Monday, 2 January 2012

Making a start

Two months after the hull arrived on 19 November 2011, a call to Mick revealed some movement. Until then, occasional telephone calls had shown zero progress as Mick completed another boat, Little Owl, and carried out work to his new workshop. We knew his plan was always to complete Little Owl first, which had taken much longer than he had anticipated, and to redevelop his workshop. While I knew all this, I hadn’t quite realised it was going to take 2 months to get to this stage. By the way, I have read that boat building is always hampered with delays. Apparently the only boat that was competed on time, according to a reliable source, was the Ark, mainly because they had an urgent deadline. No such deadlines exist in the real world!

So, the message from Mick was that Skylark was being moved near the new workshop on Monday, 21 November. The first tasks would be to paint the inside of the hull with bitumen and lay the ballast bricks at the same time to ensure they bed in well. This helps to stop them moving or even vibrating, and of course the bitumen is essential for rust proofing. The floor boards will be laid at the same time along with the engine.

Mick asked if we had decided on a main colour for the exterior because he wanted to undercoat the hull before putting in the portholes. He would then be ready to spray the insulation – much easier with the windows in.

We went over on 26 November to find Skylark just outside the new workshop. We had a quick walk around the grey hull, looking into the open doors at the ends and where the kitchen will be. We could see the floor boards and that was about it. After a few minutes Mick turned up – he’d been in the shed and hadn’t heard us. We chatted for about half an hour, walking around the boat and climbing up the ladder to go inside. It all looked good. About 2 tonnes of very hard red bricks had been carefully laid in the bottom of the hull for ballast and good quality shuttering ply screwed to the bottom to form the floor. The glue used in the ply was of marine quality to avoid the wood falling apart if it ever gets wet. Nothing else was under the floor apart from 2 bilge pumps to cope with any water ingress, which should be nil. All pipe work would be above this layer to enable maintenance to be undertaken if needed.

We confirmed our external colour choice as being dark green – the only name we could think of was ‘British Racing Green’, with probably light cream coach stripes and the occasional red highlight. Mick was pleased with this choice, thinking, like us, that it would be look traditional. We also confirmed our choice of name (Skylark) and that we wanted ‘No 1’ painted alongside the name to denote the boat is privately owned and is not a hire boat.

His next job was to order the engine – a 50 hp Kubota with the two alternators. The whole cabin would then be battoned and the insulation sprayed.

So why is such a large engine needed when most narrowboats make do with something smaller, say 30hp? Mick has had quite a bit of experience of building boats and has lived on a couple in the past. He believes it is better to have a larger engine to cope better with the strains put upon it. A smaller engine can struggle especially when they are taken into the freer flowing rivers say nearer Kings Lynn. There are stories of smaller engined boats having to wait for tides to change before they go up stream. The speed limits applying to the rivers of East Anglia are also higher than the canals (7mph instead of 4mph). Because they are wider and deeper there is less damage caused to the banks from wash. This can also make a great deal of difference to travel times. All of this would put a great strain on a smaller engine so a larger engine it is. This will also help when the boat has to be sold.

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