Apart from my interests in wooden boats there
are several reasons why the Thames Boat Show at Beale Park is one of my
First of all is the setting on the lush banks of the River
Thames near the delightful village of Pangbourne.
Then there is the refreshingly laid-back, informality of the
show with none of the hustle and bustle of some of the larger more
But what really attracts me is the emphasis on wooden boats
and amateur boat building.
The show which originated as The Wooden Boat Show has retained
its enthusiasm for traditional wooden boat building despite the
problems affecting other sections of the boating industry.
This year despite the economic down turn the range of
interests covered was as wide as ever, from traditional wooden boats to
restored classics, as well as covering cruising dinghies and small
boats of all types for use on waterways, canals and the open sea.
There was something here for everyone young and old.
But the real secret of this show is that it is mounted by
enthusiasts for enthusiasts with the opportunity for amateur builders
to show off their craft.
Every year there is a competition for the best amateur built
In the past the standard of craftsmanship of some of the
entries has been so good that it has tended to discourage others from
Just look at the workmanship on the Skiff on the right, its
hard to believe that this in an amateur build.
So this year the competition had three categories, one for the
most professional looking Home-Made Boat, one for the most innovative
and one for the home made boat which offered the most encouragement to
The rules are simple the boat must not be from a kit the
builder must not be a professional boat builder, this truly is for the
There are no big prizes it is more for the pride of
show is also a platform for enthusiast to show off their pride and
One group who need no encouragement are the steam boat
Now you might be forgiven for believing that this is the
preserve of older men. Well I guess it is but only because these boats
are family heirlooms, treated like pampered pets and not for sale.
They will be passed on to the next generation eventually but
old guys with a passion do seem to live forever.
However, youngsters of both sexes are getting in on
traditional boat building, thanks to the increasing number of Boat
Building Schools, some of which were represented at the show.
These schools and colleges are another sign that not all is
doom and gloom.
Their courses in traditional boat building methods from short
to full time are being filled not only with youngsters starting out on
a career but those wanting a midlife change of direction and oldies
looking for a pastime.
The courses cover everything from basic woodworking skills to
restoration work and full scale boat building such as the recreation of
Shackleton's Boat, the "James Caird", which was on display at the show.
The "James Caird" was the salvaged lifeboat boat in which
Shackleton made his heroic crossing of the Weddell Sea after his ship
the “Endurance” became trapped in the pack ice.
The part built "Caird" which was on show was constructed by
the students using European Larch on steamed Oak. She is copper
fastened with keel stem and a stern of grown Oak. She will eventually
be caulked with cotton and white lead putty, and then be decked in and
There were also plenty of trade stands almost exclusively
small boat building businesses.
These stands are not staffed by sales people but the boat
builders themselves and it is their enthusiasm for their craft, both
the skills and the vessels which helps give this show its buzz.
These are people making a living from doing what they love and
who take great pride in their skills.
The show also taps onto the growing trend, fuelled by
environmental consideration to stop trying to challenge nature and
instead, look for a way to enjoy it slowly, respectfully.
This ‘green’ tendency was enthusiastically being promoted by
the timber suppliers at the show.
Ethically sourced exotic woods from sustainable forests were
being promoted by specialists with a wealth of knowledge on different
species and their application.
Among the other venerable attractions was the legendry James Wharrem of
At the age of 80 James has recently completed a 4000 nautical
mile voyage, the "Lapita Voyage", from the Philippines to the remote
Polynesian islands of Anuta & Tikopia to donate two double
canoes to the islanders.
There was also plenty of other stuff going on such as craft stalls, a
specialist food market, cookery workshops, dancing displays and live
But to round off the relaxing laid-back, informality the star of the
show, apart from the wooden boats of course, was the beer tent with its
selection of real ales.
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