The Grand Finale

Many of you will know that the deadline of Peggotty was something that I had been dreading. After 72 days/1728 hours of intense boat building, I have never had so much fun, learnt so much or worked so hard. The thought of finishing her and going back to odd jobs, leaving the safety of my big white tent where I knew where everything was (a rare occasion at Dennetts) and was safe from the prying eyes of my boss was not something I was thrilled about.

Needless to say I enjoyed every moment as I put her last planks in. Working through the winter I had gotten “well ard”, it’s safe to say I could survive in a bloody blizzard now I’ve done that. At one point through the restoration I was walking through the yard carrying a 15ft plank in a gale, the wind caught the end of it spun me round and threw me on my ass. I quickly got up, looked round, realised know one was watching and limped back to my tent. Later that day the entire fucking tent blew down, as a huge gust came in, blew up underneath the roof and set all the upright poles off on a bid for freedom leaving me huddled underneath a mass of canvas looking a tad worried and feeling a bit small. I shouted for Ed (the yards go to man) to come help me out from underneath. We then re built the tent using the wind as a helper to lift the poles back into place and tied it all to the forklift as a nifty anchor. The only bad bit about the whole thing was the fact that my boss had decided to chock Peggotty up in the “gutter” of the yard. All the rain water flows to this handy little moat but whoever laid the dam concrete forgot to put a drainage point in so as a consequence I spent a good 2 months sitting or standing in a puddle. If my boss reads this It will be the first he has heard of it but now it’s all cleared up and I can be sure they won’t insist on a show and tell I’ll spill the beans. After spending months delightfully paddling in a stream whilst I planked, sleeping in my thermals and never removing my socks coz I hadn’t been anywhere above freezing for weeks, I ended up having to have an afternoon off for a trip to the doctors. I’d had a pain in my foot for a while but hadn’t realised that I’d actually got some kind of fuckin’ trench foot. Closer inspecting revealed a huge lump on the side of my foot…after looking at the monstrosity, it could only be described as a very hard lump off moss, green in colour, mildly furry and fuckin sore. The doc sorted me out though and I’ll be ready for flip flop season!

That’s quite enough of all the negatives, let’s get to the good stuff. All my deadlines were met and my personal goals were reached. I did set one stupid one which I gave up on half way through. I’d decided after the all the unsightly screw holes on the starboard side I would try to get a nice neat screw formation going, at least it would look organised. Then Guy kept putting ribs in everywhere and it ended up looking like a giant dot to dot just like the other side but who gives a fuck, its being painted anyway so know one will ever know.

Determined not to make the same mistakes as I did on the other side, I abandoned the old template planks and began to trust my eye as a real shipwright should. I faired the lines of each plank in situe to ensure I made the most her lovely curves. By the end of the port side I was fitting planks by eye, I know longer needed to reference the old ones or even make a template…as my boss would say, I was doing “proper boat building”. I’m sure who ever built her initially was a “proper boat builder” too but over the years she had had so many repairs that by the time I’d finished the starboard side and started on the port I had well n truly learnt that you couldn’t always assume the old planks were “right”.

One of the weirdest things I’d learnt was portholes. On a carvel boat all ya planks are flush so you just cut a hole and stick it in. it had never occurred to me that you’d need to do more than that on a clinker boat. I ended up spending a whole bloody day cutting and fitting joggled spacers so the port holes had something to screw into and making rings to neatly tuck underneath on the outside to bring the two edges flush against one another. It was quite therapeutic actually and once I’d finished I actually felt quite a lot more cleverer.

As I got closer and closer to the final plank I was practically hunting for rot as I was so desperate for the whole job to never come to an end. Being the kind of person who doesn’t like to be defeated I accomplished my goal and found the biggest rotten bastard you could imagine. Hidden underneath a 4 inch thick x 3 inch wide rubbing band I found my girl! By the time I’d begun fitting it I started to wish I’d never poked it. Being only 13ft long and on the most pronounced curve of the boat it really didn’t want to bend naturally. There I was balanced on some precarious staging wishing I’d spent more time assembling it, trying to bend it round, quietly hoping it didn’t spring out and take my front teeth with it. Tapering from 3 ½ inches at the bow to 7 inches wide at the end it felt like it had taken me nearly as long to make this last plank as it had to do the whole dam boat. As I went to screw her in to the stem the pressure from my drill bit was enough to upset all the tensions and send her flying, luckily, I ducked just in time and I still have all my teeth. After the first failed attempt I roped in the ye old faithful Ed and with a second pair of hands and a bigger set of shoulders she slid in beautifully. The plank was duly nicknamed “The Suicide Death Plank”.


Now she was finished. I was gutted. I had no idea what was in store for me next. Boat building is the only thing I’ve ever been good at. My poor pop spent most of my childhood trying to teach me anything from electronics, motorcycle mechanics and welding. I started my first business when I was 12 doing up old bikes I got from the dump and selling them outside the house for 3x what I bought em for. My mum tried to teach me “kitchen table” things like maths, science and English. I competed  in the UK Kickboxing championships at 15. But I never got better than average at any of it. I failed all my exams, I couldn’t read until my late teens but you know what I do remember….Lloyds’ Rules in relation to the shift of butts to insure optimal structural integrity of any vessel. That and many other very useless nerdy boat things.

However three weeks after her completion I have discovered that there was no reason to be scared or disappointed after having finished Peggotty. I’ve since rebuilt the aft cabin roof, re fitted the wet room, made and fitted a new kitchen work top, repaired the butterfly hatches, replaced the Samson post with a cleat block the size of the entire of my last boat, repaired sections of the king plank and rebuilt some of the sub deck from the inside. I used to be terrified of having to do fiddly joinery work as previously I had never had the attention span for it but miraculously I seem to have not only gained a lot of confidence from the success of Peggottys restoration but the planking seems to have subconsciously taught me everything I need to know to conquer my fear of fiddly work.

Ya have to have goals in life so now I have a new one to share with ya. A chap called Guy who works at the yard, is the best ships carpenter I have ever met and the boss man is the fastest boat builder in all the land. My new goal is to be as fast as the boss man and as precise as Guy. It may take some years considering they are both twice my age but I aint easily defeated and by the looks of it I’ve got plenty of practise coming my way. Wish me luck!!

P.S Keep an eye out for my first ever paid article in Watercraft magazine and a nifty little interview about me in Waterways World!

8 Replies to “The Grand Finale”

  1. Jon-Lee Paul Butler says: Reply

    Sure that green blemish on your foot was not your Princess Fiona coming out as her green ogre self?! If you can built kitchen like that, there’s not many Shreks around!

  2. Sounds like you are doing exactly what you were put on Earth to do!!! Keep at it, trust your gut instincts,you’ll have a great life….

  3. Congratulations. You’ve become a competent boat builder, and your a pretty damn fine writer, too!

  4. Sir Robert Cowland says: Reply

    Many congratulations Abbey.
    It’s so good to see young people interested in maintaining our “Tradionatal skills”
    The way the world is going I think you will be much needed in the future !
    I want to be aboard your “Ark” when the shit hits the fan …lol

  5. Boat building is not the only thing you are good at.

  6. Well done Abbey, and don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to catch up with the boys. Keep up the good work, and the writing.

  7. Great job, Abbey! Congrats!

  8. Jon Gardner says: Reply

    Great update! A very good read. Keep writing, you’re a natural.

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