Clinker built

It was a pleasure skiff hoiked up on the back of a trailer, held in place by crude-cut chocks, vivid yellow straps with self tensioning ratchets and thick rope, twisted at points into hand-sized knots and hairy with stick out wild strands of twine. A cruising boat; bicep-powered, now cruising up the dual carriageway to who knows where? The hull was chestnut brown, brush-swept varnish strokes caringly applied, it gleamed with buffed love but not so much that the knurls and knots couldn’t show through, the heartwood breathing beneath. A high back chair across the rear portion with a wrought iron topper the only concession to fashion; otherwise this high sitter was custom made for a proud Victorian gentleman, boater-topped with a rakish cravat and a blouson shirt opened up more than modesty should allow, riffling in the breeze.

But the boat, the hull, the bow: that recalls a much earlier time. Clinker built, overlapping stanchions, smooth-planed stringers and internal trusses hand-worked not machined. On a trailer, up the A38; a craft rooted in more than 1,300 years of history. Scaled up and mast added, it could take a sail, a sea, a journey to Vinland, or a rich Abbey on the coast, swilling over with gems, Communion wine and sacred texts. Although planed and sawn by man, the lines remain organic; the wood is cut but then seems to adapt and grow back, plank over plank, the caulk the underwear; the ribs the shoes. A work of beauty, Viking designed, still functional today and being put back to work on a boating lake in Rotherham or as a daily hire on the Ouse, who knows?


Edward Cove hung himself, I recall, from a beam in the roof of his boat shed on Shadycombe Road. It was called the Island Quay boatyard; I was 12 and remember it vividly, front page news in the Gazette. The family couldn’t agree over which way to take the business and Edward could take no more. The end of over a hundred years of wooden boat building tradition was precipitated.  In that time, one of the few concessions, the fitting of choking, coughing inboard diesels, puthering and thrusting out their sooty smoke.  But these too were clinker built vessels and I loved them, the East Portlemouth ferries the police-jacket blue icon of the type, hunkering down and riding the waves, not fighting them, cutting them, pitching violently but conversing with them and reaching a rolling agreement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s