The blog will now be devoted not to boat building but to my 82-year-old Vertue, Sally II, now undergoing a well needed refit at Johnson & Loftus in Ullapool (and gliding...)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Stealth Boat

Well, here it is, possibly the only 24ft gun punt to be built in this country for a decade, and maybe the last. It's a curious-looking thing and, although I can't say I approve of killing wild birds, it takes huge skill, patience and fortitude to spend 12 hours in winter, stalking ducks, with no guarantee that when the smoke clears you'll experience anything other than the sound of a flight of ducks chuckling to themselves...

Peter Scott learnt much of what he later employed in painting wild birds from hours, freezing, spent lying in the wet bilges of a duck punt. And nearly perished, from an account in his book Morning Flight of a terrifying 12 hours. "I never remember to have been frightened for so long a period," he concludes. "Bag: 2 geese, 3 mallards, 7 wigeon, 2 curlews, 39 knots, 3 dunlins."

Another gunner, Archie Blackett, was not so lucky, drowned on the Solway Firth in February 1970. His weapon of choice was a large bore, breech loader, converted by Vickers Armstrong from a Vickers artillery gun, machined down and bored out. It was proofed for 40 ounces of shot "and the appropriate charge of black powder". It's still out there somewhere, buried in the mud of the Border Esk estuary.

His 20-year punting career saw 1,889 ducks (mostly wigeon), 532 waders and 136 geese fall to his fearsome weapon. By the way that hole in the bow is for the breeching rope, which controls the recoil... Doesn't bear thinking about.

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