As I have written before, boatbuilding – perhaps like a house undergoing renovation – goes along in fits and starts; lots of preparation goes on behind the scenes and then for a short while great progress seems to be made in a short period. Then the cycle begins again and to outsiders, it might seem as though not much is happening but this is a large and complicated project where progress comes in many guises.
With the completion of the backbone last month we have now moved into the next season of preparation. This includes preparing the planking for fastening to the hull which is a long and detailed process – particularly when trying to adhere to the ‘hand-made’ processes of the Anglo-Saxons.
The process starts with the cleaving of a log (possibly it might be considered to start before that with the selection and felling of the tree!) – firstly in half, then into quarters, then eighths, and finally, sixteenths (if the log is large enough in diameter and quality)
Until the first split is made it is very difficult to know what the quality of the timber inside will be and, as we have now seen on a number of occasions, sometimes the log will split with a twist. The external grain pattern provides clues to what is inside but sometimes the patterns in the bark do not reveal the true story.
Next, each wedge-shaped length of timber is notched out and the excess timber is removed to bring the ‘plank’ down close to a finished thickness
The surface of the plank is then brought to its final thickness and finished with a tee-axe. The plank is now ready to be shaped to the required profile in order that it fits accurately to the keel or to the planks already fitted. Finally, it can be attached to the ship with iron nails and roves. Altogether, we will need to repeat this process more than ninety times.
For the rest of this year, we will not be making quick progress, but rather a steady and careful march towards seeing the ship grow. This is necessary to ensure that an accurate, watertight ship is launched ready for the trails.
Throughout this process, the drying and shrinkage of the timber will be monitored to ensure that all is in order. That process has already begun via regular visual inspection, photogrammetry and laser scanning and it was noted some time ago that a split was opening up in the stern underloute – this is the curved, rear extension to the keel. External experts in boatbuilding and marine surveying have been consulted and, with regret, we have decided that we will need to replace this section.
Oak timbers, particularly, will shrink and swell dependent on moisture conditions and I have seen a number of situations where timber, apparently beyond repair, has swollen and regained its original shape. However, in this instance, the location of the timber and the difficulty of replacing it should we need to once the ship has been commissioned means that this is the right course of action in this instance. Unfortunately, this will delay the progress of the planking until another section has been obtained and converted to shape which will require careful and accurate work.
We have built a temporary floor (‘deck’ or ‘sole’) in the forward part of the ship in order to investigate the height of the side of the ship in this area.
This is due to differences in all of the available drawings. The extra height in the bow/forward section as shown on the 2018 Minimum Reconstruction Drawing could be very useful in terms of seaworthiness (the higher the side of the ship, the less likely it is to take on board high waves), but for the forward four rowing positions, it makes for a steeper angle of entry into the water and greater difficulty of the rowing stroke. This height cannot be changed once the ship is built and so we need to experiment at this stage to see what is actually possible. Therefore don’t be surprised if you come to the Longshed and see various volunteers attempting to row the ship in mid-air!
We have combined the last two mandatory Axe Safety Training courses and look forward to welcoming new volunteers to the Production Crew in the coming weeks. We have also been making arrangements to cleave timber at the National Trust site at Sutton Hoo as we develop much closer ties with our friends across the river.
Tim Kirk, Master Shipwright