With power connected, it was time to start work in earnest. I had now drawn up detailed plans for the reconstruction of the wheelhouse and this was to be much larger than the original, to allow for a covered stairway down to the gallery, but I did not want it to look out of place. In the hold, we rigged a couple of six-foot fluorescent lights from the hatches.
By one of those quirks of nautical terminology, the wooden floor of the hold was called the ceiling. This was made from planks of Douglas pine, two inches thick, twelve inches wide and twelve to sixteen feet long, each bolted to the ribs of the barge. These allowed the grain to be lifted out from a smooth surface by the mechanical extractor at the flour-mills in Gloucester Docks. Sanded and polished, it would have made a lovely floor, but several planks were badly damaged and the cost of replacing them, quickly put paid to that idea. It would be far too expensive. Still, all that lovely timber was a resource not to be overlooked.
As the planks were still very wet, we unbolted most of them, stacked them as if for seasoning and hired a dehumidifier, which we set running in the hold. I was amazed at how efficient this turned out to be. Twice a day, I had to empty a two-gallon bucket that the machine had filled!
While we were waiting for the stacked timber to dry, I drew up a detailed cutting list and we bought a small, portable Elu circular saw. This seemed tiny for the job in hand, but I knew from previous experience that these were some of the best saws on the market and not too expensive. The only problem was, that the lengths of timber we had to cut would be far too heavy for the lightweight saw bench. To cope with this, I made two wooden trestles, each with a steel roller on top. With one of these positioned at each end of the saw to take the weight of the plank, we hoped the problem would be solved.
After about four days, the dehumidifier had done the job and very little water was now being extracted; it was time to start cutting. We had left some of the planks down to provide a stable working surface, we set the saw and the rollers up on these and found, to our relief, that the system worked.
However, our first day cutting was awful. It was, by now, December, gales had blown up and we were freezing cold. The inside of the hold was dark and gloomy and, in the wind, the boat was rocking quite a bit. This made it difficult to keep an even feed on the planks as they went through the saw, but far worse, the lights were swinging back and forth, causing the shadows to swing crazily about and making it very difficult to balance. By the end of the day we both felt very ill.
Next morning, my first job was to fasten the lights tight against the hatches. This stopped them swinging around and made things much easier. We found that the rocking was not too much of a problem, now that all the shadows were keeping still. At the end of the day we had quite a nice stack of 4″ X 2″ timbers to show for our efforts. After this we cut 3″ X 2″ and then 2″ X 2″. Finally, Kate cut down even the smallest battens.
In a couple of days all the wood we needed for the wheelhouse was cut. The planks that I had left down as a working platform, we would eventually use to make the stringers and treads for the stairs.
Now we were faced with the hardest decision yet, not least because it meant spending some real money. Who could we get to do the steel cutting and welding?
To be continued.
Next post 2nd August.