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60ft narrow boat hull with wooden cabin


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Hi all, 

We have finally stepped out of our comfort zone in order to realise our dream of living live afloat.

We are in the process of buying Thelma from Tardebigge. She has a 60ft steel 50 year old hull and a rather rotten wood and fibreglass superstructure. 

 

The hull report has been good, got the engine being looked at today and hopefully we can get her running and start using the boat. 

 

I need help and guidance for rebuilding the cabin structure. I will be building in wood and trying to do the majority of it our selves so here goes. 

 

What is the best way to mount the cabin on the hull? Uprights from the base or attached to the gunnels? 

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Weld a 2" or 3" high upstand to the gunwale and fit the wooden top 'over' the upstand. Minimise the number of fixings of the cabin to the upstand. Use some for of 'mastic to seal along the bottom of the cabin-to-gunwale.

 

Without the upstand you will never get a water-tight seal and the boat will leak and internal woodwork will rot.

 

The difference in thermal expansion between wood, fibreglass and metal means that the cabin top will always be 'on the move' so ensure that you have a large supply of 'mastic. to keep it sealed.

 

 

  • Greenie 1
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44 minutes ago, Welsherfarr said:

Hi all, 

We have finally stepped out of our comfort zone in order to realise our dream of living live afloat.

We are in the process of buying Thelma from Tardebigge. She has a 60ft steel 50 year old hull and a rather rotten wood and fibreglass superstructure. 

 

The hull report has been good, got the engine being looked at today and hopefully we can get her running and start using the boat. 

 

I need help and guidance for rebuilding the cabin structure. I will be building in wood and trying to do the majority of it our selves so here goes. 

 

What is the best way to mount the cabin on the hull? Uprights from the base or attached to the gunnels? 

I hope you can bring this back to the boat I remember seeing as a child, it was always on my fancy list as we used to pass it a lot. I did see it listed on eBay but felt it would need too much investment to make a sentimental purchase.

 

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50 minutes ago, Welsherfarr said:

 

What is the best way to mount the cabin on the hull? Uprights from the base or attached to the gunnels? 

How is the existing cabin attached to the hull? If it worked for 50 years, why change it?

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6 minutes ago, dmr said:

If the boat has no historic value then bite the bullet and get the cabin made in steel. A good welder/fabricator with boat experience will do this quite quickly. You can then concentrate on painting, insulating/lining etc. It will be a lot easier to maintain and add much more value to the boat than a "woodentop". Over a reasonable lifetime it will likely even work out cheaper too.

 

.............Dave

Seconded, you will have great problems selling it with a timber top.

For what you will spend on timber and wooden doors and windows, you could have a fine steel cabin, trad or cruiser and have no maintenance hassles later. 

 

There is a boat fabricator in Southam Oxfordshire that has done this for a friend of mine. They put the steel over the existing wooden cabin so the all the original fit out was retained, very cheap way of getting a good boat.

Edited by Tracy D'arth
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1 minute ago, dmr said:

If the boat has no historic value then bite the bullet and get the cabin made in steel. A good welder/fabricator with boat experience will do this quite quickly. You can then concentrate on painting, insulating/lining etc. It will be a lot easier to maintain and add much more value to the boat than a "woodentop". Over a reasonable lifetime it will likely even work out cheaper too.

 

.............Dave

 

If the existing cabin is basicly sound but needs some repair, I would be tempted to repair it. But if it is completely rotten, then Dave may be right.

As a half-way house there are a few historic boats about with original wooden cabins which have been skinned in steel, to preserve the historic interior while providing a new seamless outer skin. But I would be concerned about hidden condensation on the inside of the steelwork leading to unseen rust and rot, so perhaps not worth it unless the interior really is worth keeping.

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I have a boat that went through this process 25 years ago when it was 25 years old. I don’t anticipate needing to rebuild it again because the wood cabin structure is skinned with steel, although even then there are some details around the front of the cabin that are less than ideal and still need attention.

 

I assume the current structure has a series of timber frames spanning up from the gunwales and forming the support for the roof. This is a necessary part of the structure of the boat to provide restraint to the gunwales and enable the roof to bear load. In my case these are every 3’ along the length of the boat and sit on top of the gunwale with a downstand below the gunwale on the inside edge that restrains them laterally.

 

As stated above the cabin sides are located against a steel upstand welded on to the gunwale.

 

The (re)builder of my boat was a professional designer and woodworker who also happened to be a canal enthusiast and long standing boat owner before he took on this project. I’m not aware he built any other boat. I think it was purely the challenge of preserving the original cabin shape and construction because he had the skills to do so and liked the boat - having been a friend of the previous owner - that led him to do so. The reconstruction was done piecemeal to replicate the original shape.

 

I’ve not had cause to need to investigate the finer details of the cabin structure in my five years of ownership but I have a number of photos of the reconstruction process that I will look at to see if there are any clues.

 

I met the former owner of Thelma a few years ago on a trip to Stratford. We both recognised each other’s boats from closer to home.


JP

 

 

.

Edited by Captain Pegg
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 The woodentops that I have seen always look rough, but then I probably don't notice any good ones. The differential expansion will require a gap, a big one looks wrong, a small one will always hold damp. Plywood is the most popular material but its really hard to stop some damp getting in causing the plys to de laminate. The common fix is then to "paint" a layer of glass fibre (GRP) over the top and this invariably looks bad.

 

...............Dave

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Fulbourne's back cabin was rebuilt in timber in around 1987. It is still in pretty good shape. Key to that is the use of really good quality resin finish plywood for the outer skin, as well as keeping up with the maintenance. No problems with leaks along the gunwale between the wooden cabin and the steel hull, but we have had some problems where the plywood back cabin roof joins the rivetted steel engine room roof. Now seems to be solved with an oak coaming over the joint on top of copious quantities of sealant. Some photos of the cabin being built at the bottom of the page at https://timlewis.smugmug.com/Other/Early-Fulbourne/

 

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2 hours ago, Welsherfarr said:

Hi all, 

We have finally stepped out of our comfort zone in order to realise our dream of living live afloat.

We are in the process of buying Thelma from Tardebigge. She has a 60ft steel 50 year old hull and a rather rotten wood and fibreglass superstructure. The hull report has been good, got the engine being looked at today and hopefully we can get her running and start using the boat. I need help and guidance for rebuilding the cabin structure. I will be building in wood and trying to do the majority of it our selves so here goes. 

What is the best way to mount the cabin on the hull? Uprights from the base or attached to the gunnels? 

Please, please, please hede the advice given in previous posts above working in wood with all sorts of curves (some you won't be aware of until you actually fit the sheet) Even if you are a genius woodworker you will have a challenge and IT WILL LEAK.

Get a sympathetic and knowledgeable BOAT builder to build the cabin sides and roof - that includes cutting the door and window apertures.

 

The cut is littered with failed attempts to do what you are proposing - don 't add yet another one.

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I’d advise a steel re-skin too. It was a Norton Canes speciality at one time. Years ago, Malcom Braine built many wooden topped craft, sooner or later problems appeared. Graham Edgson, his successor, developed a technique of removing the outer timber work and cladding the remaining cabin in steel. I remember Thelma from years past, I think I went with a prospective owner to have a look at her when he was contemplating purchase. 

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I am looking to start to dismantle the existing exterior fibre glass where it has blown and see exactly what I have and how much need to be replaced.

I really like the old interior that the boat has so would like to try and reuse as much of it as I can. 

Every little bit of space in this boat has been used. 

A lot of the modern boats I see seem to waste a lot of the space with blank walls

 

I was quoted Just over £9k to have the super structure made in steel but would need to completely gut the boat and start afresh. 

While this is a sound Idea I would then be looking at insulation, painting, and a full shell fitout. 

 

I would be interested in finding out more about re skinning the boat anyone got any details on someone capable.

I see this boat as a template it has everything you need and has served the previous owner well in all the years he has had her. This is what has more than likely saved the interior from being modified. so would like to retain it as much as possible.

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17 minutes ago, dave moore said:

Speak to Sarah Edgson at Glascote, she is now running Norton Canes. Some of the lads there have experience of this work.

Thanks just have she gave me some good tips. 

 

I will listen to the collective hive on maintaining this boat. I think there is a lot to be learned in this adventure. 

  • Greenie 1
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I think the things to watch out for might be:

 

Strength...assuming there is no framing the new steel skin will rely on the existing wood structure for some of its strength. If you ever took the wood out then framing could be retro-fitted but would mess up the paint job 🙂.

 

"Gunnel" width. I believe the bloke who runs the "Living on a narrow boat" website/business did this and the gunnels became too narrow to walk on. This is a significant limitation.

 

..................Dave

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3 hours ago, dmr said:

 

"Gunnel" width. I believe the bloke who runs the "Living on a narrow boat" website/business did this and the gunnels became too narrow to walk on. This is a significant limitation.

If you overplayed the existing wooden cabin with 3mm steel plate why would the reduction in gunwale width be any more than 3-4 mm?

  • Greenie 1
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32 minutes ago, David Mack said:

If you overplayed the existing wooden cabin with 3mm steel plate why would the reduction in gunwale width be any more than 3-4 mm?

I duuno. Maybe they put some framing in, or more likely some insulation. Have a look at the website, its interesting. It looks to be a money making concern aimed at educating new and wannabee liveaboards, but the owner appears a bit disaster prone and makes just about every boating mistake that its possible to make.

Some older boat conversions do appear to have narrow (or no) gunnels, but I would think you know much more about this than me 🙂.

 

...............Dave

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Yes, it must have a steel upstand. the cabin edge must not sit in water on the gunwales. To get the top edge straight you need to have, for example 3 x 2 or even 4 x 2  long lengths scarfed together the whole cabin length, these should be supported by the cabin side uprights half jointed into that top rail paying great attention to the lengths of them so you don't get humps. Personally I would get the roof beams bandsawn professionally so you get a decent camber, these should be jointed into your top rail so that everything is straight and spaced so that the the distances correspond with the joins of sheets of ply. If you PM me with an address I will post sketches.

  • Love 1
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Nobody has asked but-

Is this a real traditional boat with a large cargo bay and a small babin area

OR

a boat where all the normal space has a 'full length'  wooden cabin top and sides.

The OP is concerned about retaining the traditional cabin look and fittings  - which I understand for the rear cabin - but for the whole 60' length???

 

Not tha it makes  a huge amount of difference from the point of maintainability.

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  • 4 months later...

Hi All, 

It has been a while since we last posted here. 

Thelma is now back local and work has started on her renovation. If it wasn't for lockdown 2.0.

Does anyone know much about our boat Thelma? I never got to meet the previous owner.

I understand he built the boat and fitted it out from what I have heard. He was a talented man in building this boat. I am trying to learn as much as I can from how the structure is coming apart. 

I had a few hiccups getting the boat back home but it was an amazing experience and a trip I hope to retrace when the boat is rebuilt.

I will try and keep all the posts regarding Thelma in one place. 

We have started a blog to detail our Journey. (saves the storage on my phone with all the photos)

  • Greenie 2
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