Mike Lowson builds a ply interpretation of a Shetland fishing boat

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Aberdeenshire-based boatbuilder Mike Lowson has written to say he has just delivered his first commercial build, a 16ft 5in LOD double-ended dayboat, designed by Paul Fisher.

Built in Mike’s own yard known as Northboats, the boat is modelled on the traditional fishing craft of Northern Scotland and particularly especially Shetland.

Mike used to be a journalist, and unlike most boatbuilders is perfectly happy to write at some length, and since it’s all good stuff I’ve decided to give him his head – or almost! (I should add that if you’re looking for another recent post you might have to scroll down the page to find it.l)

Here’s what he says about the new boat:

‘Her hull is of marine ply on a framework of Douglas fir stringers. Her inner and outer stems are laminated from strips of utile, and the stern posts are made from solid utile. The gunwale and inwale are of Douglas fir and tradtionally nailed in place for a pleasing visual effect. The tiller is of ash and the cetreboard case top is of iroko.

‘She is rigged as a gaff cutter with sails by Jeckells of Wroxham and all the spars are Douglas fir. In a modification to the basic plans the boat has been built with shaped fore and aft half-decks to provide some covered stowage when on the water.

‘The main cleats, fairleads, rowlocks, bowsprit fittings and tiller head are in gunmetal and she has a pair of spoon-blade oars, also made by Mike.

‘All wood is finished in Deks Olje no1 while International Paints products were chosen for the plywood hull. She has four undercoats of Pre-Kote and three coats of Toplac top coat.

‘The boat’s new owner also happens to be a neighbour of mine. He was always very taken by the traditional look of these beautiful craft and spent many hours dreaming of sailing off the coast fishing for mackerel under blue skies and calm seas. We discussed a number of possible designs for his budget and agreed on the Selway Fisher Islay skiff. After he commissioned the build he was able to pop in to my workshop regularly and watch her grow from a pile of wood into a beautiful boat. That only heightened his dreams of superb sailing in her next spring, I can assure you.

‘The build progressed reasonably smoothly despite the time-consuming challenges of accurately steaming the 16 stringers – that’s 32 ends in total – to a snug fit on the stem and stern.

‘Planking was relatively straightforward, however, despite the huge amount of twist at the stern. Having the stringers as a guide meant the planks could be cut slightly oversize then finally shaped to fit on the hull, which removed the need for spot-on spiling.

‘Casting the 5lbs of lead for the centreboard was a new challenge, too.

‘Thankfully I had some old lead pipes stored in the shed I could use so I didn’t need to clamber on to the local church roof at midnight to get supplies of the raw material!

‘The boat, named Feadhanach (pronounched Fee-ann-ach, which means gentle breeze in Gaelic), was launched in the Moray Firth in early November.

‘Despite a sizeable swell and light airs she performed well under sail and crept up to 4.6kts in a barely discernible breeze. She was also a delight to row, cutting through the swell comfortably without too much roll.

‘Feadhanach is a modern plywood interpretation of traditional Shetland fishing boats such as the six-oared sixareen and the smaller fourareen. The sixareens were the key to Shetland’s deep sea fishing industry in the 18th and 19th centuries and were descended from traditional Viking vessels.

‘The fishermen of old knew what they were doing by choosing seaworthy boats of this design, albeit theirs were larger. The double-ended hull ensures that she can take a following sea in her stride and remain manoeuvrable on a difficult coastline in tricky conditions. She has a decent 5ft 6in beam, too, ensuring there is plenty of room inside.’

Mike was born and bred in the fishing community of Arbroath, Angus. A former railway operations manager who was the instigator of steam-hauled trains on the Fort WilliamMallaig line, and latterly a journalist with Scotland’s biggest selling daily broadsheet, he set up his boatbuilding and repair business in early 2009 after graduating with distinction from the Boat Building Academy at Lyme Regis in 2008.

During the 38-week course he worked on the restoration of a 50 year-old yacht tender and the build of a Paul Fisher-designed 12ft 6in Northumbian coble. He is a member of Loch Broom Sailing Club, Ullapool, where he sails his 1970s SeaHawk trailer sailer. He also owns a 1968 British Folkboat, which is awaiting restoration.

Mike reports that work is about to start on an Iain Oughtred-designed Norwegian faering for another local customer.

To read more about Mike’s boatbuilding see the Northboats website at http://www.northboats.co.uk or contact Mike at yard@northboats.co.uk.

Water Craft boatbuilding comp winners 2009


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Nick Paull’s Hazy Days, winner of the ‘most professional’ category of the 2009 Water Craft boatbuilding competition. It was built to Steve Killing’s Prospector Canadian canoe. Click on the photos for much larger images

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Mike Wooldridge’s Puddle Duck, victor in the ‘home made boat most likely to encourage beginners’ category’. It was built to the Selway Fisher Drake sharpie plans

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Chris Waite’s ingenious and effective home designed rowing skiff Octavia, winner of the ‘most innovative home made boat’ section

This year’s Water Craft magazine amateur boatbuilding competition at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show was better than ever, despite the rain. Editor Pete Greenfield’s idea of opening up the competition by offering three categories of home made boats – most professional-looking, most likely to encourage beginners and most innovative – was clearly a big hit.

Hazy Days is undeniably very smart and won a tightly contested section, but I very much enjoyed seeing Puddle Duck, which chimed nicely with my view that people should be encouraged to feel that they can build small, simple and low cost boats that they can be proud of and which are effective on the water.

However, my favourite this year was Chris’s Octavia, which must count as one of the cleverest designs I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, those scraps of ply in the plastic bag are all that was left from the three sheets of plywood he used to make the boat, but that’s only the half of it – when Chris wants to transport it, the boat divides in two to fit in the back of his car, and when reassembled the undersides of the riggers include a system of pegs that neatly hold the boat together.

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A Selway Fisher Northumbrian coble launched at the Boat Building Academy

This time they show Neil Bailey’s boat built to the Selway Fisher Northumbrian coble plans.

‘Neil, a Royal Marine for 22 years before coming on the course, wanted to find a new career working creatively with wood. With his main partner on the build, journalist Mike Lowson, he built the the boat with a solid mahogany sheer strake and fitted the boat out in sapele.

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Neil Bailey on launch day – and doesn’t it look like a real celebration!

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As promised, Boat Building Academy principal Yvonne Green has sent us some more photos from the big student launch day at Lyme in December.

This time they show Neil Bailey’s boat built to the Selway Fisher Northumbrian coble plans.

‘Neil, a Royal Marine for 22 years before coming on the course, wanted to find a new career working creatively with wood.  With his main partner on the build, journalist Mike Lowson, he built the the boat with a solid mahogany sheer strake and fitted the boat out in sapele.

‘In the entire 38 weeks of the course we didn’t see Neil look half as happy as when he opened the champagne and took to the water for the first time.’

Yvonne addss that the Academy has been busy recently with a wooden boat restoration course that included staff from some of the leading museums. Apparently,  the eight on the course were keen to come back and suggested the folks at Lyme should think of running more courses on restoration. The hot news right now is that intermediate and advanced wooden boat restoration courses are being planned, probably next year.

The ‘coble’ itself seems a very attractive and useful boat, but I’m not sure how much it resembles a traditional cobles: click here for a post about cobles at intheboatshed.net. For more intheboatshed.net posts mentioning cobles, click here.