My Restoration, for The Boat Nerds, The Feminists and The Curious

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. 11061289_10153309435631259_6553654030536173070_n


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 14469582_10154364011951259_6742464653021850205_npiles 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 14433228_10154364011396259_1300183155689098844_nthere 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!14502700_10154389968061259_5718064937423287301_n

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.


15025546_10154530994051259_1814998087808765741_oBut 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 now15025618_10154530994166259_2380407101590275722_o14711608_10154428520871259_8685408645086998906_o

11 Replies to “My Restoration, for The Boat Nerds, The Feminists and The Curious”

  1. Well done! Not an easy job for anyone. Sex has nothing to do with skill, and you have the skill in spades. If nothing else, restoring a wooden craft will truly test and improve anybody’s skill level.
    Just out of curiosity, how do you seal a clinker style hull? I know how to do it on a smooth hull with horse hair/twine and caulk but never got how you do it with overlapping planks?

  2. Success everytime, hard won for sure, that’s my bet, with probably a few ‘planned’ mistakes to maintain a perspective of progress and learning. You’re a natural, as you are beginning to observe. Keep it natural and fun. I like it very much. Thank you Abbey.

  3. William H Hanchett says: Reply

    Well done. You’re getting a good start in what can be a very satisfying career. You obviously also have a talent for very descriptive writing. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.

  4. Good on ya! Keep at it as it looks good.

  5. So… are you single? 🙂 You sound perfect.

  6. Hope to hear more from you.

  7. Great blog. Looking forward to seeing Pegotty finished almost as much as seeing my own project finished….. ok that’s a lie, but I am looking forward to seeing lots of lovely pics of her. It sounds like you achieve more in a few days than I do in as many months, which could be down to skill but I’m going to console myself and pretend it’s because you’re working on her full time and I get only the occasional days here and there. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

  8. Very much enjoying reading your blog. Wooden boats need people like you. I am just an amateur boat repairer (cannot call myself a boat builder as I’ve never built one), but you are doing it properly.
    Agree, too with your comments and frustration about your training and the ‘health and safety’ culture that prevails today.
    Keep it up. You have fans now!

  9. Keep up the good work in both the real and virtual worlds

  10. tina harris says: Reply

    I think you’re heading for a remarkable life! I restore boats…but sadly I didn’t start in earnest till I retired in 2009.
    people laugh but I’m hooked to the point of obsession!
    shoestring budget? I rely on what people throw out. every piece on my boat will have a history.
    I’ve had this one two months….

  11. When I was 17 i wanted to be a carpenter so i did some civil apprenticeship instead of going to the army cause you could do that in the country i born in but it was on the job and not good enough.
    I’m good at fixing doors and I can build small & big basic stuff though. and i still love the woodwork.
    After that I tried work as a carpenter but none used wood anymore, aluminium and other alloys were the thing – now 3D printing (I give up). I always loved theatre and they still used wood so I tried that but without much luck and anyway building flats gets boring. I wanted to build something that could be used for real.
    I’m only 24 years older now but I still like woodwork and I still can’t fit in the workplace/market/whatever its called. Instead Ive been surviving making puppets, drawings and art workshops and any other odd jobs from metal scrappy to “performing” a fight in a pub.
    I live on a small plastic boat. I got my first (brand new!!) heater (bless my friend who lend me money) after 7 years living in vehicles. My only way out of my boat is on a bigger boat when it comes.
    Reading your blog made me fully realise boat building is the trade where woodwork skill are still in use! duh… I’m starting to think about this again…
    Next week I’ll be going to meet a guy about a repair and maintenance job on a boat but if it doesn’t go well, where did you do your apprenticeship?

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