Spiking up (December 2011)

Spiking Up.

We now begin the long slow task of spiking up the bottoms to the garboard strakes. About 400 holes to be drilled from the top of the garboard through the 9" width of that plank and through the 3" thickness of the bottom boards. A big 10mm square spike then has to be driven up from underneath (an excellent job for anyone wanting to increase their arm muscles) to pop out at the top edge of the plank where it will be bent over. That bottom is not going to fall off!

Comment from: ashtonboatman [Member]

Just a note on boat jargon. Sorry, I forget that not all readers speak boat. The garboard strake is the first plank of the sides of the boat. This is attached to the flat bottom of a narrow boat by big iron nails or spikes driven up through pre-drilled holes through the bottom boards and through the width of the plank. It's hard work.

To Cumbria for Timber (December 2011)

To Cumbria for Timber

Though we have already got two oak logs and two greenheart beams, we realised a while ago that we would still be a few planks short for replanking "Hazel". I was just starting to look around for more sources of timber when a friend of a friend posted on Facebook a message that he was felling some oak trees and thought they might be of use to someone. I got in touch and soon I was heading for Cumbria to have a look.

Joe reckons he's the most eco friendly tree surgeon in Cumbria, which means he often does himself out of work by persuading land owners that they actually don't need to fell any trees. In this case however, an expert from the Woodland Trust http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/Pages/default.aspx#.TvTBeXreLv0 had been along to advise on the management of the woodland and had advised on its thinning out. Joe does forestry work for the woodland owner from time to time and had been asked to find a buyer for the timber.

My first trip was to have a look at the wood. I took the WCBS van for the day, drove up the M6 and found Joe at his yard beside a gurgling stream near Tebay. We climbed aboard his elderly Range Rover and he drove me over the hills and down into the Eden Valley where we eventually turned through wrought iron gates and hooted as we passed the facade of a minor stately home known as Crossrigg Hall http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-422659-crossrigg-hall-bolton, then up a track through an avenue of Welingtonias

Sequoiadendron is a genus of evergreen trees, with two species, only one of which survives to the present:[1]

into the woodland.

Someone was cutting up a felled oak with a chain saw so we walked over to where he was working and had a chat, then Joe showed me round the woodland and pointed out the trees marked with the yellow spot of doom.

The expert had consistently marked the younger trees for felling. The strategy would be to take out the smaller trees to open up the woodland and allow the more mature tees to spread out. While this makes sense aesthetically, it means that the timber will not be very useful, at least, not for boatbuilding.

I was disappointed, but then Joe showed me a more mature oak that they had decided to fell because it had die back in its upper branches. This was of a useful size and had just the right curve in it. Another tree had caught my eye as, though of a disappointingly small girth it had some useful looking curves in it.

David, the owner of the estate came out to join us and we went to look at the relevant trees again. We agreed a price and got back in the Range Rover to return to Joe's yard. Inside the old caravan, nicely camouflaged with green painted wood, that he uses as an office, there was a nice warm atmosphere created by the woodstove. Millie, Joe's obsessively affectionate spaniel played catch the ball unceasingly as we drank tea, then I headed back home again.

A few weeks passed as I tried to find a reasonably priced lorry to move the wood. What a shame there's no canal to Appleby. With this problem settled I tried to get back in touch, with no immediate success. It turned out that David had gone on holiday. Ultimately, with Christmas fast approaching, the connections were made. Joe offered somewhere to stay.

Tom Kitching is an excellent fiddler https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Iq4GZBUAvc and he's also part owner of the wooden tank narrow boat "Spey" Unusually he found himself with no fiddling or boating to do for the week before Christmas, so he offered to come and help with "Hazel". I suggested a couple of days in Cumbria planking logs.

The plan was to pick Tom up from his home in Chorlton at about 7AM, but with having to prepare the boats at Portland Basin for my absence and road chaos it was about 20 to eight when we finally got moving through the darkness towards the motorway. I had filled the back of the van with all kinds of things that I thought might come in useful. Somewhere around Lancaster I suddenly realised that I'd forgotten the chain block. This could be a problem if we needed to move the logs at all for cutting.

The long motorway drag ended at Tebay, where we took a B road through Old Tebay village in a roughly North Easterly direction. We passed the end of the track that leads to Joe's yard as I'd arranged to meet him in the woods. Tom had asked to stop at a shop and, spotting a sign advertising the village shop, we turned off into Orton Village. As I waited in the van and studied the map I'd printed out, a small woman approached and introduced herself as Joe's mother. I had briefly met her on my previous visit. She explained that she was going to see her grandchildren singing at a Christmas event at the church that evening but she would make us a hotpot and we could stay either in her house or Joe's office. I thanked her and introduced her to Tom, then we set off again.

Leaving the main road on high moorland we bounced and swerved along tiny stone walled lanes, over rustic hump backed bridges and through villages built along rushing streams. This part of Cumbria seems pretty much untouched by tourism, and perhaps I should shut up before I encourage more visitors to spoil it!

Eventually we turned in through wrought iron gates between stone pillars and down the gravelled drive to draw up in front of the grand porch of Crossrigg Hall. I got out and rang the bell, half expecting Jeeves to open the huge front door. I waited a long time, listening to Joe chainsawing away in the woods. I was beginning to wonder if the bell was working, perhaps I should use my mobile 'phone, when the door slowly opened and David, the owner, peeked out. A jovial man in his sixties, he greeted me jovially, and jovially handed me an invoice for the timber.

We drove on through an avenue of huge Wellingtonias http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Sequoiadendron-giganteum.htm to park the van behind Joe's Range Rover and Trailer. Joe had arranged to be there to cut up firewood from the various branches of the trees that were being felled. Walking over to the larger of the two trees my heart sank as I saw that it would need rolling before we could plank it as it was lying with its curve upwards rather than to the side.

There was a track leading to the log so I decided to try backing the van towards it. After about 15 yards the wheels sank into the mud and the van became immovable.

David came out with paperwork to settle up. He would have liked to have stayed to watch the fun, but a seasonal flight to the Mediterranean was calling, so, cheque in hand, he had to rush away again.

We carried our equipment the rest of the way. If I had remembered the chain block, rolling the log would be easy, instead, after Joe had lopped off the branches and cross cut the log at the place that I indicated,


we had several hours work with jacks, levers and a rather inadequate winch of Joe's before we got the log on its side.

The wooden guide rails that Bernard had made for this job were assembled and laid on top of the log, supported in places by lengths of 3"X3" to allow for the knobbliness of the log. I started the chainmill and made the first cut, mainly removing bark and high spots on the log. I re-set the guide rails and made another cut, this time getting into the meat of the log. We lifted off the guide and the first slice to reveal the beautiful grain of the oak. It seems a shame to cut planks from this then cover them with tar.

With the bark completely gone we were left with a flat surface for the chainmill to run on for the next cut, so the guide rails were put to one side. It was hard going though, harder than when I'd been cutting greenheart. This was probably because I hadn't got the chain quite as sharp as it might be. By the time darkness fell my arms were aching from pushing the chainmill through the wood and, worryingly, a couple of my fingers had developed a pins and needles sensation.

In the gathering gloom we carried the nickable items of tackle back to the bogged down van. With it loaded, and as much weight as possible on the back wheels, we tried to move it. Despite Joe and Tom pushing we could move no more than a few feet, the wheels making steadily deeper furrows. Joe uncoupled his trailer, now laden with firewood logs, and backed his Range Rover towards the van. A tow rope was soon set up and the vehicle persuaded on to firmer ground. Tom and I set off in the van, closely followed by Range Rover and trailer.

At the first road junction our routes diverged as Joe had clearly decided on the main road route. For my part, I love driving along tiny bendy roads. At one point on our route we passed a construction site where a considerable amount of floodlit plant was engaged on digging a large, square, steel piled hole in the ground. A strange industrial insertion into the rural scene. We wondered about the purpose of this.

The bendy roads nearly caught me out in the dark. A long straight avenue of trees, the best part of a mile long, suddenly ends where the road tumbles over an escarpment and turns sharp left round a tightening bend with an adverse camber. I wonder how many would be rally drivers have landed in the hedge here.

Catastrophe avoided by sharp braking, we arrived at Joe's yard and parked up, then, lit by head torches walked down the track to the main farm 3 abreast. Leaving our coats, bags and boots, we entered a proper farmhouse kitchen, heated by a woodstove. Joe's mum (JM) appeared, clad in a dressing gown, and got busy preparing the hotpot that she had promised us, accessing high cupboards by standing on a stool that she moved around the kitchen. I realised how covered in sawdust my clothes were and went to dig out some clean clothes from my rucksack.

With the hotpot declared ready, JM prepared to leave. I asked her where she was going. "To church" she replied "I'm very religious, you ask Joe about my religion". I imagined that religious faith must be a bone of contention between them.

The hotpot was excellent, and very generous. Tom suggested a visit to a pub. Joe was supportive of the idea so, with the hotpot polished off, we boarded Joe's Range Rover and headed for the Cross Keys in Tebay http://www.crosskeystebay.co.uk/

The pub is a pleasantly old fashioned country pub with a selection of real ales. We sat in an alcove and discussed wood, boats, trees, the music business and various bits of putting the world to rights. Tom received a message telling him that he had been played on Radio 2. "I'll get £12 for that in about a year" he said. Another message told him that his band was among the top 10 most prolific bands of 2011. He explained that this was through doing absolutely loads of gigs very cheap and it nearly killed him.

I raised the subject of religion, thinking that this would be a lively subject for debate, bearing in mind JM's remarks. It turned out that Joe and his mother were not at all at odds over religion, it had just been her bit of fun. It seemed that we all shared the view that organised religion was more trouble than it was worth (though personally I have a lot of time for disorganised religion).

When Tom and I were happily loaded with beer, Joe having restrained himself as he had to drive back (I did offer), we climbed aboard the Range Rover and travelled by dark bendy roads back to the farmhouse. JM was already back and we sat in the farmhouse kitchen discussing religion, again, the work we were doing, the wonderful countryside around us and the extensive renovations that JM had carried out on the ancient farmhouse. JM showed Tom and I to our quarters. I got the nursery bedroom where her grandchildren stay, full of toys and childrens books.

The next day began early, well before dark, as we planned to be in the woods at first light. Tom and I breakfasted then said goodbye to the wonderful JM before walking up to Joe's yard and setting out in the van, Joe following with the Range Rover. We timed it quite well as it was just after daybreak when we arrived at the woods. Joe lent me an electric chainsaw sharpener and this, combined with regular hand sharpening, made the day's work a bit easier.

The routine was for me to start the chainmill and offer it up to the end of the log. With the guide running on the flat surface already cut I would push the saw, set at 2" depth, through the log. Tom would follow up tapping wedges into the sawcut to prevent it closing up and trapping the bar. After about 10 feet I would stop the saw and slide to back down the sawcut, with Tom levering the gap open and moving wedges to allow the machine through. I would then refuel and resharpen the saw, slide it back into the groove, start it and carry on. This procedure was repeated until the chainmill emerged out of the other end of the log. The resulting 2" thick oak board would then be lifted to one side and the whole procedure started again. By this means we cut a number of very useful looking oak boards.

Whilst Tom and I were planking the log, Joe was scaling various condemned trees and cutting the top branches out. They would fall intermittently with a great crash, before being cut up into firewood logs and loaded into the trailer.

It was still light when we finished planking the first log, but there was not enough day left to make it worthwhile starting on the other one. Joe's trailer was fully loaded too, so we decided to call it a day. Tom was interested in seeing Joe's yard, which is completely off grid and powered by wind, sun and wood, in daylight, so we decided to meet up there for a brew before heading for home.

On the way I stopped the van at the intriguing hole in the ground,hoping to find out what it was for. The hardhatted workers had already gone home, so it will be forever a mystery. The idea of seeing Joe's yard in the daylight didn't quite work out as it was pretty much dark when we got there. Nevertheless we enjoyed drinking tea and chatting about the joys and perils of tree surgery before once more setting out down the M6 towards Mancunium.

Martin Cox, Clamps and Crooks (December 2011)

Martin Cox, Clamps and Crooks

Martin Cox was an excellent boatbuilder and excellent person. It must have been about 1978 that I first met him. He was working as an HGV driver and about once a month drove a tankerload of wine to somewhere near Ellesmere Port where Gill Wright and I were living aboard Lilith. Martin would park up for the night near the museum and come to talk about boats and all things boat related.
I don’t recall if Martin actually had a boat at that time, but he had already done some boatbuilding. For many years he owned the small Ricky motor Grus, which was also known as Almighty, a name given to it when owned by the Salvation Army. The number one motor Benevolence was largely rebuilt by Martin, as was the BCN tug Christopher James. For about the last 15 years he followed an alternative career as an Alexander Technique teacher. When the funding for Hazel looked like it might be on the cards I tracked down Martin via the internet to see if he might be interested in working on her rebuild. He was very interested in the whole project, but with a partner and child living in Bristol wasn’t able to move away to work on it. He asked me to keep him informed and he might come and give us a hand some time.
I put Martin on the newsletter list to keep him up to date but heard nothing until this August when I got a ‘phone call from Colin Bowles who has owned Sweden for many years. He told me that Martin was in hospital with a terminal illness and had some big boatyard clamps rusting away in his back garden that he would like to give to the WCBS.
Martin actually passed away just a few weeks later. It was in November that I got a call from Hattie, his partner, to say that I could collect the clamps and possibly some other tools. We eventually arranged this for November 18th.
In the same part of the world I had arranged to collect some crooks. You may imagine that I would have no problem finding crooks in Greater Manchester, but these are special ones. They are slabs of oak that has grown to just the right curve to make knees for Hazel. I was buying them from a little sawmill called Boatbuilding Timber Supplies near Usk in South Wales.

Having arranged to have the van for a couple of days, I hired a car transporter trailer from Fletchers Trailers in Ashton and headed South on a Thursday afternoon. My first port of call was Ed Sveikutis’ old farmhouse at Knypersley, Staffordshire. Ed is a first class blacksmith. When I first met him he had a forge in the Etruria Industrial Museum beside the Trent & Mersey Canal. Over the years he’s made a few bits and pieces for our boats. He later moved to little industrial unit in Biddulph. When I tried to contact him about making spikes for Hazel I found his ‘phone number dead. A search on tinternet brought up only reports about him losing his little forge to a huge new Sainsburys store. Nevertheless, I managed to find him, retreated to a shed at the back of his hobbitland house, and he made the spikes for Hazel. Most of these were delivered in August, but he had a few more for me to collect. Along with the spikes, Ed gave me a copy of Inland Waterways of Britain by L. A. Edwards. We discussed the sad decline of craftsmanship, always a pre-occupation of Eds, and I climbed into the van, carefully manoeuvred the wide trailer through narrow gateways, then made for the M6.
By the time I reached Bristol it was dark and it was rush hour. I needed to find somewhere nice to park up for the night, but had no idea where. It was not really possible to stop and consult a map without causing traffic mayhem. Seeing a sign pointing to Clifton I decided to follow it. I surmised that there could be a car park for visitors wishing to view Brunel’s famous suspension bridge. There was not, and I soon found myself driving up to the toll booth to cross that fine structure. With 50p in the slot, the barrier lifted and I carefully drew the trailer along the narrow wooden road across the Avon Gorge. On the far side I found a quiet little road heading downhill towards the river through broadleaved woodland. I parked the van here and, making sure everything was locked, set off on foot to look for food.
My route took me back over the suspension bridge. On foot I could appreciate its slender grandeur, soaring high above the deep gorge, its high towers like something that the Romans might have been proud of, but its wrought iron chains speaking of the fiery industry of Victorian times. On the approaches are notices about the Samaritans, for sadly it’s a favourite spot for suicides. There is a tale that, when it was first built, ladies in crinolines would sometimes survive a leap from the bridge as their skirts acted as parachutes.

I was looking for a chip shop, but Clifton turned out to be far too upmarket for such an establishment. There were bistros galore, but my funds would not run to that. I bought a couple of pork pies from a posh co-op foodstore and picked my way downhill between grand old terraces, munching my pies as I went.
From the bridge I had seen that it was low tide. The river was virtually dry, with expanses of mud glinting in the streetlights. A little way upstream I had seen a lock, entrance to the floating harbour ( so named not because it floats but because ships can float in it at any state of the tide) and I thought I would go and have a look.
My meandering route through alleyways and down steeply sloping back roads brought me to a busy traffic island at Hotwells. Once upon a time this was the terminus of a railway that ran through the Gorge alongside the river from the Avonmouth direction. Long ago its route was converted into the A4 road, but still some blocked up single track tunnels through rocky outcrops can be seen.
I crossed the bridge over the harbour entrance. I was looking for a place where I could park for the night as I liked the idea of being near water. I crossed another small bridge to get to the lock, and even thought about parking on the lockside. I then thought about what a nuisance it would be to be woken by a bored policeman in the early hours and discounted the idea. I wondered if it might be possible to park facing the sea in nearby Portishead, and decided to return to the van to drive over there and have a look.
Portishead was a disappointment. As I entered the town I came to a roundabout. To the left was the town centre, to the right the industrial park, and straight ahead “The Haven”. Straight ahead seemed most promising, so I headed for “The Haven”, only to discover that it was the name for a posh housing estate with red brick roads. With some difficulty, and to the consternation of other road users, I turned round my little rig in one of the side turnings and headed back towards Bristol, parking up a little further down the little road next to a viewing point and interpretation board. I spent an hour or two enjoying planning an itinerary for Hazel, using the book that Ed had given me as a guide.
The front seat of the van is remarkably comfortable, so I slept well and awoke to a bright morning in a jumble of coats and sleeping bags. The flask that I had made before leaving home was still hot enough to drink, then I got up and enjoyed my breakfast standing by the interpretation board looking across the gorge.
I had told Hattie that I would arrive between 9 and 10 AM, so I set out about 8.30 with only a vague idea of the location of her house. My route took me alongside the Floating Harbour, with a fine view of the Great Britain across the water. This time I found myself in the milling traffic of the morning peak and had to keep my wits about me to haul the wide trailer along the maddeningly crowded urban tarmac without incident. I found myself in St Pauls, of which I knew only its reputation for riots connected with local dissent over the siting of a new supermarket. There were indeed very prominent No Tesco Here signs plastered on buildings, but rather than a dangerous concrete jungle, it appeared to be a very friendly place. Much more welcoming than the conspicuous affluence of Clifton, it had a post revolutionary utopian air, rather like Clifford Harper’s early drawings.
Navigating with the aid of friendly pedestrians I entered an area of tall terraced houses separated by narrow streets of parked cars. I became very aware of the fact that the trailer was somewhat wider than the van. In places The gaps were so narrow that I had to inch through with an anxious eye on each mirror. I began to wonder if I would find myself stuck at an impossible gap at the end of a long road with nowhere to turn.

I found myself on Hattie’s street almost by chance, then accidentally turned off it, only to realise that I was actually passing her back garden. A car was coming the other way and there was absolutely nowhere to pass. A rare parking space became apparent and I drove the van into it, stopping centimetres from the bumper of the next car with the trailer still blocking the road. As I started to fumble with the trailer lock the car began to hoot. Before I had fully released the trailer from the van, its smartly dressed lady driver came over to politely inform me that I was blocking the road. It did occur to me that she was also blocking the road (and could have pulled over with far less difficulty), but instead I explained the manoevre that I was attempting to clear her way. I released the trailer, swung it round and backed it in by hand to sit behind the van and clear the way for the polite lady. There was just enough room for the trailer, but it was blocking some lines painted on the road with a notice saying “Keep Clear”.
It was bang on 9 AM, so I rang Hattie to explain where I was. I was a little apprehensive about meeting Hattie. I had known Martin for over 30 years and had a high regard for him, both as a boatbuilder and as a person, but we had only met a handful of times. This often happens with friendships on the cut. I had totally lost touch for a long time and knew nothing of Hattie, or Rueben, their son. I am very aware of the phenomenon of circling vultures after the death of someone with items of value, and had no wish to be seen in this light.
Hattie emerged from the rickety back garden gate and greeted me with a smile, which put me at ease. She knew the man who had painted “Keep Clear” on the road to make space for his electric wheelchair and knocked on his door. There was no reply so, with no alternative parking places, we decided to simply keep an eye on the situation. She led me up some steps into the little back garden. A huge beech tree had recently been felled, letting light into what must previously have been a rather shady patch. She showed me the huge old clamps, seized with rust, lying in a corner of the lawn, and asked if I would also be interested in the various bags of nails and spikes that were with them. Having just spent thousands on spikes for Hazel and still not sure if we had enough of some categories, I answered in the affirmative. She went to make coffee as I started to carry the clamps and bags of spikes out to the van.
Over coffee we talked boats. Hattie asked if I knew anything of the wooden boats that she used to live aboard. Irritatingly, as I recount this, I can’t remember the name of one of them. It was a wooden butty which, unusually, had been shortened by taking a section out of the middle and fitting the two ends back together. No mean feat! The other was the small ricky motor Isis, also known as Jimmy. I remember this boat being on the Bridgewater briefly in the 1990s but have heard nothing since. Another past owner contacted us about it a few years ago but we could find no trace, so the chances are that she has become firewood.
Hattie led me up two stories to a spare bedroom that was piled high with old fashioned toolboxes. She started opening them one by one and asking about which tools would be most useful. We selected a range of useful items, but it was obviously a little difficult for Hattie as she juggled between wanting to send the tools to a place where they would be useful and wanting to keep things that connected her to Martin. After a while she went downstairs to make more coffee and left me sorting through a box of augers. It felt very odd to be rooting through Martins tools.
I remembered that I hadn't checked the van for a while. I went down to have a look and found the old man who had marked the road standing in his doorway looking confused. “I can't get out” he kept repeating in a high hoarse whisper that was barely audible. Luckily another parking space was now available and I manhandled the trailer out into the road and back a carslength to slot it into this new vacancy before another vehicle filled it.
After another cup of coffee, Hattie and I carried the boxes of tools that we had selected down to the van. I hooked up the trailer again and carefully negotiated the narrow streets of Montpelier.
I decided to head out of Bristol down he old A4 through the Avon gorge rather than by the motorway. As I drove along I noted the remains of the old Hotwells branch, then followed the still active commuter line out to Avonmouth and Severn Beach. Feeling hungry, I turned off the main road at the beckoning of a sign that said “Fish & Chips 80 yards”. The distance quoted was inaccurate, and, after at least 200 yards I parked up and paid £1.50 for the worst bag of chips I have ever tasted. Vowing never to go there again ( I probably wouldn't anyway) I returned to the main road. Passing Avonmouth Docks I remembered a conversation with John Gould. He told me that, as part of his campaign to keep the Kennet and Avon open he once loaded a pair of boats (presumably Colin & Iris) with grain at Avonmouth and had the unnerving experience of waves coming over the butty's stern and flooding the cabin as he headed upriver towards Bristol.
Following the meandering road across low lying ground, part agricultural, part industrial, I eventually came to Severn Beach, then reached the roundabout that marked the way on to the Severn Bridge. After driving across a vast expanse of tarmac I reached the toll booth, paid my dues, and set off across the great bridge. Big sister of Brunels pioneering structure that I had crossed the previous day, it spans not only the Severn Estuary but also the mouth of the Wye. On the Welsh side of the river I left the motorway and, after skirting Chepstow, set off along a B road through arcadian countryside. This brought me to the town of Usk, but I had a problem. I remembered that Boatbuilding Timber Supplies was on a road out of the other side of Usk, but I wasn’t sure which road. I plumped for another B road which meanders towards Abergavenny.
I was pretty sure to begin with that I was on the right road, but after a couple of miles my confidence dwindled. I decided to turn round, but had to find a suitable place. Eventually I diverged up a tiny lane, then turned round by backing into a farmyard. When I had nearly got back to Usk I pulled into a gateway and rang Gavin who runs the sawmill. He said he had seen me drive past, just before I went up the side road. I had been so busy looking for somewhere to turn round that I missed the sawmill. I turned again and soon I was carefully backing the trailer between stacks of timber towards Gavin’s crane.
The log that I was interested in was sawn into 4” thick slabs. One by one Gavin lifted them with his crane, a hiab mounted on a bare lorry chassis, so that I could examine them and select the ones that I wanted. The three that I wanted were then swung forward, with the crane at its full reach, and placed carefully on the trailer. With the load tightened down with ratchet straps and a wad of cash handed over, I carefully drew the heavy trailer out of the yard. Gavin took photos for his website as I left http://www.btswales.co.uk/ but they don't seem to have appeared yet.
I thought I would head home the pretty way, and check out another sawmill on the way. I had been told of a sawmill at Whitney on Wye, so I turned left on to the road towards Abergavenny, then carried on into Brecknock, driving between high dark mountains, then into the gentle Wye Valley which goes in a great loop via Hereford before it reaches Chepstow. Going via the book town of Hay on Wye I carried on along a winding road, then crossed the river on a timber decked toll bridge, the piers of the old railway bridge standing parallel to my left. I had been racing the lowering sun as it was now past 4 PM, and soon it would be finishing time at the sawmill. Whitney on Wye seemed to be off to the left somewhere according to the map, so I looked for left turns. I didn’t have to look far, as a tarmacced lane running uphill announced itself as the entrance to Whitney sawmills.
I parked up and walked towards a forklift truck that was loading some sticked timber into a drying shed. The driver got out and greeted me. We discussed different kinds of timber, prices, availability etc and gave me permission to go and look at the logs that they had in stock. It was certainly an impressive place, though the prices are slightly higher than sawmills that I’ve dealt with before.
Curiosity satisfied, I set out again into the fading light, driving North across country. Leominster, Ludlow, Craven Arms and Church Stretton, then on to the Shrewsbury ring road and sheared off to cross the Shroppie at Market Drayton. Via Newcastle under Lyne and Congleton then a little bit of the M60 I got back to Ashton and, after checking the boats at Portland Basin, arrived home, where Emuna had a meal ready for me.
Next day I took the trailerload of wood to Knowl St where Ryan , Stuart and I unloaded and stacked it before I returned the trailer to its owners.

Getting Everything in Place 11th December 2011

Getting everything in place.

Over the last couple of weeks Stuart has been busy cutting and planing planks whilst I've been working on the sternpost. The stempost is now up and I could get the sternpost fitted today, but I've noticed that Janet, our neighbour, has just hung a line full of washing out in the sun. As I will have to heat some chalico on the stove to fit the post and the wind is blowing in her direction I think I'll put it off until tomorrow.

We've a new volunteer, a retired sheet metal worker called John. He's been grinding the knobbles off the knees, which are now back from being shotblasted.

For several weeks "Hazel" has been looking very bare. Her new bottom is in place and the moulds are up to give a skeletal trace of her shape, but she has no sides and only the apparition of a cabin propped up on sticks to remind us of the boat that she was, and shall be again.

Soon we'll be putting the knees back in place, then steaming the bottom strakes or garboards to shape, and so a new boat will rise from the crumbly rottenness of the old, new wood, but the same shape and the same spirit.

Talking of wood, we don't have quite enough of it. To make up for the shortfall I've found some oak trees that are to be felled in Cumbria. I will be able to plank them with the chainmill, but transporting them is proving to be a problem. They never completed the famous Taunton & Carlisle Canal. In fact, the nearest the canal system ever got to Appleby where the trees are was Kendal. Now that waterway is truncated by the M6 at Tewitfield, and anyway, our boats are all 10' too long to access it. There'es really no choice but to use lorries, and they're expensive. So, if you happen to have a lorry long enough to carry 30' lengths of timber, give me a ring on 07931 952 037.

First Planks Steamed 9th December 2011

First Planks Steamed

It was still dark when I arrived at Knowl St at 5 past 7. I opened up the container, switched on the lights and started to gather fire lighting materials and get them arranged in a crude fireplace. At 7.30 I put a match to the pile of paper, cardboard, shavings and sticks. When I could hear crackling noises, indicating that the wood was starting to catch, I started piling on bigger pieces of wood.
When Stuart arrived at about 8 AM the flames were climbing up and licking around the old oil drum that serves as a crude boiler. I climbed on top of the pile of scrap wood and started throwing pieces down to Stuart who piled them on to barrows for transporting to the fire. I learned my lesson about not keeping the firewood near the fire many years ago at Ellesmere Port where the fuel pile once caught fire when I was steaming a plank for Lilith.
I had asked volunteers to try to get there for 9, and people started to show up from 8.30 onwards. Wisps of steam began to rise from the steambox at 5 minutes to 9, so the time for bending the first plank was set at 5 to 11. A plank has to spend an hour in the steambox for every inch thickness.
Soon a goodly crowd was assembled, though with little to do except stoke the fire, fetch more wood and drink tea. Steaming planks requires a good crowd for just 10 minutes per plank, when it’s actually being fitted. The rest of the time there’s not much to do except be sociable.
Stuart had the excellent idea of doing a dummy run, using one of the planks for the fore end. We manhandled the plank through the boat and then carried it back from the steambox then forward into the hoodings, the people at the other end of the plank having to walk on a temporary platform sticking out over the water. Stuart clamped the plank into the hoodings and everyone pushed the other end towards the boat to bend it. I was just expressing concern about the amount of pressure being put on an unsteamed plank, when a bang from the sternpost end confirmed my worst fears. A bit of short grain near the end had failed and about a foot had broken away. I looked at the broken plank in horror, but Stuart was smiling. “It’s OK” he said “The plank starts behind the broken bit, I haven’t cut the end yet”.
We put the plank away near the bow where it belongs and got on with getting clamps etc ready. As the water boiled away in the oil drum boiler and the fire grew steadily more intense so the steam rising from the steambox grew thicker and hotter. Rather than using the electric kettle we brewed up by placing an old kettle on top of the brick furnace next to the boiler where tongues of flame were constantly playing.
Time ticked by, and at 10.50 everyone assembled around the plank. When time was called,Stuart undid the tarpaulin shroud that was stopping too much steam from escaping at the steambox entrance. We pulled the plank out and dropped it on to a row of trestles while Stuart screwed a block near the end to hold the clamp. We then picked up the plank, pushed it into the hoodings and, once Stuart had it clamped up, bent the plank so that it touched the knees. Getting the bend is not as tricky as getting the twist. Ryan manoeuvred the heavy planktwister into place and screwed it against the lower part of the plank to bend it into the V shape between the moulds and the bottom. The plank then had to be forced downwards by bonking it with a big rubber mallet. This didn’t quite do the trick, so we tried forcing the plank down with a hydraulic jack pushing on a piece of wood screwed to the knees for this purpose. It was to no avail, the plank stayed with a stubborn gap under it, which will have to be removed by planing away some of the lower edge of the plank where it does touch the bottoms. Other than this, the plank fitted really well.
With the first plank in place we began to prepare for the second one. Ryan unscrewed the small bung from the oil drum, producing a jet of steam. This soon settled down and, once some priming problems with the pump were resolved, it was refilled with cut water, the bung screwed back in and more wood put on the fire. We then had to carefully move the steambox to the other side of the boat, insert , the plank and steampipe, then close up the steambox entrance and wait for the water to come to the boil.
With a good fire already in the hearth and everything hot we had steam up in half an hour, and the time for bending the second plank was fixed at 5 past two. Time for everyone to have lunch and enjoy more beverages. As Steve the Viking had arrived there was proper coffee for those who wanted it.

The second plank was more straightforward than the first and, with the day’s tasks accomplished by 2,30, people started to drift away. A few of us stayed and enjoyed potatoes and sausages cooked in the embers, before packing away the tools and dousing the fire.

A quiet Day 30th September 2011

A quiet Day

After the hectic activity yesterday it was quite a quiet day on "Hazel", just me Reg and Ryan. Reg left at dinner time to go and visit his daughter in Leeds. To be honest, there's not much of "Hazel" left now. The new bottom forms a base to build the boat up on, but we've now removed most of the sideplanking after carefully spiling it and recording the plank edge bevels. Highlights of the day have been offering up the new stempost, it looks like it will fit, and removing the old sternpost to make a copy. As usual there was a bit of forensic archaeology involved, working out which bits of the boat have ben replaced in her 97 year history, and which bits (not many) are original. As I removed the bottom strake at the stern end I was surprised to find that it was made of oak and about 60mm thick.I was expecting 2" pitch pine. I decided that it had been replaced at the same time as the bottoms as there was only one set of ironwork in the wood, indicating that it had never had replacement bottoms fitted to it. The question is, when was this done? It looks likely that the sternpost was renewed at the same time. Was it 1951 at Rathbones dry dock in Stretfored or 1970s at Ken Keays in Walsall.

25 Days. 3rd November 2011

25 days

I was surprised to see, when I logged in, that it has been 25 days since I last wrote anything. How remiss of me! The fact is that I don't seem to have had the time to sit down and write. I did have a bit of time off. Emuna and I went to Llandudno for a couple of days for her birthday. Stuart has been away too. He had a weeks work in Belgium.

When I returned from Llandudno on 13th October I found that Stuart and Ryan had spread the oak boards out on the ground as a sort of flat pack boat. Stuart started laying out the spiling boards and selecting the timber for the new planks. It turned out that the logs that I had bought were rather too straight and this restricted the amount of planks that we could get out of them. "Hazel"s planks are curvier than I thought.

Meanwhile, the sides of the boat were steadily being removed until there was virtually nothing left of them. Just the new bottom with the 1951 conversion propped up on sticks. We decided to get the knees shotblasted, so they went off to a shotblasters, then to another as the first one nearly tripled the quoted price after they had done one knee. The idiots also removed the identifying marker that Stuart had put on the knee, despite being firmly told not to. It's a good job they only did the one, or we would have been totally unable to work out which knee went where.

Stuart thinks we need timber for 5 more planks. I heard of some trees being felled in Cumbria and so had a day out looking at them. They're mostly too thin, but there are a couple of useful ones. I just have to arrange transport now.

With the stempost in place I started work on the sternpost. Now that is nearly ready.

We have a few new volunteers. Jake is travelling regularly from Lincoln to help. Bernard has started taking care of the tools. Nick is coming for a day each week and Rita joins us when she has a day off from social working. At the moment Reg is up from Rugby, carefully planing bevels on the edges of the bottom strakes. What we need now are some fundraising volunteers to magic up the rest of the money that we need. Any offers?

Drizzly Day 11th August 2011

Drizzly Day

I had a few jobs to do in Ashton before starting work on "Hazel" today, and had a pumping crisis to deal with at Portland Basin as "Elton" was trying to play submarines as a result of a faulty pump. When I eventually arrived Stuart was already busy strengthening up the moulds for shaping the fore end planks. I had a look at the job of fitting the stempost, which I had removed a few days earlier to do a bit more work on the hoodings where the top strake fits in.

I trimmed a bit of old planking away to make it possible to slide it right up to the end of the new keelson, then thought about bringing it over and offering it up. I wouldn't be able to carry it on my own and Stuart was still busy with the moulds, so I decided to go and work on the sternpost.

After a little while alternately cutting with the power saw and hacking bits out with the adze to rough out the hoodings on this post.

Ryan arrived, apologising for his lateness. He and Stuart had been to a charity pie tasting at the buffet bar the previous night. http://www.beerhouses.co.uk/pub/stalybridge-buffet-bar/
He got stuck in to sorting out the electrics on the 3 phase table saw that we recently collected from Ashton Canal Carriers. http://www.brocross.com/canal/joel.htm

It is run from a 3 phase converter, enabling it to run from a single phase supply, but had been running backwards. Ryan tried swapping wires around until eventually it ran smoothly in the right direction, then blew a trip to cut power from the whole boatyard.

Giving up on this, there was some discussion about other jobs that Ryan could do, but none of them were quite ready to be started. I had reached the stage of preparing to cut another slice off the sternpost with the chainmill, but decided to leave this and get Ryan to help offer up the stempost. In fact all three of us worked on this and soon had the stempost in place and fitting quite nicely. When Stuart checked it though it was way off centre at the top. This seemed to be because the right hand (starboard ) side of the bow had moved and was pushing the stempost out of line. Ryan and I started cutting away the other side so that we could get a prop in place to adjust the side of the boat. Part way through this job Ryan's mother arrived and we stopped for tea and a chat. When we had finished, Jessica, Adeline and Elouise, Stuarts wife and two daughters arrived and we were surprised to see that it was nearly time to go home.

All day the grey sky had been crying a constant fine drizzle over us. It was the sort of rain that gets you really wet without you really noticing until it's too late.