IT’S wintertime. There are icicles hanging from the gunwhales of your boat and even the water in the bilges is frozen solid. Spring seems a long, long way away and you’re wondering how to fill those dark evenings and dreary weekends.
Why not think about learning how to build – or repair – your own wooden boat?
No, I’m not joking – a fantastic new book has recently come on the market entitled, simply, ‘Wooden Boatbuilding’ and it offers guidance on the whole process of building a wooden craft right from the design stage through choosing the correct kind of timber, tips on traditional methods of working with timber and construction right through to rigging the craft if you hope to build a sailing craft (and why wouldn’t you given that it’s the best way to travel!) It covers dinghies up to more substantial craft.
The book is the work of legendary French sailor and boatbuilder Jean-Francois Garry who, with his wife, Martine, runs a traditional boatyard and chandlery on the other side of the channel. And it has to be said that what M. Garry doesn’t know about building boats is probably not worth knowing.
Now I have to confess, I’ve owned a number of boats in my time and most of them have been built from GRP – glass fibre, to the uninitiated – and there is much to be said for the relatively low maintenance of a plastic boat. They are light, ease to keep clean and comparatively cheap to buy compared to their wooden brethren.
But the boat I have always yearned for, ever since selling her in 1992, was an old ex-RNLI lifeboat called ‘Merry Widow’ which for many year I kept moored on the Thames near Hurst Park. Built in 1908 by a company called Thames Ironworks in east London, she served with the RNLI in the early years of the 20th century and was then passed on through a succession of owners until she came into my stewardship.
And there’s just something about an old wooden boat that sets my pulses racing.
You feel that her history has soaked into her timbers and that, were she only able to speak, what a tale she could tell. She weighed around 12 tons, measured 36-feet in length, with a nine-foot beam and was made of double-diagonal teak planking on oak beams. And she was as sound in 1986, when I acquired her, as she was when she was first launched.
And owning a wooden boat, I spent many hours in various boatyards working on her – stripping her down to bare timber to completely repaint her and to carry out minor modifications to her topsides and hull.
Trust me, there is nothing like the smell of freshly-worked timber – nothing half so satisfying as putting together a newly-created joint which fits snugly into place and, finally, applying coat after coat of protective varnish to a finished improvement.
I’m not suggesting that a quick read of M. Garry’s work will turn you all into master craftsmen but I do believe it may pique the interest of a few sufficiently to make them find out a little more about the craft.
And you never know, there might just be one or to new boats slipping into the waters of the Thames in future as a result.
Wooden Boatbuilding is published by Adlard Coles Nautical (ISBN 978-1-4081-2853-4) at a price of £16.99.
RIVERWATCH will be taking a short break over Christmas but I’ll be back in the New Year with a preview of this year’s London International Boat Show at Excel. Merry Christmas to all my readers and contributors.