Messing About in Boats

Annie on test

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

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

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).

On the shore of Lake Lothing

One of the pleasures of learning boat building at IBTC is seeing, and sometimes participating in, the comings and goings in the local boat yards along the shore of Lake Lothing .

Tarring Albion’s hull

This week, Jonny arranged for us to go and have a look at Albion; a Norfolk wherry currently in a boat yard a short walk along the shore. Albion was built in 1898 on this same shore in Oulton Broad, and carried sugar beet up until the 1950s when it was no longer economic to transport goods around the broads by boat. Nowadays she earns her keep as a charter boat; she’s been fitted out with accommodation for 12 and is available for charter from the Norfolk Wherry Trust. Some sections of her planking have been replaced and she is being given a new coating of coal-tar, about half an inch thick which looks very robust. She’s also having her massive rudder replaced with a new built copy; a serious bit of joinery. It was great to see her out of the water in order to admire the shallow, wide hull and transverse profile like a wineglass which is reminiscent of a Viking longboat. It seems that things don’t change quickly in boat building on the east coast. Seeing the guys working on her outside in the cold October rain was a reminder of how many comfort levels I’ve still got to drop in the world of boat building. I’ve gone from my desk in a warm office in West London to standing all day at a work bench in a slightly less warm joinery shop; to paraphrase the Four Yorkshiremen: “that’s luxury”.

Hobbit in the joinery shed …

The regular shunting of boats in various states of repair around the IBTC yard on a selection of trolleys and trailers (also in various states of repair) seems like a sliding block puzzle on a large scale. We’re occasionally called upon to help push/pull boats from somewhere to somewhere else. One of them has joined us in the joinery shed to have her keel reseated; she’s a beautiful little 20ft clinker mahogany sloop called

… proving to be a bit of a distraction from joinery

Hobbit‘. She was built in 1968 to a Laurent Giles design based on ‘Sopranino‘, which was sailed across the Atlantic by Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie in the early 1950s and inspired the development of the Junior Offshore Group (JOG), which was set up to allow small yachts to compete offshore. An ocean crossing seems an incredible feat when you see Hobbit, she’s the size of a day boat with barely room for one pair of legs in the cockpit but somehow they found room for 2 berths in her tiny saloon.

Standing around

As well as shunting boats, us joinery students have many other uses. One of the commercial boat yards called on us recently to act as ballast, we formed an orderly line and were moved around the boat as a stability test. It’s good to know where we stand (or where to stand).

Pushing, pulling, standing; what’s left? Oh yes, carrying things. Three sliced trees arrived on the back of a lorry this week, and we all mucked in to get them under cover to dry out (well, most of us …).

Anyone seen Dave?