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'GOLDEN EAGLE' flies again?

photograph 1 of 'Golden Eagle' photograph 2 of 'Golden Eagle'

The diary of the restoration of a small river launch

by David Hudson

I first saw 'Golden Eagle' (VWBA 814) three years before she became mine. She was lying somewhat drunkenly, weeds growing up all round her, looking, with her missing stempost and rather mouldering appearance, for all the world like an abandoned hulk. My first impression was that this was a dead boat but it might make an interesting project for someone - not me, I thought.

The reason for that particular visit to her resting-place was to view a boat I was interested in buying but didn't. 'Golden Eagle' stayed where she was until last October when I went back to have a look at a canal barge that was for sale. I didn't buy it, but I renewed my acquaintance with 'Golden Eagle'. Something struck a chord, because one week later I was back at the yard to have a good look - after all I'd been told that she was going on the bonfire if not rescued. What else can one do when confronted with a maiden in distress but rescue her. I came away the slightly bemused owner of a rotting 60 (?) year-old boat.

She is of a fairly common design that could have been built anytime from the early twenties to the end of the Second World War, and, anywhere in the country. I have yet to find any clues as to her builder, no nameplates or stamps. She is about twenty feet long built for the narrow canals (6'10"), of battened seam carvel, hard chine design from pitch pine on oak and mahogany. Rumour tells me that she was seen cruising in the Chester area during the fifties. A number of phone calls to local boatbuilders hasn't yet revealed any thing really helpful except that her battened seams, an indication of Pre-war methods, would have been very unusual for this area. Apparently these were reserved for boats expected to spend long periods out of water like lifeboats. Anybody who can give me help with information on her history will be greeted with open arms.

Work has hardly started yet but having heard of and joined the Vintage Wooden Boat Association, hoping to dig out information on her origins, I could do no less than answer the plea for 'doing' articles for this newsletter. As I can only manage about three or four days a month with her, you can expect to be bored to death with my tales, mistakes, lies and long winded explanations of how to bang in a nail (sorry, rivet), for the next two years or so.
As Golden Eagle lay at an angle half way up to her gunwales in weeds with a drop one side and a roadway the other, the first job was to get her stood somewhere more comfortable for her, and me, to work. Bob Holmes, the man in charge at Guide Bridge boatyard on the Ashton Canal, arranged the move for Saturday the 14th November 1998, a momentous date for me.

We (I say we but I guess I was more hindrance than help) lifted her by crane onto a mobile cradle moved her 50 metres and craned her into her new home late in the afternoon. After placing her on railway sleepers and levelling her up I got my first shock - both the first two frames were broken where the planking had sprung because of the missing stempost. She was twisted along her length by about 15 centimetres. What had I taken on?

Here's my work list:

  • Rig an overhead shelter to keep out the worst of weather.
  • Gut the inside, remove floorboards, ceiling and all lining not of original material.
  • Clean out thoroughly and apply wood preservative throughout.
  • Check all original woodwork for condition and decide exactly what needs replacing.
  • Draw in sprung planking, scarphing in pieces or replacing with new as needed.
  • Replace two broken frames; take a pattern for the new stempost, make and fit.
  • Rebuild transom to original design this has been altered to take an outboard at some stage.
  • Research the design of and build a new rudder and steering gear.
  • The original coachroof for the deckhouse is still there but has been raised slightly so the sides need rebuilding. I need help as to the original design for this.
  • As the coachroof is planked, I presume that the original deck would have been the same. This is currently rotting ply that I definitely want to replace.
  • Aluminium windows have replaced what I presume would originally have been brass portholes. At least one topside plank each side will need to be repaired if the windows are to be replaced.
  • Where can I find an original engine I wonder? Probably a Stuart-Turner petrol. Problems with modern regulations, no doubt.
  • Replace nearly all interior fittings including bunks, tables, galley area (?), floorboards, etc.Repair or replace all coamings, hatches, doors and handrails.
  • Treat with wood preservative, paint and varnish to completion.
  • Place in water and hope it doesn't sink.

The building trade method of reinforcing old houses seems to me to be the best way to regain her shape. I am planning on passing long pieces of threaded rod right through her just in front of each of the broken frames temporarily. If I drill through a hardwood pad and spreader on the topsides and gradually tighten the nuts onto the threaded bar I am hoping this will gently draw the sides back into position .allowing me to build new frames and take a template for the new stempost.

Unfortunately for me there is nothing much left of the old stempost to work from so getting the planks into their correct position for taking the pattern will be important. I expect to have to make this in several pieces. I'll probably cut and fit cheek pieces first to the topside planks joining these with an apron. The heel will have to be fitted to the keel from the inside next and until I take out the last remnants I won't be sure of the condition of the front end of the keel. The inner portion of the stem can be made up inside the planking against the apron then the outer stempost fitted dinghy fashion and bolted through all thicknesses. Well, that's the theory anyway.

With so many alterations and improvements (?) having been done to her my first non-building project has been research. What did the deckhouse sides look like? What was her original interior layout like? With engine bearers running the full length of the open cockpit, where was the engine positioned? (This latter is necessary because an alteration prior to the outboard had the motor in a vee drive position probably not the original). When and where was she built, and by whom?

I'm hoping, despite an outdoor berth and winter looming, that by the time the next newsletter copy date arrives I'll have got the stempost in we'll see!

Bye, for now - Rita and David Hudson

P.S. If anyone does know anything at all about this type of boat construction, layout or history especially if you have photos if anything similar I really will appreciate hearing from you. Email us at Rita and David