Summer’s end

We’ve had a busy summer here at Anchor and Sail HQ. The promotional work we did over the summer has resulted in our volunteering programme being over subscribed for the most part. It’s been a real joy to see so many new people come into our workshops and get involved with building boats. Catherine and Brian have been working hard to get planks on the big West Coast Skiff. The tightly tucked clinker planking with tight curves at the stern has presented more than a few challenges as the guys plug on getting the fit perfect.

Catherine and Brian have been working solidly to get the planks on the West Coast Skiff

Catherine and Brian have been working solidly to get the planks on the West Coast Skiff

Meanwhile over the river the guys have been planking Starcrest, with all of the carefully made carvel planks fitted, shaped, steamed and encouraged into the space. They are still rivetting like mad, but it’s starting to come together.

And yet more activity! Alongside the two main boats we’ve been fitting out a lifeboat at the Tall Ship and have been working on other smaller boats in the GalGael workshop. We’ve managed to launch the wee 8ft pram dinghy that was built several years ago but needed finishing off and Alan has started work on a 10’6″ clinker rowing boat to be called ‘Annie B’

Tradition Clinker Pram

The clinker pram sailing by.

We’ve also been out on a few trips. Going to visit our friends at the Scottish Fisheries Museum as well as taking a few days out of the summer (such as it was) to get out of the workshops and onto the water. Building a boat is about balancing constraints, too much timber and the boats too heavy, too little and it’s too weak. We always find it helps to get out on the water and see in a real way how a boat deals with the loads and forces working upon it.

Apprentices and volunteers out using one of GalGael's St Ayles Skiffs

Apprentices and volunteers out using one of GalGael’s St Ayles Skiffs

Volunteering with us

Volunteering Advert V2

You might have seen this advert around the place over the last few days. We’re looking for new folk to get involved in the project, we call it volunteering, but it’s more like learning as we don’t expect people to be boat builders in advance. We teach you skills and in return you help us build boats!

Interested? Click on Get Involved above or go here


As everyone is we’re slow at updating this page! But sure enough we’re busy building boats. In the GalGael workshop the west coast skiff has four planks on a side, and the smaller boats that cluster around it are moving on slowly but surely.

Wooden boats. Pram, Catspaw and Skiff

A view from on High

Across the river at the Tall Ship the guys have been working away on Starcrest, it’s now fully framed up and we’re busy putting planks on as fast as we can. We’ve got some new apprentices starting in the next month, Daisy and Peter will be joining the team at The Tall Ship and learning some new skills. We’re always short of volunteers though, so if you’d like to learn how to build a boat please do get in touch and let us show you what we’re up to!

On Developing a New Fascination

It was always the goal of this blog to encourage other people to contribute to it, lots of different voices is far better than just Ben’s! So without further ado here are Brian’s words on his experiences so far with Anchor and Sail:


My name’s Brian, I’m currently one of the four apprentices on the Anchor and Sail project. I’m based at the GalGael workshop in Govan where I work alongside Catherine, my fellow apprentice, Ben, the lead boat builder, and all of the other volunteers who so kindly donate their time and talents.

Before starting the apprenticeship I had very little in the way of woodworking skills or experience and virtually none when it came to boat building (I had fashioned some knees for the pram dinghy and shaped a mast and a gaff but that was just about it). To say that I was a little bit concerned that I would be out of my depth would be an understatement! It very quickly became clear, however, that with Ben’s help and guidance and Catherine’s support and camaraderie this was a challenge I was capable of meeting. That’s not to say there haven’t been frustrations and set backs along the way and days when nothing seemed to go right but with perseverance and determination I have so far been able to help deal with every problem we’ve faced.


Catherine and Brian peruse the plans from a higher vantage point

The first thing that we had to learn was the lofting process and to learn that we had to spend 4 weeks crawling around on our hands and knees drawing lines, rubbing them out and redrawing them, fairing 25 foot wooden battens, lifting and laying numerous little lead blocks, plotting heights, re-fairing the battens, redrawing our pencil lines in ink, realising that some of the inked lines were subtly wrong and had to be adjusted by 1/16 of an inch. Once we had plotted and inked all three line views (the profile view, the halfbreadth view and the body plan) and checked and rechecked that we had drawn just one boat in three different orientations and notthree different boats, we began developing the sections. That’s a topic in itself and takes a little careful thought to properly understand. Throughout the process things went wrong, we discovered mistakes in the plans or missing information; at one stage, three and a half weeks in, it was thought, for a few very horrifying hours, we’d have to paint over all our hard work and start again! Luckily Ben fixed the problem and we only had to re-fair a few waterlines. It was a struggle at times but hugely rewarding and to see our boat plotted out full size, ready to be built was something of a quiet triumph.

As a result of this process and of learning more and more about hand tools, their uses and limitations, I’ve come to have a deeper understanding and admiration for the people who, across the centuries, built boats in a far less forgiving world than ours and whose lives literally depended on them, and on them getting it right.

Anchor and Sail is a fantastic project, a way of connecting people with our maritime history, of keeping traditional boat-building practices alive and well in the heart of Govan and of building self-confidence, self-belief and new friendships. Come and join us, even if you’ve never even picked up a chisel or a hand plane before. You’ll learn a lot, about boats, woodworking and about yourself and might just develop that same fascination that I have, a fascination that makes me try again and again and again until I get it right.

Note: If this does pique your interest don’t forget you can apply to volunteer by following this link

Finishing the backbone

In the last few month’s we’ve made loads of progress on the West Coast Skiff in GalGael. First we had to complete the backbone assembly. This is the central component of the boat and it’s pretty key that it’s well put together.

Traditional Boatbuilding Keel

Cat and Brian are happy about the backbone!

From our lofting we could pull the exact shape of not just the keel but the other parts that make up the backbone. In the picture above the stem, the front of the boat, is the dark piece on the left and the sternpost is the dark piece on the right. Both are made from Greenheart. The long straight section is the oak keel that we milled from the huge board. Joining the keel to the stem and sternpost at either end are the knees. These are both made from elm, the curving laminations follow the shape of the boat and ensure that they are sufficiently stong.


Cat and Brian drilling bolt holes for the stem.

Once we had all these pieces made we had to assemble them, they are held together with numerous 1/2 inch thick bronze bolts. Throughout this boat we’ll be using only bronze and copper fastenings, both these metals have different purposes but are strong and have the benefit of not rusting!

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While the keel was going together our dedicated teams of volunteers and participants were busy making the moulds. Each one of these is exactly patterned and shaped from the lofting to define the shape of the boat at a given position. Once the back bone was set up and ready the moulds stand on it at a given position, but first we have to set the keel up. And to do this we need a ceremony! About a traditional keel laying ceremony, next time!

On finding and milling a keel

As has probably become fairly obvious for regular followers of this project we’re going to be building two West Coast Skiffs in the GalGael workshop over the coming years. These bonnie boats are 20 feet long and traditionally built, meaning they are built of larch planks rivetted together to steam bent oak frames around a central backbone.

As we’re in the early stages of the build we are most worried about the keel at the moment. It’s surprisingly hard to find a keel for a boat this big, mainly because we have such stringent requirements. So we went looking for a bit of native oak, 17 feet long, at least 2 1/4″ thick and 5 1/2″ wide, it needed to be dead straight, and ideally air dried. We’d always rather buy native timber because it’s better for the environment, better for local industry and more traditional. Our first piece was too thin and had to be sent back. After calling just about every timber yard in Scotland we gave up on native and bought a beam of Greenheart (Chlorocardium Rodiei), this South American hardwood is a very strong and heavy, it can make a great keel. Unfortunately the piece we got was not straight enough and it too had to go back. Finally we went to McConnel Wood Products, a supplier of oak beams who sourced for us a truly massive board of French Oak.

Big Ol' Oak Board

Plank of oak on one of our boat trailers.

The board was 5.5 M long, over a meter wide and 65mm thick. Far too heavy to lift off the trailer without about six guys working! So first we had to reduce it in size, cue a circular saw and lots of dust.

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The photos don’t quite give an idea of the scale of the piece, but it’s pretty huge. With the piece small enough to move it was through to the machine shop to mill to size, first on the the table saw we cut it down to a manageable width. Then on the surfacer to flatten out the twist, and the thicknesser to get it to finish thickness.

Big Ol' Pieces

Cat and Brian milling the keel to thickness

And finally it’s straight edged, and back onto the table saw to finish it width accurately. Back to the lofting in the end we lie it down in place, with the part finished stem as well we are finally starting to get an idea of the size of the boat.


Keel and Stem in place on the loft floor

All that work for one piece of wood, luckily they are not all that big.