Beale Park Thames Boat Show
by Chris Partridge - Fishbourne, West Sussex - England

It was a hive of activity at England’s best boat show this year. Everywhere at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show people were stitching and gluing, sawing, hammering, planing, varnishing and generally showing visitors how it is done.

And it was not just about building boats either. People were getting out on the lake and sailing, paddling, pedalling, rowing or just relaxing in the sun.

But the exhibit that took the breath away was the line-up of winners of the annual amateur boatbuilders competition organised by that fine magazine Watercraft. The standard of craftsmanship was just astounding – to the extent that it was reassuring to see a couple of the winning entries taken out on the water to show they were not just glorified cabinetmaking.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Top prize went to Francis Rayns for an Iain Oughtred-designed Thames double skiff, built of plywood, iroko and Douglas fir. It is perfect; the strakes fitting together perfectly with no apparent glue and all the lovely period details including a cane-backed seat for the Edwardian lady leaning elegantly back under her parasol.

It took me instantly back to my childhood, learning to row with my sister in just such a boat a little further upstream. That was solid mahogany, but you can’t get the wood these days.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

Second prize went to Chris Perkins for another Iain Oughtred design, the Humble Bee pram dinghy, another lovely job in ply and sapele, though Chris says that he won’t use sapele again because its twisted grain makes it difficult to work. But its figuring is soooo beautiful – look at that transom.

click to enlarge

Pete Lawrence got third prize for his own design, a strip built canoe called Union Solo (he uses it on the Grand Union Canal). The fibreglass sheath is virtually invisible, and the bottom is covered with a graphite/silica/epoxy mix for abrasion resistance – a jolly good idea considering the number of supermarket trolleys that get thrown into the canal. The picture shows Pete demonstrating his angled paddle, with which he is very pleased.

click to enlarge

Designer Conrad Natzio had his latest conception, Ugly Duckling, under construction on his stand. His Bolger-inspired boats are simple and cheap to build, and actually look very good in a workmanlike way. Ugly Duckling is an exercise in getting as much space as possible in a boat that can still move forwards either under sail or a small outboard.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

Frenetic activity on the Selway Fisher stand as well, where several canoes were under construction including Paul Fisher’s Kate, a boat in two halves bolted together at the waterside.

click to enlarge

Another excellent magazine, Classic Boat, had some true craftsmen at work on its stand. I don’t understand how a perfectly circular spar can be planed apparently by eye, but the chap from Collars seemed to be doing just that. Their oars are lovely, too.

click to enlarge

Peter Ward was making half models on the stand, reproducing the lines of classic yachts in a form that can be hung on the living room wall to remind you what you are missing on those stormy winter nights.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

Coracles are a mystery to me – how do Welsh fishermen get them to go forwards instead of going round in ever-decreasing circles? Coracle builder Peter Faulkner demonstrated how to make these ancient boats, with his Teme coracle design made of withies, hazel and one big cowhide, complete with tail. They are things of beauty.

click to enlarge

Peter Faulkner also had for sale an interesting project – the frame and oars of an Irish currach. Most of the components were present, the only big bit missing being the canvas covering. He was accepting bids through the show, bidding having reached £60 by the time I left.

For me, the highlight of the show was finally getting to try the amazing Hobie Mirage drive, a pair of mechanical turtle flippers that harness leg power to power a canoe. My new project is to build a sailing canoe with Mirage power. This winter, perhaps….

Previous years at Beale Park: