Blockmaker Steve Whitby tells his story

Blockmaker Steve Whitby 1 Blockmaker Steve Whitby 2

Enthusiastic wooden blockmaker Steve Whitby has been in touch to tell us about how he got into making blocks.

‘My Dad built a boat when I was a boy, and I’ve been sailing ever since. Down the years I’ve made all sorts of rig bits and bobs, mostly racing and cruising dinghy systems, a few sailing canoes, couple of dodgy International Moths… you get the idea. (Though I’m now way too old for International Moths!)

‘Somehow wooden blocks just drew me in – I got hold of a few worn out blocks, took them to bits, copied them, tried to improve them. For me its a chance to create something that I think is actually rather beautiful, but also practical and with a real heritage.

‘There are a few web resources that are helpful – a page on the Duckworks site among others, but the best I’ve found is on Traditional Maritime Skills, which is a terrific site.

‘Learning to make these things has involved quite a lot of trial-and-error too of course – I have a sizable box of rejects that I can’t bring myself to put on the fire. But along the way I have developed my own techniques – my one-piece blocks are routed from a 30in blank that makes up a set of eight, which are then cut off and shaped.

‘Initially I was very taken with a one-piece design, but they use rather a lot of wood (especially making larger ones) and I hate the router.

‘The laminated blocks are made with a template for every part (including all the holes for dowels and spindles), they are glued and doweled (or copper riveted) before being sanded on a big old linisher to get a neat oval. All the blocks are hand carved for profile and to gouge out the score (for the strop).

‘I have made a few with internal bindings, but somehow strop blocks are just so much more elegant an approach.

‘The latest developments have been roller-bearing sheaves (which I am quite pleased with as they are much easier to make than ball-bearing ones, but are better at taking load and still run very nicely).

‘I’ve been making fiddle-blocks with cleats (for mainsheets, kicking straps etc). I have just finished one with a Tufnol V-jammer “hidden” inside the swallow – I was going to just rough it out to test it, but somehow I had to finish it properly and leave it in linseed for a few days… I still don’t know if it will actually work yet but it looks nice!

‘Also in the works are swivels, specially made to take the bottom of a strop (and so make a strop block stand upright) – I will post pictures soon (that might make more sense than my description).

Steve seems to have got a bit carried away… for in September he leaves the day job to join the International Boatbuilding Training Centre to do a full year’s traditional boatbuilding course.

Thanks for getting in contact Steve, and great good luck with the course and whatever comes next!

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Marcus Lewis makes the Fowey River dinghy and Troy class keelboat racers ready for the season

Fowey boatbuilder Marcus Lewis has been in touch to tell us about the work he’s been doing – and here’s been a lot of maintenance, repair and painting work to do on the local Fowey River dinghy and Troy class keelboat racers, as you might expect during the run-up to the new sailing season.

Here’s what he says:

‘It’s fairly busy in my boat shed! We have finished all the woodwork on a new Fowey River sailing dinghy, and the owner has taken it away to do his own varnishing and painting.

‘We’ve also been getting on with the sanding and painting of several of the Troy Class keelboats – we currently look after or maintain about ten of these, and they all need to be back afloat ready to race by the first Saturday in May.

The photos (above) show Ruby (no. 6) and Aquamarine (no. 16) in my workshop, and then there is the yard at the Fowey Gallants Sailing Club, where we have the masts out for varnishing, and Troys nos 1,3,7,18,19 and 23 almost done.

Ruby is now afloat, (pictured on the water above) and we have 10 days of launching and rigging of these boats ahead right now, as well as some varnishing and antifouling on a few Fowey River dinghies.

‘Also, a couple weekends ago, I organised a lifejacket clinic at the sailing club, with service engineers from Ocean Safety in Plymouth. Folks could bring their lifejackets along for a once over, and hopefully learn a bit about them. The checks were free, but any spare parts fitted had to be paid for.

‘We had a huge attendance , with 248 lifejackets looked at over six hours.

‘Attached is a pic of a typical poorly treated jacket, left in the locker all winter to decay. the rusty cylinder can chafe through the bladder, and is not recommended. The RNLI sea safety team were also there to answer questions on EPIRBs, kill switches, mob devices, and any other safety queries.’

I must say running a lifejacket check sounds like a great way to get folks minds focused on safety at a time when they’re getting their boats ready, and setting out on their annual shakedown trips.

Thanks Marcus!

Posted in Boatbuilders and restorers, Keelboat, Locations, Racing sailing craft, Racing yacht, Restoration and repair, River boats, Sailing boat, Sailing dinghy, Small boats, Suppliers, Traditional carvel, Traditional clinker, Uncategorized, wooden boat | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Broads holiday 1962

My thanks to Broadland Memories for this one.

Posted in Barges and wherries, Locations, River boats, Sailing boat, Uncategorized | Leave a comment