The Coracle Files (last part)

While I was waiting for the next stage, I thought it might be a good idea to talk to my sawmill man again .....

I'm not very good at complaining about things, but I thought that I'd had a poor deal with my ash laths. I'd explained clearly what I wanted to do with the laths, so I was quite disappointed when I found that the majority of what I had wasn't at all suitable for bending into the tightish curves needed in a coracle.

I psyched myself up to my most assertive mental state and phoned 'the man'. He was very reasonable and listened to my complaint without arguing. He said that he'd look at what other stocks of ash he had and phone me back.

After a few days he did indeed call back and said that he couldn't give any guarantees that the other ash plank he had would be knot free, but he thought that it was much better than the original lot he'd sold me.

He was prepared to either give me this new plank, sawn up into laths for no extra cost, or refund about two thirds of my money. Both offers seemed very fair, and as I hadn't found anywhere else that would cut ash laths at a sensible price, I opted for more laths so that our friend could build her coracle, and with luck, I might be able to build a second one - better hopefully, with experience.

While that was going on, the coracle was slowly drying in the garage. After a week, I lifted the damp blanket off it that was supposed to keep it damp but allow it dry slowly.

Because the chipboard underneath was still very wet, the blanket had retained much of the wetness so it hadn't really dried out. I removed the blanket and chipboard and left it to dry for another week.
It seemed very dry by the end of the next week, so I tried out the calico sheet covering for size, expecting that I'd need to sew two bits together. The one sheet fitted perfectly so I set about stretching it around the frame and stapling it to the inside of the gunwale.
The covered frame 
Where there is excess material at the curved corners, you're supposed to sew tacks in the material. Being impatient and useless at sewing, I skipped this bit and just stapled the tacks over as tightly as I could, hoping that I could make the resulting seams waterproof with paint.
The next stage was to paint the cloth with the bituminous paint. This is obviously a bit critical to the success or otherwise of the coracle.

I'd selected the paint mostly on the basis of price: £8·99 rather than £19·99, because there was little else to choose between the paints judging by the description on the can. One thing that did appeal about the can I bought though, was that it said that it was water soluble - seriously.
 Now painted, awaiting the outer gunwale
This meant that I could wash the paintbrush out in plain water - much nicer than white spirit or turps. But how waterproof would the covering be once dry?

There was only one way to find out. Put two coats of paint on, let them dry, then launch it.

While the second coat was drying properly, there were some small finishing touches: an outer rubbing strip was nailed around the outside of the gunwale and extra bits of lath nailed over the joints. I was quite pleased with the result.

Then I dug out a 30/40 yr. old safety belt from one of my first cars and cut off the metal fittings. I drilled/filed some slots in the coracle's seat and threaded it through, tying it underneath with a bit of rope. Being adjustable, it's ideal, as I can set it to just the right length to go around my shoulders and chest.

The first time I tried carrying the coracle like this, I decided that there was definitely more to 'wearing' a coracle on your back than just this strap.

Reference to the historic pictures in James Hornell's book told me exactly what I needed to know: the paddle was a crucial aid in balancing the load.

Once I'd discovered that, the 20-lb weight of the coracle on my back was negligible, and I could understand how the coracle fishermen of days gone by would walk ten miles up the river in order to float gently back downstream catching fish all the while.

In the absence of any ladies from the canals-list rushing forward with offers of paddles, we had a look at the little chandlery at Lechlade. They didn't have paddles but did have flotation aids. One seemed a sensible precaution, so Barbara went off to have a look around the multifarious other shops around The Riverside while I arranged the financing of the flotation aid!

When we met up again we looked around together and then Barbara found some cheap little paddles for dinghies. Just what we needed as a temporary measure at least. After putting a longer handle on it, we were all set for THE LAUNCHING.

Knowing now how to comfortably carry the coracle without getting strangled, we set off for a nearby little lake. Me as the intrepid would-be-sailor, Barbara as safety officer (holding the tether in case boat and I should part company) and middle son Denzil as official photographer.
I wasn't too surprised that it floated when gently placed on the water, but was pleasantly surprised that it continued floating when I put all my weight into it.

Both balancing in it, and propelling it in the required direction are definitely an art that needs to be learned! In the ten minutes or so that I was afloat, I sort of got the hang of it, but I certainly wouldn't call myself proficient yet.

I obviously didn't look as nervous as I felt because Barbara then agreed to have a go too, and succeeded equally well in staying dry.

It did seem to allow a little water in, so I have subsequently put a second layer of calico over the vulnerable bottom area for added strength as well as waterproofing. And that's it. We now have a coracle which we hope will provide some fun while we're out on Saros, and has been educational to build.
A nervous coracler! 
I haven't added up quite how much it cost, but it was certainly much more than the £18 I'd initially been told. Once the second and third coracles are finished, I'll have a better idea of the cost of each.

Thanks to all canals-list/uk.rec.waterways correspondents for the helpful feedback on how things should have been done. The next coracle will no doubt benefit greatly.

Links:   The Coracle Files - Addendum  -  Aardvark Home Page -  Picture gallery  

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