Caulking is a traditional technique used on wooden vessels to fill the gaps between the planks while still allowing the wood to flex and move. This involves driving a fibrous material, usually cotton or oakum (tarred hemp), deep into the gaps. Specialist tools (caulking irons) are required because it’s vital to drive the material evenly, gently so as not to damage the wood, yet firmly enough to stick fast in the gap without passing right through the seam.
Once the caulking material has been driven in, filling the seam to approximately half its depth, a stopping compound is used to fill the remainder of the gap. Traditionally this was red lead putty applied with a pallete knife, but some boatbuilders now use modern polyurethane mastics such as Sikaflex squeezed straight from the tube. Caulking of seams between planks is an essential task still required to keep traditionally-built boats watertight, vessels as diverse as the Götheborg or HMS Victory.
Seb broke his arm whilst working away from home about 4 weeks ago. Undeterred by this minor setback, he has worked the Caird every weekend since the accident with a little help from friends and family - the Shackleton Way of getting things done when adversity strikes! Approximately 250 meters of seams have been stopped with red lead and soon the boat will be ready for painting.
Its important to note that the boat has only been caulked and stopped using traditional 1914 boat building materials below the original top-strake. Once the boat is painted (inside and out), the additional topsides will be caulked and stopped using similar materials available to McNish on Elephant Island in 1916. Our material lists includes, frayed Shetland wool socks and Manilla rope, torn-up Gabardine cotton, oakum, and lampwick. The remaining seams will be stopped with something rather unique in the history of this vessel...watch this space.
On September 28th, 2015, a large six wheeled flat bed driven by Pete Smith arrived on the tarmac outside IBTC Lowestoft. Within a few hours the J.CAIRD had been lowered into her transportation cradle and loaded on the truck. It was a slick operation involving approximately 30 people. After a celebratory steak and egg sandwich for all involved in the project, it was a sad farewell moment for all the boat-builders when the CAIRD began her long journey to Worcestershire.
By 3pm the boat had travelled approximately 400 miles by road, as she trundled down the last leg of her journey, she made a turn down a narrow little driveway to her new temporary home. It is here that the efforts of Shackleton's men to convert the largest expedition lifeboat will be brought back to life. Every feature which makes this boat totally unique will be recreated, documented, and put back into action.
After carefully shifting the boat about 50ft using two large tripods, she is now in position outside a workshop equipped to bring history back to life.
Over the last few months the boys and girls at IBTC Lowestoft have been adding the final touches to the new replica of the James Caird. The boat will be partially completed before being moved to a secret location for final fit-out, painting and rigging. This is the best researched, assembled, and most faithful reproduction of the lifeboat modified by Chippy McNish between October 1915 and April 1916.
No detail has been overlooked throughout her construction. When any doubt was present, the boat builders consulted extensively researched archive images, and material drawn from various sources in the UK and overseas.
This new boat is testament to the hand skill handed down from shipwright to boat builder. IBTC Lowestoft works alongside The Shipshape Network with support from National Historic Ships UK – the official voice for historic vessels in the United Kingdom. The Network is a nationwide project to bring together historic and high value vessel owners, skilled craftsmen, businesses, heritage organisations, training bodies and all those with an interest in Britain’s maritime heritage and ship preservation.
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Our boat is coming together nicely. The boys and girls at the International Boatbuilding Training College in Lowestoft are in full swing, lofting the profile of the boat, cutting timber and shaping the stem and stern posts. In a few months time we will have a recognizable shape; something a bit more 'boat shaped' awaiting planking and fittings.
The lead-up to building a replica of such a historical vessel has been one of intrigue and in-depth research. Last October (2014) we began to ask ourselves why did Shackleton and Worsley purchase a third lifeboat for the Endurance? Anyone who knows the story of this famous vessel will know that Worsley ordered a new lifeboat to his specification; a slightly lighter lifeboat than that required by the old Board of Trade regulations.
After months of research we believe that changes in maritime safety regulations were ultimately the reason why Shackleton and Worsley purchased the James Caird. The introduction of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention in February 1914 gave new legal safety requirements to all owners and operators of merchant shipping. Sir Ernest Shackleton was one of the expert advisors to give testimony to the British Wreck Commissioners Inquiry into the Titanic Disaster (1912).
For the first time in history the marine safety regulations stated in SOLAS, Chapter VI, 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”.
The two ships' cutters which were bought with the Endurance (later to be named the Stancomb Wills and Dudley Docker) were not adequate enough to accommodate the complete crew of the Endurance, the cubic capacity of each cutter fell short of what was required in accordance with the new regulations.
Writers in the past have suggested that the James Caird was a lifeboat bought on impulse by Captain Worsley. As it happens, it was in fact a requirement by law and we believe we are the first people to make that link. The best equipped polar expedition of the day was also one of most safety conscious. Shackleton and Worsley would eventually pick the strongest and biggest lifeboat to sail across the Southern Ocean, the only relic of the expedition which survives to this day - true testament to the quality of workmanship invested in her timber, and the safety regulations which Sir Ernest Shackleton helped shape.
Thank you for visiting our new website, this blog will allow you to see behind the scenes and read first hand accounts of our project as it progresses. The replica James Caird will be hand crafted at the International Boatbuilding Training College, Lowestoft, Suffolk. We are very excited about this project, we hope you will return regularly to read about developments and future exhibits.