Canal Boat|June 2020

Tom Kitching follows the rebuilding Clayton’s tarboat Spey
Tom Kitching

Spey was always big, probably somewhere close to 7ft 1ins wide when built in Uxbridge in 1937 for the crude oil trade on the Shropshire Union Canal. A few years ago, we called in at Uxbridge on our way to Battlebridge basin, a rare foray down from the North for us. We moored up outside and knocked on the office door. “We’ve brought a boat back to complain. It’s all rotten and the engine keeps going out.”

But being amongst the widest boats on the network has been hard work, with some unsatisfactory limits of navigation, other locks barely squeezed through on ropes and pulleys. The scheduled renewal of the planks on the right-hand side gave us a one-offchance to re-gauge at 7ft exactly.

After 12 months of careful planning, and a colossal wood order, we went down onto Northwich dock early February 2020, nine years after we rebuilt the front end. We were to replace four of the five side planks, one lining plank, one board under the swim, and bring the gauge in 11/16ths of an inch around the engine room bulkhead and forward knees.

Old planks were scraped clean of tar and plating. A large jack was used to lift the boat back into shape. The poor condition of the planks in question had allowed the rear end to sag, a process known as ‘hogging’.

Templates were made of the existing planks. The new boards of fresh oak are flat, but the planks we cut from them must be bent to the hull.


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June 2020