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The building of "Earnest"

Fabrication of the steelwork

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"Earnest" was started a month early at the end of September 1998. The first we knew was when Sheila phoned us up to say that the base plate was already down! That Saturday saw us go up to R&D at New Ollerton (half way between Mansfield and Newark) to pay our first instalment and finalise a few points. This was the first of probably in excess of 20 trips up the A1, I don't think Neil ever wants to see that bloody road again! The main thing that we wanted to discuss with Sheila was the question of a bow thruster, if the boat "grew" a few feet would it be to late? She said that as we had not finalised the bow design with Lee, our allocated fabricator, the bottom plate had been laid a few feet too long and their fabricators always start with the stern. When we arrived and had our customary mug of tea we were introduced to Lee to discuss the intricacies of "Earnest's" steelwork. Neil went through all the non standard requirements especially the stem post angle, bow upsweep and front swim. Ray came over and we all discussed the extra length needed for the bow thruster locker in front of the water tank and the height of the front cockpit floor. In all the boat grew another foot to 58ft 6ins, it actually ended up " longer than this, Lee said this was to give Andrew some more room to play with in the cabin! Nine inches of this extra foot were given to the front cockpit and front swim and an extra 3" given to the rear cockpit (engine compartment) as Ray thought more room was needed round the engine with it's plethora of alternators.

The next week the hull was virtually finished apart from the bow. Lee had it tacked up, but thought Neil would want it a bit higher, this he agreed, so Lee started again with some more upsweep on the bottom plate. Next week Lee discussed the style of the semi-trad cockpit, would we like it double skinned as there was a lot of welding to do the sides. Lee said that this was a departure for R&D, but it would lead to no weld marks and hence distortion in the important rear side panels which have all the signwriting. Neil obviously said that this was a good idea. The next week the bow was nearly finished and it looked just fine, Lee had gone to town on the gas locker hinges leaving them finished with his "fish tale" signature. The fabrication continued smoothly, when it came to the cabin side plate time ALL the joins were through the corners of windows, the final ones being through the rear port holes. This led to an extra long panel from the rear port hole to the stern. When Lee came to fabricate the rear cockpit there was some discussion about the door width needed to get the washer / dryer in. It had to come in the rear doors as the corridor and front door width were too narrow. The inner doors were not a problem, a half an inch extra was allowed, this was a bit larger than usual leading to a nice large rear hatch. At this width the inner rear doors would fold back completely flat against the bulkhead, but the outer rear doors were going to be a problem with over hang at the upper rear corners due to the tumblehome of the side cabin plates. Neil was not keen on this, it did not look nice as the doors would be open most of the time when cruising. It was also dangerous as crew were likely to catch them when climbing round the gunwale to the rear. It was therefore decided to keep these to the standard narrower width. Obviously this meant that the washer / dryer must go into the rear cabin doors having first come over the rear cockpit sides. Neil was not there to witness this spectacle but Andrew said it involved a lot of hands and a forklift truck!

It can be seen that the cabin was constructed in a slightly unconventional way. First the bulkheads were erected then the roof,  supported on temporary supports. The cabin sides were then added. Ray said that there was a good reason for this, the roof sides could be erected perfectly level, following a stretched steel wire. The side plates were added next, as then they were under no tension when welded,  perfect ripple free cabin sides resulted. This certainly worked and since having "Earnest" has become apparent in the amount of new boats seen, many with a "pedigree" supposedly better than R&D with slight dishing apparent along the cabin sides. Another point noted was the lack of distortion in the curved cabin roof plates another "feature" noted on many other boats. This is obviously because R&D use  fairly densely spaced ribs of a reasonable cross section. The steelwork was finished off involving a few late evenings (and nights!) as Andrew was waiting for the shell, and Ray wanted to prime two boats together. One of the last bits fabricated was the swan neck, as can be seen in the many of the photographs this has a particularly fine sharp angle on the bends, Ray said this was due to a jig he had perfected over the years. Owing to the sudden finishing of "Earnest's" shell a few minor cock ups occurred. The two roof fender hoops were both placed at the front and extra fender eyes / handles were added to the front of the roof handrails, Lee must have thought that Neil had a front side fender fetish! These handles were not required as the proposed cratch cover was going to not have much roof over hang, wrapping round in front of the handrails. Another feature that was not properly discussed or planned by Neil was the roof mounted equipment rack. R&D's standard steel rod type had been welded to the rear of the cabin roof, to one side. As Neil was very used to using the centre rope when working "Beatty" single handed, it must have an unrestricted area to the back side of the centre rope mounting eye. This was because of the boat often being moored in gear at a lock waiting jetty or in a lock (see the Tour page - 1996 Main holiday "Fens and Avon" when Neil did the River Nene single handed NOT YET AVAILABLE). It was also for this reason and the plethora of fenders that you need on most river navigations that Neil put brass rails on the top of the handrails of "Beatty" as he was getting sick of constantly touching up the hand rail paintwork. This was the reason for specifying this brass on "Earnest", not because we like polishing brass! Ray pointed out that it was impossible to have the rack in the centre as due to the spacing of the mushroom vents, there was not enough room between them without having a ridiculously short gang plank. The spacing problem was because Neil had paid too much attention to the internal spacing of the vents! But all was not lost, due to the vents being nice and low as requested, removable (with stainless steel allen bolts, a la "Beatty") strip steel racks were later retro fitted and the old ones cut off. The new ones are of such a height to enable the gang plank to be mounted over the vents. For creeping under low bridges these can easily be removed.

Immediately after priming Don Ridyard R & D's painter and signwriter came to paint the cabin sides and bulkheads in under coat and the base colour. The windows were then to be fitted. Along the way Neil had changed is mind about brass portholes at the rear. Sheila had pointed out that some nice 12" half drop vent aluminum ones were now available which would match the other silver hopper windows. Neil has never been fond of gold anodised windows to match the brass, because after a few years weathering the gold fades and goes milky. The colour scheme eventually chosen goes better with silver windows anyway. The next weeks visit saw the windows in and the boat transferred to Andrew's shop.   


The early start, bottom plate formed into slipper stern. Stern plates welded together, Lee starting to wrap them round.

Most of stern sections formed and side plates erected.

Stern to side plates held by temporary outside addition of large angle iron section. Cants and tank formed. Notice measurements to check wrap of stern.

Mark one bow, it was subsequently un-tacked and given a bit more upsweep and turn up of bottom plate.

Stern showing cants, "planked" deck, fuel filler cut-out and rudder shaft tube.

Mark two bow, showing jacks and block and tackle to shape it.

Bow well under way, showing weld marks from gas locker floor and bulkhead.

Stern showing slipper construction, keel cooler tank, weed hatch box and diesel tank bulkhead. 

Rubbing strakes tacked on, bulkheads and roof erected.

Most of cabin side plates on, semi-trad cockpit formation starting. Notice pod swim under counter.

Colin, Ian C and Julian, T.N.C. inspection trip. Front of cabin overhang being formed.

Interior showing all the temporary supports. Cabin window holes already cut, but stiffeners not yet fitted.

Stern showing diesel tank wing tank extensions and cut-out for fuel cut-off flap.

Semi-trad cockpit and lockers formed, doors were retrofitted to rear pedestals to form useful lockers.

Bow showing lockers and cants. Lee has left his mark as fish tail ends to the gas locker hinges and the end of the wrap round of the front rubbing strake.

Steelwork finished and in primer.

Stern finished and in primer.

Cabin side plates in base colour and windows fitted. Bow thruster tube in, ready to go into Andrew's fitting shop.

Steel cratch just been primed.

Bowthruster and tube in locker.


All images from Neil's or Sheila's 35mm compact cameras. Prints scanned with Neil's Hewlet Packard 4c (an old classic!) scanner.

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