brief river excursion).
Thwarts off, timbers next
“It says here ‘conservation importance HIGH’ ” shouted Michael, reading from the folder of notes on Naiad’s restoration. “What?” I replied above the din of the angle grinder I was using to remove a rove from one of the nails that holds Naiad’s clinker planks together; suddenly the super-heated copper rove flew off and landed on the back of my hand. Michael shook his head; “Just be careful”. The first proper project that Michael and I have been given in the boat shed seemed to involve taking a boat to bits, rather that building it.
We had removed the thwarts and were now removing the old, damaged timbers from Naiad; one of few remaining Aldeburgh One Design dinghies built by Everson of Woodbridge. After removing the roves (carefully), one of us drove the nail through from the inside of the boat using a nail punch, while the other supported the plank from the outside and helped the nail out. Sounds easy, but we’re starting to expect complications with old boats, and of course many of the nails were bent, or inaccessible etc. so there was plenty to keep us occupied.
When we had pushed, pulled, coaxed and dug out enough nails that we could remove a few alternate timbers from one side of the boat (it’s important to keep enough in place to keep the shape of the boat intact), it was time for the exciting bit. I had previously imagined that a fair proportion of my time at IBTC would involve steaming wood into various interesting shapes, but it now seems apparent to me that steaming is very like painting, in that 90% of the time is spent in preparation and the main event is over in a flash.
We fired up the steam box (a wallpaper steamer attached to a metal tube), and when it was hot enough, put our green oak timbers into the tube. Thirty minutes later, oven gloves at the ready, and Rob the tutor in attendance to make sure we didn’t mess it up, we pulled out our first hot timber. Michael bent it round his knee like an oversized piece of spaghetti and pressed it into shape inside Naiad’s hull while I screwed it into place from the outside; a temporary measure to allow it to take shape (the timbers will be nailed and clenched with roves later). We whizzed through our supply of timbers in the steam box and then stood back to admire our work. Now the process starts again; knocking out nails and scraping off old varnish and tar. There are plenty more timbers to replace, but at least we’ve put some of the boat back together.
Michael and timbers