Never walk past a skip, and make friends in a boatyard when you’ve got a big rebuild on
Retirement brought the chance to fulfil a dream of owning an old boat, but it was far from plain sailing
Since retiring I have started to wonder how I had time to go to work to such an extent that I decided to cut down on commitments including organising the local brass band contest. So when I announced this, people wanted to know why? I was about to explain, when my wife chirped up “It’s because of his other woman”. Well, the room went quiet and I could see the gossips waiting to spread the news! They were somewhat disappointed when I explained that my other woman was just over 70 foot long, made of wood, and called Daphne.
The first time I went on a working boat was at the IWA National Rally at Marple back in 1966, and I can remember thinking “One day I want one of these”.
I was introduced to canals at an early age by my brother Bill who had joined the Peak Forest Canal Society and formed a working party based at our school to work on restoring the Ashton Canal. He talked mum and dad into going on canal holidays, enabling us to see the last days of freight carrying by Blue Line and Willow Wren.
The thought of owning a boat was nothing but a dream; however I managed to help out on a number of boats in particular Joel & Maria and Spey owned by members of the restoration working parties and I gradually learned about wooden boats and how to repair them.
Scroll forward now to 2014, I have retired and still have not fulfilled my dream, then I get a phone call: 1938 wooden Samuel Barlow’s boat Daphne is up for sale and do I fancy going third shares in it with Robert Holmes and Steve Kelly two lifelong friends from the canal working party?
Well that was it, deal done. Now let’s see what needs doing to her.
Superficially the cabin looked good, but on close examination a lot of rot would necessitate some major reconstruction.
We are lucky to have the Ashton Packet Boat Co yard on the Ashton Canal. If you have an old wooden boat, access to a boatyard and its facilities is vital. If you are not involved directly, you can build up a relationship with the owners and other people who work on their own boats and share facilities, equipment and knowledge.
Very little is thrown away. Leftover timber goes onto racks for reuse, off cuts become kindling or firewood – so there is always a chance that the vital bit you need to finish a job is there, somewhere, if you can just find it.
You are always on the lookout for materials that can be used to repair an old boat. I find it difficult to walk
past a skip without looking in. Off cuts of 3x2in can be used for all sorts of things, and scaffolding planks are particularly useful: I have made the new towing mast and stands from such. Being in an urban area it’s not uncommon for such bits of wood to come floating past the yard and it can initiate a scrabble to see who can get it out first.
In the past, the end of our cotton industry and demolition of the mills was a great source of timber, much of it soaked in machine oil thus preserving it. The floor boards were particularly good for making the ‘shutts’ which floor the hold – and these days, eBay is great: I have got lots of bits from traditional wood working tools, brass screws and nails to brasswork.
I am a great believer in the use of traditional methods and materials, and will argue passionately on the subject right up to the point of having to put my hand in my pocket to pay for something…
I would love to use well seasoned quarter cut English oak every time but we just cannot afford it. So we use the cheapest alternative, or what we can get for free or in exchange for something we have had hanging around our feet for a while just in case.
You build up a good number of like minded contacts, and barter deals can always be done.
It’s great to work with creosote, gas tar and pitch, but modern environmental considerations are making their use unacceptable even if they are available. So modern preservatives have to be used. It’s just not the same though. How can that clear odourless liquid be as good as something you have to boil up, takes the skin off your hands and is impossible to get off your overalls! (Now we are leaving the EU, can we can go back to making stuff out of really nasty chemicals that actually preserves timber?)
So you end up using roofing compounds to black the side of the boat. Yes it’s easier to use, but it has to be reapplied much more often.
But it’s not all bad: we now use modern expanding glues that stick when damp and are stronger than the wood itself; stainless steel screws and nails that do not rust and rot the wood about them; marine ply for skinning the outside of the cabin, but covered in epoxy to completely seal it.
As well as the cabin work we have now had her out on the slip, caulked and tarred her and many other jobs. The National DM2 engine, built locally at the National Gas Engine Co works in Ashton-under -Lyne, leaked water and oil and an exhaust valve tended to stick. So the top end was taken to bits the fuel system completely overhauled and it now runs a lot better. It does have electric start for which I will ever be grateful.
Oh and yes we have actually started to take her places. Our first proper trip to try everything out was around the Cheshire ring (well we know it well, particularly the pubs) including excursions to Runcorn and Bugsworth Basin. Since then she has been to the Easter gathering at Ellesmere Port and Liverpool, and shortly I will be setting off for the Caldon Canal, which is one of my favourites.
I have joined the Historic Narrow Boat Club (who have helped with my research into the boat’s history, as have the National Waterways Museum archive) and Daphne is now on the Historic Ships Register.
So if you see us out and about please come and say hello and I will introduce you to my other woman Daphne!
Bob makes time to enjoy a brew with his other woman
The cabin needed major reconstruction
The National DM2 liked to leak water and oil
The weather wasn’t great during the overhaul
The 70-footer is now on the Historic Ships Register
Bow repairs: cut out the rotten wood...
...and paint it to look like new!
...replace it with a new piece cut to fit...