An Art Gallery on a Boat? You Must be Mad! Part Ten

Finally back on our mooring, we still had to insulate, install an electrical system, cut and fit portholes along the hatch coamings and in the hull, put doors into the bulkheads, build a staircase, panel the sides and install a floor; and then decorate it all!

No, we would not be open this summer.


As we had already overrun our deadline (and our budget to date) it became even more crucial that we save money wherever possible. We needed more timber and, by a stroke of luck, I heard that Mardon’s Printworks, the huge building between Redcliffe and Temple Meads, was being demolished. I visited the site and there, my years in the construction industry stood me in good stead. I could speak the language! A quiet word with the demolition foreman, a subtle backhander, and I was given permission to help myself to whatever I wanted. In a day, I had dismantled enough stud partitioning to fulfill our requirements and even got a curved steel guard-rail which was just the right size and shape to serve as an anchor davit. It was hard work but, compared with the cost of new timber, the cash that it had cost me was almost negligible.


Brass portholes were going to cost a small fortune (£60+ each). We couldn’t afford them. Instead, I found a company that rolled steel section into any shape required. I ordered one inch “T” section mild steel, rolled into 9″ and 12″ diameter rings, the smaller for the hatch coamings, the larger for the hull. These gave me an outer flange that could be welded to the hatch coamings and hull and an inner flange to provide a rebate into which my glass would fit. These cost £1.80 each, but still needed to be fitted. 

The welded joints in the hatches, that took so long to get done, were already leaking every time there was heavy rain!

In desperation, I had a word with Bill, my local car repair man. He was too busy to take on the work, but he assured me that it was a reasonably straightforward job to cut and weld steel. He suggested I buy a cheap arc welder from Exchange and Mart. He said the mask and accessories that came with the welder, would be useless and should be replaced with good stuff, but that the unit itself should be perfectly adequate for our needs. He also offered to lend me the oxy-acetylene cutting gear that I would need.

One of the portholes in the foc'sle, awaiting glass

One of the portholes in the foc’sle, awaiting glass

He was as good as his word and brought it down to the barge in his truck. After ten minutes, practising under his supervision, he left me to it. It was actually not too difficult and before long I had all the portholes fitted. In my enthusiasm, I began welding stanchions, mast fittings, the anchor davit and so on, as well as welding over the hatch joins to stop them leaking. Compared with the techniques required to join two pieces of wood, joining metal seemed fairly straightforward.


Before we could get the floor laid, there was about two feet of rust either side of the keel, left by the water that we had so laboriously pumped out, that would have to be removed and painted. Working on it with scrapers and wire brushes seemed to take forever, but eventually the twenty feet at each end were done and floor laid there. Walking around in these finished sections was luxury after months of stepping from rib to rib. Unlike the outside, where I had had a clear run, inside we had to work between the ribs and it made for really slow going. By the time we started on the middle section, I decided we simply had to save some time, so I said said to Kate I’d finish getting the rust off with the angle grinder. It was bound to be much quicker.

While I got the extension cable and the angle grinder set up, Kate climbed up the ladder to make us a cup of coffee in the wheelhouse. I suppose I had been working for about two minutes when I heard Kate calling. The coffee was ready but, from the sound of urgency in her voice, I assumed there was something more serious going on. Looking up, I could see nothing. The angle grinder had been turning the rust into a fine powdered dust that filled the hold. It reminded me of the smogs from my childhood in London in the early 1950s, but much thicker. I had only cleaned about two square feet, but had generated so much dust that it took hours before we could see from one end of the hold to the other. The following photograph was taken about four hours later! So it was back to doing it the slow way.


A dusty job

A dusty job

To be continued.

Next post 23rd. August




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