Category Archives: Techniques

The Apprentice Lighterman (1963)

The Apprentice Lighterman (1963) – a short film about the work of lightermen on the Thames five decades ago.

My thanks to Andrew Craig-Bennett for spotting and sharing this video on The Liquid Highway’s YouTube account.

Boatbuilding Academy photographer

BBA students build 20ft Roger Dongray trailer-sailer

The 20ft Roger Dongray-designed Golant Ketch shown above was built by Boat Building Academy student Keith McIlwain on the BBA’s long course. (Photos by Liz Griffiths, Becky Joseph, Jon Pritchard and Jenny Steer.)

Daydream, the largest boat built by the BBA’s October 2013 intake, is a decked trailer sailer with lifting centreboard, outboard engine and cabin. Her hull is constructed using the ply on frame method.

From Bristol, Keith started his working life as a sailmaker and worked his way up to loft manager for a premier sail company before starting a career in sales and marketing.

He decided to join the 38-week course as a way of returning to the boating industry with a new career, and is currently setting up his own boat building, restoration and repairs business just outside of Bristol, to be called Daydream Boats.

Keith will build on his prior experience of furniture and sail-making, and will also be an agent for Jeckells Sails in the South West.

He chose to build the Golant Ketch as he wanted a boat he could sail around Bristol and the South West, and to help promote his business to potential customers.

Brenton Pyle from South Africa worked with Keith throughout the build.

Brenton moved to the UK with his family in 2005 and worked for an aircraft maintenance company. He joined the Academy to start a career in boat building, and throughout the course has particularly enjoyed developing his woodworking skills.

He is currently working with former academy instructor, Justin Adkin at his workshop based in Axminster and in the future will consider options in boat building, woodworking and furniture making.

Students Andy Jones, George Le Gallais and Steven Roberts also worked closely with Keith to build Daydream, but between them also made a 14ft paddleboard, again shown in the gallery above .

George was the first to paddle it out into the harbour on launch day.

The plans for the ply on frame Kaholo board were purchased from Chesapeake Light Craft website. It was sheathed in glass and epoxy; to paddle it the students use paddles they built as part of the course.

Andy who grew up in Lyme Regis, joined the Academy from London where he worked for Babcock Critical Services in partnership with the London and Lincolnshire fire and rescue brigades. During the course he worked on all of the boat projects, in particular Keith’s Golant Ketch, to which he became quite attached.

Joe who loves to experience different cultures and to throw himself into unfamiliar territory, spent time travelling around Europe, North and South America, Australia and India before joining the Academy. Like Andy and all 38-week course students Joe worked on all of the course boat projects and enjoyed learning modern and traditional techniques.

Joe from Devon has work lined up at the Underfall Boatyard in Bristol, and Andy is working at Sutton Oars in Teignmouth, making wooden oars for gigs, and carbon skull oars.

BBA students build a new design composite sailing canoe

Boat Building Academy students Richard Lyford from Portland and Steve Roberts built and launched a newly designed 14ft 5in composite sailing canoe as part of a 38-week boatbuilding course. The photos are by Janine Cashin, Liz Griffiths, Becky Joseph, John  Pritchard, Grant Morris and Jenny Steer.

Richard took a career break to attend the course.

Richard believes that with interest in the Victorian idea of sailing canoes is growing in the UK and that we’re on the way to a real revival. So he worked with sailing canoe specialist company Solway Dory to develop and design a new light-weight composite sailing canoe and built a prototype as part of his course.

Water sports enthusiast Steve joined the course from a career in the Royal Navy where here worked as a mine clearance diver.

The two created a tulip-wood hull plug, which was then glass and epoxied to create the mould, which was lifted off the plug, polished and used to create the canoe.

Rock Pipit can be paddled or sailed, and has an unstayed Bermuda rig, which Richard argues is simple to rig and easy to reef.

She looked elegant in white and royal blue, so much so that BBA technician Steve Hewins, a man who has seen countless boats, watched her go out and said ‘One day I’m going to have one of those… ‘

Richard returns to his job as a Submarine Systems Engineer in July. Steve has already started work at Compass Tenders, Port Hamble, building bespoke tenders for superyachts.

The Rock Pipit design will become part of the Solway Dory range. If you are on the Devon or Cornwall coast or estuaries look out for Richard, who intends to use his new sailing canoe as often as possible.

BBA students build 12ft Paul Gartside traditional style clinker dinghy

The Boat Building Academy celebrated the launch of six boats and seventeen new boat builders at Lyme a few weeks ago.

The boats were built by the BBA’s class of September 2013, who had completed its 38-week course. Although new to woodworking and boat building, the students built six boats and a paddle board using modern and traditional methods, completing every step from lofting board to launch in just nine months.

Some three hundred well-wishers gathered in the sunshine to celebrate the students’ achievements and give a resounding cheer as the champagne popped and each boat went into the water.

First in was the 12ft traditional clinker dinghy above, built by David Rainbow and Adam Smith to Paul Gartside’s 2001 design, #130 design, and planked in west African mahogany on oak ribs and backbone. (The photos are by Liz Griffiths, Becky Joseph, Jenny Steer, and John Pritchard.)

David, from Middlesex, worked at Heathrow Airport for 20 years in a variety of roles, most recently as baggage operational assurance manager, and first came to the BBA to do a three-day introductory course, and then decided it was time for a change of career and booked a place on the 38-week course last year.

David chose to build this row and sail boat as he felt the traditional clinker method would make a good test of skills, and felt the style and size of this particular Paul Gartside design was just right for him.

He made a couple of changes to the original design – he planked it in West African mahogany rather than western red cedar for aesthetic reasons, and chose a boomless standing lug rig designed by Paul Gartside specifically for David’s boat, rather than the original boomed rig.

Named Enfys – the Welsh word for ‘rainbow’ after David’s surname and his wife’s welsh roots – the boat is to be sailed on a lake at Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre, which is close to where David lives.

Adam Smith, originally from Canada, was David’s main build partner.

He was working with computers, but built a Selway Fisher dinghy in his spare time and enjoyed the process so much he decided to train for a new career. Adam made the most of the academy’s facilities and in his spare time on the course he made a cabinet, trestle table and chest. His latest spare-time project now that the course has finished is a strip-planked canoe.

Both David and Adam are start work in jobs on the Thames after a short break.

Tilman medal winner Alasdair Flint and business partner Gerry Jeatt rescue historic London chandlers Arthur Beale

Arthur Beale shop

Arthur Beale old shelves

High latitudes Vertue sailor Alasdair Flint and business partner Gerry Jeatt have given up their summer sailing in order to breathe new life into the centuries-old Shaftsbury Avenue yacht chandlers Arthur Beale.

(If you don’t know London, Shaftsbury Avenue is at the heart of London’s theatreland.  See the location here. )

In 2011 Alasdair sailed his Vertue, Sumara, together with Tim Loftus sailing his yacht Thembito Jan Mayen Island, a fascinating volcanic outpost of Norway, and climbed the volcano Beerenberg. Read about that trip here.

For that trip they won the Bill Tilman medal, a Royal Cruising Club honour in memory of mountaineer and Arctic explorer Bill Tilman.

Here’s what Alasdair has to say about his new adventure:

My summer sailing has been curtailed after a friend and I decided I to try to salvage an historic nautical relic which was about to hit the rocks.

Mind you, this was no feat of daring-do in the surf – our nautical relic was Arthur Beale, a 400 year old ships chandlers in Shaftesbury Avenue, London and the rocks were the nasty liquidators. I had got wind that this national maritime monument was not doing too well and so I wrote to them to see if there was anything we could do to help.

As it happened the letter arrived at a critical moment and the manager said that we would need to act fast! Neither myself or my partner in crime Gerry Jeatt had any intention of acquiring an ancient chandlers’ shop, especially as we were both busy on other projects, but if we did nothing then the wonderful shop would have definitely closed within weeks – and another Starbucks Coffee Shop would have been added to the map.

Against all advice we decided to plough in our savings and see what we could do to save the company.

We paid off all the suppliers, the tax and VAT and started to restock. Soon it was time to find out what exactly we had acquired! The stock was quite amazing, chests full of galvanised rowlock sockets, bronze pulley castings, ancient flags, patented Arthur Beale blocks and even holy stones. Old hand written ledgers showed sales to Arctic Expeditions and Everest Climbs. All fascinating stuff.

The history of the company isn’t very clear but we are endeavouring to piece things together. Our understanding is that the company started trading as John Buckingham Ropemakers on the banks of the River Fleet about four hundred years ago. They moved to the current premises about 125 years ago. Rope is the core activity of the company and Arthur Beale used to make a rope called “Alpine
Club Rope” which was the preferred rope of climbers worldwide. We still have the original test certificates and telegrams demanding that the rope be sent on the next steamer to Greenland.

Arthur Beale also supplied ice axes, climbing slings, and rucksacks.

In the 1930s the company was booming. Their catalogue shows a huge range of yacht stoves and they even had a department providing flags and decorations for civic ceremonies. They also supplied many theatres and film companies. We have found half guinea gift tokens and the old printing blocks for all their advertisements.

In recent times sales had declined. Arthur Beale had no website and no advertising. They wouldn’t post out goods or take payment over the phone, and even closed at lunchtime on Saturday.

We needed to make urgent changes to enable the company to survive.

So what can you expect from Arthur Beale’s in the future? I own a varnished wooden yacht and have a penchant for sailing into the Arctic. So you can perhaps imagine the kind of things we will be stocking – good quality varnishes and paints, tough practical kit that will also look right on classic craft, heavy weather clothing, interesting books and unusual tools and equipment. The old drawers full of intriguing fixtures and fittings will remain but there will also be attractive display boards so you can actually see what is in the drawers!

We won’t make much money selling caulking cotton, copper tacks and tarred marline on Shaftesbury Avenue but we will sell these things  nevertheless.

Gerry is an IT expert and we already have a smart new website
www.arthurbeale.co.uk and we will be introducing on-line sales in the near future. We are going to have regular evening talks with our first one being – Learn to Splice at 1845 on 10th July. Other scheduled dates are Varnishing tips and demonstrations 4th September  and Sailing to Arctic Jan Mayen and climbing Beerenberg on the 9th October. See the website for details.

Outside the shop you will now find the Thames Shipping Forecast and high water times for London Bridge. Inside we are busy renovating upstairs to make way for all the new stock. The shop is now open until 2000 on Thursday Friday and Saturday.

We have a long way to go before all the work will be finished but every week more stock arrives and by the autumn we reckon we will have a shop to be proud of. We would love to see you there!

Alasdair Flint maintains his own weblog Sumara of Weymouth.