Category Archives: Boating, boats, ships and the sea

Phil Underwood and the Bonnet and Belt company

I recently came across Phil Underwood, a chap I quickly learned is an excellent singer and musician – but it turns out he’s also a playwright, producer, director and canal enthusiast and runs the Bonnet and Belt theatre company.

A regular production the company puts on is Roses and Castles, a drama for the stage for four actors and one actor/musician that tells the story of the English canals from the 18th century to the present day, through the fortunes of a canal family and their boat across nearly two hundred years.

It’s based on Phil’s experiences as a boatman living on the Grand Union Canal, and features a mix of historical and original songs and music. Look out for future performances, which Phil will list here.

Here’s his song Canals of England, performed with able fiddler and singer Nancy Potts:

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’

Development plans for Burnham’s waterfront – there’s still time to object

The expected planning application to build housing on the Matings site on Burnham’s waterfront – and the town’s councillors have voted not to recommend the application. The issue now lies with the folks at Maldon District Council Planning, who can be reached at planning@maldon.gov.uk.  The deadline for comments is the 6th October.

The story is the same in too many places around our coast – so often, nprofitable, high value housing is so often replacing port buildings, wharves and boatyards. Local campaigner Ed Maggs put it very well in an email he sent to to me ‘Burnham should be one of the homes of wooden boat culture, rather than continuing on its way to a commuter town suburb.’ He’s right…