Hunter`s Yard in Winter and Maintaining the Fleet
The Yard and Fleet are owned by The Norfolk Heritage Fleet Trust which has nine trustees. The day-to-day operation is run by a manager (CEO) and six staff supported by a number of paid RYA instructors and many volunteers.
The hire season is from the third week in March to the first week in October and then the hard maintenance work starts.
When the last customer has left the boats are de-kitted, the sails and awnings dried (outside if possible, inside if not), checked and stored away, and the rigging and masts are removed. Minor damage is repaired by the staff as the sails and awnings are checked, and major damage sent to the sailmakers.
Then the boats are thoroughly cleaned and every loose bit of wood removed and scrubbed (that is well over 50 pieces per boat). The inside is scrubbed out and all dirt removed from around the ribs because dirt holds moisture and moisture causes rot. The upperworks are scrubbed with pumice powder to remove any greasiness, the carpets cleaned and the fenders scrubbed. All that takes one person about one day per boat.
The sheds must be prepared for the winter: the sails and awnings are stored in one loft, the mattresses, blankets, pillows and lifejackets in another. The RYA classroom is dismantled and in its place the dinghies are stacked up. All the displays are dismantled and the merchandise put away for the winter, but kept accessible for the Christmas orders. Homes must be found for the quants, mops, cookers, crockery, cutlery, water bottles, fire extinguishers and all the rest of the equipment need to make a happy holiday.
Then the boats are pulled out. A cunning device is used to get the slider (a board) under the keel, the winch cable is attached and the boat is pulled up the slipway on greased ‘ways’ with the slider running in the channel in the ‘way’. The boat is balanced on its keel by one man while others ensue that stools are under the boat in case it should tip. Beef dripping is used to lubricate the ways so that the slider moves easily. If the boat needs to be turned, a fillet of wood is put under the way and when the boat is on the point of balance, a light pull on a boat hook is enough to turn it. Finally, the boat is lifted onto blocks using an old spar as a lever and a heavy stool as a fulcrum. Finally it is nudged into place and chocked up ready to be worked on. This same procedure has been used for over 80 years – except that the winch now has an electric motor and Austin 7 gearbox. The old winch, used up to the late 1950s, came from the wherry Sundog.
A list of maintenance work is kept throughout the year. The list includes work identified in previous years but not yet done, work added throughout the year as it becomes apparent but much is identified during the cleaning process. Temporary repairs are often done quickly in the summer to keep the boats working but permanent repairs must be done in the winter. All this means that the work cannot be prioritised until the boats are in the sheds.
The minimum work for each boat is a rub down, touch up and two coats of varnish to hull, cabin top and sides and well plus repainting the waterline and antifoul the bottom. Few boats get only the minimum: usually one boat each year is scraped back to bare wood, sanded, two coats of stain applied and seven coats of varnish complete with new signwriting which is painted by hand.
But before that the repairs have to be done. Small dents and knocks to the hull must be patched, the large ones by routing out a small thickness and gluing in a patch. The rails and rubbing strakes frequently need new sections scarfed in, and then stained and varnished with seven coats. Small cracks in the lino deck covering are sealed with mastic and a copper tingle.
More extensive work involves replacing mahogany planks in the hull, replacing oak ribs, replacing cabin sides or fronts and replacing main floor beams. Occasionally a new tabernacle is fitted. The lino deck covering on one boat is usually replaced each winter. This is not an easy task as all the deck fittings, rails rubbing strakes and cabin side cants must be taken off. Inevitably, it is found that deck boards must be replaced or filled to create a smooth base for the linoleum to be fixed with a contact adhesive. Cutting the lino is no easy task and paper or hardboard templates must be cut out first. Then new rails, rubbing strakes and cants must be formed, cut and fixed (not forgetting the copper strip under the scuppers) before staining and seven coats of varnish.
A programme to replace all the keel bolts has recently been finished and most boats now have new rudders and rudder tubes with nylon bearings.
When the cabin side canvas get grey and old it must be replaced. Cutting and sewing the canvas to shape is awkward but then it must be tacked into place and new mahogany cover strips cut, fitted and varnished. How do you tack the front end of the canvas for a 4-berth boat where the gap tapers to nothing?
The masts, booms, gaffs and particularly the quants get rough treatment during the year and areas must be scraped back, repaired and touched up before the usual two coats of varnish.
All the rigging and blocks are checked, repaired and replaced as necessary. That includes knocking out the pin of each block, cleaning and re-greasing the sheave, reassembling and varnishing – 14 wooden blocks per cabin boat so that is quite a task in itself.
The cookers, fire extinguishers and life jackets are checked and certified and all the water containers are sterilised. Blankets are sent to the laundry, curtains washed and many other small jobs are completed.
All this is done in winter in a shed with one small coke stove in the tea-break area. Any more heat would dry the timbers out too much. Sometimes the sheds are flooded during particularly high tides, usually at least once a year which, at the worst times, means slopping about in 4 inches of water in wellington boots but fortunately the tide goes out as quickly as it comes in.
And then at the beginning of March the cabin boats launched, rigged and kitted out ready for the customers again. It is also the time to tidy up outside, cut the grass and put out the picnic benches. The dinghies must be checked over and the sheds prepared for the summer season. But the work is not finished because the half-deckers are then repaired and prepared as their season starts later.
Winter work is not confined to the sheds and there is much to do in the office. The brochure must be prepared for dispatch at the end of December, advertisements designed and submitted to publications, the booking chart updated, invoices prepared and the boat information packs checked and updated. A programme of sailing courses is also worked out.
Winter is the time of hard work and no holidays but it is not always possible to complete all the work that should be done and some maintenance inevitably has to be delayed until the following year.
There is a display of photographs in the shed each season of the maintenance work done the previous winter.