The return of traditional wooden boat building

The maiden voyage of a specially commissioned crab boat, christened 'Auk', in Morston Quay, Norfolk has signalled the triumphant return of traditional wooden boat building.

The boats construction was presided over by specialist boat-builders Mr David Hewitt and his 17 year old apprentice, Mr Tom Gathercole, using Anglo-Saxon and Viking methods known as ‘shell first, clinker building.’  Auk took around 1,500 painstaking hours to complete and it is the first of its kind to have been built for almost 25 years, its 1989 predecessor also a work of Hewitt’s craftsmanship.

Auk 3

Measuring 17 foot, Auk was commissioned by boating enthusiast Mr Henry Faire who described the vessel as the ‘Stradivarius of boats’. Mr Faire’s fascination with these boats is not new; Auk joins Knotty, a beautiful Whelker originally built for his wife’s father in 1938 and eventually purchased by Mr Faire after it was put up for sale. The new addition will be used, according to its new owner, as tradition dictates, ‘for mackerel fishing, bass fishing and maybe the odd bit of crab potting.’

Auk 2

Mr Hewitt and Mr Gathercole began building Auk’s shell using the clinker technique of overlapping wooden planks, before laying in the frame for structural support. True to convention, and almost unthinkable to modern minds, the crab boat was built without any diagrams or plans and encompasses 2000 copper nails, twelve tubes of sealer and the wood from two Larch trees. It is a process that necessitates the patience only an enthusiast could posses and even Hewitt was at pains to admit that ‘the first stages are always slow’ but ‘seeing the boat starting to form is always the best bit.

Various components of the build hark back even further in history to Old Norse techniques. ‘Rongs’ (floors), ‘Ro’ (washer) and ‘Rougeons’ (longitudinal ribs) are all prominent features in Auk and part of a prominenet effort undertaken by Mr Hewitt on behalf of the charitable trust Rescue Wooden Boats. As the trust’s co-founder, the boat building mastermind is hoping to expose the seafaring stories behind historic vessels and their construction techniques.

The completion of Auk is, undoubtedly, another feather in his cap.

* Additional reporting by Laura Wotton

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