THE CONVERSION OF DENEYS REITZ.
FROM RESCUE BOAT TO FAR-REACHING TRAVELLER.
1. WHO SHALL DO THE WORK?? SKILLS ARE NEEDED - URGENTLY!
Some people may regard boats as pieces of machinery. But this is not the case for an old boat that has a 100 year pedigree, saved many lives at sea, brought its crew home time and time again, often in the worst of conditions and was affectionately regarded by many in the town of Fowey as “our old boat”.
Nor is it the case when the lines of the hull and superstructure are a perfect blend of form and function - just look at the picture of her proudly displaying her lifeboat colours at sea.
Buying the boat in semi-derelict condition on the word of a marine surveyor who pronounced the hull to be “basically sound, after being addressed with six and eight inch pricks” (??) and “may be found challenging to convert”, was the easy bit. (“Oh GAWD, what have we done??”)
Then there was the issue of where to do the conversion. With the help of Norfolk boat-builder Tony Hewitt, the old boat was loaded on to a big transporter, and taken expensively from Canvey Island to a boatyard near Great Yarmouth, knocking a piece of wall down on the way in. (bill number one, repair of wall). This proved to be a big mistake, as attempts by Tony and his engineer friend Paul Watts to investigate the insides of the hull and take off the old lifeboat superstructure created a huge mess and a flood of bills for cleanup from the boatyard. Tony drilled holes in the hull to let the water out. But the gushings of noxious goo that fouled the boatyard wasn't cool, clear water.
Warning signs of future problems were the late realisation (by him and us) that Tony had never done a job of this magnitude or complexity before, so his confident pronouncements of but a month before were beginning to look a mite uncertain. Then came a flood of awful insights. A conversion needed a plan and layout drawings. There was no plan! Nor was there a prospect of one, given current cast of actors.
2. By sheer luck, we find a perfect team
At this point of crisis, Don dimly remembered a conversation in Shotley Marina near Ipswich with a man on what was probably a converted lifeboat. He had maybe taken a telephone number? Furious scrabbling in what passed for his filing system at last revealed a piece of paper with a number on it - and it was an Ipswich number. So, nothing lost, ring. The voice on the other end proved that somewhere there was a deity that looked over headstrong fools who took huge leaps into the dark. The voice said, “Oh yes, that old lifeboat. I heard about it and went to Norfolk to have a look. Seems an interesting job”. Interested? Weelll, probably”.
The voice was that of John Krejsa, shipwright extraordinaire and owner of ex-lifeboat “Stadats”, which he had converted and lived on for several years. So off we all went to Norfolk to view the job. John was not a prick man, his preferred weapon was a large hammer, with which he belaboured the hull. Wallop! Thud, Bang! “Nothing fundamentally wrong, bit of softness here and there, easily fixed”. Don emitted a whistle of sheer relief. Charlotte had always thought it would be OK - did she predict the miracle? Maybe.
So John was commissioned to prepare a plan, using the original RNLI drawings as the basis - and by his agreement provisionally joined the “team” of Tony Hewitt, (furniture and superstructure) Paul Watts, (engineer), Charlotte (Curtains, upholstery, KITCHEN DESIGN and aesthetics), Don (dogsbody and labourer), John K (presiding genius).
3. Introducing the team - craftsmen all
Deneys Reitz was stripped naked, her intimate bodily structure exposed, sand blasted and repaired, before the process of conversion could start.
The individuals who worked for three years on the conversion were as resourceful and skilled bunch of craftsmen as could be found anywhere. Their project was unique - to take a boat specially designed and built for sea rescue, full of flotation boxes, with hardly any comforts or accommodation for crew - and convert it into a long distance cruising yacht, with comfortable accommodation, a modern kitchen, ample refrigeration and water, six comfortable berths and a range of 1000 miles. The result is a testament to their imagination and skill, and it's not just us saying that: the boat attracts admiring attention and compliments everywhere she goes. But most important, she retains the sea keeping characteristics that made her and her cohort the main deep-water all weather British lifeboat for nearly 100 years.
The main actors in the conversion were:
John is a shipwright, mainly self-taught, having decided to abandon a career in advertising and go to work in boatyards in East Anglia in his 30's. John is immensely knowledgeable on all matters to do with wooden boats. He converted his own wooden lifeboat and lived on it. He is also a talented designer, who understands the relationships between form and function brilliantly. His main concern is that the job shall be done right, even if it takes a little time. He uses a range of traditional tools with great familiarity. To see him craft a mast and spar using only an adze, plane and sander was an education. John is thoughtful and reflective, caring to speak when there is something relevant to say, and not wasting his breath on unnecessary chatter.
In terms of character, Paul is the polar opposite of John. He is quick-witted, cheerful and works at pace. But he is also very thorough, considering alternatives quickly when faced with a problem, discarding unlikely options and choosing an almost invariably correct course of action. He and John took a little time to gel, but once they saw the quality of each others work, a very productive relationship developed. Maybe the crunch came when John was certain that it would take a week to install the two engines that Paul had rebuilt. Next morning, Paul persuaded a friend to bring his tractor and bucket; slung the engines on the bucket tines and had both engines installed by the end of the day.
He was hugely versatile and creative; coping with a completely new electrical wiring system, electronics, hydraulic steering, rebuilding engines, gearboxes and installation of fresh water and sanitary systems. But his particular piece de resistance was the main propeller bearing greasing system - adapting equipment that was normally found on large construction machinery. This automatic greaser has kept four big white metal bearings humming happily for 13 years so far.
Tony is a man of many parts. He has been a boat-builder, but now majors on furniture and kitchens. He has a wicked, impish sense of humour, works fast with unerring skill. He always takes on too much work and spends a lot of his life trying to placate irritated clients who want their kitchens finished by Christmas. But they are always pleased with the end result. Tony built our original boat, a 28 foot converted fast fishing craft, a truly bespoke build "Now, Charlotte, lie down on the floor and I'll measure you for your bunk").
Tony was a sort of mediator between Don as client and dogsbody - who spent most of the conversion lying under the hull with putty, paint and sander - and the trio of craftsmen. The usual issues were time ("When Oh God will it be finished", and money ("So you think it will cost somewhere between £80,000 and £150,000!!***&&&????").
Tony built a very elegant interior with "library", tables, seating, well laid-out wheelhouse with tugboat seats and comfortable sleeping accommodation. The only problem was sometimes a lack of co-ordination, such as the several times the kitchen furniture was installed and dismantled because Paul needed to install water and hydraulic pipes behind it.
A mark of Tony's versatility is that he designed and built all our home bedroom and kitchen furniture and a lovely wooden greenhouse.
These three central figures were supported by a cast of other characters, who are celebrated in the epic poem "The Saga of 'Deneys Reitz'".
4. Work commences
The path began to smooth out a little. John set to work on a plan of the boat layout; guided (!) by a sketch prepared by Don during a boring business conference in Austria. (See photo).
The boat was again taken on the road, this time to Upton, Norfolk, where Tony and Paul, together with fellow furniture builder Ray had leased an old pig barn and yard as their factory. The boat was installed comfortably in the yard and Paul built a scaffolding erection over it and covered it with truck tarpaulins that kept the old thing warm and dry for three years.
The sensitive thing is that we will have to strip everything out of the hull. Engines, gearboxes, shafts, decking, remains of superstructure. To the imaginative and sensitive Don, this is a bit like stripping an aged aunt naked in full view of the public! (Many interested Grockles pass by the piggery for a shufti).
So: On with the gargantuan project! Must make a budget though........
Tony prepares a budget.
In his defence, and with regard to the financial farrago that followed, it must be said that nobody, except maybe John, who didn't believe in modern contraptions like budgets, had the faintest idea of what we would find inside the hull.
So the colleagues go to work, stripping the out the interior, revealing along the way some bad patches of planking. But what is also revealed is the sheer beauty of the hull lines. Naked, she has all the sinuous grace of a Viking long-ship. Under the make-up and fusty clothing, the old aunty was a real beauty. (See photo). Again, the deity who looks after mad adventurers smiles benignly. Would that he/she continues to so do!
The boat was full of beautifully crafted flotation boxes, each one shaped to the contours of that particular section of hull. One of the beauties of the design was that there were few straight lines. Think again of a Viking longship.
The colleagues went to work dismantling the interior. Out came boxes, the crappy fittings and sanitary arrangements Dave had installed. Out came engines, steering gear- a bulky shaft from the wheel through the cabin to the bronze tiller at the stern. Out came huge prop shafts. Out came massive gearboxes, from a military tank. Out came the two engines and the heat exchangers that filled much of the bow with weighty copper tubes. (Many lifeboats needed to start engines out of the water and run down ramps to the sea flat out - amazing sight). Out came the bulky 1950's electronics; radar, direction finder, radio; all in heavy metal cases -very interesting pieces of history. Finally, out came the binnacle and wheel. The binnacle weighed more than half a ton (brass). Encased in it was a brass compass and of course, mounted on it was the wheel, bound in white rope work. This massive object was about five feet across. The Cox stood behind it on a platform of beautifully crafted mahogany fretwork, strapped to a metal frame, looking out of small windows with electric whizzers to clear spray and green water.
So we were left with a naked hull, revealing the true grace of its form, with a maternal bulge in the middle, tapering to a point at each end. Just like its Viking predecessor, it handled waves coming from front or back with equal equanimity. I think it is known as a “double ender”.
Then, Neville the sand blaster was summoned, to don his spacesuit and scarify the hull inside and out, scouring the paint of ages and revealing reddy-brown mahogany planking and stout oak frames. That act alone cost a bomb. All that was now needed was to rebuild everything - engines, gearboxes, massive dynamos, superstructure, accommodation, wheelhouse - everything.
Ooooo-er - about that budget.......
5. A Glitch: The Great Plan is ditched
Anybody who has been involved in management may remember the heady days when Business Schools were just becoming established in Europe, and we were beginning to be star-struck by people who told a seductive story - that “management” was a universal profession, based on rational analysis, numbers, environmental scanning and a process comprised of some mix of Analyse, Plan, Organise, Implement. Gurus from American business schools with improbable Eastern European, German or Scandinavian names, such as Jurgen Leydendorff or Rensis Lickert and who spoke with Henry Kissinger accents, thrilled the more impressionable of us with the notion that intelligent, analytical and rational people could manage anything. The daddy of them all, the rather disappointingly named Frederick Taylor, had earlier enthralled his audiences with uplifting ideas, for example:
“The law is almost universal...that the man who is fit to work at any particular trade is unable to understand the science of that trade without the kindly help and co-operation of men of a totally different education”. From the wit and wisdom of Taylor, and many, many others, issued forth Scientific Management, with invaluable concepts like Optimum Span of Control, Time Span of Discretion, Hierarchy of Authority, and of course, Therbligs and the whole Work Study movement, which acted on the assumption that people were units of production, whose inputs and outputs could be measured very precisely. Stalin and Henry Ford were transported by such ideas.
“Ho Hum”, you may ask, “What has all this stuff got to do with converting an old lifeboat??” Wait a little, kindly reader, and you may see.
At the end of 1995, both of us were still working, Don flat out full-time, and Charlotte still pretty hard. Also, we had the other boat with which to amuse ourselves in the summer holidays, and at weekends. So there was no rush to complete the job. Major adventures could not start until retirement, and in Don's case that was not until April 1998.
Without any plan, time-scales or budget, work started on 'Deneys' at Upton to complete the stripping out of engines, prop shafts and the old steering gear. Everything was brass or bronze, and of vast weight. Nor did anything come out without a fight; it had after all been in the boat for 44 years. The main item of concern at this time was the hull. The paintwork of many years was proving impossible to burn off and nobody really knew how much work needed to be done to restore the damaged bits to sound condition.
By the Spring of 1996, it seemed that we were going nowhere.
Now, thought Don, is the time for the creation of A Plan. Then we shall know what has to be done, we can then cost the work more accurately, and everybody, especially me, will be happy! So even the most bloody-minded amongst us can fall for the siren call of Scientific Management!
The notion of creating a Plan, with associated costings, a Critical Path and so on, was mooted at a meeting in the early summer.
For some reason, universal joy did not suffuse the colleagues at Upton. The proposition was heard in polite silence. There were no volunteers to prepare work schedules; no votes of thanks were passed. We wondered if Frederick Taylor had the same reception when he offered to help craftsmen “to understand the science of their trade, because he had a totally different education”. It occurred to us that, whilst we had a totally different education to the men, this was of little use, because we did not have the faintest inkling of the complex skills involved in the various trades represented around the table. So much for bloody Taylor, and his silly theories!
After a few minutes desultory conversation, a different kind of truth began to emerge. This lot understood the science, and for that matter the art and Zen of their trades very well, but that was not the point. The atmosphere of reticence was because the team understood very well that this was not a plan-able project, and even if it was, some of them had experienced quite enough of organisations driven by cost and time to resist the tyranny of a grand plan. And why should they? Not many people find themselves involved in the conversion of a neglected, 50-year old special purpose boats designed for life-saving in extreme conditions, with possible hull damage, into a craft meant for a completely different use, namely, comfortable long-distance cruising. Their reticence was because they neither wished to be rude to us or put us off at this stage.
However, enough information is assembled for John to feel that he will be able to draw two alternative layouts for the boat.
The plans he produced, on the other hand, are most impressive, and we choose an overall layout, ready for the preparation of the final version. Then we agree that we should accept Tony's suggestion, and spend a lot of money to have the hull sand-blasted, so that repair work can begin.
6. Order, counter-order: Disorder?
We can both remember Don saying: “Now we have the Plan, it should be a clear run to completion of the boat.......”
Returning then to the topic of Scientific Management. Somewhere in the back of our minds, there was an unspoken assumption that if there was a good specification of what the end product looked like, then there work entailed in getting there could be laid out in a logical fashion, and the various elements of the work could be assigned to each person involved in the project. Then, they could estimate the number of hours they would take to complete their bits, and the materials they needed could be specified and costed, and from these two elements, labour and materials, a budget could be put together. Furthermore, a Task Analysis would identify the logical order in which the flow of work needed to be completed, and a Critical Path could be constructed, showing how long the project would take.
All of this shows how pervasive the thinking of the Scientific Management movement has been. (It is incidentally interesting that one of Taylor's greatest admirers was Josef Stalin.) Underpinning all of Taylor's thinking is the assumption that the work of people in factories and offices can be rigorously measured, and the people themselves can be bribed or coerced to do what the hierarchy and the plan dictate. Many at the top of industry still possess such views, and some try even today to put them into effect.
Another perspective on the job might have looked quite different:
“The conversion of “Deneys Reitz” is about to be started by a group of people, each of whom is self-employed, has his own life to lead, and customers to satisfy. Each one knows his work very well. Each one is much more motivated by the quality of the work they produce, or the interest in the problems they have to solve, than by plans. Those amongst them who have worked in large organisations in the past found the experience less than congenial, and all of them have a very individualistic outlook on life. They are all willing to collaborate with others, but not to be managed by others. They will get better at collaborating together as they get to know and understand each other. This process will take time, and be lubricated and helped by humour and observing each other at work. As their relationships develop and mutual respect grows, there is less and less need to be formal or write things down. Communication becomes very informal, and almost invisible to outsiders (such as Don and Charlotte at this stage).
They all know that the Plan, which has been prepared to specify the boat conversion, is not the way it will really work out, because things will crop up, problems will arise and Don and Charlotte will change their minds about many things as the project proceeds. Furthermore, one of their number has quietly advised the others to be a little cautious about precise statements about money or time, as it might be unnecessarily upsetting for the owners at such an early stage in the project!”
But, they are also polite and do not wish to give offence. So, if it pleases Don and Charlotte to have lists of tasks, time-scales and budgets, then so be it. Meetings are called to assemble and review such plans, but are hardly a bundle of fun. All gather in the little office at Upton. The colleagues sit together, looking uncomfortable, even a little guilty, perhaps. Don and Charlotte find themselves sitting opposite. Silence descends on the room.
“Now”, says Don, “the purpose of this meeting is to clarify how long each of you will need to complete your part of the conversion, what materials you will need, and how much all of this will cost”. Silence descends again. “Maybe you could give us rough estimates, we are not looking for exact figures”, says Charlotte. More silence, with a little uncomfortable shuffling. People are looking at their feet.
“Well, are we looking at 3 years and £150,000, or two years and say, £75,000?” asks Don. More silence. Then someone coughs, and speaks. “It's very difficult to estimate, but it will take between two and three years, and somewhere between £75,000 and £150,000”, he says. “Oh, come on”, says Don, “you must be able to estimate it more accurately than that”. The familiar silence descends again.
Then Tony Hewitt coughs, shuffles a little, and speaks on behalf of all. “We could have a meeting between us and see what we come up with”, he says, brightly. That signals the end of the meeting and, we have the uneasy feeling the whole notion of having a costed schedule of work has just gone out of the window.
After a couple of attempts, we give up. We now feel that we know enough about this bunch of people to believe that they are completely honest. We know how much they are charging for their time, and the evidence so far indicates that their work is of the highest quality. And we now know that there is no way that we can control their work through formal, written plans and budgets, review meetings and so on. Better to show an interest, discuss the project informally and frequently, visit at weekends, and have a barbecue, and then go with the flow. Frederick Taylor would have had a nervous breakdown, and Stalin doubtless would have had a pogrom!
7. Team work mysteriously emerges
The piggery at Upton becomes mysteriously organised. At one end is a large workshop, filled with woodworking machinery and benches. The walls are covered with carpentry and cabinet making equipment. Ray and Derek, who make custom built furniture, move in with their thriving business. Through one door is the engineering workshop, and through another is a paint-spraying booth. Outside at the back, is a storage area, where boats are kept in the winter, and out at the front is a hard standing, where sits “Deneys Reitz”, discreetly draped in tarpaulin. This tarpaulin was not fully removed until launch day, so we never really knew until the very end exactly what the finished article would look like.
Some form of invisible order governs the pattern of work. For example, people tend to arrive spot on 8.30 am and have lunch at precisely 12.45 until 1.30 with 15 minute tea breaks morning and afternoon. Tea is made for all by Ray and Derek, who work inside, and not outside on the boat. Once a week, Ray and Derek come and inspect the boat, and make optimistic remarks.
How quite these working arrangements are settled is a mystery to the outsider. The whole show is given an even more homely feel by the fact that John Krejsa lives on site over the summer in the little caravan, (a public health hazard), bought by us. The arrangement is clearly a successful co-operative, though quite what the rules of association are, only those involved could know. From time to time the owner of the land and buildings, a very nice, slightly distracted elderly man, comes and has a chat. He obviously likes the chaps, and wants them to do well. He also develops a deep interest in old lifeboats.
The small community in Upton is supplemented by a much larger network. There is Neville, who does any form of stainless steel fabrication and Stuart, who moulds replica aircraft in a small workshop, and sends them all over the world. He can fabricate any thing in glass-reinforced plastic. His shoes are also constructed of multi-coloured GRP. Then there is Tania, who can obtain all manner of electrical equipment. Next are the men who specialise in precision engineering, men who build gearboxes, strip and renovate generators, men who grind crankshafts. What ever it is, it seems that there is someone who can do it, usually from a workshop at the bottom of a muddy farm track.
So, in commissioning the inner group of colleagues, we seem to have acquired access to a very large organisation, made up of a network of highly skilled and resourceful people.
This was splendid, and the work they did was of the best quality. The one snag was time; most people had a distinctly South American attitude to deadlines. If the punter wanted a deadline, better give him one; he was the boss. This would make him feel better, but it wasn't serious...what did a few days here or there matter? The way to work it with customers was to respond to the one who appeared to be most incensed today, and keep the others at bay until they became a little threatening.
This then was the “organisation” which took on the task of converting “Deneys Reitz”. The job of conversion was also rather vague, as it was a one-off project, and the shape of the finished product would change as new or better layouts, and better ways of utilising space emerged as work progressed. The Plan, which was supposed to be the master document, guiding all the work, was, it emerged, as much created in retrospect as it was a guide to future action. We began to notice that certain items on the plan were drawn in after the work had been done. This became a quiet joke amongst the colleagues. “John”, one would say, “I've just installed the Strum Box in the after bilge, on the port side”. “Is it on the plan?” John would say. “No, but it soon will be!” (Grin and giggle).
The project began to assume an air of the surreal - a Plan, which was partly created after the event, was being enacted by an Organisation, which did not exist. The only way to survive the experience was to enjoy the jokes, admire the craftsmanship and pay the bills.
Now and then, we would stop and wonder if it was really us who had got involved in this madcap venture with no end in sight. Then we reminded ourselves that we actually knew, without realising it, quite a lot about what we wanted in the boat. By sheer practical experience and a tad of applied intelligence, we had become quite expert! Furthermore, the whole experience was becoming acutely enjoyable, even the uncertainty of what the eventual outcomes would be, actually added to the excitement.
“Just think,” we said, “how much more interesting this is than buying a gin palace off the shelf.” “And”, we said, “we will understand every nook and cranny in the boat intimately by the time it is finished, whenever that will be.” “Then again,” we continued, “we are getting to know a whole new bunch of people, independent craftsmen that we would never have had the privilege of meeting otherwise.” “Finally”, we said to ourselves, “Doing it this way will cost far less than an off-the-shelf boat, whatever the unknown cost may eventually be. Is that not exciting and interesting, and the stuff of new experiences and adventures?”
And, do you know, we really meant it!
8. Don and Charlotte enter the fray
It is May 1996. The stuff of Don and Charlotte's dreams sits covered in truck tarpaulins in a yard near the small village of Upton in Norfolk, with it's guts scattered all over the workshop.
Next door, a family live in a caravan, whilst the male members build a house. From time to time, we hear the patriarch of the family giving coaching and guidance to his sons....”You f....g idle b.....d, pick up the bleedin' shovel, and dig like this...” Pause. “No, not like f....g that, like f.....g this”. Despite the clarity of the instructions, the sons appear to be slow learners.
The family own a boxer dog, Charlie, who likes nothing more than to lick people who are lying flat on their backs under boats, but that comes later.
Back to the boat.
Despite its frequently mentioned Viking longship-like lines, it is obvious by the cracks between each plank that work needs to be done before rowing away for a spot of rape and pillage. A year out of the water has shrunk the wood quite a lot. So, this is where John Krejsa, the man who knows about wooden boats, starts work. The holes in the hull are meticulously repaired with many layers of mahogany laminate, and good old-fashioned caulking is painstakingly stuffed into what must amount to miles of cracks.
Meanwhile, Paul Watts, the engineer, starts to assemble the renovated engines, and Tony Hewitt says, “You will begin to feel better when we start to build the boat again”. We are sure that we will, whenever this occurs. But, the fact is, that for now we are spectators rather than participants, visiting at weekends, looking for signs of progress, signing cheques, and dreaming a little of what it will be like when it is finished.
Friends come occasionally to see what all the fuss is about, look at the hull and the apparent museum of ancient nauticalia, make polite noises, and go away, we suspect, shaking their heads sadly.
Thus does most of 1997 pass, with apparently minute bits of foundation-building happening inside the hull, and occasionally, big events, like the first running of a rebuilt engine. It started first time, and made a thoroughly satisfactory ‘roary' noise, whilst blasting huge quantities of water, smoke and steam from the makeshift exhaust!
Back home, the odd evening is spent looking through equipment catalogues, and making copious lists of all the kit we will need in the boat. We discover, slightly to our surprise, that we have quite firm views, based on experience, of what we will need. This realisation causes a degree of quiet pleasure - we have become quite experienced boat-owners without really noticing!
Towards autumn 1997, as the first gales begin to blow, and John Krejsa prepares to close up his caravan, and to start collecting beech-mast and acorns for the winter (sorry John, the hibernation metaphor was just too tempting), something happened which would change our relationship with the boat.
Work circumstances changed radically for Don with the acquisition of his company. The French purchasers offered him a consultancy role to lead the UK side of a complex integration project. This would occupy three to four days a week, leaving time for him to do some practical work on the boat. What better way of getting a feel for the project and doing a bit of bonding with Tony, John and Paul - and for that matter the boat?
Thus, one Monday morning, Don turns up for work, eager and full of energy in a rather fetching set of new blue overalls. By six o'clock the same evening, the scarecrow which leaves Upton is unrecognisable as the clean-cut new starter. The blue overalls are grey-brown, with numerous sweat patches. Its eyes are veined deep red, all orifices are full of muck and sawdust, and the eager swagger has become a rather halting stagger. All because Tony Hewitt said “Now Don, for the first job, we would like you to sand the hull, ready for painting. Here (handing over a device the size and weight of a dozen bricks) is the sander. And there (pointing under the boat) is a mattress for you to lie on”. Under the boat, the minimum headroom was nine inches.
Never a man to be beaten, the misfortunate beginner sanded the entire hull and endured a barrage of jokes at lunchtime (30 minutes) about “starting at the bottom”.
John Krejsa was not there that day, but when he heard of the initiation ceremony the next day, he was critical, “You should not have done that; he'll never come back”.
But he did! Although not until Friday, and not until he had stopped walking like an orang-utang with piles. What his French colleagues in Paris thought of his appearance and gait on Tuesday and Wednesday, they were too polite to say.
Life at Upton began to assume a routine. The craftsmen worked on or in the boat, whilst Don worked under it......
Don eventually graduated from sanding to painting (with a bit of sanding in between, just to keep the hand in). Painting was interspersed with the insertion of putty in every crack and dent in the hull, red-leaded putty below the notional waterline, white putty above. This phase went on so long that Don became known as “Putt”.
There is filmed evidence of this putty phase. The film starts with a panoramic view of Upton. It has snowed, at least six inches has fallen. It is melting into slush, but still looks rather picturesque. The camera pans to the boat. It still looks like a Viking long- ship, but is now stripy with putty in the cracks. But hold it! What on earth is that grotesque figure, swaddled in paint and putty-covered wet gear doing grovelling under the boat, muttering and cursing? Oh, no worries, it's only old “Putt” at work in six inches of freezing water!
While Don was bonding with the underside of the boat, significant happenings were occurring on the topsides and interior. 1998 saw the fabrication and installation of the new cabin and wheelhouse superstructure, complete with the most beautiful shaped and laminated mahogany roof beams. The same year saw the dismantling of this superstructure to allow for the installation of the engines, gearboxes and propeller shafts.
Then, the interior lining of the cabin and wheelhouse was fabricated out of mahogany laminate, installed, and beautifully varnished by Charlotte, whose moment of glory was about to come. Next, the interior lining was dismantled to put in the wiring and pipe work, because of a slight communication glitch.
Charlotte had taken on the task of choosing and fabricating soft furniture and curtains. This was, of course, after she had finished varnishing the interior.
Our previous boat's soft furnishings were made by an old-established Broadlands company, called Jeykells. For some reason, they could not get the size of the cushions right. This inability became known as “Jeykell's Syndrome.” At its most acute, “Jeykell's Syndrome” caused three trips from Norwich to Twickenham, in order to fit one cushion. Needless to say, with Charlotte in charge, there was no manifestation of this dreaded Syndrome on our boat. Everything fitted perfectly, and the quality of fabrics was the best that John Lewis could provide.
By the end of 1998, under its tent of tarpaulins and scaffold poles, “Deneys Reitz” was beginning to look like a real boat. The superstructure had been finally installed, and then it and the decks had been covered with a finishing coat of glass-fibre sheet, bonded on to the wood by a noxious epoxy resin. The range of modern, deadly and ferociously expensive compounds and liquids which went into this simple old wooden boat was amazing, and should render it un-rottable and leak-proof. If only the craftsmen who built her so well originally could see their successors, dressed like spacemen in helmets with extractor fans!
Don, having finished the hull to the (qualified) satisfaction of the colleagues and to the disappointment of the dog next door, who would have to go back to licking bones and such, had been allowed to graduate to the deck, and even to stand up to sand and paint the superstructure.
Seeing Don's pride in this deeply deserved promotion, Charlotte reminded him that the aim of the project was to finish the boat and not to provide him with a place to play with some engaging new pals. The sharp reminder engendered a fresh sense of purpose!
9. When will it ever end??
So, a meeting was convened, in February 1999. As usual, the repartee was hardly scintillating, but if there was a message to be taken away, it was that there was a lot of work, (some of it difficult to specify), yet to be done. (Funny about these meetings because our colleagues are normally so articulate).
This time, it was serious. Budgets, (or rather bank balances; there never was a serious Budget) were becoming stretched, and no end appeared to be in sight.
In April, another meeting was convened, and this time, each person was heavily interrogated and a plan produced, listing all that had to be accomplished to achieve a June launch.
When the list was unveiled, it was pronounced as “useful” by Tony Hewitt, who tended to be spokesman in times of peril. It was even pinned up on the boat. This was progress, but did not seem to amount to a commitment to launch the boat in June, or any other bloody month, for that matter.
Another tack was attempted. Could the men who knew nominate a date of their own? (Surely this would pin them down.) No such luck!
After two weeks spent studiously avoiding the topic of deadlines and launch dates, one morning Tony Hewitt sidled up rather conspiratorially, coughed discreetly, and said that “they” had a meeting and had decided that the boat would be ready for launch by August 11, the day of the great solar Eclipse! Two once-in-a-lifetime events on one day!