Consuta was commissioned in 1897 for use as an umpiring launch at the Henley Royal Regatta, and built using a then new method that gave a very light but extremely strong hull. She was also the first of the tunnel stern umpiring launches and was capable of 26 mph – an astonishing speed on that stretch of the sleepy old river Thames.
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This is Hollowshore Services, at the junction between Faversham and Oare creeks. Probably better known as Tester’s yard, Hollowshore Services specialises in smacks, and so this remote corner of Kent is a great place for sightseeing old boats and a few newer ones built in the old way. Many of them are moored along the creek’s eastern bank or nearby in the main channel. The shed itself is one of the last two in the country purpose-constructed for building sailing barges; the sailing club is housed in a small shed alongside that was once used for making barge boats.
Tucked away at the back of the yard is the Shipwright’s Arms, a sweet old pub complete with a splendid collection of beers. They say there is also the ghost of a shipwrecked barge skipper who after fighting for his life as his ship went down struggled to the inn and finally died of cold on the doorstep after failing to rouse anyone from their beds. No doubt they were all sleeping off the effects of a rollicking night in the cosy little front room…
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“The number of boating men who find pleasure merely in sailing a boat is small compared with those who delight not only in handling, but as well in planning, building, improving or ‘tinkering’ generally on their pet craft, and undoubtedly the latter derive the greater amount of pleasure from the sport. They not only feel a pride in the result of their work, but their pleasure goes on, independent of the seasons. No sooner do cold and ice interfere with sport afloat than the craft is hauled up, dismantled, and for the next half year becomes a source of unlimited pleasure to her owner – and a nuisance to his family and friends. We know one eminent canoeist who keeps a fine canoe in his cellar and feeds her on varnish and brass screws for fifty weeks of every year.”
So wrote WP Stephens in the preface to his classic 1889 manual Canoe and Boatbuilding for Amateurs. It was written at a time when the word ‘amateur’ meant something slightly different to what it says to us today, but we probably all recognise the typical boat owner’s compulsion to change and adapt. Go down to anywhere boats are moored on a Saturday morning, and whatever the tide you’ll probably find half of the craft have a happy tinkerer mooching around on board, armed with nuts and bolts, some odd fittings and a tin of varnish. What could be better, apart from actually sailing?
WP Stephens’ book is a fascinating way into the world of sailing canoes in particular, and will make your next trip to a maritime museum showing old canoes much more worthwhile. Perhaps its value lies in the way canoe designers of the time shared their designs in a way that is much less frequent now – the designs laid out in WP Stephens’ book are complete with their offsets and can be built straight off the page.
So I’d encourage you to find any excuse you can to spend an idle hour with an online book that will take you, for free, back to an earlier time: