Gadfly II – coin evidence could make her older than originally thought

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48-470Gadfly II under restoration – she may be considerably
older than originally thought

Simon Papendick, who is working on Gadfly II (see earlier posts here and here), has written to say that he has found a 1908 Edward VII penny under a grown frame below the mast, which strongly suggests the boat is rather older than previously thought.

She was previously understood to have been built in Kent along the lines of the Blackwater sloops, which I believe were built in Maldon by boatbuilder Dan Webb from the 1920s. (See an example for sale here.)

Simon says: ‘It was the custom to put a coin under the mast step on the top of the keel in a sailing boat or under the base of the stem on a motor boat, so that if the the boat should ever be rebuild of destroyed it will be possible to find out the year it was built.

‘I have always kept this up in all the wooden boats I have been involved in building since the custom was explained to me by my first boss, who was himself told that this was a long standing custom when he was an apprentice. He always did this to continue the custom handed down to him.’

So it seems Gadfly II may well be considerably older than was first thought and, if so, she predates the Blackwater sloops build by Dan Webb at Maldon in Essex. Could it be that Webb saw this boat, liked her and copied and then modified her lines to create his famous Blackwater sloop?

Certainly this story is becoming more and more interesting – can anyone out there shed any further light on Gadfly II’s mysterious background and her obvious connection with Webb’s series of Essex-built boats?

Simon Papendick, who runs J-Star Tuition & Boat Services, can be reached at 07799401650 and

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Nick Smith makes still more progress on the motor launch Lisa

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Lisa’s getting nearer and nearer – but she still some way from being finished

Hampshire traditional boatbuilder Nick Smith has kindly sent some more photos of Lisa, the 17ft motor launch he’s currently building. At first glance she might look as if she’s close to completion – but, as he explains, there’s still a fair way to go.

He writes:

‘Hi Gav:

‘Here are some more photos showing progress on ‘Lisa’.

‘The next tasks are to build the sole boards, engine box and battery box, fit fuel pipeage. engine control lever and cables, exhaust hose, bronze manual bilge pump and electric float pump, fit crutch sockets, fairleads, foredeck cleat, towing cleats, ensign socket and pole, bilge rails, seven coats of varnish, bilge paint and a traditional red antifouling. We used to call antifouling ‘compo’ when I was an apprentice, which was short for ‘composition’ – a paint antifouling people used that was based on arsenic!!!!

‘Yes , thats all! Won’t take five minutes. More next week!

‘Regards Nick’

Thanks fella – I’ve no doubt the owner will be very proud. A trivial point that comes to mind from these photos is about the masking tape – I wonder what people used in the past for that job?

PS – Nick had this to say about the masking tape. It sounds like a slice of real life to me:

‘As for masking tape, when I was apprenticed there wasn’t a roll in the yard, everything was cut-in with a brush, so thats what I learned to do. It was ok cutting-in a waterline if you were good, but successive years of cutting-in by someone inept would end up with the line creeping up by 1/2in every year, and sometimes it looked like a permanent wave pattern had been painted in!
‘Likewise, nothing was templated. “Template” was a dirty word and there was no 1/8in template ply in the place, as it was thought a waste of money.

‘No, they would much rather pick up the piece of wood to be used, even if it was teak, rough mark it, cut it , and plane it to fit, plenty of pieces went through the bandsaw and back home for kindling, not by me of course, but learning that way was good for me as you had to get it right first time. As an apprentice, when I got it wrong I was told I was a ‘f****** c***’ , as I wasn’t keen on being called that I soon learned to get it right first time every time. When I did well the best I got was to be told I was “not bad for a boy”, but then I knew I had arrived.’

Nick has sent us quite a few photos of the Lisa project over the past few weeks.  If you’d like to see all our posts about his work, click here and scroll down the page. If you don’t already know him, Nick comes from Devon and specialises in new builds in clinker and carvel for  sail, motor and rowing power from 8ft to 28ft with a special emphasis on West Country style and design, and also takes on repairs and refits from 25ft to 50ft. He can be contacted by email at and by phone on 07786 693370.

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17ft clinker-built launch Lisa gets framed-out

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Nick Smith’s latest build Lisa gets her ribs

While we were away, professional boatbuilder Nick Smith sent us this brief update on his current commission, a 17ft launch to be called Lisa. Here’s his note to me about it – I love the human touches, and the sense of a continuing tradition in what he says:

‘Hi Gavin,

‘For your interest here’s a photo of Lisa framed out.

‘It took two and a half hours (including a break for cold beer) from steam up. There were four of us, two outside driving the copper nails and two inside bending the timbers.

‘The first five seconds after taking the rib out of the steam box are crucial – that’s all the time we have to give the frame a quick ‘pre bend’ and then a final bend into place, ready to nail while the rib is still hot. No drilling of the rib is necessary.

‘I first did this task when I was 16 years old and it has remained unchanged for donkey’s years.

‘So the next job is to rivet all the nails, with one bloke outside (traditionally it’s the apprentices job, that is the ‘boy’) holding an iron (or dolly) on the nail head while I work inside the boat doing the rivetting (or clenching).

‘First I drive a ‘rove ‘ (or ‘roove’ or ‘ ruv’ onto the nail. The exact name depends on where you are in the country), but it’s basically a copper washer. For this we use a rove driver and a hammer, then cut off the point of the nail with a pair of ‘cut nippers’ then rivet ( or ‘peen’) over the rest of the nail with a rivetting hammer, which is just a ball peen hammer of an appropriate weight. Its a dull job and therefore traditionally done quickly from start to finish to get it over with!

‘Thats it for now Gavin some more photos when the engine is in.

‘Thanks, Nick’

And thanks to you Nick!

Nick Smith can be contacted at

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