Category Archives: Restoration and repair

Can anyone cast light on this rowing gig, currently being restored at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

David Griffiths who is leading a team of volunteers working the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Boathouse No 4 to restore what they believe to be an old Royal Navy rowing gig.

However, David and his co-workers know little that is certain about her and he hopes an Intheboatshed.net reader might be able to help with the history and perhaps some construction details. If anyone can help, please either add a comment using the link below or email me at gmatkin@gmail.com, and will direct your message to David.

Here’s what David has to say:

‘The boat is 15ft 5in stem to stern, with a beam of 4ft. She has no construction plate or details on her, other than that her transom is marked with an engraved ‘204/17’.

‘She has two thwarts for one man each, two oars each, and would have had a coxswain’s seat with backrest. Thus, in rowing terms she was a coxed, double sculling skiff.

‘She also had a small thwart toward the bow, but whether this was intended to carry another person is not clear. It may have been structural only, or perhaps supported a towing post.

‘We have no records on her. She is commonly and affectionately known as the Dartmouth gig, and the rumor is that she was built by (or for) the navy for use by cadets at Britannia Royal Naval College.

‘I understand that there was a time when the navy believed that every man should know how to pull (row), and that boats of this kind were built in quite large numbers.

‘We believe that after her life in Dartmouth she was brought up to Whale Island, here in Portsmouth, where she sat as surplus for some years before being obtained, maybe some twenty-five years ago, by the Naval Base Property Trust.

‘Sadly she has been greatly neglected over the years, and even subjected to deliberate sabotage, but now, with perseverance, my team is bringing her back, plank by plank.

‘I believe she is built in white pine on oak: a visitor came in one day and said this was the case, adding that he was a historian with expertise in wood construction.

‘It certainly has some of the feel and appearance of being old, and but her knees, stem and stern post are all laminated.

‘I have managed to locate some photographs of a boat that appears to be identical to ours, and which was for sale on-line some years ago. Named Bluie, it apparently had a plate indicating that she was built by shipwright apprentices in Devonport, but it had no date. I’m hoping this might be a clue…

‘Our boat is currently replanked up to number ten on each side, so we are at the point of fitting new sheer strakes then framing her out. From that point though, we are lacking the details which will allow us to fulfill an authentic restoration.

‘If anyone out there among your readership can cast any light on our delightful little boat, I would be most grateful.

‘Best wishes, David Griffiths’

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Some good news about the lovely bawley Thistle RR2

Here’s some great, encouraging news from Faversham’s Lena Reekie, a traditional boat enthusiast well known for organising various local boating events:

‘She is 130 years – a sad looking but beautiful lady. Thistle RR2 is the last of the Rochester bawleys, built by Gill in 1887.

‘She has a 34ft keel, 13ft beam and 5ft draught.

‘After a long working life out of Rochester and Gravesend, Phil
Wilkinson, a smack and bawley enthusiast, found her sunk in Kingston-on- Thames. He acquired her in 1976 and, having rescued her from an almost certain bonfire, began a thorough rebuild to get her back afloat and sailing again. It was a remarkable achievement by one man.

‘She was was later owned by Mark Jones and based at Hollowshore near Faversham. With her loose-footed mainsail, very tall topmast and long bowsprit she was a beautiful sight and was often seen sailing in the Swale, Medway and on the East Coast.

‘Sadly, about 10 years ago, she was no longer looked after, finally sank again, unwanted, and recently it became clear that she was again heading for the chainsaw.

‘But now a group of friends from Iron Wharf appalled by the prospect of Thistle meeting a sad end have stepped in. They got the ‘go ahead’ to re-float the old bawley and at the end of July she was towed to Iron Wharf, where she now awaits further action.

‘The group also purchased her sails and a smack boat dinghy from the previous owner.

‘The aim is now to lift her out for a short time to assess the work and cost to keep her afloat over the winter and at to carry out necessary repairs. Unfortunately her new owners have limited funds and are obliged to appeal for help.

‘Initially there will be a fund raising raffle at the Anchor Pub in Faversham on Sunday 8 October at about 3 pm, after the finish of the annual Iron Wharf Rowing Race between Nagden and Faversham Town Quay.  All are welcome to take part.’

For information, please contact Lena Reekie on 01795 229564 or 07968 058398.

By the way, I can confirm that her hull form has a lovely ‘just right for the job’ look.

 

The Song of the Waterlily, set to music

Martin Newell’s increasingly acclaimed quartet poem The Song of the Waterlily – the building of a boat has been set to music and recorded by Martin and local band The Hosepipe Band, together with another poem Black Shuck, telling the story of an ancient ‘black dog’ legend.

The Song of the Waterlily describes the building and proving of a traditional Essex deep-sea fishing smack through the eyes of a young shipwright, who helps a master shipwright to construct the boat.

It follows the progress of the Waterlily, from launching and naming, her first regatta, and her first North Sea storm…

“I am The Keel, therefore the king,
For me, the adze and whetstone sing…
And hewn from woodland oak so tall,
Take precedence above you all.”

There’s a sample of the recording on the band page linked above.

Martin’s poem was inspired by the restoration of The Pioneer – a similar boat rebuilt at Brightlingsea by the Pioneer Sailing Trust, an organisation which takes on apprentices and trains them in boat-building skills.

A book of The Song of the Waterlily illustrated by artist James Dodds (see him talk about The Pioneer rebuilding here) is published by Jardine Press.