2022 is rapidly drawing to a close and we are enjoying some downtime in our Henley office at the moment, planning some marketing activities for 2023 and co-ordinating winter work at the boat yard, which as usual at this time of the year, is the main focus of our activity at HSC.
We have a record number of boats in storage this winter, which reflects our owners' desire to retain value in their initial investment.
From my visits to various boatyards, it is clear that the traditional boat world is thriving. Maintenance is key to the pleasure of traditional boat ownership. While it might feel painful to keep settling invoices for varnishing, engineering and possibly even some planking, these are non-negotiable if you wish to retain pride of ownership, not to mention, value in your vessel.
Regular readers will know that our in-house boat builder Ellie, departed for South Africa a couple of weeks ago, and it is in her honour that we have given the name 'Ellie' to our new electric 12-seater, currently in build in East Anglia. She will be available to charter through Pure Boating with a skipper from Streatley, Moulsford or Wallingford from April 1st, 2023 and will seat 12 in comfort.
Our yard team has been enhanced by the presence of a former colleague of Ellie, with whom she trained at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis. Gareth Lewis had a first career as a dentist but decided to pivot into boat building.
He has been working at the Sylva Wood Centre in deepest Oxfordshire, where Colin Henwood also has workshop space. I'm not sure whether Beale Park Boat Store is warmer than the workshops at Sylva, but Gareth has slotted well into our maintenance team and is currently beavering away on a number of projects, including a Brooke and an elegant Taylor Bates saloon launch.
As it happens many boats that we work on are in fact electric, and we are seeing an increasing number of requests for conversions, which are being dealt with by Henley Technical Services as far as the actual equipment supply and installation are concerned. However, HTS' leading man, Steve, has to collaborate with a skilled boat builder since there is always an element of reimagining the internal fit-out, whether it be to build battery boxes or reduce the engine size box.
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of a propulsion conversion, whether outboard or inboard, please give us a ring in the office to discuss.
'Tarbes II' is overwintering afloat as she is too large for our yard and is perfectly happy on her rise and fall mooring, covered in her thick winter coat.
It is important to make sure that whether your boat is afloat or ashore, you have good airflow through all the lockers and under the floor, so please leave doors open and lift a couple of floorboards to ensure good air circulation.
If you suffer from condensation, a small space heater left on permanently seems to do the trick.
Covers are crucial in all weather, and winter is a great time to renew or repair your existing cover.
We managed to grab a week with friends in the Lake District at the end of November. As luck would have it, the weather was kind to us, and we managed to don our hiking boots and get out into the fresh air every day with the greatest of pleasure.
I dropped in on Hamish Patterson at The Old Sawmill in Hawkshead to discuss a couple of jobs on boats that Hamish has built for HSC customers. Hamish has some large projects on, including ongoing work on the Ullswater steamers.
I get a huge kick out of seeing Lake Windermere's traditional steamers plying the lake, even on a frosty winter's morning.
From the terrace, where we were lucky enough to spend a few delightful days, we spotted MV Teal, a steamer launched in 1938 that is still very much in service today.
I can't go to the Lakes without dropping in at the Windermere Jetty Museum, where a Borwicks saloon launch has pride of place in the workshop.
That launch is a sister boat to 'Viola', which we sold to a Thames customer a couple of years ago who entrusted Dennett Boat Builders to rebuild most of the hull, and it is to be hoped that 'Viola' will celebrate her centenary in pristine order.
While browsing the shop at the Jetty I spotted the excellent book based around the rebuild of 'Lady Charlotte', which was a massive rebuild project for Colin Henwood some years ago. Colin and the owner collaborated on the book 'Three Men and a Boat: Portrait of a classic Thames launch' which has pride of place in the book section at the museum.
I am proud to have played a small part in that story, having found a retired steam launch called 'Flying Fox' on the river Dee and from this, Phoenix-like, arose 'Lady Charlotte'.
Some people will always prefer a brand new boat to the 'real thing' as evidenced by the ongoing interest in Freebody slipper launches where the price is less of a factor than having a bespoke boat unique to a new owner.
One such is Kit Richardson, who went one stage further. First, he came to the UK to explore the possibility of purchasing a 30ft Andrews from HSC, but something about it was not quite to his taste. He then went to Freebody & Co in Hurley but decided against a new build. In the end he chose to marry his architect's eye for perfection and his desire for a 20th-century Andrews design with a 21st-century electric propulsion system.
We featured the result in a previous newsletter. Since then, and following a delightful face-to-face cup of tea in Henley on Thames, Kit sent us the following story about how his beloved 'Becky Jane' came to be:
"In the fall of 2009, a group of friends and I walked the length of the Thames Path. As we approached Henley-on-Thames, we began seeing several very sleek, low-transom wooden launches of a type and design I had never encountered before. As various launches passed through the locks along the Path, we were able to see them up close and speak with some of the owners; it was love at first sight for me, and I promised myself that I would have one of those slipper launches one day.
As an amateur woodworker and licensed building contractor, I also promised myself that I could and would build it, having previously refinished a 1952 Chris Craft Riviera and a 1930's Century Deluxe Utility.
After fruitlessly contacting a variety of potential sources for plans and searching the internet for over 8 years, I finally found an image which made all my efforts seem worthwhile. It was a simple silhouette line drawing of the "Anthea" designed by a North Wales Naval Architect, Glynn Lancaster-Jones. I immediately fell in love with the plumb stem leading the perfect sheer line and arranged to purchase a set of the plans from Glynn for my one-off personal use. After reviewing the complete set of drawings, I decided that the structure and framing Glynn had designed would not comport with my intended design and use, as they allowed for the installation of steam engines, but I knew I wanted an electric motor.
The other option to building from Glynn's plans was to purchase a launch in England and have it shipped to the States.
In England, I spent a few days in Henley with Gillian Nahum, the founder and owner of Henley Sales & Charter Ltd, trying to find what I wanted and could afford to have shipped to Minnesota. In the end, none of the available slippers captured my fancy, so I returned home empty-handed, even more determined to design and build a slipper of my own, using modern methods and materials.
I hired a Naval Architect, Bill Prince, and together we designed a 30’-0" slipper with a 7’-6" beam, starting with Glynn's plumb stem and gorgeous sheer line.
As this was the first slipper launch project for Bill and me, many details were not worked out in advance, nor shown on the construction drawings; I decided to figure those out myself during construction when I could see the actual boat in three dimensions. After more discussions with Gillian, she introduced me to an English boat builder and historian, Neil Garside, who has spent most of his life building Thames River Slipper Launches. After listening to many of my ignorant questions over the phone and tolerating a slew of my follow-up e-mails with more questions, Neil very generously responded to all my queries. He also sent me a copy of his notes showing construction measurements and details for a number of the undrawn details Bill Prince and I had not figured out. Without Neil's gracious help, I might still be floundering in the shop.
For the build, I chose to work Great Northern Boatworks in St Paul, Minnesota. They agreed to allow me to work with them as much or as little as I wished. Although I did much of the initial plywood sanding, wetting out, and floor decking, I left most of the work to the experts.
Partway through the construction, I luckily discovered a source of true Peruvian Mahogany lumber in widths, lengths, and thicknesses that would satisfy our requirements for the decking, sole, and cockpit.
I purchased a wood steering wheel assembly, including a cast aluminium spider and bronze quadrant with controls, salvaged from a scrapped 1930's Canadian launch. The wheel and levers now control the steering, throttle, running and courtesy lights.
The vintage deck hardware pieces were purchased from various marine sources; all those parts and pieces have been re-chromed, polished, or varnished. Both flag poles were turned using the same Peruvian Mahogany. Propulsion is provided by an ELCO 20 horsepower, 72-volt electric motor coupled to three lithium-iron-phosphate, 24-volt, 200 Ah batteries made by Lithionics Battery. One of my primary goals while designing the boat was to make certain its operation would be as clean and quiet as possible. At 1500 rpm, we can achieve a top speed of about 9-10 mph with minimal noise. The ELCO motor has a "hyper-speed" button which will, when held down for short periods, propel the boat up to about 11-12mph for emergency manoeuvres.
More than 25 years ago, long before seeing my first slipper launch, I began collecting vintage Lloyd Loom chairs, having discovered that they were designed and manufactured by a Mr Marshall Burns Lloyd in St Paul, Minnesota, the city where we live. As a result, we now have more than enough chairs to fit out the slipper as it would have been used in the 20s and 30s.
While wanting to create a slipper launch which would honor its uniquely English heritage, I nonetheless decided to make a few changes to make the boat uniquely mine and not simply a copy of a vintage slipper. It is, therefore, an American adaptation and not an exact replica, and one which must handle the large, fast-moving flotsam and jetsam on the Mississippi River, including whole trees, commercial barges, tugboats, pleasure craft, etc. There are also many sand bars and bridge piers to be navigated around.
The flag on the stern pole is called our "Grand Union Flag" and is considered the first flag of the then-emerging United States. It was used for a short time as the 13 Colonies were in the process of breaking away from England; our Revolutionary War had just begun, and George Washington wanted a new flag for his disparate troops. I think the flag nicely conveys the duality of my slipper launch, English in its heritage and American in its modern manifestation.
We named the slipper "Becky Jane" after her most ardent patroness, my wife, who has been wonderfully tolerant and mostly understanding of my brilliant yet somewhat irrational desire to have a slipper."
As Kit mentioned in his story (above), he chose an Elco electric motor for his bespoke new build.
In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, Elco was a prominent US boat builder. While Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company built electric cars, Elco produced electric motor launches. Rumour has it that both Ford and Thomas Edison owned an Elco and moored their vessels at their adjoining Florida estates.
An article about 'Wenona', an 1899 original Elco, recently dropped in my inbox. I'm linking to it here as I think some of you may enjoy reading it.
While we are on the subject of transatlantic collaboration, I was inspired by this poster, soon to be auctioned by Bonham's, featuring a magnificent Chris Craft. There is little doubt that Mr Bates at Chertsey Wharf was super inspired by these prolific builders on Lake Algonac when he launched his range of Starcraft.
We have a fantastic Starcraft on our books, which is one of the largest and probably the only one with both a flybridge and aft cockpit. In a refit some years ago, several of the original 1950s-style fittings were removed, resulting in a more up-to-date look for the boat.
Don't hesitate to contact me for more information.
Wishing everyone a peaceful end to the year, celebrating in whatever way you and your loved ones enjoy. We all have our family customs, our favourite foods and films. I, for one, will be subjecting my family to at least one James Bond film, preferably featuring a boat chase and a dash down a snowy mountain.
See you in January for another instalment of 'Gillian goes boating'.
Happy Holidays and a Prosperous New Year!