All posts by Gavin Atkin

Boat Building Academy students build a Selway Fisher sailing dinghy

Boat Building Academy student James Dickson built this pea green Selway-Fisher designed sailing dinghy together with another student Simon Swindells while on the BBA’s long course starting in September last year.

The photos are by Janine Cashin, Paul Dyer, Becky Joseph and Jenny Steer.

The 12ft6in Selway-Fisher Northumbrian Coble was built using glued clinker construction and is planked in Robbins Elite marine ply. All other solid timber parts are made of iroko apart from the spars, which are made of sitka spruce.

James, who is a partner in a prominent Scottish law firm, is from a long line of Eyemouth fishermen, and chose the Selway-Fisher design because it allowed him to build a boat in a modern way, but reminded him of a traditional coble.

Simon from London, has worked in sales for the last 20 years but tired by being ‘only being as good as your last month’, joined the Academy to start a new practical career.

The coble has been named Star of Hope after a fishing boat James’ family owned in the 50′s and 60′s, and which he believes is currently being used as a sailing charter in Rostock on the Baltic.

The newest Star of Hope capsized fully three times on launch day, ducking James and crew - though when they rowed themselves back to harbour they reported that this had more to do with human error than the weather or the boat .

Neither James nor Simon have yet decided what they’ll do next, but are exploring different opportunities in woodworking and boat building. Meanwhile, Star of Hope is to be used as often as possible for fun with family and friends.

A film history of Thames Estuary gravel carriers Prior’s

A beautifully made film history of Prior’s – their small gravel-carrying ships are a familiar sight for anyone sailing the north side of the Thames Estuary.

My thanks to Paul Mullings for the link.

Here’s a photo of one of Prior’s vessels that I took earlier this year.


Two sea shanties for singing sailors

Two proper sea shanties that are highly suitable for the singing sailor.

I gather ‘noggin’ was a very rude word a century or two back but seems remarkably harmless now… And for that I guess we can thank Oliver Postgate, creator of the cartoon character Noggin the Nog.

PS – And here’s a forebitter about a common sailor’s fantasy – the young woman who dresses as a boy and goes to sea.

Volta Mallorca – campaigner Giacomo de Stefano to circumnavigate Mallorca by llaut

Volta Mallorca is a campaigning circumnavigation of Mallorca in a beautiful engineless traditional wooden llaut, Nova Catalina, by tireless campaigner Giacomo die Stefano and friends.

They aim to raise awareness about water-related issues, and to learn about and share the potential for sustainable projects.

Giacomo and his pals set off on their sail- and oar-powered expedition on the 27th; in the meantime, here are some photos from a trial sail last year.

Mike Lowson’s Northboats restores beloved Nutshell dinghy

‘Sometimes it’s the smallest boats that give us the biggest pleasure,’ says boatbuilder and boat restorer Mike Lowson of Aberdeenshire-based Northboats.

He has just completed the restoration of a 9ft clinker ply Nutshell dinghy which was destined for the scrap heap. The photos above are a mix of before and after shots.

‘The dinghy, called Min, was produced some years ago by the Barrow Boat Company, most likely as a home-build kit. Her name is a clue to her age’ as her first owner was a big fan of the 1950s radio Goon Show in which Minnie Bannister was a popular character, played by Spike Milligan.’

The boat eventually ended up in Scotland but came close to being reduced to charcoal when the barn in which she was stored caught fire. The blaze left her with severely damaged paintwork and varnish and a badly-damaged transom which had begun to delaminate. The conflagration also accounted for her tiller, centreboard and an oar.

She was rescued by a new owner who then asked Northboats to see what could be done with her.

She might be little and getting on a bit but she’s full of character and I was delighted to take on the job, says Mike.

Now, following a com,plete restoration, she has a new centreboard, a new curved tiller laminated from ash, and a new oar of spruce to match the surviving original. An ugly rubber strip around the gunwale has been removed and replaced with a new iroko strip.

The transom has been fully repaired and the fire-damaged hull restored to near original condition.

All upper and interior surfaces were treated to multiple coats of Epifanes varnish and, after being stripped back, the repaired outside hull was given a series of coats of International Pre-Kote undercoat and Toplac top coat in black and white.

The sail was also given a once-over and the running rigging renewed and adjusted.

‘She now looks pretty as a picture and, like her owner, can’t wait to get back on the water,’ Mike added. ‘So that’s a nice wee story, in a nutshell.’

Northboats has had a busy year to date with repair and restoration work stretching from small dinghies to traditional loch fishing boats and commercial creelers. Work is also about to start on a new build of a John Welsford-designed Navigator.


Mike Lowson’s Northboats sponsors safe cycling team

A new Scottish cycling team that plans to combine competitive, leisure and social cycling with a strong safety message has been launched with the backing of Aberdeenshire-based boatbuilder Mike Lowson and his company Northboats.

Team Ecosse Northboats (T-E-N) aims to combine campaigning on safe cycling while supporting selected charities, including multiple sclerosis and cancer groups, through a range of cycling events.

It is the first sponsorship venture by Northboats, which was set up by Lyme Regis Boat Building Academy graduate Mike Lowson in 2008. Northboats is based at Old Leslie, 30 north-west of Aberdeen.

T-E-N is the brainchild of Mike’s son, Pete, 32, a keen amateur cyclist in both commuting and competing. His experience has given him serious concerns over the road craft of some cyclists.

Pete said: ‘We acknowledge that some problems on our roads are caused by poor cycling which gives the rest of us a bad name and can put our lives in unnecessary danger. Through our campaign, and people cycling sensibly, we hope roads will become safer for cyclists.

One of the charity events currently being organised by the team is the Boat/Bike/Ben Challenge. Carrying a specially-made commemorative baton, T-E-N members will row and sail a Northboats-built boat along the 70-mile Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness before cycling back down the Great Glen and finishing by scaling Ben Nevis.

Boatbuilder Mike Lowson added: ‘Sailing and cycling are two green and healthy sports at which British athletes excel and they fit well together. I’m delighted to support Team Ecosse Northboats’ efforts to raise the profile of cycling safety and to encourage cyclists of all styles and abilities to become involved.’

T-E-N members have competed in a number of events so far this year, including major Scottish races such as the Caledonia and Loch Ness Etapes and the Cairngorm Classic, and also triathlons in the UK and Austria. Others recently completed a Lands End to John o’Groats ride and one team member is a two-time winner of the Scottish Coal Race.

Multiple Olympic and world champion Sir Chris Hoy is among those to congratulate the new initiative on its launch. He said: ‘I just wanted to wish you all the very best with your team. I’ll be keeping an eye out for you. Good luck.’

Below: founder members of the T-E-N cycling team launch the initiative with an Iain Oughtred Elf design faering built by Mike Lowson of Northboats. Pete Lowson is second from right

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Nick Smith motor launch Mona Louise emerges glistening into the light

The pretty 16ft West Country-style motor launch Mona Louise has emerged from Salcombe-trained traditional boat builder Nick Smith’s workshop. has been following her progress  as she’s been built over the past few weeks.

He hasn’t got much more to say just now – after 1088 man-hours working on one boat and especially all that varnishing I’d guess he’s likely been near speechless for the last couple of daysHowever, Mona Louise will be on show at Wooden Boatbuilders Trade Association stand at the the Southampton International Boat Show, and no doubt he will be very pleased to talk with anyone interested in discussing the boat.