Friday 3 June 2016

A Mast For "Albion"

Filming four tons of Columbian Pine being laminated and fashioned into a mast for the Wherry "Albion" has been a fascinating project.  "Albion's" previous mast was manufactured in 2002 so it is highly unlikely I will ever film a similar event.

Columbian Pine, grown in Scotland, was selected for the mast and milled by Summerscales Ltd of Grimsby.  At the mill the timber was cut into three inch thick planks and shipped to Eastwood Whelpton's yard at Upton, Norfolk in 2012.  Here the timber was left to dry and season in an open ended shed until September 2015.
Photo courtesy Roger Watts NWT.
Laminating the timber gives added strength and flexibility to the finished mast.  In the old days the boat- builder, or carpenter, would go to a plantation and select a suitable "Pitch Pine".  From it they would fashion the mast in one piece.  It was not uncommon for these old masts to break under stress. 
At Upton the roof of the shed that housed the overhead hoists had been been reinforced with upright timbers in order to support the fifty feet of bulk timber with an estimated weight of four tons.  

Timber batons were fitted between each length of planking to allow a generous coating of resin glue to be applied.   A team of four boat builders armed with lamb's wool rollers covered the upper and lower surfaces of each and every plank, under the watchful eye of Maynard Watson..

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When every inch of the timber had been treated with resin glue each layer of laminate was raised with the hoist, allowing the spacing batons to be removed with the use of crowbars. The planks were lowered and clamped when all the spacers had been discarded.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

Twenty six ratchet, tension straps were deployed along the length of the mast and tightened to within an inch of their lives.  To attain maximum tension the boat builders worked in pairs straining every sinew until their knuckles turned white and the resin glue oozed from between the planks.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When all the tension straps were firmly in place metal clamps were used to align the planks vertically while the resin was still malleable. The structure was left over a complete weekend to allow the resin glue to set and complete the first phase of the project.
Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

After a few days the resin glue had cured sufficiently to allow the process to continue. The next phase of the  project was to square the timber structure into four equally flat sides. Using hand held circular saws, a series of cross cuts were made every two or three inches along the entire length of the mast.  These cuts were removed with hammer and chisel and finally planed smooth. The floor of the shed shuddered with a resounding thud each time the mast was turned to present a different face. 
Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

When the mast had been squared attention was turned to the peak. A chain saw was used to shape the top of the mast after establishing the diameter and angle of taper.  The resin had set as hard as steel and the cutting blades of the chain saw quickly lost there edge.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
Sawdust hung in the air as the whine of Electric planes echoed off the walls around the shed. After ten days the mast was gradually beginning to take shape.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The chainsaw was used to make a third and fourth angled cut to the peak of the mast. After several hours of planing the shape and the symmetry of the mast began to emerge.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The next phase of the project was to transform the four sides into eight sides forming an octagon. These eight sides would eventually be rounded off to form the finished mast. To square the timber the diameter of the mast had already been marked with a compass on each of the four sides. Using these same indicators a sliding bevel created cutting lines that would guide the saws to form the octagon.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The mast was hoisted and wedged at an angle to allow the chain saw to cut the bevel along the length of the mast. The foot retained four sides where the counter weight would be fitted.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The foot of the mast was flared to form a hip and then smoothed with an abrasive wheel.  Comparing the modern electric tools with the hand tools of a hundred years ago one can only marvel at the skill and energy required by those old time boat builders. 

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The mast had to be turned and wedged in order to cut each of the four bevels which in their turn were planed smooth.  For several hours the plane followed the chainsaw along each bevel until the mast was a perfect octagon.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The whole structure was now somewhat slimmer and lighter than three weeks earlier and looking much more like a mast.  Although good progress was being maintained there was a still a great deal of precision work to be done before the mast was complete.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The body of the mast was now octagon shaped with the foot flared into a square. 

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
At the peak of the mast a step was formed for the crane iron.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
The next task was to cut the Herring hole into the mast head.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT
All the fittings had been carefully removed from the old mast ready to be transferred to the one in production.  The crane iron was the first piece of hardware to be fitted.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The the main body of the mast was carefully rounded off.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

At the foot of the mast the trunnion was was fitted and the counter weight prepared for mounting to the heel. The bottom of the mast was shaped to replicate the profile of the counter weight.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

The extra long retaining bolts passed right through the body of counter weight and tightened. Although there was still work to be done the mast was all but ready.

Photo courtesy Ian Scowen NWT

Autumn had arrived and winter was fast approaching when the mast was removed from the shed and put into storage until the spring.  On March 30th 2016 "Albion" arrived at Upton and the mast was loaded.  A series of checks and function tests were carried out before "Albion" left with her new mast.

Monday 28 March 2016

North Walsham and Dilham Canal Part 2.

It saddens me to see Norfolk slowly giving up more of her woodland and pasture in return for more tarmac roads and numerous housing developments.  No one can halt the onward march of progress as the demand for houses and urban development increases unabated. Everybody needs somewhere to live and bring up their children but how much longer can we sustain our rapidly growing population.

As we hurtle headlong into an uncertain future leaving the natural world behind us in a thick cloud of pollution, we seem to have forgotten that we are only caretakers that have been entrusted with our little corner of England. As the county of my birth slowly disappears before my eyes I am driven to record as much of it as possible before it is gone forever.

In this seemingly endless period of change there is one bright spot.  The North Walsham and Dilham canal.  The canal is being restored as close to its original condition as possible.
I began filming the restoration work carried out by the Old Canal Company and the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust six years ago.  In this time the progress has been nothing short of astounding.

The North Walsham and Dilham was opened in 1826, after an act of parliament was passed.  But  it fell into rapid decline after the last trading wherry left in 1934.  The development of the railway and road transport sounded the death knell for the waterway.  However, the canal is still officially a navigable waterway.

In the last twelve months alone the progress has been remarkable.  Last summer (2015) the section between the lock and the bridge at Bacton Wood has been restored. It took from April to August to remove the trees that had colonised the banks and the vegetation that had choked the channel. Removing tree stumps and de-silting has transformed the area from an overgrown backwater into a tranquil waterway.
Spa Common facing Downstream

Spa Common facing Upstream

Throughout Autumn and Winter, in spite of a record rainfall the work has pushed on, driving all the way from Pigney's Wood to Swafield staithe.   Already, regular visitors to this freshly restored length of the canal include deer, Kingfishers and the Little Egret.

Pigney's Wood

In the Autumn the canal by Pigneys wood, overgrown with trees and brambles, was cleared and reclaimed.  Heavy rainfall throughout the winter did little to stop the momentum although it did make conditions for working very challenging.  I know this from my own experience, carrying forty five pounds of video equipment through several inches of mud to film the action.  

Challenging conditions on Paston Way

Along Paston Way to the old M&GN Railway bridge, the canal owners and volunteers pressed on with the restoration.  Clearing decades of ivy and vegetation that had covered the bridge piers and the footpath.

Old M&GN railway bridge.

Hauling Ivy and growth from the bridge.

At Swafield staithe a giant Bamboo plant was removed along with a number of trees that were growing in the canal bed.  After the vegetation had been cleared the banks between the staithe and the bridge were graded and profiled. 
The canal at Swafield Staithe.

Removing trees near Swafield bridge.

The owner of the canal assisted by the volunteers of the trust have worked in all weathers and conditions to restore this priceless example of our history.  There is still a great deal of work to be done and as more of the canal  is restored more and more routine maintenance is required. Reeds need cutting, banks need mowing.   Visitors to the canal cannot fail to be impressed by the progress to date, but very few realise just how much hard work and determination it has taken to get this far.

All the photographs in the blog are kindly supplied by Alan Bertram, a stalwart supporter and volunteer of the canal trust.  Use the links below to follow the news and progress of the canal.

Friday 15 January 2016

Mist On The Marsh.

"The Mist On The Marsh"
My five year epic is finished at last and about to be released.  The day I thought would never dawn has arrived and gone some way to restoring my inner calm.
The film takes a look at the remains of the old way of life in and around the Norfolk and Suffolk waterways.  Recording fragile links with the past that still cling on in spite of the remorseless march of progress.

On A Wherry Fore Deck
 In that five years I have made many new friends and collected many unforgettable memories.
Filming "Reed cutters" working out on the Suffolk marshes on frosty winter mornings.
Spending gorgeous summer days gliding silently through the water on the fore deck of a wherry.  Sharing a pitched roof with Thatchers and summer evenings out on the broad with an "Eel catcher ".
An intriguing night shoot in Suffolk filming the Old Glory Molly dancers and a canoe trip along the only true Norfolk canal in the company of squadrons of dragonflies.
Priceless days under those big East Anglian skies.

Priceless Days

In my small way I like to think I have captured a little slice of local history, which may be enjoyed in the years ahead.   There is still so much out there to be recorded that "Mist On The Marsh II" is already being planned.