Jason Goodwin experiences a high point of paternal pride thanks to a master craftsman, his son's tenacity and a loop of electrical flex.
Parental pride is a wonderful thing, but it’s not every day you can hope to get lobsters with it. I bless lockdown, my son Izzy and Mr Paul Fisher. For if you fancy building a boat — and why not? — that great man will sell you the complete plans for almost any kind of boat you can imagine, for a minor sum. Dinghies and dories, sailboats and rowboats, smacks and cobles and skiffs are his meat and drink.
He has the plans for 52 different kinds of dayboat. At one end, he has blueprints for a whopping 36ft yacht, the Loosemoose Sharpie, and, at the other, for a pram dinghy that comes in at 3ft 10in. What unites them, beyond the call of the sea, is that they are almost all built from a few sheets of exterior ply and a length of electric cable.
That’s how it began a few years back when Izzy built his first Selway Fisher canoe (Selway is Mr Fisher’s wife’s maiden name). The method is known as stitch and tape. You measure off the pattern onto sheets of exterior plywood, cut them out and then stitch them together with copper wire, stripped from the flex. The hull of the boat is drawn into shape, whereupon the seams can be taped over with epoxy and the stitches removed.
Izzy’s canoe sprang into existence almost overnight. There followed weeks of glueing and sanding, with gunwales bent by steaming over the kettle. It is true that a bump on the stable floor, where the canoe was assembled, mysteriously transferred itself to the finished craft, but, when it was painted and supplied with a paddle (diagrams provided), it took to the river like Hiawatha.
In time, that canoe was crushed by a visiting tree surgeon; this year, Izzy built it again. The plan to take it down the Stour, mooring at every riverside pub between Shaftesbury and Christchurch, was foiled by lockdown, but the time did, however, give Izzy the ease to contemplate something more ambitious. Once again, the kitchen floor was sequestered by marine ply in sheets and the pole barn became a boatyard.
What emerged, springing into shape overnight like the canoe before it, was a Northumbrian coble. Mr Fisher bases his design on dinghies that plied the North Sea coast, fishing or foying — tending to larger ships. Izzy’s 12ft coble was broad beamed, steeply raked, with a generous high freeboard to part the choppy waters without getting everyone wet.
Furlough ended and Izzy went back to work, so boatbuilding had to be squeezed into the late-summer evenings. When everything was taped, he sheathed the hull in a woven sheet. He fitted seats. As summer faded and the first winds sprang up, he warped and steamed the gunwales.
At the end, he added a small keel and runners on either side, then left me to sand and paint the exterior with several white coats of Dulux Weathershield. The interior, dark and smooth as a box of Montecristos, we lacquered with five coats of varnish until it looked, to my mind, as dashing and elegant as a Venetian water taxi.
To move it, Izzy adapted an old trailer made from a scaffolding pole, using two pool noodles to spread the weight of the hull. And so we went to sea. We caught four mackerel. We have ridden out swells, cut a line tangled around the propeller, shared a beer and watched the sun set before racing into harbour at full throttle.
We have a lobster pot now and a shrewd idea of where to drop it. We will live, I think, like millionaires, thanks to Mr Fisher and a loop of electrical flex.
Jason Goodwin takes on the rats, and loses.
Jason Goodwin undertakes a family cycle ride along the Danube.
Jason Goodwin's efforts to transcribe his father's colourful life story are suffering all sorts of unusual interruptions.