Working Lives

Float my boat (1954-2017)

Location: North Walsham, Norfolk Broads

Ivor has worked in the Broads boatbuilding industry. He talks about building wooden boats and using his skills to volunteer at the Museum of the Broads.

I was born at home in North Walsham in 1939.  I don’t recall a lot about the early days during wartime, except there were always explosions, planes flying over at night-time and during the day there were many soldiers in military vehicles. I also remember there was a water storage tank, about 100ft in diameter, on School Road.

Schooling in North Walsham

When I got to age five in August 1945, I started at the infant school on School Road, which was only half a mile from where I lived. The first year was very easy; we played most of the time and had a sleep in the afternoons. We had an abacus to learn to count on and there was a frieze around the classroom with different animals on and letters of the alphabet. We spent almost a week just learning how to hold a wooden-handled pen with a nib which you dipped in the inkwell. Later on when we got to the other school, we were allowed fountain pens and the writing position was very important. At that time Mrs Pulham was the headmistress. There were two teachers by the name of Featherstone, one being the daughter of the other and I also remember a Mrs Spiers, who knew my mother.

After about a year, we moved to the primary school, which basically was just a bit further up the corridor. We had classes of about 30 in those days. We did writing, arithmetic, geography and so on. Eventually we had to take an exam called the 14 plus, which later became the 11 plus, to decide whether you went to the Grammar School if you were a boy, the High School if you were a girl, or the Secondary School next door. This was my first exam, but I can never remember ever getting particularly stressed out about them. In the morning when they announced the results only four pupils had passed and, very surprisingly, my name was the last one to be read out.

In June 1950 I had to go to the grammar school for an interview with the headmaster, Mr Marshall, and the Chief Education Officer, Lincoln Ralphs. I remember it was like a friendly little chat really; about what I did out of school. I just did what all children of that age did; went out on our bikes, did errands for people, earned a bit of money cutting people’s lawns and things like that. Anyway, I was not considered suitable for grammar school, which was so disappointing at the time. Looking back though, I believe in life’s path and fate and think that it wasn’t meant for me.

Woodwork and metalwork at North Walsham Secondary Modern School

So in September 1950 I started at North Walsham Secondary Modern School. The subjects here were more practical; we had woodwork, metalwork, art, sport and music. We also had more teachers. The headmaster was Mr McManus and I remember we had teachers called Mr Cork and Mr Crouch; one taught metalwork; one taught woodwork. Mr Byron was the music teacher. We also had Mr Anstiss, who was a good teacher. Mr Young taught geography and, in fact, he had written several books about the subject.

There were classes of 30 and 40 and I started to drop down to about 15th out of the class, getting lots of ‘must try harder’ remarks on my school report. Eventually though I did manage to gain higher marks and actually ended up top boy when I left the school, much to everyone’s surprise again.

Ivor’s growing interest in boats and sailing

I began to wonder what I would do to earn a living. I was not sure what to do, but then one day I was looking in the school library and I found a book, by chance, about boats and sailing. Well that was the beginning of my career, because I couldn’t read enough of it. In fact, I was that keen I copied a lot out of the book, in case the book ever disappeared from the library. I also joined a library down in North Walsham town and I read a lot of books about sailing voyages; people who sailed round the world in small as well as large boats. I was definitely getting very interested in boats and sailing and realised this was the line of work I wanted to get into.

R Moore’s & Sons, Wroxham

When I finished school in July/August 1954, I cycled to a job interview at R Moore’s & Sons in Wroxham. I managed to get a job there starting in the September with Ralph Moore, who looked after the boatbuilding and woodworking, for a starting wage of £2 a week, with the hope of an apprenticeship with them in the future.

My job involved helping the men, when required, lifting wood about, putting planks round the boats and generally watching and learning all about the job. I mean this was all so new to someone just from school.

I used to get quizzed on the names of different parts of a boat. I also learned to have a good sense of humour, because they would try to wind you up several times a day and get you to lose your temper. One guy I was working with once said ‘you’ll just have to give them as good as they give you’, which I eventually learned to do.

Rebel Ones and Admiralty launches

They had quite a complement of hire fleet cruisers already at that time, so there’d probably just be one of those on the go that we were building. We built several 28-foot ‘Rebel’ one design half-deckers, many of which still sail in Horning Sailing Club. These were built in mahogany and I think one has now been done in fibreglass. There were also a lot of Admiralty launches; which were left over from the War. These were all small launches in just the end of the order books I suppose.

One of the most tedious jobs was clenching the nails up. The boats were fastened together with copper nails and every plank was nailed on every timber, which were the transverse steamed timbers in the boat. The boy had to hold on with a ‘dolly’, which was a bar of metal with a pin on where the nail is countersunk, and you’d pin on every time they riveted up the nails and this would be for about perhaps two hours each day as the planks went on. When the timbers were steamed, it was my job as well to look after the steam box. They had an old one they’d had in Admiralty boats to steam the timbers. They went in a length at a time to whatever thickness of the wood and however much steam you could get going. I had great difficulty in getting that right, because a lot of the timbers would break as they were bent. As I was gaining experience doing the various jobs, including painting, I was also building up a toolkit.

Ivor begins an apprenticeship

I eventually started a five year apprenticeship. There was lots of men there, who had been there as boys, but I didn’t know how it was going to go for me; it would obviously depend on how the work went.

A regular job on a Friday for the boy was sweeping up. As soon as you swept up, someone would shoot some more about for you, so it seemed like an everlasting job, but at least you did get a lift in the truck to dump the shavings down the marshes.

Wintertime repair work

The wintertime jobs, which was repair work, started about October. We had about 36 boats in this fleet, with a few private boats, all varying in size from 24ft to 40ft, which were all wooden in those days; this was a long job that would take you right through to the spring.

This winter work was great experience. There were planking repairs, new bits of transoms; that’s the bit of wood across the back of the boat. These usually get several bangs throughout the summer; boats backing into quays and so on. Roofs were recovered in canvas, painted, pulled over and tacked round the sides. Some of the boats also had lino on the little decks.

Now laying the lino was a marvellous job to do in the wintertime, because it was very thick lino, usually brown on the boats, and you had to wrap it round the tortoise stove to warm it up. Then that went on with glue, which was very thick and messy. You had to get it down as quickly as possible because you knew in the summertime, with the sun beating down, that would all come up in little bubbles if it hadn’t been done properly.

I was lucky in a way I worked with Peter Clarke at Moore’s, who’d been in an apprenticeship at Moore’s, He always looked for something that would take us a long time to do working on the boats. I learned a lot of jobs from him and how to tackle them. We used to put new cabin sides in and there was a lot involved in that job. In one boat we put half a hog in. The hog is the piece of wood that goes down the whole centreline of the boat, to which the planking is fastened on top of the keel. The scarf had to be made and fitted and once that had been hammered in, it was the devil’s job to get out again. You, therefore, had to strike a happy medium so you could still just ease it out of the boat again to put it right.

Conditions in the boatyard sheds

The big corrugated iron sheds we worked in were left over from the days of the wartime Admiralty boats. Some of them had earth floors, some had sleepers on the floor and, luckily, in one shop we did have a concrete floor. All you had for heating in there was one tortoise stove in the corner. The sheds were about 70ft by 50ft, so that didn’t really have much effect on warming them up. It was also my job to make sure the fire kept going. The men would put wood on for you now and again; they’d do you a favour, but that was all the heating we had.

I remember in one of the sheds with an earth floor on Marsh Road, where Moore’s was back then, one poor old boy, a painter, who worked in there had a primus stove. He used to joke with us and say ‘you can come over and warm up on our primus stove’. These were really just meant for cooking, but you pumped up the pressure and if you didn’t get the burner hot enough, it used to burst into flames. So it was a good job there was an earth floor in there.

As for the shed with the sleepers down, on a good high tide they floated on the water. The water didn’t come right through, but they used to squelch and move about. I think that was eventually concreted before I finished my apprenticeship and left.

All the sheds, where the boats were stored during the wintertime, had large double doors onto the river. These doors fitted where they touched. At the bottom of these there was a board, which dropped into the river to supposedly keep the draught out, but this also fitted where it touched. You could see how the tide worked, as water came up the slipway and the cold and the draught got blown under there.

Also in the afternoon, or in the morning, as the sun got round in wintertime, condensation formed in the sheds, making it difficult for the guys to varnish the boats.

We had to check the bottom of the boats to see if there was any rot. One day I was working on a boat in the shed probing the bottom to see if there was any rot and two or three of the guys were just hanging about there for a while and having a little laugh and a snigger now and again. I asked them what was the matter, but they never answered me. As I kept working down towards the river I suddenly saw what they were laughing about. There was a dead rat laying there in the slipway and I thought good job they were there really, because I might not have noticed it until I got there.

Getting the boats out of storage ready for the hire season

When Easter was getting near, at the end of February, into March, all these boats had to be put back into the water and this was a busy job for a couple of weeks. The boats were launched and slipped into the water, down the slipway, pulled over the shed with the winch wire. I used to have to work the hand winch with another person, which was in the corner of the shed.

Then blocks were led from eye-bolts in the floor to the wire, to pull the boat into the shed. They used to slide along on greased ways. You had to watch where you walked, because if you got any grease on your shoe you could fall, which wasn’t so bad on the concrete, but not so good on the old sleepers, or sandy floor.

The boat would be brought into position on the slipway and a greasy way would be pushed in the water under the stem of the boat and pulled up as far as you possibly could ’til the hole in the stem of the boat was in sight, commonly known as the ‘snore hole’. A bolt went in there and a sling went on, which was then attached to the wire. The two of us on the winch wound away; not an easy thing to get it up the first little pull, as anyone may imagine, but we pulled it away and we got it up and as it got on the flat that wasn’t so bad. Then the boat used to be leant to one side on some blocks and one or two guys would keep moving these blocks, keeping the boat leaned over one way. Obviously you couldn’t have it upright, because it may slip over one side. That had greasy ways on the floor to where the boat was going to go. These were moved and jiggled about to get the boat into position. We wound away and got to the position where the boat was going, then the ordinary hydraulic jack came out and the boat would be jacked up. It was then slipped out and normal dry blocks put under the boat. Then the boat would be bilged up with big blocks each side to hold it all together and in position.

Some boatyards even pulled the boats out with a tractor and that’s where a lot of Field Marshalls ended up.

Some of the boats leaked very badly; they leaked every year like that, but two days in the water and all the leaks were cured; they disappeared. It was just that the wood had dried out.

Then the next thing to do was to get the boats fitted out for the holiday season. It was usually my job with Peter Clarke to put all the floorboards down, all the bunk boards in, all the cushions and mattresses, which had been put up in the shed to air and get checked over. We had to get these out on sunny days and then get them into the boats.

Once we’d got the interiors finished, we had to get the gangplanks, boat hooks, lifebelts and so on out of storage. The boats were then driven down the river to another premises they had in Wroxham, where a gang of women would hang the curtains, put in cooking equipment, cutlery and so on and just add the finishing touches. The boats were then brought back ready for hire.

Moore’s of Wroxham was a blue riband fleet; the blue burgee, the identification flag, carried an ‘M’ on it.

After the boats had been hired out for a few weeks there’d inevitably be a few more repairs to carry out, but when the boats came in on a Saturday, they all had to be cleaned again, which meant mopping the boats down. There’d be two or three men doing a boat, which also had to be chamoised over as well, as they were all varnished boats. The water tanks had to be filled, the gas bottles checked and fuel put in the tanks. At first all the boats had petrol engines. Later on, however, they were all swapped for diesel engines.

The first job I had on a Saturday as a boy; I used to work with another guy called Peter, who didn’t work in the boatyard, but he used to come in to earn some extra money and he showed me the ropes.

As the boats came in, if they had a dinghy, we had to go and get it off the boat, paddle it back up the river, which was only about 100 yards or so, into the boathouse where they were kept. We had to check them over and clean them up. If fishermen had hired them, there’d be lots of little insects, maggots, mud and so on in the bottom. Sometimes one of us would hold the dinghy up in the slipway and the other would throw water over to clean them all out. If there was any repairs to be done, I would make a note of them and do them as I got more proficient as time went on.

We had to check the sails, if they were sailing dinghies, and all of them were cleaned up. We had to keep these moving to get them out of the way, because all the cruisers went into their own boathouse and if a dinghy was in the way you’d never get it out until the boats started to move out

After all these dinghies were cleaned, it was then my job to take the painter round, who was Billie Blaxill, who had to find any scratches and marks on the varnished boat decks, rub them down and touch them up with some varnish and oil, or whatever, depending how bad they were. It was my job to hold the dinghy while he did this and row him about the yard.

This is what I did for about a couple of years, learning how to do all this sort of thing. I then had to start doing repairs on the boats, which included all sorts of things.

Ivor starts handling boat repairs

For instance, there was a half-round galvanised iron called ‘bin irons’ screwed on face of hardwood 2 x 3” rubbing bands to protect the planks. If some of this had been ripped off, you endeavoured to try and straighten it, put some more screws in to hold it, leaning over the side doing it, which wasn’t that easy, especially if you’d got excited customers jumping on the boat and having a look round, because then, of course, the boat was also rocking.

You did get the chance of a little bit of overtime too. It may only have been about four or five hours, but that was quite a substantial sum of money to us in those days.

Refunds from Roy’s of Wroxham and soda syphons

Another little bonus was to do with the customers’ groceries coming from Roy’s in Wroxham. These would arrive in boxes for the various boats with their names on, with a little ticket stating that it was a shilling, which would be refunded. So just about everyone needing extra money was looking to get some of these boxes. So you had to be pretty quick to keep an eye out and wait until they put it with the dustbin and then discreetly pick it up put it somewhere safe. Then on a Monday morning you could get quite a little fortune together; five shillings being a fortune to us in those days.

I think we were only on about £8 a week then. So I could take my motorbike, which was only a 197cc in those days, fill the tank with petrol from money I made on the boxes for a shilling to last me the week.

I also had to put the bins out once a week for the dustmen and, of course, if I was very lucky there’d be a soda syphon in there. That would mean more petrol money, so I could do a a few extra miles that week.

Hiring out of some of the boats would finish in September and some perhaps before, depending on the weather. Some of the boats had the engines taken out for the engineers to put right over the winter. They were taken out on a chain block outside the engineer’s shed; all done by hand; no electric winch in those days. There again they weren’t that heavy, but they had a lot more work to do when they changed over to the diesel engines.

The Enterprise dinghy and Ivor considers his future

As I worked through my apprenticeship, I began to consider my future. The money was not very good and there were people leaving for 3d. more an hour to go and work somewhere else. I was quite happy working where I was, but then the Enterprise dinghy came along in 1957; Ralph Moore, in fact, got this started at Moore’s of Wroxham. These were much smaller boats which were more affordable for people; costing about £113, less sails.

This dinghy was designed by Jack Holt, who had also designed a lot of racing dinghies, which were mostly made out of wood at that time. He, with the backing of the Daily Express I believe, wanted to bring the Enterprise dinghy to the general public. So eventually the drawings came for it and the frames were made up and so on. Of course, this was going to be mass-produced eventually and this perturbed me somewhat.

Ralph Moore was going to build this dinghy on his own in his spare time away from the office. I used to have a job during the morning and then I would have to leave whatever I was doing and go and work with him building the Enterprise dinghy. The first Enterprise built down at Moore’s was Number Three. We set it up, planked it up because he wanted to know how much work and expense was involved. We worked on it from start to finish. It was built on a jig, upside down, with all the ply patterns. We made patterns of the panels as we went, because it’s a double chine boat and the pieces of ply could all be cut out in advance, so all the men had to do was go to the rack, get their piece of wood out, fit it in place, glue and screw it on and then on to the next one.

All the screws were in the stores. There were even Pozi-drive screws, so we could put them in quicker rather than slotted screws. We did the hull and lifted it off the jig, made some stools and started to build it. We put the beams in and all the interior and so on. There was a record kept of everything, so he knew eventually how much this was going to cost and how much profit there might be.

We also did all the painting and varnishing. He bought a first mast for the Enterprise, but eventually when production was in full swing, we used to do a dozen masts at a time, all glued up in a jig. We used to have two jigs at a time for this dinghy.

Robert Moore, the other brother in the firm, set up his own little boat trailer business; still part of Moore’s of Wroxham.

After about a year, quite frankly, I’d had enough and I did say to the foreman that I’d like to go onto something else if I could. Peter Clarke knew that I wasn’t happy working on the dinghies. He used to work it, so I could leave the Enterprise building shed in good time to get on the hire fleet for the winter. So I was lucky I did get a break in the wintertime working on the hire fleet, but come the spring I was back in the shed on the dinghies again.

Eventually the Enterprise foreman did move me onto something else. I worked on the Scorpion, the Wayfarer and some Ospreys; some of these were Jack Holt’s design, but they were all eventually mass-produced. I began to think to myself that the time had come to finish there and move on.

Ivor gets his apprenticeship papers

When I did finish, I was called into the office to get my apprenticeship papers. Ralph Moore said to me ‘are you going to stay, or leave?’ I thought I might as well be honest and I said ‘I shall be leaving’. He said ‘oh, we’re having a new factory up Station Road’. I told him I was going to be working at Porter & Haylett’s. He said ‘well, I don’t know if you’ll be happy there’. I said ‘well, I’ll have to go and see won’t I?’ He gave me my signed apprenticeship papers and the princely sum of £5.

The new factory in Station Road did materialise and they built wooden Enterprises there for several years until eventually they starting using fibreglass. It’s funny to think that a boat, which was built to a shape for plywood panels was now going to be produced in fibreglass, which could be anything.

Porter & Haylett’s and Ivor and his friends build a boat

I went to see Ernie Porter and I got a job working at Porter & Haylett’s. At that time he was building up his hire fleet of new boats and so I started working on them. I think I worked on about four cruisers altogether. One of them was a little private motor cruiser, but the rest were hire fleet boats. That was good experience for me, learning entirely different methods of working.

There were three friends of mine I hadn’t seen since school, who said to me one day ‘are you interested in helping us to build a boat?’ I said ‘yeah that’d be okay, yeah I’ll do that ‘. I said ‘what sort of thing do you want?’ I actually drew the boat up for them and the magazines I borrowed when I was at Moore’s, about boat design and so on also helped.

We went on to build it and sailed it for several years. One of the boys had a Ford Consul, which had a tow hitch, so we could tow the boat down to the river when the time came. The four of us even got a little piece in the Eastern Daily Press.

When I was at Porter and Haylett’s, there was a mast up in the roof of the shed, which they’d done for a firm that was still unglued, a hollow mast in two halves. I said to Ernie Porter ‘can I have that mast in the roof there?’ I said ‘I’ll give you whatever you want, you know.’ He said ‘yeah, you can have it. What do you want it for?’ I said ‘a boat I’m doing at home’. He said ‘a boat you’re doing at home; what do you know about that?’ I said ‘well, I just drew it up and I’m going to do it’. He said ‘oh, when that’s done, let me know and I’d like to see that’.

Lofting boats out and Laurent Giles

As good as his word, he went down to Hickling Broad one night when we’d got it in the water. He went and had a look at it and he said ‘well, I don’t know how you knew about all those things, but that’s alright’. After that I got the job at Porter and Haylett’s of lofting the boats out, because after doing the cruisers, he’d got in touch with East Coast Yacht Agency, which was down in Woodbridge and he wanted to do a seagoing yacht for a flow of work. I ended up doing a lot more boats, which Jack Giles designed, who is a designer I’ve always had a great admiration for, because they’re really pretty seagoing boats and well worthy.

We did two or three private boats; seagoing yachts and one of them was for Humphrey Barton, who was a great Transatlantic sailor. He was one of the first men to sail virtually across the Atlantic, really to get the boats known, because he was a director also of Laurent Giles.

Jack Giles came down to Wroxham one day and I had the great pleasure to be in charge on the boat he was taking on a trial sail, which he’d designed for a friend of his.

It was a rough day and there was only the owner, me and Jack Giles. We sailed off Lowestoft and for a way, in all different directions, winking the mast up and turning the rigging and the rest of it. He said to me ‘how do you feel?’ I said ‘I’m alright, yeah’. He said ‘what I’m going to do is just try the Genoa up for a minute’.

Now the Genoa is a big jib, nearly to the back end of the boat really, which is reaching sail to get as much speed as you can. Now bearing in mind this was a day when there seemed to be about a force seven blowing. He said to me ‘you can take the tiller’. So I had to hold her head to wind and by the time we got the sail up, let it play off and sail, time it was to wink up the mast again. There were Jack Giles and the owner on the forward deck, water up to their knees, and I thought to myself well if one of them goes over the side, what are you going to do? But I never heard such good news as when he said ‘right, we’ll let the sail down now’. I thought thank goodness for that. That was the biggest scare I’ve ever had in my life, but I really learned a lot from talking to Jack Giles.

The Peter Duck

I continued working at Porter and Haylett’s for a while. The boat we did most of at that time was the Peter Duck, which was a little ketch, 28ft in length, only drawing about 3ft 6ins. This was a double-masted shoal draft boat, which was originally built for Arthur Ransome. In fact, one of his books called Peter Duck was about his adventures of sailing one. These weren’t being mass-produced and I had the pleasure of working on about 30 of these altogether.

They were selling at that time in the 60s for about £3,000. They were built of iroko and the Lloyd’s inspector used to come and check every month. Many Peter Ducks are still sailing about now and I heard some of them now sell for about £20,000.

I was lucky enough to go on several trial trips with the owners down to the Thames. Ernie Porter always told the owners he’d got some boys who could go with them and that gave us a great understanding of what was needed and what we did at work.

Peter Duck

Movement into shopfitting and building sites

A lot of the men from the boatyards had gone into shopfitting and working on building sites. The money you could earn on a building site was a great deal more than working in a boatyard, coupled with the fact I would need to get some money together before long, because I would want to get married and so on, meant that I too moved into this type of work. I think at that time you could earn 6d/8d. an hour more than in the boatyard. I did that for about a year or so.

Deepdale Boatyard

I then saw an advert for a job up on the coast at Brancaster Staithe, with Deepdale Boatyard. The real draw of it was, as I was thinking about getting married in the near future, there was a house went with the job. I applied for the job and got it. I worked up there for a few years. I did get married and we had a nice little brick and flint cottage overlooking the salt marshes.

The boatyard was owned by Jason Borthwick. His grandson now runs a campsite where the boatyard used to be. I did a lot of fishing boat repairs there and I also built some 12ft and 8ft dinghies, clinker boat dinghies, to fill in the time.

I had a shop to look after too; there was a girl who worked in there, but only part-time.

Albacore dinghies and Jolly boats

The Albacore dinghies and Jolly boats were the boats made by Fairy Marine. A Jolly boat was 18ft and cold-moulded, which was decked in all round with just a cockpit in the middle. This was a very fast boat and there was a little class of them at one time at Brancaster Staithe. The last one I did for Jason Borthwick was specially built for him to enter the championships. A Jolly boat was only supposed to weigh 250lb and no one had ever achieved it, but I whittled everything away I could and he even bought some lighter plywood for the decks, but we still didn’t get down. I think I managed to get it to about 260, or a little bit more. That’s as light as I could get it without making the boat dangerous. Anyway it must have done alright, because he sailed it in the championship and he never came home with it; he sold it I expect for a nice profit.

Then he got the craze to have an Albacore and I built an Albacore, which was also cold-moulded, but this is a smaller dinghy; about 14ft. This craze didn’t go on for too long, as he had a farm and a garage to run. Also his daughter was starting up a little ski school, so there was a few speedboats to do then for her.

Moving to Lingwood and Moonraker

I’d been there four years and I began to think then about moving back onto the Broads and getting a job there. Fibreglass boats were becoming the big thing and all the boatbuilders in the Broads area were advertising jobs paying a lot more money than I was earning at Brancaster Staithe. I had the house, of course, but I thought well I’d rather pay for a house of my own and be back in the area where I know. So I made the decision in the end to move back and in 1969 I got a bungalow in Lingwood.

I mean I tried to get away from mass-production, but that’s what they were doing with fibreglass boats. So if you wanted to earn good money, that’s what you had to do.

I started working at Moonraker, earning £22 a week for a 50 hour week, working for David Buxton and Vic Bell, on the Ocean 30 from Aquafibre.

The arrival of fibreglass

One day when I was working on the bench I remember Vic Bell coming along and he said to me ‘can you read a drawing Ivor?’ I said ‘yeah..’ He said, ‘can you read a drawing?’ I said ‘yeah I can read a drawing’. I thought to myself well what I’m doing doesn’t need a drawing, so he isn’t talking about that.

A week or two later he come along again and said the same thing. I said ‘you asked me that before’. I said, ‘yeah, of course I can; what’s it all about; what’s the matter?’ He said ‘that’s alright, these will tell you what this is all about’. I said ‘oh alright then’. He said ‘when I want you up in the office; we’re having a meeting, I’ll send someone to come and get you’. I said ‘alright then’.

So a few weeks later he was up in his office, which overlooked the workshop, and there’s David Buxton and the rest of them and they were talking about building the Moonraker from the drawings of Robert Tucker, who was a boat designer; he’d done several boats and the drawings were coming and could I loft it out. I said ‘yes I can loft it out, yeah, that’s alright’. ‘Right’ he said, ‘you’re sure?’ I said ‘I’ve been doing it at Porter and Haylett’s and I’ve drawn a few boats up for myself’. ‘Oh alright then’ he said ‘you’re going to be in the shed down by the river and you’re going to be locked in’. He said ‘there’s a lot of them around here now’, mentioning some boatyards. Carr and West down at the riverside were working on a boat to let out as a private one and Broom’s were doing things; he didn’t want anyone to know about it that’s what he said.

When the day came, he said ‘that’ll be next week, or so; ‘I’ll let you know’. I eventually went in the shed there and I was locked in and I lofted the boat out; drew it all out. He said to me ‘to save a bit of money, I only want the front and the back done; the middle is pretty straight and we can do that by making one frame and making the others’.

So that was how it was done. I lofted it all out and made the frames and set them all up on a big jig; upside down this was and we skinned the boat with just plywood. We cut sheets of ply to fill in where there was an awkward curve, but basically that was just a chine boat with a good straight run aft, which was for a powerboat design.

But we did get the hull done and lots of new workers came, fibreglassers. He got a man from Lotus, who was going to run it, and he brought some of his best boys and they were going to do the fibreglassing. We had to paint the hull and finish it all off, with about 10 coats of paint. This all had to be rubbed down in between and then painted with a spray. They used to spray it nighttimes when we were gone and then we had to rub it down the next day. This would continue until we had a finish on the wood which would pass as fibreglass. It had to be that good, because otherwise any blemish on there would appear on the fibreglass mould.

Eventually the big day came. We were out of the shed and the fibreglassers moved in and they started making the mould for it. The gel resin in; they give it a good waxing and release agents, gel resin on, which was the outside thick skin, bearing in mind this was going to be inside out, because the boat was on the jig. They gradually built it, reinforcing where needed, and finally put it on a metal cradle that stood on wheels.

This was then wheeled outside and the Moonraker was released out of the mould. I remember this was a little bit difficult; it was tight somewhere or other. In the end they had to put some pipes into it and blow water or air into it to help the release from the mould. That did come off eventually and there was the first Moonraker out of the mould swinging in the air, upside down. Then the jig was taken away.

All the boatyards around at that time had yards full of these jigs and moulds used for building the boats. Some people had thought they would get a boat on the cheap by buying these moulds and making them into boats. That really didn’t work though, because they just weren’t strong enough. So in the end they were burnt.

They then cleaned the hull up, moved her into the other shed and we started making the pattern for the superstructure, the cabin sides and all the bits and pieces that went inside. So that was the beginning of a very long line of Moonrakers.

Then they started on the new Moonraker, but at that time I moved over and started working on the Aquabell Fisherman, which was a high speed fishing cruiser. It was supposed to do about 30 knots. I don’t think it ever did reach that speed, which was a bit of a disappointment, but it did do about 28 knots.

Herbert Woods, Potter Heigham

It just so happened that Herbert Woods at Potter Heigham were advertising for boatbuilders and they were building 70ft trawler yachts. That appealed to me, as that would be a new experience.

I managed to get a job with them and there were some of my old mates from working on the wooden boats there. One of them said to me ‘bloody good job you’re here; we haven’t got many guys here really know what they’re doing’. He said ‘you can do the bow end with the planking and I’ll get on the back; I’ve been trying to jump from end to end and that’s a waste of time’.

This yacht was built using iroko for the planking on oak frames. The plank was an inch and a half thick. It had a bilge plank round, which was three inches thick. We had a nice new steam box bought in for the job, because all the planks had to be steamed. Of course, with a plank that size you had to have about six or seven men running up the shed with it before it got cold and wrapping it round the boat. I thought this job was more interesting, especially with 2ft G clamps and things like that and screws about 3 and 4 inches long. These screws were left over from the days when all the Admiralty craft were built down at Wood’s.

We got the whole job to do the deck and so on, but one little gang of us worked on the hull and another one up the other end of Wood’s boatyard doing the superstructure, which was the wheelhouse and the cabin. This was all schemed out with Frank Balls, who was the foreman in the shed there. We did the hull and he worked it all out so that the superstructure would just slip onto the hull.

The day of reckoning came one Saturday afternoon, realising that in getting the boat to Yarmouth it wouldn’t go under the Acle bridge. So the superstructure had to be made separately and put onto a trailer and the hull was towed down to Yarmouth on its own.

There were several men, who went with the superstructure to get rid of any tree branches overhanging the road along the way. Apparently that’s how Wood’s had to do it during the War with the MTB boats for the Admiralty.

Eventually they stopped building the trawler yachts. By this time, Wood’s had a large hire fleet, but this wasn’t the type of work I wanted to go back to.

Charles Ward, Fakenham

I found another job through an advert in the paper working for Charles Ward, who was setting up a boatyard in Fakenham, building seagoing yachts. This was a lovely looking boat; another West Coast design. It had a wooden frame, covered in fibreglass, with foam in between. The first hull came up to Fakenham. Then Charles Wood sent me down to Falmouth where they’d built the hull to see how this was done, because in the future he was going to do the hulls himself at Fakenham.

So I went down to Falmouth for a few days to learn all about it. I carried on working for him and just about got the first one finished, but then suddenly he gave me a month’s notice and pay one night and away I went. I was living in a council house in Fakenham at the time, which the council had given to his firm for any key workers.

Renicon and renovating cottages

So once again I was looking for another job; boatyards being a bit thin on the ground in Fakenham in those days. I managed to get a job in the end renovating old country cottages for a firm called Renicon. There were two governors in charge and I worked there for about eighteen months. I had to buy books about how to do roofs, floor joists and so on. It certainly was a big learning curve for me.

Eventually things didn’t seem to be going too well at Renicon. I remember, for instance, going to the garage in Fakenham one night to get some diesel for the van and they said ‘I’m sorry you can’t have no diesel, because he ain’t paid his bill’. So I thought it was time to move on.

At the time, there were still lots of adverts in the paper for boatbuilders in the Broadland area and I thought well, okay, it’s about time. I was living in the council house; the price of houses was going up and I thought if don’t move soon; with the money I’ve saved from my first bungalow, if I don’t buy another house, I shall be out of the market.

Landamores, Wroxham

So again I started to look for another home. We found another nice place in Lingwood and everything was lovely. The wife got a little job down the road at the hamper factory as it was then and I got a job at Landamores at Wroxham, building the 34ft fibreglass Oyster 38 yachts.

There was one bad winter; I had a hard job getting home from Wroxham through the back roads and I knew they were paying decent money at Broom’s. So I went down there and worked on the 34ft sports cruisers, just a production line thing again really and I thought well this is what fibreglass boats are; you’ll have to grin and bear it, unless something else come along.

I did go self-employed for a while and I was doing a job down at St Olave’s, which really was a long way to go from Lingwood. Well I could go to the ferry, but the ferry was expensive, so I had to go round by Yarmouth and that was really a long way round. I said to the guys I was working with; we were working on a big cruiser outside at the time, ‘I shan’t be here during the winter working on this’. They said ‘yes you will, yes you will’. I said ‘no, I can’t stick this really now; it’s bloody cold round here with the wind blowing across the marsh. I’ll get something before then’.

IBTC, Oulton Broad

A few weeks later, funny enough, life’s fate again, there was a job advertised for a boatbuilding training instructor down at the IBTC at Oulton Broad. I thought I’d got a good chance of getting that job. So I made an appointment and went down to see him. John Elliott, who’d actually started IBTC up, was actually the one in charge; he was packing up and so they put another man in charge, but they wanted another boatbuilder. He’d set this all up, because he felt there was a need for the boatyards in the Broads to have a school where people could learn the business.

So I started at the IBTC in about September 1990. I mean they’d been running courses quite a while and each year they would take in three lots of students. who had to pay to learn all about boatbuilding. I found it very strange in the beginning to tell people what to do and show them what to do, rather than doing it myself, but I got used to it in the end. I did learn that you mustn’t actually do too much to show them what to do, because otherwise they would just stand there and say ‘that looks easy when you do it’.

The students obviously attended for the year and at the end of it, they got their diploma. Later on, they also got an NVQ certificate.

Some students who were in their teens really wanted to learn the job, but there were also some whose parents had sent them there, because they thought it would be a good idea for their son, or daughter. There were also people who’d had a career but were tired, as they said, of the rat race and they wanted a complete change; anyone from solicitors to accountants. Interestingly, the foreign students who attended seemed to do better than the British boys/men did. Many of them did end up getting good jobs all over the world.

There were several girls who attended. I remember one girl who came from Eritrea.

Apparently she would have had to do National Service if she had stayed at home. She came along and she was working with me for a little while and I used to worry she wouldn’t be strong enough to handle the heavy jobs, but she managed them and never complained. At the end of the course, she got good marks.

We started at half past eight in the morning, had a break for lunch, and the students generally went home about half past four. Later on they changed the hours a little bit, so some of them got away early on a Friday if they had a long journey home.

I think when I started, the yearly student fee was about £6,000 or £7,000. By 2000, it was getting on for about £14,000 a year.

I used to give lectures, one of which was on fibreglassing. There was only a basic three day course on it, but they made a fibreglass bow section in the mould and then they took it out, so they learned all about how to lay it up and so on. Then they had to put a hole in two sides and do one repair from the inside and one repair from the outside. So they did get a little bit of an idea about fibreglass over that short time.

The other subject I used to specialise in was about lofting. This is when you draw out and get the plan of the boat. You draw it out full size on the floor as a rule, on white boards, or black boards. From that you can get the size of your pieces of wood, the patterns and sections of the boat, the size of the keel and the size of the stern, the bevels and so on. The more you get to know about it, the more you gain from it. Some of the students had a bit of a problem getting their heads round it, which I wasn’t surprised about, because it’s a very expansive subject and it takes a long time to get it. I’ve always said if you haven’t got the eye for a boat, or the feel for a boat, you can’t do it, because a boat is all sweet curves and if you don’t get a sweet curve, it looks a terrible thing when it’s done.

Boat building training school


I left the college about six months before my actual retirement date, because my circumstances at that time allowed for it. Also the college was going to be taken over by somebody else and I thought that it was perhaps the right time to leave.

I’d been working since I left school. Apart from annual holidays, I think I only ever had one day off and that was through the boatyard being flooded one winter when I was doing my apprenticeship and they sent us home

I feel lucky to have had a career, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve worked with lots of good people. I’ve designed and built two boats for myself and I’ve restored two yachts and I enjoyed going for a sail on the river at weekends. I also set up a little business making model boats in so-called ‘spare time’.

Voluntary work with the Broads Museum, Stalham

After I retired, I was sitting at home one evening in the winter and I thought to myself, bearing in mind that I’d unfortunately lost my wife a few years back, I’m sick of doing nothing; I can’t do this. I do lots of little woodworking jobs at home, but I thought well I really want to go out and meet some more human beings. So I decided to go down to the Broads Museum at Stalham to see if they wanted any volunteers, which fortunately they did do.

I believe there’s supposed to be about 80 volunteers in all, including people working in the yard and those who work in the shop; the administrators.

I’ve been employed there putting new planks in the river fishing boat, which belonged to Latham at Potter Heigham, and we renovated that. We’ve just renovated a fibreglass play boat for the children, because the wooden one had got so bad.

Henry Blogg’s hoveller

A job I was involved with at the museum last year was renovating the boat which was Henry Blogg’s hoveller. The hoveller is like a crab boat, but it’s got a for’ward deck, so they could spend a few days at sea. The boat had been moved round East Anglia and it was in a very bad state of repair. We got it from Stiffkey and brought it back to the college; it was just half a boat; the bow section. The back half was too bad, plus the fact the people who wanted this work done wouldn’t have been able to afford to have the whole boat renovated. So we built the whole new front of the boat, with new planks out of pine and oak timbers, just as the original was. That took about 1,500 hours’ worth of voluntary work. That is now at Cromer in the North Park, overlooking the cliffs, which is going to be their memorial for Henry Blogg, who saved so many lives; the most decorated lifeboatman in the country.

Ivor Broughton (b. 1939) talking to WISEArchive  in Sprowston on 21st March 2017

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