Projects: My Project: a complete restoration of a badly damaged Thames Rowing Skiff By Dave Webb
Meeting our Thames Rowing Skiff: “Maggie”
I’ve always dreamed of owning a Thames Rowing Skiff, so when I retired, I started searching for one. I met with Mark Edwards at Richmond who builds superb skiffs. One of his beautifully restored skiffs was up for sale and my wife Maggie and I went to look at it, but we couldn’t afford a skiff of that quality.
Mark sensed our disappointment and he knew I’d worked as a professional boat builder, so he showed us another skiff that needed full restoration. Its planking had fallen away from the stem, and it had two big holes in the bottom, with the sax board broken both sides. My wife suggested putting a match to it, but I thought I might be able to pull it back into shape or take some mould templates off it at the very least.
Mark was very generous, the deal was done and he even loaned us a trailer to transport it home. It was the first of many times Mark helped me with the restoration project and I’m very grateful to him for all his support. Also, to Moody Decking and Services without whose generosity I would not have been able to complete my Skiff project.
Turning back the years with WEST SYSTEM® epoxy
Epoxy was essential to the success of this project and specifically I used WEST SYSTEM 105 epoxy resin and WEST SYSTEM 205 hardener. I thickened the mix with colloidal silica when I needed to use it as an adhesive and with low density fillers for filleting.
After assessing all the damage, I decided to repair and restore the existing skiff, which we called “Maggie” after my wife, rather than taking moulds and building a new one from scratch. I started by stripping out the hull a section at a time, which made it easier to clean up the planking, as well as preserving her graceful lines.
Restoring the inside of Maggie’s hull
The original bitumen coating on the hull had soaked into the spruce planks and stained them badly in places, which meant I had to rake the lands down to the nails on the inside. I then gave each section a coat of WEST SYSTEM epoxy and, while it was still tacky, added a coat of epoxy mixed with low-density filler, which had a peanut butter consistency.
I used the thickened epoxy to fill the gap between the lands. Once it had cured, I washed off the amine blush, keyed the cured WEST SYSTEM epoxy with 80-grit paper and screwed and glued new ash frames in place. I then repeated the process right through the inside of the hull.
The WEST SYSTEM epoxy really sealed up the porous planking, while also giving me a good foundation for subsequent coats of high-UV-protection varnish. With the hull back to shape, I fitted a new transom and stern post, which I set 20mm forward of the original, enabling me to remove all the damaged plank ends and re-fix into better timber with plenty of thickened WEST SYSTEM epoxy and filler mix. The results were a really good, strong job.
On the outside of the hull, the situation was far worse than I first thought. The plank lands all through the bilge section were worn away, exposing the rivet heads and the plank edges were also completely broken away.
To restore the plank lines, I covered each spruce plank with a 2mm teak veneer. Starting at the garboard, I fitted the veneer in three lengths, making sure of a good fit. I then degreased the teak with acetone and, taking care not to break the veneer, I keyed the wood by abrading it with 80-grit paper. I then coated the planking and veneer with thickened WEST SYSTEM epoxy, fixing them in place with staples driven through 25x25x2mm plywood to create a larger area of pressure.
When I glued the veneers in place and held it with the staples, a small amount of thickened epoxy mix squeezed out and I worked this down around the damaged plank edges. When everything was finally rubbed down, the lines of Maggie’s hull were restored.
She looks great now, although I am aware she needs careful and respectful handling due to the teak veneer. I’ve also added a lot of extra weight by using the epoxy mix, which means she may no longer officially be a Thames Rowing Skiff in the eyes of purists.
We met Roger Hardy at the Traditional Boat Rally at Henley, which is a Skiff-lovers paradise. Roger is a brilliant restorer of boats and specialised trailer builder, who has shared a lot of his expertise with me during the project, which has been invaluable. He also managed to find out that the original builder of our skiff was Mr Thomas Cooper who is recorded In Kelly’s directory as running a business in Shrewsbury, which operated from 1859 until 1939.
Whenever Mr Cooper built Maggie, the skiff is a very old lady indeed. I like to think she has a new lease of life now and that, treated with care, she’ll last for more years to come.
Thanks to all the wonderful skiff enthusiasts and friends who shared their valuable expertise with me during the project – I couldn’t have done it without you.
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