Off she goes, Iain Oughtred's slightly foreshortened Penny Fee, at 15ft. Sails by Jeckells, spars by the wonderful Jeremy Freeland at Collars. The rest by Messrs Burke and Morgan (that's Jonny by the way...)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Before and After

I cannot quite believe it myself, but the evidence is there, in the photos. It's a strange thing that when you build or restore a boat you think you'll remember every minute, every inch of planking scraped bare of old varnish, every rove tapped up, every problem solved. And then, a year or so later, you cannot imagine having done all that work. And that is how I felt when I looked up the before and after pictures of the Salter's rowing skiff (actually a double sculling half-rigged gig, to be precise) I restored awhile back.

Found in a sawmill, reverting to sawdust, covered in chicken poo, broken, it was only a remark from my friend Gordon that made me accept the commission. It was restore or burn, and the decision rested on a knife edge, or rather Gordon's confident "Go on, you can do it."

So we had here brought over from Aberdeen to Leckmelm where the long process began. And what a reward: under half a century of grot, despite the split planks and decayed ribs (80 per cent of which had to be replicated), there was a 100+ year-old rowing boat waiting to come alive. Splits repaired, new planks scarphed in (Honduras mahogany to match the original) and after a liberal soaking in Varnol, the depth and colour of the planking was extraordinary.

She's destined for a museum on the estate, but we did launch her just the once. With a set of oars made by Jeremy Freeland, complete with family crests on the blades, she slipped along as she once did on the Thames at Oxford all those years ago, powered by an undergraduate with an ancient title. To date, it is the most satisfying restoration I have undertaken.

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