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Photograph of Pollywog
VWBA Reg No 001
Craft Name Pollywog
previous known names are 'Spray', 'Fair Trader' and 'Boy Jim'
Date Built Unknown, however it is likely to have been between 1876 and 1886.
Craft Type Sailing Cruiser
Craft Rig Gaff sloop
Builder Unknown, however Mollet of Brundall, Norfolk and Harry Little of Thorpe, Norwich seem the most likely suspects.
LOA 21'
LWL 18' 4"
Beam 6' 6"
Draft 3'
Sail Area 340 sq. ft.
Sail No 83


While we do not know the age of the boat, what is obvious from the boat herself is that as a half decked vessel she would exactly fit the rules of the Yare Sailing Club for open and half decked boats racing between 1876, when the club was formed, and 1886/7 when those rules were dropped in favour of the sail area/water line length rule instigated by Dixon Kemp. Their rules stated the the total length and beam combined should not exceed 25ft.

Pollywog's lines are extremely fine at each end, the bow being quite hollow, the midships section is almost but not quite a circle (oblate spheriod, as per Mother Earth) and her stern waterline also comes to a fine hollow just below water, with an extremely sharp tuck above water filling her out to give buoyancy in motion. Her beam is narrow, although thankfully the shallow waters here preventing her from being made as narrow as some of her contemporaries. Her lines, in fact, follow very closely the Colin Archer 'Wave Line Theory', 'Versed Sine curve' hollow bow, 'Trochoidal Stern curves' and all.

She must have been half decked when first built, as her fine ends give us all sorts of fore and aft trim problems with a cabin sitting where the crew should be. Likewise she must have always been largely internally ballasted, as our first test sail showed. She came to use with only about 400lb of lead, slotted for the centreboard, set into a full length, very amateur deadwood made up of no less than ten separate parts. The keel bolts had been driven in from above and were jutting out below with the ends bent over beyond the nuts because of the stresses and strains of years of being dragged up a slip each winter. Only a week after the first launch were we told that in the 1960s, enough pig iron bars to fill two 40 gallon drums were extracted before the boat was lifted by the crane. No wonder she was as tippy as a bad dinghy!

She was, and is, built of 'Red Pine' of Russian or Scandinavian origin, on Oak centreline structure, ground floors and frames. She is carvel built, with a mahogany top strake bright finished about white topsides. This has been her colour scheme since at least 1920. The planking is 5/8th inch finished thickness, the frames are 3/4 by 3/4 inch, well rounded on the inner faces and the top strakes are 1 inch thickness.

The mast, in true Broads style, is set in a tabernacle, counterpoised by both 280lb of lead and a tackle and it is still a struggle to start it going up! The trouble is that while the hull is plenty deep enough to allow a decent leverage, the foredeck is very short and prevents using all the possible length of mast below the pivot. Nor is there much space to stand with the hatch open!

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She was in absolutely dreadful condition when I bought her. If I had realised how bad she was, I would certainly have let her be burned, but she did only cost 525, then. I was led to her by a fellow founder of the Vintage Wooden Boat Association, John Royal, who knew her owner. She was leaning rather sadly against the side of a cottage in Norfolk, where she had been taken when she refused to stay afloat any longer. Her mast fell apart into pieces when they tried to lower it.

She had a rough tongue and groove deck from the mast, aft, actually laying over the remains of the original Victorian deck at the join, which was roughly cobbled with copper strip and roofing gunge. Naturally, it had leaked for a very long time and the drips had rotted out several planks, three frames, the front of the port bunk, the base of the tabernacle, the ground floors forming the mast step and the hog.

There had been long standing troubles with this and a false hog and plywood centreboard had been fitted over the top of the original hog. When these were removed, the full horror of the thing became apparent. The hog was riddled with dry rot under the case, and broken right across at a pair of keel bolts. Forward, the hauling out eye had been reinforced with iron plates, secured by four copper bolts and the wood had completely eroded away. Also evident was that the mast step had been moved forward ten inches at some time, possibly when she was given her first cabin.

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Her transom was well beyond its useful life and when it and the rotten stern were removed, we found that the deck beam inside the transom was decorated with carved beading and was obviously meant to be seen at the rear of the cockpit. This would have left no space for the mainsheet, boom crutches, etc and seemed to indicate that she had been longer. Also, the cover line just disappeared straight off the stern, which no Victorian would have allowed, so again, a longer boat was indicated. Comparison of photographs taken between 1950 and 1988 show a loss of several inches over that time, but still no termination to the cove line.

Not having the skills to tackle a job of this size, I asked a boatbuilder friend of my mine, Colin Buttifant, whose workmanship is legendary, to take on the work. His first action was to scrap everything that was not to be kept for reason of decay or unsuitability and away went the rotted cabin sides, interior, deck, deadwood and after stabilising the hull with temporary stays, even the hog. We thus wound up with an open shell, virtually just a shape really, as many planks had to be scrapped and virtually all the frames had been broken. Her bunks as found told a story. They had been converted into buoyancy boxes by careful sealing to prevent the bilge water getting in! All the fastenings were 'secret', well hidden under paint and putty and even when found could not be removed gently as the heads simply broke off the screws due to 'dezinkification' (ugly word in more ways than one).

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We used splines to work out what her counter might have been like, and took this chance to recreate it. She came out at 21ft and if we were to do it again I feel another six inches would have been better still. We have used some modern materials in the rebuild, i.e. a gluing of the topside seams and a skimming of the topsides with 'West' system, using the stuff just as another other gap filling glue. This was done to save some of the original planks.

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In the 1950s Alsop (a previous owner) hired a 'naval shipwright' to recaulk the boat. In Arthur's word, "If that man had ever recaulked a boat before, it must have been HMS VICTORY!" He belted the caulking in so hard that he almost destroyed the boat. In places he had completely smashed the caulking right through and copper tingles had to be used INSIDE the boat to hold caulking in the seams. By my time, virtually all the frames had gone except for four each side right up front, which are still there. By gluing the topsides, we were able to save a number of planks, which would otherwise have had to be scrapped.

Likewise, below the waterline, we routed out the seams to an even 1/4 inch, and used Sikaflex in them. This got us around the same problem below water. That traditional system of cotton and putty caulking each year was the major reason for the expenditure of several thousand pounds. The putty had long since gone rock hard and various owners had kept on adding more and more until they had virtually jacked the boat apart, seam by seam. The cabin top and cabin sides had to be replaced, as the old ones, apart from being rotted and cracked, had been repeatedly modified by various owners until they were hardly functional. The underside is varnished, the top is GRP woven 'canvas' glued down with 'West' and painted, which replicated the original appearance, but with greater durability. I appreciate that the purists will be scornful of the changes, but faced with either giving up sailing due to illhealth or reducing the workload, I have chosen to compromise and continue. None of the changes to the boat are irreversible and all are totally insignificant compared to the massive alterations carried out by Jeckels in 1919/20.

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The result is a wonderful and pretty little boat, exceedingly quick, extremely well behaved, now she has a contemporary style rig and a very comfortable cruising boat.

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She was eventually launched to the tune of popping corks on 8th September 1993, after her fourth known major rebuild. Possibly the only original timber, a Y shaped grown frame from her tuck now hangs in my garage, having been ruined by Alsop when he fitted an inboard engine in 1950. That, too is long gone. The frame was removed because it no longer connected with the hog. I would love to have it Tree ring dated - any offers?

Oh yes, that name, Pollywog? Well, I am reliably assured that it is an old English rural term for a tadpole before it loses its tail. We have metamorphosed an ancient relic, giving her back her tail... what else would we have called her?

She is now flagship of the Vintage Wooden Boat Association and fit enough to last another 110 years.

You can view the full photographic record (77 pictures) in the Members Only section. If you are not already a member of the VWBA, please join us - you can become an associate member, if you do not have a wooden boat.

Due to illhealth, I am reluctantly parting with Pollywog to another member of the VWBA - our treasurer, David Hopwood.

Alan Dunn