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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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