If we single out one person from this project, Australian shipwright Mike Howett stands out as the quintessential traditional boat builder/restorer.
Mike is a seasoned traditional wooden boat builder whose experience includes working in the forest to learn which trees would be suitable for wooden boat construction. His family were all boat builders or fishermen.
He served an apprenticeship in wooden boat building which comprised how to pick the right tree, build boats from that timber after skilled cutting, then sail the boat once completed. Many people possess single skills, but very few encompass all phases.
He says he could have made more money by following modern ways but chose learning traditional boat building skills because that was his passion. “What will look eye sweet?”….he always says…. “what will work in terms of construction?”… “how can we do it better?”
A SHIPWRIGHT’S PERSONAL VIEW.
I first met Des Kearns in 2006, whilst I was doing a condition report on an old timber launch which he was surveying in Langkawi. We quickly developed a strong bond based on our common interest in classic wooden boats.
Shortly after this Des asked me if I would come and look over Cariad, which was in disrepair in a marina in Langkawi. When I saw her, even though she was in a terrible state, I immediately fell in love with her graceful lines, so when Des offered me the job off head shipwright on the restoration of her I was elated.
First, we set about finding an appropriate place to do the extensive work needed. We found Phithak Sinchai Shipyard and Services (PSS), a small shipyard in Southern Thailand, with just deep enough water to haul her out. It was a long shot but in retrospect, one of the best decisions we ever made as the yard turned out to suit all of our needs perfectly.
For the next 3 years we dedicated our full attention to the massive task of bringing her back to her former glory. 15 years later our belief that it is people who restore this piece of British maritime history. What we lacked in infrastructure we built with our adaptable, skilled team.
Carefully and methodically, we pulled her apart, so as not to lose her beautiful shape. We employed local Thai people, who were mostly used to working on fishing boats as carpenters, but these people are very adaptable and good tradesmen and over time they became brilliant shipwrights.
The main thing that I respect about these people is their innovation and problem-solving ability, nothing is too hard for Thai people. We constantly make our own specialized tools to do specific difficult tasks on the boat. This ability is born from having to do it yourself as there are no big ship chandleries to go to and buy things and reminds me of my own upbringing.
It brought home to me that this restoration here is very similar to when she was originally built in 1895, with old skills and innovation and hand tools. Of course, we do have the advantage of power tools, but the true essence is there.
We sourced other highly skilled workers from other parts of the country to undertake the huge steel framework, electrical work, fitting out work and so much more. Even sourcing all the materials for the job was massive.
After years of effort, replacing frames, planking, masts coach houses, decks and fitout, we finally launched her. She was magnificent but not quite finished. Unfortunately, the owner at the time had to stop the project and took her to Singapore to sell her, where she sat in a marina for way too long.
Des got in touch with me again some 15 years later and said that Cariad had a new owner and was in need of repair once again. I was delighted to be part of the project again and after the initial shock of her state of disrepair went to work with most of the original carpenters from the previous restoration.
Most of the damage had been caused by sweating, due to lack of ventilation in a tropical environment, along with lack of maintenance. At first this was heart breaking after all that hard work but soon we turned it into a positive.
In the first restoration we retained a lot of the original timber in the stem, stern and garboard areas. This time we have dug deeper and replaced all of the stern past and rebuilt the stern knee. Replaced the entire stem and also the garboard planks and many other damaged planks. New masts are also being built by our star team led by Juha mast-builder.
As Des says, this time lets… BUILD BACK BETTER.
I haven’t gone into much detail in my account of the work being done, but rest assured it is the day-to-day attention to detail that will give this boat the integrity she deserves to see her out there sailing amongst the other great classics in the world.
It is very hard to describe the satisfaction derived from slowly but surely breathing new life into a classic old wooden boat and feeling her come back to life.
Hopefully this time round I will get to sail on the boat that I have put so much love and passion into.
There are too many people who have helped on the project to mention but mostly I want to thank Des and Ked for the opportunity to do my part.