The Boatbuilders Diary Part 2

Monday, 3rd June

This week we have to move several yachts about, launch two and rig one ready to go.
First job .... get the slipway trolley out from under Tregeagle, a sweet little centre boarder we have in at the moment. She is having all her varnish work stripped bare and refinished. The mast was supposed to be re-varnished but we discovered that the bottom end, where it sits in the tabernacle, was very rotten, when one presses a finger on it water runs out! Not a good sign!!

Once the trolley is out we can begin getting it under the Sterling class yacht, Marlin. The Sterling design is very similar to the ever popular Twister class, but is slightly wider at the stern and draws slightly less water, and all the boats built to this class are timber, unlike the Twisters where many were built in GRP. Graham and the apprentices get the Marlin loaded on the trolley whilst I am off doing another survey, this time at the headquarters of the Medway Cruising Club at Gillingham. By the time I get back the Marlin has been loaded and moved back down the workshop and is ready to be moved out the following morning.

Tuesday, 4th June

First job after the first brew of the day! is to get Marlin out of the doors and lined up with the rails on the slip way.

When I bought the yard, there was only a dirt slip onto which the previous occupants of the shed used to lay metal rails each time they used the slip. This all took too long, so we had the slipway enlarged, removing more that 200 tons of spoil, then we tipped almost 100 tons of hard core in, shuttered and poured ready mix concrete, having firstly set metal channels in position to accept the wheels of the yet to be built trolleys.

We designed and built our own trolleys with minimum height, just 10ins, with only 4 wheels, and to carry a maximum of 22 tons. These we move about with our electric winch, or on some occasions a hand winch. Sideways movement is achieved by the use of a set of wheels that fit under the trolley frame after jacking up one inch, these wheels can be set at any angle, allowing movement in any direction. (The hand winch keeps the apprentices fit and prevents the hands in pockets problem!).

If we are confident about the tide height we lower the trolley down when the tide is out. We then take the safety straps off when the trolley is against the stops at the bottom. If, on the other hand, we are unsure about tide height, we rig the straps with their buckles on deck so we can release them only if the tide reaches the required height.

It is interesting that when we built our slip we would often get yachts of just over six feet draft on the trolley on a spring tide. Now with supposedly rising sea levels we struggle to get vessels of just under five feet draft on, so we have lost at least 1 foot of water.
This is also the case at the boatyard at Hollowshore near the mouth of Faversham creek.

When I worked there in the mid seventies, in the small workshop where the bench work was done, we had to put our tool boxes on the bench at every other spring tide and there would be anything from two inches to eighteen inches of water over the floor. Over the same floor they very rarely get ANY water now, perhaps once a year at best, and then only about one inch at most. It is very odd that when I went to Washington to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, I met the owners of a boatyard in Yorktown who were telling me that their family built their slipway just before the American Civil War, and that they have often had vessels of twelve feet draft on the slip but now they struggle with vessels of only nine feet draft, and this is on the same original slipway, using the same trolley! All be it twenty sets of wheels and thirty new tops later! So where does that leave the rising sea levels brigade!! A lot of people would not notice the tide height, but working on a tidal creek one does notice these things (if not one tends to get wet feet!)

We have always been well aware of the possibility of flooding, that is why when we wired the workshop all the sockets are more than five feet above the floor level. When the tide runs over the sea wall on the opposite side of the creek and begins to flood the marsh, our workshop floor is eighteen inches above the water level, but we still pick the machinery up when the tide looks like being high.

Once we have manoeuvred Marlin into the tracks on the slip, we lower her down to the bottom of the slip where the trolley rests against the stops on the end of the tracks. Now we have to wait for the tide to come in. We remove the webbing straps and buckles from the stern of the vessel only leaving the one strap that passes over the boat from the forward end of the trolley to the top of the forward leg, this one stays on until the vessel float at the stern end. The buckle is positioned at the top of the leg to facilitate this.

As soon as Marlin floated we pulled her along the jetty and off the trolley. Check below for any water from sea cocks etc. and then turn the sea water inlet for the engine on, start the engine, and with Alison on board we proceed down the creek to a berth on the Iron Wharf boatyard where the mast will be stepped in the morning, using their crane. Once all fast, Alison and I return to the yard where the lads have pulled the trolley up and are washing it off (Faversham mud is very tenacious and smells a lot).

Wednesday 5th June

Today we must pull up the little 25 footer that arrived just after the top of the tide yesterday. She is a centreboard and draws only 2'6" with the board up. As soon as we have 3' of water over the trolley we manoeuvre her into place against the legs on the up creek side of trolley and set up the webbing straps that prevent her slipping back and the ones that keep her listing slightly on to the legs. It's quite straight forward to operate the winch with its hand set that you can take down alongside the boat being moved. Once at the required height up the slip, we dog the trolley off to allow us to re-rig the winch wire to haul right up into the workshop, but first it's Ben's job to pressure wash the boat off, and the trolley, prior to being pulled in. After this we lower the mast in it tabernacle, and move it forward so that it rests on the pulpit and a pair of short steps on the aft deck. By home time we have the boat in and the trolley lifted up onto the extra set of wheels ready to move sideways, to make room for the next boat to come in on Wednesday of next week.

Thursday, 6th June

We moved the boat over and lowered it down, with keel blocks below the keel and legs on port and starboard sides to keep her upright. These legs are 4" x 4" and stand some 3' above the deck when standing on the ground (we have a stock of various lengths). Chains pass through holes at the top and hang down with bottle screws at the bottom ends that are fastened to the vessels chain plates. The top ends are adjusted by use of steel plate chain stoppers, and the finale adjustment is made with the bottle screws at the bottom end. This system not only keeps the boat upright, but allows one to level the boat up, and there are no blocks underneath to obstruct work. After lunch, Ben and Sean start removing the ports and other fittings that are going to be in the way when we start scraping the varnish off the cabin coamings, covering boards, and toe rails. By afternoon tea break the lads are part way along the coamings with the scraping down. The lads are almost at the forward end by going home time!

Friday, 7th June

This morning Graham and Alison have a job in Chatham Maritime Marina on a Discovery 55 class yacht. The owner misjudged the lock entrance, and side swiped the concrete approach to the lock gates. This ripped out a chunk of the teak rail capping. We needed to avoid having to replace a whole length of the rail as the boat was due to leave on a trip to Portugal at the end of the following week! So we managed to let in a section from one of the original joints, along the edge of the genoa track, so that it was impossible to see. They had been up and chopped out and made a template of the section required earlier so today they have to fit and glue into place. There are also some new vents to fit in the top of some of the Lewmar hatches. Whilst doing this the owner's crew discovered that the domestic battery bank was dead flat, the shore power had been disconnected a couple of days ago to allow the boat to be moved into a work mooring. The electrician was called and he confirmed that the complete bank was un-saveable. These batteries are gel individual cell units each of 2.2 volts, there are 12 in the bank to give 24 volts. Each cell is 36" in height, 9" deep, and 5" in width, and each weighs 48 kg. In this yacht the batteries are situated below the sole of the dinette, under the cabin table. Everyone aboard was involved in getting these out and ashore to bring back to Faversham. The replacement set of batteries cost just over £6,000 including the VAT. I hate the idea that so much is electrical with a computer to control even the internal lighting. (What's the matter with oil lamps!). So with all that happening, it was after seven o'clock when they got back to the yard, and so we come to the end of another week!

Monday, 10th June

Another week! And another boat to move, all we seem to do at this time of year is move boats! This time it is the Dutch owned Dallimore design Priscilla, built by Harry King at Pin Mill in 1932 (this boat was built for the same owner as my own Tasia was, but later in 1937). It is quite strange how the two boats have now come to live in the same creek! It has been nice to do quite a lot of work on Priscilla in the past twelve years. This has included a new centre board case and centre board (the original having been removed back in the early sixties). We also fitted a new swept teak deck and new covering boards, then three years ago we fitted a new engine. This winter it has been a new centre board lifting wire and chain, some re-caulking, new echo sounder transducer and some new rigging. We manoeuvre Priscilla onto the slipway trolley, then roll across the workshop and lower down onto the main trolley wheels ready to go down the slip.

Once again we have problems owing to the poor tide height in the creek, so we do not launch that day, and the boat has to sit at the top of the slip until the following day.

Tuesday, 11th June

I spend the day dressing Priscilla's mast and fitting the crosstrees etc. In the afternoon we do manage to launch the boat but only just! The rest of the gang is doing work on other boats in the workshop all day. We do not have a crane of our own so we use next door (Iron Wharf Boatyard) to lift masts in, so they are booked for the following morning.


Wednesday, 12th June

The crane can reach the bottom of our slipway from their side of the fence, so at about 09.00 the crane is in place and we roll Priscilla's mast out of the shed and rig the lifting strop on the mast. On Priscilla the mast is keel stepped, and as it comes down through the deck one has to be very careful not to get your hand trapped as the mast is within a recess formed by the bulkheads of the fore cabin and the heads compartment.

By 10.00 the mast is in place and the rigging is all set up, and the crane is now able to do the other job we have planned. This is to lift the Humber Yawl Eel up to allow us to install the L shaped centre plate, the arm of this comes up through a slot in the fore deck, just aft of the mast tabernacle. This is quite a big plate, it increases the draft from 2' 6" to about 6' when fully down. When this is done Eel is placed upon the slipway trolley ready to be rigged prior to launching.

Thursday, 13th June

Today will see the new mast go up on Eel, the old one was just a rather poor quality Larch pole, with corners added to square it up in way of the tabernacle. The new one is of built construction, of Douglas Fir, with a cable conduit up the inside to allow the fitting of a mast head light. The main boom and gaff are old, possibly original. After fitting the rigging the mast is lifted aboard and placed with its pivot pin in the wrought iron fitting on the top of the tabernacle (I think Dave heaved a sigh of relief when the mast went up as this was the first time it had been tried). We had also made a new mizzen mast as the original had been in a store that belonged to the old owner, and when he disappeared so did the contents of this store shed.


Way back when we had done much work on Eel prior to going to the Wooden Boat Show at Greenwich, we had made a replica of the original wooden luff spar shown in the article about Eel in the American magazine Field & Stream, dated January 1897. The only difference is that on the new one the sail is slid into a luff groove and tied out at the ends rather than having a sleeve that passed over the spar. It was very interesting to get the spar up and work out how the wire forestay was rigged to allow the spar to be lowered without dropping the mast. In the end we used the same system as Albert Strange did, bringing the forestay up through the spar, over a wire block at the mast head, then down the mast and tensioned at the bottom end with a lanyard. (ie KIS ... keep it simple!).

Friday, 14 June

Work is progressing on the little centre boarder Tregeagle, the cabin coamings have come up very well. The owner had requested that the finish should be International Wood Skin rather than traditional yacht varnish, this seems to be a popular choice with a lot of owners. The front coaming had been a bit of a mess with some nasty staining on the outside, and some damage, so we routed the outer ¼" off and glued on a layer of matching mahogany, this saved having to disturb the cabin top sheathing if we had removed the whole front coaming.

The top sides are being sanded, and are starting to look ok. I intend that this paint job will be for the boys, Ben and Sean to do, up to now they have always worked with either myself or Graham on painting, so this time they can work together (a bit of rivalry does wonders when two apprentices work together!!).

And so we come to the end of yet another week, I just don't know where the time goes, it seems only the other year that I was rowing on the Thames with dear old Jack Chippendale, discussing if it was a wise move to buy the yard at Faversham rather than continue renting somewhere and that was 23 years ago!!!

Monday, 17th June

The mast on Tregeagle has some problems at the bottom end, it has been in the tabernacle but the tabernacle itself has no drain holes in the corners so when the boat sits in its mud berth, slightly down at the stern, water collects in the bottom. Usually a mast in a tabernacle is fitted to sit on a wedge at the bottom, but this boat has none so the bottom of the mast sits in water, and has therefore soaked up the water and is now coming apart at the glue joints. David, our mast specialist, is exploring the condition and comes to tell me that the wood is rotted right through and up the mast for about three feet! Oh Joy! The owner will be really pissed off about this! As he is always against spending money!! We end up putting a complete new bottom end on the mast, and altering it to sit on a wedge in the base of the tabernacle. We also find several places on the mast where the glue joint has failed and the water has been getting in, these will need routing out and a spline let in.

The boys have made a good job of the paint work on Tregeagle and the varnish work that had been stripped back and re-coated looks grand.

Tuesday, 18th June

Just the last few jobs to do on Tregeagle prior to launching. The gold line to be painted, the rudder to be re hung and the final coat of antifouling to be put on. Once these have been completed we can get the trolley under her ready to launch. These jobs take the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 19th June

The first job is get little Tregeagle out of the workshop and lined up with slipway rails, and then lower down until the trolley stops against the stops on the end of the slip (essential if we don't want to end up with the trolley stuck in the mud!!). It's now just a case of waiting until the tide makes. Once the stern of the boat lifts we let the cross straps at the forward end of the trolley go and with luck the boat will be free! We then pull her aft clear of the trolley and make her fast alongside the jetty, pull the trolley up and wash it down to clear it of mud.

Thursday, 20th June

After dressing the mast we are ready to step it in Tregeagle, and it is soon in place and the rigging all set up before the tide comes in and the owner arrives to take the boat back to its home mooring in Ore creek. I had been asked to collect the owner from the boat and bring him back to the yard to collect his car, so after giving him about an hour to get there and tie the boat up I drive from the yard round to Ore creek only to find him still playing about with rope, trying to get the boat to lay alongside the jetty. After waiting about another half hour we are finally ready to go back to the yard.

Whilst all this has been going on, Tim and Sean have started building the replacement for the jetty alongside the slipway. This has been in place since the mid 90's and is due for renewal. The walkway is to be constructed in the work shop and then lifted into place. To make this possible we have built a walkway along the side of the jetty and about two feet lower than the top, this consists of timbers bolted across the legs and cantilevered out to support a couple of Youngman staging sections. These will, of course, be removed once the work is completed. We renewed the jetty on the other side of the slip last year. We try to do a couple of biggish maintenance jobs every year to keep the place in good order.

Alan Staley