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...)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lapstrake (but not as we know it)

I suppose it has some similarities to building clinker boats, yet Oh how I wish it were that easy. Some people think the planks on a boat are simply that: planks, parallel sided, and all you do is slap them around a set of formers. Now, we all know this will not a boat make; more like a box, which is what I've been up to these last few days, namely a log cabin.

Have to say that all those straight lines did not come naturally, or the need for absolute squareness. Not that boats are not meticulously trued at every stage, or you'd get one side rising faster than the other. It's just the absence of curves that made me glad I was not engaged in the business of house building rather than boat building. It becomes kind of monotonous after a while laying down identical lengths of spruce, notching them into each other and banging them with a mallet.

But it's done now and the result is pretty good; a place to sit and admire the view. What's more it's light, whereas croft houses up here tend to be dark, with small windows dating from a time when the view was the least of your concerns. It was more a case of coming in from the fields, wolfing your porridge in front of a meagre peat fire and scuttling up to bed with  Morag holding a guttering candle. Must have been a miserable experience as these little cottages are hardly the best insulated, and certainly not in those days with earth floors and only thick walls to keep out the cold, rather than good old Kingspan thermal insulation.

I was told that a few inches of modern insulation is equivalent to a few feet of stone wall. Our log cabin has 130mm thick walls, a sandwich of spruce and insulation which means it's like one of those cooking boxes filled with straw in which you put your caserole in the morning and it's done to perfection by supper time.

Back to boat building next week with the added bonus that the third instalment is now safely in my bank account. Nothing like dosh to inspire you. And once again, an owner who is a joy to deal with. I'll work out how many boats and owners I have worked for in the last ten years one of these days but what I can say is that none of them baulked at paying; there has never been a formal contract with any of them and, with one exception, they all seem to have been happy with what I built for them. At least no one has come back to me with anything more than the usual wooden boat problems such as what varnish to use; and why is one side of my boat six inches higher than the other, to which I reply "natural movement of the timber. Quite normal."

Only joking...


  1. I'm not a proper boatbuilder but I've always said I find building a boat easier than building a bookcase. With the bookcase everything has to be perfectly square, and the shelves must be perfectly level so that a pencil or marble won't roll off. Right angle joints have to be massively over-engineered or diagonally braced for stability and longevity and their components have to be precision made, while a decently curved boat seems to keep itself in shape - and you can cut, shape and fit most of the parts by eye.

    Perhaps I've not been doing it right - but my boats have not sunk or fallen apart. On the other hand, my bookcases....


  2. I learned house building from my grandfather who was also a boatbuilder. I think this was a natural transition from ancient times, when boats came first and often were turned over on the beach and became houses. One thing I know for fact, the old timers I knew, who built lap-sided houses didn't worry too much about plumb and square. They also called it "shiplap".