The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Beale Park Thames Boat Show
by Chris Partridge

I went to the Beale Park Thames Boat show this year finally determined to get on with it at long last and choose a boat to build.

It’s a great place to come to a final decision, with designers, kit boats and boat builders of all types on hand. And you could try before you buy on the lake next to the River Thames near Pangbourne, close to the actual place where Mr Toad and his friends used to live.

It was not all new boats, however. A collection of old workboats was on display, including a huge Severn punt built more than 100 years ago.
It was used for salmon and eel fishing on the River Severn near Worcester, taking the net across the river for the hour or so of ebbing tide the fishermen were allowed to block the navigation. It was made of gurt great planks of wood – definitely for work not pleasure.

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The Severn Punt with the owner in his country hat and smock.

The prow has a hole in it, so the fisherman could anchor at the bank simply by ramming a pole through the hole into the mud.

you can see the anchoring pole sticking out of the hole in the other end of the punt.
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The exhibitors also had reproduced an Irish curragh, a skin-covered frame boat with three pairs of huge rough-hewn oars. St Brendan is said to have crossed the Atlantic in one. You can see more of the collection at

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The Irish curragh, with Swallowboats Whisper pedal-powered boat behind.

The other highlight was the annual amateur boatbuilding contest run by the admirable Watercraft magazine. They are things of beauty and such wonderful craftsmanship it is little surprise to see that most of the designers were working on them right up to the first day of the show.

Francis Rayns’s Acorn skiff, designed by Ian Oughtred, is a lovely thing. Francis himself is one of those woodworkers who like to build boats despite not rowing or sailing himself. “My interest lies in the construction rather than the use,” he said.

Francis Rayns's Acorn skiff
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Ian Duffill was much more pragmatic about his Exe Dory ‘Oarsmanship’, designed by Selway Fisher. “The end product is a working boat, not an exquisite example of the cabinet-maker’s art” he said. And he only spent £200 on it – it cost more to buy the row wing unit with the sliding seat and outriggers.

Pete Lawrence went right back to basics for his own design Pete’s Special, a one-man canoe. He machined his own strips from sawn lengths of western red cedar, ash and mahogany.

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Pete Lawrence's Pete's Special

Skiffs and canoes easily outnumbered traditional sailing dinghies in the competition this year. Recreational rowing is getting very popular, as people begin to find out how bad jogging is for your health and how ridiculous they look in lycra cycling outfits. And sailing canoes are so much fun.

But I needed a sailing dinghy to relearn how to sail and possibly take my children out as well. Designer Conrad Natzio had his Sandpiper sharpie on the lake at Beale Park. With some trepidation I took her out, having not had my hand on a main sheet since I was at school, ahem years ago.

Conrad Natzio's Sandpiper under sail (no, that's not me in it).
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Sandpiper is a simple flat-bottomed sharpie with bilge keels rather than a daggerboard so there is plenty of room inside for a large and less than agile sailor such as myself. It also has a sprit rig, so the boom is well away from my head (I am rather tall, so this is a big deal for me).

I actually managed to have fun for twenty minutes without crashing into anything, stranding myself on a lee shore or capsizing even once. Clearly this is the boat for me. I shelled out £35 for the plans and construction begins as soon as I can clear a space in the back yard.

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The Wooden Boat Trade Association had a boatbuilding workshop in the back of a trailer.....