Boats, Bikes, Bruises n Breda

Hello everybody! Im still alive! Apologies for abandoning you all for so long. I’ve concocted a pretty good line of excuses for my shocking behaviour.

Firstly this wonderful little insight into my slightly strange and grubby life meant that people are now actually paying me to write! Yes money, real life queens head bucks. So that’s been keeping me pretty busy. Plus I’ve had to learn how to write “proper” which was a shock to my highly uneducated little system. Don’t worry I wont put it into practise here.

Secondly, we had a bit of a dry spell at the yard and I’ve been spending my time doing fiddly horrible jobs on wanky little james bond slipper launches. It sent me slightly mad, drove me to the gin of an evening and much to my dismay daintily prancing round the yard with bits of wood smaller than me own hands meant I lost all of my hard-earned planking muscles and me hands went almost soft. Not a happy girl. This however has been set right since Christmas and after I’m done kissing ass for abandoning you all I’ll give ya all the gory dusty details.

Last but not least, I got a motorbike! Despite popular belief it is in fact not a chicken chasin tin can. It’s a chineese monkey metal contraption with 5 big boy gears! This has meant that instead of hibernating in warm pubs to avoid the cold n icy boat life of winter I’ve been blowing off the saw dust at the weekend by embarking on some pretty ridiculous rides. Needless to say my laptop doesn’t fair well tied to the back so its not been easy to write.

My new mean machine has been the best non floating investment I think I’ve ever made. No more cycling down icy tow paths for miles after a hard days graft, I can go to the biggest cheapest supermarkets to buy my sardines and most importantly I can escape Slurry Surrey and all its suits when ever the hell I please. Which of course I’ve been doing.

When I got it everyone said “oh you’ll never go far on that”, “you wont be able to ride that all through winter, you’ll freeze”. Well not only do I get a kick out of proving everybody wrong (you never would of guessed ey?, my boatbuilding career is only as successful as it is coz my old boss told me I’d never build anything but dighies coz I was too small) but they also underestimated the extent of my need to roam and how well hardened I’d become to the cold after a winter of no heat, no electric, no water and no cooker. Fuck the cold! We live in England for fuck sake if ya aint gunna ride when its cold then you’ll never bloody ride. So since purchasing my lovely two wheeled friend in October 2017 in the last 5 months I’ve clocked up just shy of 8000 miles! I’ve joined the wonderful London Motorcyle Riders Club, met some great folks and am out with them if ever I have know one to go visit. I’m surprised Great Western Rail havn’t gone bankrupt the amount of money I’ve saved on overpriced inadequate trains, plus on my bike I can eat me Maccy D’s perched on me seat at a service station rather than being glared at by judgemental vegetarian types on the tube (nothing against veggies but a lot against “glareers”).

Ripping up and down the country I’ve ridden to Devon in the snow, Lyme Regis in minus 2, Bexhill, Brighton (got lost on my first group ride, also got very laughed at), Essex and managed to ride back with a hangover worse than the flu, raced an unplated Lamborghini through central London, ridden with the London Met Police and unofficially I’ve successfully learnt how to throw myself round corners at high speed and occasionally ride like a massive dick. Really its quite impressive I’m still around to build boats.

 

In lots of ways the bike has helped with the boat building, strange as it may seem. But being able to go for a ride and fill your head with nothing but the road in front of you really helps to clear away the day and sort out ya plan for the morning. Especially when, as I mentioned earlier, my days had been full of pretty little aesthetically pleasing jobs that had bugger all to do with making things float and far too much to do with displaying the size of your bank balance by cruising down the river in a hugely impractical dinghy. Alas as my boss says and quite rightly so, I’m a boat builder and I cant always pick and choose the best jobs. However my inadequate attention span does not lend itself to beautiful precision work as much as I’d like it to. Chuck me in a slipway cut, give me a ridiculously small deadline and cover me with river gunk, that’s when I thrive.

Thankfully after a tough few months and a lot of work on the boss mans part we got the next big job, the one I’d been waiting for.

Dunkirk Little Ship: Breda.

 

After 2 very drunken and generous Christmas parties followed by over 700 miles of riding back n forth to family n friends we all returned from our lovely 5 day break to the much anticipated Breda. I’ll tell ya now if she hadn’t been in the slip ready for when I came back I’d of fucked off and had a much longer holiday just to avoid another bloody slipper launch.

There she was though, rotten as a pear and begging to be rescued.

Breda built in Lowerstoft by Brooke’s in 1931 was originally called Dab II and owned by one Colonel Hardy. When the Colonel had discovered that the Royal Navy had commandeered his motor yacht from Haybridge Basin, Essex for use in Operation Dynamo he was not best pleased. Not because they had taken his yacht but because he had not had the chance to go along with her.

Captained by Lieut R.W. Thompson she crossed the channel an impressive 3 times in 6 days. On the final return journey she bought back a load of Dutch soilders who had come from Breda in Holland after fighting a gallant rearguard action westward to Dunkirk, being driven by the weight of the German advance.

When Colonel Hardy was finally reunited with his yacht he thought it appropriate to rename her Breda in honour of her distinguished war record and in memory of the soldiers she saved on that final voyage.

After all those years and many different owners here she now lies in the slipway of Michael Dennett Boat builders. It never ceases to amaze me that I’ve somehow been given the opportunity to work on vessels of such importance. All joking aside it really is the best job in the world and I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as happy sat in a slipway gunk puddle as I am in this one.

So still suffering from the overindulgence of boose and festive food I set to work with my trusty crow bar to burn off the festive fat. Although Breda is a long term project for us and the owner the yard was bursting at the seams with winter storage boats so she had to stay in the slipway. This meant that with boats turning up left right and centre she was in an out of the water 3 times in the 4 weeks we had to get her hull structurally sound. So although she doesn’t have to be finished until the Dunkirk Memorial voyage all my work had to be done in 5 days chunks.

I was absolutely amazed that Michael Dennett had managed to float her down to us. As I wielded my hammer at her sides she sperted years of rotten river gunge in my face, it didn’t take me long to down tools. Once I’d made a big enough hole all I had to do was take the top plank edges and unroll her sides like a sheet of half cooked lasagne.

Once I’d stripped back all the rot it was crystal clear that it wasn’t as simple as just replacing the planks. All the ribs, stringers and beam shelves had gone too. I scarfed together 30ft lengths of 2×6 beam shelves ready to go bent into place with some help from the boss. Then I had a lot of fun laminating up 15ft lengths of stringer, this was an interesting process, not having done much lamination work before I was nervous of how to get the right curvature on both angles but the all knowing fountain of knowledge that is Stephen Dennett showed me an unbelievably simple method. By laminating straight onto the existing rotten stringers you save a tonne of time not having to fuck around with moulds and jigs which will invariably turn out wrong anyway. Once its clamped on and the glues set all ya have to do is cut the scarf at either end and hey presto ya got some crazy ass professional curved piece of wood made to the exact angles of the original.

Now all the frame work was in it was time for Guy to come and steam in all 40 of her new ribs. As soon as this was done I had enough boat to start wrapping planks round. The first goal was to get to the waterline, chuck her back in the river, pull out a few more boats, get her back on the slip and go from the waterline up. The whole 4 weeks was a lot like this. Without sounding enormously arrogant coz there is nothing I hate more than arrogance, I find it pretty tough to write about planking work these days. Its become my speciality at the yard, I’m pretty fucking good and once I’ve laid the first plank and got the hang of the boats lines I settle

 

into a nice little rhythm and wrap em round with my eyes closed whilst doing a little jig to whatever trashy pop music my phone is pumping through my head phones. With everything else I’ve ever tried to do in life as soon as I get a little bit better than average I bugger off and start on the next thing. Well not with planking, I’ve totally got it under my belt and I still love every second, I still get excited about the next one and sad when I’ve finished. That’s how I know this is what I’m gunna do forever.

So when I’d done all the framework and 30 planks, guy had done 40 ribs and the boss had laid all new side decks and ripped off the entire aft cabin and built a new one, which is the size of a dam ballroom January was over and she was going back in again. Next on the list was replacing the transom. I’ve done 3 or 4 transoms in the yard before but I’d never done one like this and I was keen to have a go, every time I’d mentioned it though their had been sniggers and laughs at how that really would be too much for me to manage and I assumed the boss would do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much to my delight though I came back from a week off motorcycling round like a mad lady and there she was without her transom waiting for me to start.

Now its really hard to explain the enormity of this beast in words and the photos just don’t do it justice but ill give it a bash and try not to be too dawky and boring.

As always its never just the bits you expect to have to do, there’s always some nasty soggy bit waiting to eat into your deadline. I wasn’t quite prepared for this bit though. It’s a fucking big bit. When Steve gave me the job he repeated for about 3 days how he’d managed to do a transom like this in a day and he’d given me 5 times as long to do my first. No pressure of nuffin. Needless to say I stuck me earphones in and ignored him for a few days to give myself an ounce of a chance to meet the deadline.

Once all the planking layers had been ripped off I was left with nothing but I had to replace the deck beam. One small problem, there was no deck. How du know the shape if ya aint got no shape. Aside from the length of the dam thing I really had nothing to work from, the length was irrelevant anyway because it was a gaining fit and originally would have been put in first not last so the only measurement I had was completely useless. It reminded of the smiles to frowns planking I wrote about on pegotty. There I was asking the boss questions in an attempt to figure out what the fuck I was doing but he doesn’t have any answers coz there is no answers. You can’t teach it, you can’t write it down. You just have to gaze into an empty space and attempt to fill that space with something that might resemble a boat at a later date.

 

 

 

Anyway I could warble on and make absolutely no sense about that for hours and you’d all end up questioning the meaning of life and wondering why the earth orbits a daffodil. See what I mean now about enjoying a long ride on a motorbike after work? Clears the mind of the days riddles.

In the end I got it done but the deck beam was suppose to take 1 day and it unfortunately took 2. Not helped by the fact that ya cant get any resin to set in this weather and there were snow flakes settling on my back as I worked.

In the end the transom took 6 days not five but the dam thing is fucking spectacular. I’ve never made anything like it and whilst I was brushing off the snow flakes I gave myself one big pat on the back. I think everyone was pretty surprised I’d managed to do it alone let alone done it so with such beauty. One customer came in and began quizzing me about what complex steaming methods we use for bending such large bits of timber on such tight curves, when the answer is my hands and that there clamp its very difficult not to sound like a sarcastic prick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So by Friday I certainly felt like I’d earnt a pint and now I know I can make a transom like that in thin air I’m gunna make it my mission to be the the planking and transom specialist of Dennetts. The smallest person doing all the biggest jobs. If we were in the 1800’s ya could sign me up to a traveling circus and put me in a dwarf style freak show.

 

Anyways its cold and that firewood isn’t going to chop its self. Stay warm everyone. You can bet ya bottom dollar there’ll be another blog this week with a miserable British undertone about falling of motorbikes, despising the snow and dreaming of an office job and a boyfriend with a centrally heated flat.

 

17 Replies to “Boats, Bikes, Bruises n Breda”

  1. Glad yer back Abbey!!!

  2. Larry Williams says: Reply

    Good Lord! That’s some mighty fine boat work you’re doing ( and the rest of your crew). One of the Dunkirk flotilla—wonder how many of those boats are still around? Great project, look forward to seeing what it looks like when completed. Not at all surprised you’re getting paid for your writing— you bend and blend those sentences ever as nicely as you do the wood. Be careful on that cool looking bike (I know, I know, I sound like the worried old Dad of two daughters that I am—can’t help myself). I’m refurbishing an old beautiful 19’ wooden Bartender—I realized about halfway through your article that my project looks more like a child’s attempt compared to what you folks do, but it does give me a good inspirational kick in the butt. And, finally, I would tell your young self to live your life to the fullest, but I’d only be preaching to the choir!

  3. Respect! from the owner of an old wooden boat. Or is that an old wooden boat owner…? P

  4. Graham Bearman says: Reply

    Hi Abbey, you are like a breath of fresh air. If I was a bit closer I would call in and give you a hug and a kiss and a pat on the back. You are just so clever!

  5. Awesome, an amazing read!

  6. Larry Harkness says: Reply

    I’ve got nothing but respect and admiration for your full frontal assault on life. You go girl!

  7. You r a wonderful woman and I could talk to u all day ,enjoy live and do want you want and what make you HAPPY.

    PS IT WAS GOOD READING XXX

  8. Harry Waddingham says: Reply

    HARRY WADDINGHAM
    Outstanding.
    As some one who’s boat ‘Nandura’ has benefited from the early ‘Abbey’ touch, I’m sure that the owner of ‘Breda’ will be as pleased with your work on it ‘s transom as we have been.
    Harry and Harry.
    PS, Don’t fall off – it HURTS ! And have many T shirts to prove it.

  9. Welcome back Abbey, we were getting a bit worried that something terrible had happened to you, like getting a ‘proper’ job for a girl. Thanks for sparing us the ‘proper’ writing though. Awesome planking, but how come Guy gets to do the fun part, the steam bending? It’s not quite as terrifying as it looks, as long as you get all the materials and tools in just the right place to grab them when you need them. and it is amazing how what you think of as a solid, straight piece of wood can bend to your will with just a bit of help (OK, lots of help) from your hands and feet and knees and elbows and … you know the story, it’s much like planking. Try it some time – it could be good practice for that boyfriend too.

  10. John P. Ramsey says: Reply

    You go girl! Love your work!! Very exuberant!!!! Your ship will roll in on your dreams !

  11. Caralyn Tottle says: Reply

    FABULOUS! Love your enthusiasm, determination and obvious ability! The sheer bloody- mindedness runs in the family! Go Abbey!
    Love Caralyn and Pete xxxx

    1. John P. Ramsey says: Reply

      You go girl!!! Come visit me in Hawaii when your ship rolls in ! Truly, John Ramsey

    2. John P. Ramsey says: Reply

      Good to here that it runs in your family ! Keep the helm toward your goal girl!!
      Your matey, John Ramsey

    3. John P. Ramsey says: Reply

      I am behind you all the way
      Your matey, John Ramsey

  12. Jon-Lee Paul Butler says: Reply

    Is it too late, being mid month of March, to say ‘hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year?’, I got atleast a foot deep of snow out here so the moment still seems relevant.
    My only imagination of you riding your scooter in this wintry cold wind is that of Dumb n Dumber, when they arrive with snot icicles hanging from the nose. Or does that only happen in the movies?!
    If there ever was that need to give a brief yet honest outlook on you Abby, it will have to be, “someone who keeps the bottom of the seas clear of sunken ships, and the word ‘feminism’ is one for the pub trying to pronounce while drunkenly slurred and tongue tied”.
    Do this sum it up so far going by all the blogs read?

  13. So glad you’re writing and building and riding and having a good life! You are good at what you do and you communicate your joy in the doing wonderfully well! You bring a smile to my face when ever I get to read a new piece you’ve done!

    P.S. The photos are also lovely! Keep ‘em coming, please.

  14. Hiya Abbey
    Saw your YouTube vid with Jasmine on “this narrowboat adventure”….so interesting and super cool
    Have since seen your website and again really cool
    Think you could add to your income sending in a weekly YouTube vid and hitching up with patrons to subscribe?
    PLEASE don’t take this this the wrong way but as an Essex chap myself and where you trained ….. although your blogs are great maybe cut down on the f word as a complete turn off even though we use it as you well know frequently down here

    Other than that really think you should consider YouTube vids ….

    You can tell me to f off if you want like

    Best wishes

    Mark

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