4 more planks

The last couple of days have been great. We steamed two planks yesterday and 2 planks today. There was a great turnout of volunteers and the weather was brilliant. Today we dug our way into the wood store and extracted some oak boards, left over from work on “Lilith” and “Southam”. Despite being bone dry, they’re still pretty heavy. We’ll use them for straight side planks on “Hazel”. Crossing fingers now that we’re going to be able to get the top bends out of the logs that we got from Cumbria. If not its going to be an expensive trip to Grimsby to buy another log.

A good day

After a bit of a slow down through the winter, work on “Hazel” is picking up speed. We’re now 3 planks up, that’s halfway up, though we’re past halfway at the ends as there’s an extra half a plank at each end. We’ve steamed 16 planks, 12 more to go. Today was mostly about bolting the planks to the wrought iron Knees, though Pete Nicholson busied himself with fitting the straight middle plank on the starboard side. Steve the Viking and his partner Liz moved and restacked some of the shearing ready to be run through the planer to have its edges straightened ready for fitting. In the afternoon a hailstorm briefly halted proceedings.

Wooden Canal Boat Society. – “New Lives from Old Boats”

The Wooden Canal Boat Society has the second largest collection of former working wooden canal boats in UK. Rather than simply restore and preserve them, The WCBS is finding new uses for these wonderful old boats, putting them to work on behalf of the local community and at the same time providing opportunities for people to learn new skills, meet people, make friends, do something useful and rewarding………………. Working with wooden boats can change peoples lives.

Tameside is an area of considerable deprivation with high levels of disadvantage, low income and health problems. Poverty, mental illness and social exclusion all too frequently impact together, affecting an individual’s ability to work efficiently, often resulting in unemployment or being confined to low status jobs and consequent loss of self esteem and confidence . Volunteering with Wooden Canal Boat Society can be a way of giving daily lives meaning and structure.


The Wooden Canal Boat Society has key projects:

  • Portland Basin Museum where we maintain and display our working wooden boats ( Lilith, Southam, Forget me Not, Queen and Eltham) and inform the public about the history of working boats, our canal heritage and the work of the WCBS.
  • Twice monthly working boat trips for community recycling.
  • The Wooden Canal Boat Society Charity Shop in Stamford Street
  • The restoration of “hazel” as a residential “wellbeing boat” at the Boatyard in Knowl Street.


The Wooden Canal Boat Society has up to 100 volunteers per year involved with these projects. Mainly living in Tameside, volunteering activities revolve around boat handling, boat building, maintenance and repair, “boat sitting” ,community recycling ( collection, sorting and sales), van driving, charity shop sales , tourist information, industrial heritage, marketing, project development and fund raising.


For some, volunteering with the Wooden Canal Boat Society is about getting out of the house and meeting new people and doing something useful. For others it is an opportunity to learn new skills and a route back to work. For some, it is putting their existing skills to work and “giving something back”…………and for many it is about “wellbeing” and reducing the risk of social isolation. Volunteering with WCBS helps people to be active, stay fit, live independently and remain healthy for longer………………………………………….and at the end of it, these historical wooden canal boats are retained as assets, working for the community, bringing our heritage back to life and filling our waterways with colour and sounds of enjoyment……………………”new lives” indeed, from old boats !


Volunteer Stories: Ivan and Dave

When we arrived at the boatyard (1.5 hrs late because we missed Manchester on the M6 and drove 30miles too far North) we were greeted by a smiling Chris who introduced us to the whole team.Chris and Stuart the boat-builders, Ryan the most dedicated volunteer and Pete a skilled craftsman volunteering when he can. After an essential safety talk and the issuing of safety shoes and in my case overalls we were immediately put to work. After explaining our general ineptitude and stupidity in missing Manchester on the M6 Chris handed out the power tools. David got an electric saw and I got an enormous drill. David cut slots between the bottom planks whilst I drilled holes in them. How this is meant to keep the boat afloat was to be revealed to us later.

The atmosphere in the boatyard is wonderful, different people all working on one big project with everyone making a valuable contribution to the end goal, a restored boat to benefit the community. It is a massive credit to all the chaps there that David and I both felt immediately part of the team. Ryan made us tea and then shared the cakes amongst us all. I must note that the cakes had been generously provided by Diane – a member of the team whom we did not meet but we understand is a valued fund raiser – maybe next time!

As soon as we had a few holes drilled and slots cut the job was revealed. Each hole was to be filled by a massive spike and the slots were needed so that bottom planks could move and be jacked into position tight against the first side board. Hammering the spikes in, from underneath the boat where you hardly have room to swing a hammer, is an energy sapping job that requires strength. All too often I had to get the Herculean Chris to finish off my spikes, all this computer programming (the day job) is not good for the biceps. On the other side of the boat Stuart was spiking away as if the effort was nothing, wielding his hammer like a modern day Thor. Meanwhile Pete the master craftsman was chiselling beautiful slots so that the protruding spikes could be bent over and recessed into the wood. We all continued doing this until the light faded, we tidied up and left the yard. Apart from Stuart who had to zip off because is daughter had fallen over and driven her tooth into the roof of her mouth, a more painful version of spiking.

Ryan showed us to our digs for the night, aboard the boats Southam and Forget-me-Not. These are two wonderful wooden boats at the museum that weary volunteers can use to rest until work begins again. Ryan got the wood stoves lit and stayed for a couple of well deserved beers and good old chat, it was a great night and we sorted out quite a few of the worlds problems, in theory at least.

The next morning back at the yard we continued spiking and David picked up the master craftsman’s job of chiselling the holes to recess the spikes. At the end of the day we, all of us, the whole team, had finished spiking the bottom planks to the side boards. Everyone played a part and we all felt a sense of pride that we had completed a vital phase of the restoration.

Now both David and I have great memories of a fun weekend and aching limbs from the efforts us mortals put into it. So thank you to all at the Wooden Canal Boat Society for welcoming us so warmly and letting us share the build. We hope to see you again soon, as soon as our wonderful wives let us abscond for a weekend again. Ivan and David.

Contributions to the Website

As you can see so far the vast majority of the content published on the site has been provided by Chris Leah AKA the Ashton Boatman as some of you may know him. While his posts are great and personally I think a joy to read we would love to receive contributions from volunteers, members, or even people who aren’t connected to the society yet but have an interesting story or two that is related to wooden boats or the canals.

If anyone is interested in providing contributions whether it be a one off or a regular contribution please get in touch with me at webmaster@wcbs.org.uk or use the contact form below

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Hazel’s Progress Report

Chris has submitted yet another report this time covering the work done during the winter this brings us almost entirely up to date apart from telling you about the painstaking process of spiking up every bottom board to the garboard strakes, when you have around 90 bottom boards and each one needs two long square nails at 10mm in diameter driving up through three inches of greenheart bottom boards and then through roughly 9 inches of oak it isn’t a quick easy or fun job and that is not including the oil soaked oakum that needs to be wrapped around the nail heads and sandwiched between the bottom boards and the garboard strakes before driving the nails.

You can find his progress report at http://wcbs.org.uk/?page_id=221