Boat Building - Stage ONE: Complete! (August 2015)
Well, it has taken us a few months to get all the detail right but we are now at Stage One. The hull of the J. Caird is now complete and the boys and girls at IBTC Lowestoft are focusing on Stage Two: the McNish modifications.
The last hull plank was fitted at the end of August 2015, with the sister ribs fitted not long after. Now comes the challenge of interpreting years of archival research, historical photographs...and applying unique boatbuilding knowledge and skill of hand. The J. Caird is a very cleverly assembled vessel, far more complicated than its apparent simplicity.
Chippy McNish was a genius. To retrofit a full size ships lifeboat whilst drifting on the frozen surface of the Weddell Sea (Antarctica) followed by further modifications whilst marooned on Elephant Island, it is difficult for us to comprehend how he achieved this astonishing build with only limited resources and at the limit of human endurance. The subject of how we believe he accomplished this great feat will be published in due course.
For now, enjoy the pictures.
Boat Building in Progress (April 2015)
The battle to get Plank #1 installed started in the New Year (2015). Building an inch accurate replica of one of the most legendary vessels in history is no easy task; selecting the right timber has been a challenge, a number of unsuitable trees have been turned away due to imperfections in the grain in the form of knots.
Whilst the plankers were scratching their heads over timber, the ribs and keel were secured in the strong-back frame which supports the hull using moulds and ribbons. There is plenty of boat to build and attention to detail will start in earnest as soon as the lower hull section is complete.
The 'McNish additions' will be fitted once the lower-hull planks have been fitted - this will be the most interesting stage of the build. Over the years Seb Coulthard has examined several of the original Hurley photographs taken during Shackleton's epic expedition. Seb has identified a number of features and fittings which are absent from the original lifeboat now housed at Dulwich College in a restored condition.
By identifying common practice in period boat building, Seb will advise IBTC with regards the details which need to fitted to the new replica boat - faithfully reproducing every detail as found aboard the James Caird on the day she set sail from Elephant Island on 24th April 1916.
Despite slow progress, you can't put time constraints on perfection!
International Boatbuilding Training Academy (October 2014)
Cross section of a typical pre-SOLAS wooden lifeboat.
The original James Caird was manufactured by W.J. Leslie, boatbuilders of Coldharbour Lane, Poplar, near the North East entrance to London's West India Docks. The specification was to meet the new Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) regulations passed by Act of Parliament in January 1914 as result of the Wreck Commissioners Inquiry into the Titanic Disaster (1912).
Pre SOLAS convention lifeboats were constructed as follows in accordance with Board of Trade regulations:
The keels were of elm. The
stems and stern posts were of oak. They were all clinker or carvel built of yellow pine,
double fastened with copper nails, clinched over with copper rooves. The timbers were of
elm, spaced about 9 in. apart, and the thwarts made from pitch pine secured with galvanized
iron double knees. The buoyancy tanks in the lifeboats were of copper or Muntz metal,
with sufficient capacity to meet requirements.
S.Y. Endurance davit as used to raise and lower the James Caird from the boat deck.
The lifeboats were fitted with disengaging gear (Murray's, Mill's, or Douglas) which allowed for the simultaneously freeing at both ends from the tackle connected to the ships davits. The gear was fastened at a suitable distance from the bow and stern of the boat, to suit the distance between davits. Lifelines (grab lines) were fitted around the gunwales of all lifeboats.
The davit blocks were treble for the lifeboats and double for the cutters. They were of elm, with lignum vitae roller sheaves, and were secured inside with iron bands, and had swivel eyes. There were manila rope falls of sufficient length for lowering the boats to the vessel's light draft, and when the boats were lowered, to be able to reach to the boat winches on the boat deck.
The James Caird and the Endurance motorboat were stowed on wooden chocks on the boat deck or suspended inboard of the guardrails by the means of davits. The cutters, Stancomb-Wills and Dudley Docker, were secured in a similar fashion either side of the navigating bridge.
The boat equipment was in accordance with the Board of Trade requirements of the period too but was outdated. Sails for each lifeboat and cutter were supplied and stowed in painted bags. Covers were supplied for the lifeboats and cutters, and a sea anchor for each boat. Every lifeboat was furnished with a spirit boat compass and fittings for holding it; these compasses were carried in a locker. A provision tank and water beaker were supplied to each boat.
SOLAS Convention (January 1914):
Following the sinking of the French liner La Bourgogne in
1898 with the loss of more than 500 people and the Titanic in 1912 with the
of over 1500, Captain William Sowden Sims, of the United
States Navy commented:
"The truth of the matter is that in case any large
passenger steamship sinks, by reason of collision or other fatal damage to her
flotability, more than half of her passengers are doomed to death, even in fair
weather, and in case there is a bit of a sea running none of the loaded boats
can long remain afloat, even if they succeed in getting safely away from the
side, and one more will be added to the long list of `the ships that never
return.' Most people accept this condition as one of the inevitable perils of
the sea, but I believe it can be shown that the terrible loss of life
occasioned by such disasters as overtook the Bourgogne and the Titanic and many
other ships can be avoided or at least greatly minimized. Moreover, it can be
shown that the steamship owners are fully aware of the danger to their
passengers; that the laws on the subject of life-saving appliances are wholly
inadequate; that the steamship companies comply with the law, though they
oppose any changes therein, and that they decline to adopt improved appliances;
because there is no public demand for them, the demand being for high schedule
speed and luxurious conditions of travel."
As a consequence of the terrible loss of the Titanic, there
was a general demand that there should be
sufficient number of lifeboats for all people on board passenger ships. This
led to the first international conference on the safety of life at sea held in
London in January 1914. The Conference was attended by representatives of 13 countries
and resulted in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
(SOLAS), which was adopted throughout 1914. The Convention was to enter into force in
July 1915 but with the outbreak of the First World War in Europe in September
1914 it was never formally ratified, although many of its provisions were
adopted by individual nations and ship operators including Sir Ernest Shackleton. The Convention included chapters on safety of navigation,
construction, radiotelegraphy, life-saving appliances and fire protection.
Chapter VI of SOLAS 1914 Article 40:
“At no moment of its voyage may a ship have
on board a total number of persons than that for whom accommodation is provided
in lifeboats on board”.
As a result of the above basic principle of marine safety, it is believed that Captain Worsley walked from Regent Dock (were the Endurance was being converted from a polar hunting yacht into an expedition vessel) to W.J. Leslie on Coldharbour Lane. W.J. Leslie were probably one of the most respected lifeboat manufacturers in West India Docks in mid 1914. Having received the The International Fisheries Exhibition silver medal from Queen Victoria for "lifeboat design" in 1886, for a professional seaman like Worlsey it was a 'no brainier' as to who should the third lifeboat. The quality of workmanship invested in the James Caird is often overlooked when the Voyage of the James Caird is retold in published print. The survival of Shackleton crew can be equally attributed to an industry which is now sadly overlooked. The scenes Worsley would have encountered upon entering the Leslie workshop would have been similar to the scenes below.