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

Canal Boat - - News - WORDS & PICTURES BY BOB LEAR

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!­place it with a new piece cut to fit...

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