Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Building Of A Longboat

Two Authors And A Longboat
Back in October 2014 I wrote a blog about accidentally connecting with a fellow author via Twitter - Previous Blog. Anthony Howarth and I both write books about adventure / travel. Having read his book Boat, People and Me, I was inspired by his ambitious project to lengthen the 9.1m Maurice Griffiths Waterwitch sailing boat, in which he and his wife learned to sail and traversed the Atlantic. When I say lengthen her, I mean by 5m no less, in order to produce a longboat on which they could live, mainly on European inland waterways. Invited to help, I spent a couple of gruelling weeks in October helping to saw "Boat" in half, remove the substantial cast-iron keel, stretch her by 5m and connect the two halves with the beginnings of a new backbone. A little over two weeks ago I returned to help progress the project further.

The Longboat Takes Shape (Tony takes lunch)

I did not expect to return to find the Longboat nearly complete. Tony Howarth is one of the most determined, principled and dedicated men I know but he is 77yrs old and he has put his body through a certain amount of abuse in that time. No amount of tenacity or self-belief will allow someone of this age to lift heavy materials day after day, climb ladders or traverse the delicate framework of a boat skeleton without risking serious ill-effects or even disaster. My being involved enables Tony to guide my brawn and enthusiasm using his brains. And with this combination we manage to achieve a great amount. Others in Mortagne boatyard are impressed. They did not believe it was even possible. Tony has become a bit of a folk-hero to them. I have become "The Woodpecker" - dogmatically chipping and hacking away at rotten wood or rock-hard old epoxy each day to remove large chunks of the vessel. I have felt somewhat like a heavy-handed medieval surgeon, ruthlessly hacking away so much of the original body (without anaesthetic) that there is barely anything left beyond the skeleton.

Only deck, deckhead & bulkheads have escaped The Woodpecker's 
heavy-handed surgery in the original cabin sections

Boatyard celebrations for those involved in lifting a new flying bridge into place 

This last two weeks saw us remove much of the superstructure and fittings from the two cabins at each end of the hollow 5m new extension section, as well as building and fixing into place countless new ribs and stringers to form the shape of the new boat. Finally the Longboat has taken shape and she looks superb – totally like she was meant to be that way in fact. During the lengthy and laborious 12 days of work, Tony and I found ourselves discussing - often sparring - over various political, social and literary issues. Just like last time I felt I came away far wiser, with greater skills and insight and perhaps a little more tolerance. I also learned a lot more about the underlying issues of Tony's "Africar" venture (the first car to be purpose designed for use and local manufacture in 3rd world and developing countries - see website).

Skeletal Beauty - New Ribs

It's Not All Work
One of the great pleasures of being involved in this project is undoubtedly the time spent in a French boatyard and in the beautiful and historic region of Charente Maritime (north from Bordeaux and south from La Rochelle). While Tony and I work in the boatyard, "People" (in the books) runs their Gite (holiday cottage) business in a beautiful village nearby. There they have a substantial collection of traditional stone houses on a large plot of land, with a swimming pool etc overlooking fields of vibrant sunflowers and vines. People is a great cook. It is a great life but one they have decided to retire from in exchange for slow travel, living aboard the Longboat (anyone interested in their idyllic property and readymade business can contact them at: I do hope I too remain this adventurous into my seventies.

I did manage a swim after work - The view from my lovely Gite

It is hoped that the Longboat will be in the water by late October this year. I am likely to make a further visit for the next tranche of reconstruction work before then. That is an exciting prospect. It has me thinking about what I might do boat-wise after that. I am already looking at a boat project of my own, involving sailing inland through Europe to Istanbul (as done in 1925 by the great Negley Farson). If anyone has a boat they'd like to give me I'd be happy to hear from them.

If you would like to read one of the series of Tony Howarth's books, 'Boat, People and Me', go to your local Amazon website or click this link:
Boat, People and Me on Amazon UK
Boat People and Me on

If you would like to read the bestselling travel book 'Long Road, Hard Lessons' by Mark Swain, you can find this along with his two collections of short stories on Amazon, Smashwords etc. 
In the UK his books can also be found in all Waterstones Bookstores.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,
    Did Mr. Howarth finish the reconstruction of his Waterwitch?
    Thank you,