Turn That Frown Upside Down

Much to my disappointment I was 2 planks short of my personal deadline for Christmas but with a few hours rushing around speed planking before the Christmas Eve Eve party I managed to wedge the final bow plank in place. Which to my surprise was a dam fine fit and not a fault could be found.

If I hadn’t have had a 5 bird roast on a Dunkirk Little ship to look forward to then I would have been a lot angrier with myself. But whatever annoyance there was was soon drowned out by a bottle of rum an whole lot of turkey. Thanks to Steve and Heather Dennett who not only run the yard but also managed to pull off this feast for 12! You are an impressive pair. If I were doing it you’d all have been eating beans.

With a killer hangover I set off to Devon on the train to spend Christmas with my family, a much needed break and the cause of the radio silence with regards to any comments, blogs or messages. I was so looking forward to sleeping in a bed that wasn’t damp and not having to defrost my toothpaste every morning. My body had other ideas though, apparently I have acclimatised to the cold world of boat dwelling and I had to sleep with the windows open every night and kept having to sneak to the boiler to turn the dam central heating off so I wasn’t forced to sit naked round the Christmas tree just to cool down. It was however wonderful not be alone and to share all my stories withmy family and watch my little nephew potter round the house in his new bear suit. I made the most of the hot showers and by the end of the 4 days I was so clean I didn’t recognise myself. I kept looking down at my pasty white hands, splinter, crack and epoxy free and marvelling in their sparkly whiteness.

After all the fun n games I set off back to sunny surrey to crack on with Peggaotty. With 5 Christmas dinners in takeaway boxes and a big lump of Christmas cake in my suitcase I was looking forward to not having to wash up for a few more weeks.

With only 2 days between Christmas and new year I haven’t got long to get these last 2 planks in but I’ll give it my best shot n keep you posted on the progress. They are a tricky couple of buggers though. They’ve got to fit perfectly on the land of the previous plank but tuck neatly under the plank above so the only way to fit them is in one fail swoop, no fuck ups. Gently shoring along the length till it clicks into place. Hoping nothing snaps and it doesn’t fall on ya toes. Once the bastards in it isn’t coming out, unless you’ve got a crappy fit in which case you’ve done it wrong anyway. To make matters even trickier I don’t have the old plank as patterns, it was so rotten when I took it out it just crumbled in my fingers.

With the end of my first deadline has come the goals I want to hit for the port side. I’ve learnt a lot so far, being my first ever clinker project I was certainly thrown in at the deep end and its paid off despite the feeling of terror I’ve had through the whole thing. I just hope she floats!

There is a few things I’ve been trying to get the hang of on this side and one of them is what I call hammer hands. There is one particular hammer in the yard with a perfectly angled claw on it. It was in my possession for a week before it was nabbed by someone higher up the pecking order than me. However it has improved my hammer handing skills ten fold. My hands are the size of a small child and have always been too wussy for banging chisels and whacking in shores but after a few days of sore wrists they are now man enough for the kind of abuse I need to inflict on them. So many benefits when your edge bending planks and chiseling nibbed scarfs on the boat.

The other big thing is the smile. It has taken me the entire time to get my head around this. Every time I cut out a 15ft board for the boat it ends up frowning at me yet if you look at the belly of the boat she is clearly smiling from ear to ear. Even after a very strange explanation involving me and my boss breathing in and out and drawing smiles on our bellies to try to make sense of it…I still didn’t get it. Every time I clamp the plank on for its final fit it smiles at me like the Cheshire cat, I take it off to spread the glue on and there it is frowning like a kicked puppy. It just seemed to be one of the many mysteries of boat building so I stopped thinking about it and just accepted it. BUT when I arrived at plank 4 it all changed. That was the widest part of her belly and from there up all my frowns turned upside down. With the hilarious image of my boss drawing smiles on his 6 pack it all clicked into place. Some of the more nerdy boat types will know what I’m talking but I will have to apologise to the regular folks because although I understand now, there is know way I can explain!

Personally I’m pretty impressed with how fast I got those planks up but my boss man is never happy and is always pushing for more. On one occasion I really couldn’t take him seriously and just had to laugh. There I was fairing all my lines and doing the final shaping on a huge plank and he comes up and says “ whys that taken you so long, you did the last one much faster?” to which I replied, “it was a much trickier shape and I had a lot of on and off and marking to do which kinda stole the day”. He was not content with this and waved his hand over the plank and said “ well if it wasn’t for all that line work it wouldn’t have taken you so long”. What he meant by line work is that I had drawn TWO lines the length of the plank to indicate the variation in angle to enable the next plank to sit flush on it. There must have been about 8 or 9 different angles on this bad boy. After having done nothing but guess the last 4 planks and hope I was right I couldn’t believe it. He actually wants me to stop using a pencil and ingrain this shit in my head! I could handle it when he through all my tape measures in the river but seriously dude…a chippy needs a pencil! I told him to fuck off, we both laughed and I carried on.

The yard is very keen on keeping things fast and simple. So if you cant use an electric plane upside down on a ladder dangling over the river with no shoes on and not make a mistake then you best go work somewhere else. My entire tool kit for this job is as follows.

Electric plane



2ft folding wooden rule

Rebate plane


Selection of sticks and clamps

The entire job has been done with no more and no less than the list above. Oh and a pencil 😉


I will admit to you all what my biggest mistake has been and I can guarantee you it WILL NOT happen on the port side. As I have happily followed the lines of the previous builder assuming they were right I have made a big mistake. Never assume anything. Not only did I loose my marbles a bit but I also lost my lines on the stern (bum) of the boat. I tried really hard to keep her looking fair and beautiful but somewhere down the track a combination of odd ribs, old marks and me not paying attention has led to her having a funny kink halfway up her hips. Every time I walk past I swear at myself for screwing up but I’ve learnt my lesson and she wont be kinky on the other side. For those who like to revel in failure, if you zoom in on the stern photos you will see what I mean and probably right me off as a boat builder for ever.

So obviously that is my biggest goal for the port side planking but I also want the whole process to be a bit more OCD. I want to get all my overlaps identical at the bow and the stern, I want my screw formation to be spot on and my seams to be tighter than tights! Although the bow on starboard side is pretty spot on in my opinion. Despite a half inch difference in width on the last plank it was perfect but considering the previous builders lines were awful and his tolerances were set way above half inch I’m pretty happy with mine.

On a less boat nerdy note I have discovered a great solution for frosty mornings that make every bone in your body ache. On mornings like this its hard to find the motivation to get started. Especially when you know dam well that by the time the frost has melted and dripped all down ya coat it hits the minuses all over again and the next frost forms. But with my new found method we can all be happy, warm n fit all through winter. You do however have to be prepared for the laughter and piss taking. So here is the secret, get ya morning coffe down ya neck, plug ya head phones in, select what ever tunes really get you going and set to work. This really does the trick. Once the tunes are blaring all you need to do is start grooving. Women are good at multi tasking so you men might find this difficult but I am a pro at dancing and planking simultaneously. You groove, you plank. Everyone laughs but my toes are warm and a frosty hammer doesn’t scare my little fingers! My dancing has improved moderately and who knows I might even pull next time were at the pub…anythings possible when ya can throw shapes like these! Lock up the electricians!

One Reply to “Turn That Frown Upside Down”

  1. Jon-Lee Paul Butler says: Reply

    We share something of similar, not in a form to keep warm, however. I tend to get jiggy while ironing. You’d be surprised how many pants and socks get steam pressed while gyrating to my music?

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