Punting on the River Cam

While punting on the River Cam one spring day I looked down and saw a small boat, a dinghy, sitting upright on the bottom of the river about ten feet down. it seemed to be abandoned so we thought why not salvage the remains and try repairing it? It was a warm Saturday afternoon so there was a lot of traffic on the river--punts, canoes, young men in straw hats and blazers, their girls reclining in colourful frocks….not a good time or place to be raising a sunken dinghy “I say, old chap, do you mind if…”.

The waterlogged hull submerged in river water weighed practically nothing so we hauled it out on the bank, borrowed a wheeled dolly from the porters lodge and took it home. I was living at the center of Cambridge in a thatched cottage that had miraculously survived the incendiary bombs dropped during the recent war. We put the dinghy on saw horses and while it was drying out I looked for books on repairing lapstrake boats but found nothing of any immediate use. Not surprising since ‘lapstrake’ is known as ‘clinker’ in England. Lapstrake construction (overlapping planks) was new to me but I could see that one plank was so badly split it needed replacing. It was rIveted to the adjacent planks with copper nails which were impossible to remove without doing further damage.
The only way seemed to slip a hacksaw blade in the lap and cut the nails one by one. I’d hoped to use the old plank as a pattern but it was in splinters. Cutting a new plank and fitting it between the laps to make a watertight joint seemed impossible. We did get a piece of pine boarding the right thickness, pieced together the splintered plank to use as a rough pattern but cutting the new plank to shape and fitting it to the odd shaped gap defeated us. By then the boat had dried out and the rest of it didn't look too good---a cracked inwale, a split in the transom and various other deficiencies. .After a few more false starts we finally had to accept that we were not repairing the boat but dismantling it. By now it was late October and, with
Guy Fawkes Day approaching, we thought the boat might be dry enough to make a good bonfire. We were not disappointed and were joined with by the local kids to roast chestnuts in the blaze.
Always remember
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason & Plot
The next day we raked through the ashes and retrieved the copper nails and roves putting them aside to be melted down and reused--maybe!

Simon Watts
Completed--November 16, 2017