I’ve always been one of those people that’s pretty good at everything but never excellent at anything. Otherwise known as a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Until I discovered boat building. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet and I am still learning every day but I’m pretty bloody good and getting better by the plank. Its easy to forget this sometimes but when my boss gave me the restoration of Pegotty I couldn’t believe my luck! So here’s a bit for the boat nerds about her restoration.
Ever since there was mention of her sale in the mess room I had my fingers crossed that Michael Dennetts would get the restoration. Crossing your fingers is not superstitious after all because not only did she sell for the grand total of a £1, she came to us for restoration and ME yes little old ME got the job of bringing her back to her former glory.
To see a boat like this sink or burn would be a crime, not only does she date back to 1937 (the days before epoxy) but in her less than adequate 37ft hull she rescued 83 soldiers from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo.
It sounds a bit wishy washy hippy but a handful of my ancestors built boats and earnt a crust from working on the water and I really do think it’s in my blood. When I’m taking apart this old wreck not only do I bizarrely feel them there with me but I also get an eerie feeling of all the soldiers that were sat there before me, not wanting to save the boat, just hoping to save themselves and their country. It’s a funny feeling when you find somewhere you belong. Something that you can connect to. After years spent surrounded by the academic middle classes, floating around, trying to slot in but never really managing it, I finally found my groove. This is where I belong and I know it.
When the old girl arrived at the yard, she was patched with bin bags, plywood and sealant in an effort to float her to Surrey before she sank. With the help of 8 bilge pumps, a few car batteries and some enthusiastic crew she made it to the yard. Ed began stripping the paintwork so we could see the extent of the rot, he was lucky enough to catch her in the summer months, unlike me who is slowly developing piles from the cold concrete and puddles. Next up was the infamous “hit it with a hammer” exercise. My boss always makes this look so easy but whenever I attempt It, I fail miserably at distinguishing between a rotten thump and a solid tap, unless the hammer goes straight through I’m none the wiser.
The hammer test didn’t prove to be very fruitful and only informed us that the entire boat was rotten. Which then means our fixed price quotes are a little off the mark. This may have something to do with why he gave the job to his lowest paid member of staff…but I have convinced myself that it is not the case and it is in fact just because I am truly excellent.
First things first, replace the transom. This was no simple operation. Nine foot wide and 2 inches thick in 3 pieces they were not the easiest things to manoeuvre. They have done wonders for my biceps though. I nearly broke my right hand and several of my toes but I managed to replace 4 fashion pieces (transom framework), one deck beam and the entire transom in 5 days to a standard that it will be varnished and there wont be a mistake in sight.
Next on the list, get all the old planks off in as few pieces as possible so I can use them as templates for the new ones. This was a pain staking task, I am not a fan of monotony and this was beyond monotonous. I do not deal well with being bored, sends me into a right grump and I start to talk to myself (more than usual). This task took around 3 weeks and combined with some pretty severe PMT I was not nice to anybody ever. But it is done and now I have started the fun!
Over the next 3 weeks I have laid the Garboard plank and the proceeding 5. This was no easy task. Although as I mentioned earlier, it did confirm the fact that it is most certainly “in my blood”. In my old yard it would have taken 6 months to get this far, an entire tool box of over engineered measuring kit and 4 people. Don’t get me wrong I have struggled a lot and it has been a huge learning curve but for a lot of it I feel as though I have just known what to do, which curve is next and what angle to watch out for. The hardest task by far was bending my self into a thousand different shapes to fit a 15ft stern plank to…well…mid air. All my ribs were rotten, my stringers had long since fallen out and I was left cutting, planning and carving Geralds, Lands and the dreaded reverse Geralds. Quietly hoping that my guesses were right. If I failed to get these angles right I would just end up building a god dam box. These angles are what shape the hull of the boat, they are what make it so beautiful and I had nothing to work from but fresh air. No solid formers no nothing.
But alas this is now done too and I have hit the transom and single figure planks. Cross your fingers that the starboard side will be done by Christmas! Alternatively if you’re not the supportive type, please place your bets on failure or success now