As soon as Pudge was made fast alongside the Quay at Fullbridge on the 12th March, the three shipwrights got to work opening up a large enough area of the main hatch to enable them to clear Pudge’s hold of items which had been stowed and were ready for storage on site. First, they craned out the two large water tanks which we had previously been disconnected. At this time there is not a final decision as to whether to keep or dispose of them, so they have been stored alongside the shipping container that the Trust had already had organised to be delivered to the Yard a few days earlier. Everything else which we had stored down below was lifted out and transferred into the container. All the items that we will not need for some time, such as galley equipment etc. have been placed at the back and towards the front are all the deck fittings that have been made ready for the shipwrights to re-fit as soon as the new deck and hatches are in place. These include the winches, windlass, ventilators, chimneys etc. The diesel fuel tank has also been craned out and stored near the container also awaiting a decision on whether or not we need one of a larger size.
With everything in place, it was finally time for the reconstruction work to begin. Kevin Finch started with the main beams, using the oak trees which had come from France. The Oak “Boules” which came from France were the result of a great deal of thought, effort and expertise on the part of Kevin Finch.
The selection of suitable logs involved exchanges of emailed photo’s over several weeks and then, during a 3-day visit to France, the final choice of logs to buy was made after visiting several very muddy log yards.
It was an agonising time for Kevin involving a great deal of discussion on the merits and demerits of individual logs and their potential suitability for essentially different purposes, according to which part of the barge they were intended for.
The sawing of every log was supervised by Kevin and involved meticulous positioning of each log on the bandsaw carriage in order for example to maximise the yield by taking advantage of the natural curves in the logs which he had earmarked for curved beams, necessary due to Pudge’s heavy deck camber.
Also sometimes changing the instructions as to the next thickness of cut required, in order to maximise or minimise any defects revealed as the sawing proceeded.
The logs were the maximum weight and length for the bandsaw carriage and we were fortunate in having a very amiable Head Sawyer who allowed our time-consuming antics.
At one point the slab coming off the saw tipped in a different way than expected and was in danger of sliding into the spinning sawblade and being so heavy probably pushing it off the top wheel. The sawyer said in a calm, conversational tone of voice “poussez le bouton rouge s’il vous plait” – “push the red button please!)
There was a great deal of measuring to be done to determine the exact shape, size and positioning of all the 9” square, curved beams that span right across the inside of the barge at deck level. These beams will be fitted at fixed positions to ensure that the barge keeps her shape. Also, when in position they determine the placing of both the main and the fore hatches. Nine beams have been fashioned, all of slightly different sizes and they have each been craned into Pudge and laid out on the ceiling ready for fitting and final rounding off and finishing.
Alongside them are the 30 carlings which have also been made. These are the short beams, which have one end fitted to the frames at the side of the barge with the other end fitted to the underside of the hatches. They are designed to support the side deck planks.
It’s an impressive sight to see all these beautifully shaped new pieces of oak laid out down below out of the sun and ready for the next stage.
In the meantime, Kevin has re-organised the timber piles again (a never-ending task) and has selected the best pieces from which to fashion the windlass bitts, the lodging knee etc. and work has begun on measuring and shaping up these next pieces. Pudge is expected to go into dry dock later in June and the removal of the old decks can then be started.
Thames Sailing Barge Trust, June 2020