THE LONG VIEW
How we found Thomas, late in 2005.
We bought her from Alan Pease in Goole and he and his team did all the big structural work on her for us too.
At this point, she's in need of a deck, a mast, a winch, stairs... well the list goes on......hang on, she's shiny. This must have been taken after we'd started repainting her.
The lovely Alan pilots Thomas back from the slip in readiness for the journey down to the Thames.
See the post dated April 25th 2008 entitled "Thomas pics 4 - December 2006. The Journey From The Trent to the Thames" for the whole story on the trip.
Mar 2006 - The original wheelhouse was glazed and had a roof when we found her, but the woodwork was in a terrible state so the inside was full of festering wet carpet and newspapers.
There was a well-deck in front which had held a small crane at one stage. It was caked in years of dirt and oil and piled high with rubbish.
Alan cut a big hatch for us and built a stair case down into the main hold. Up to this point the only way down had been by ladder.
Alan welded some angle around the edges and Simon put on a hinged ply door and life got another little bit easier.
Nov 2006 We lived with the open well deck for a while but, since our "front door" was there, it was huge and it was flat to the deck, we kept getting water coming in every time we opened the hatch.
Simon welded a basic frame out of box steel and we put up some tarps to give us some protection from the winter weather.
We started to see it as a room with potential.
Come the spring, it made a nice little breakfast room for us too.
We just took down the sides when we wanted to move the boat.
Oct 2007 - But Simon had bigger plans, so while I was away helping my Mum set up her shop, he moved Thomas around to the crane area, and with Dave Chadwick and Luke at Penton Hook, he cut apart the old wheelhouse and extended it to incorporate the well-deck area.
I popped back to see how they were getting on about halfway through. It was pretty shocking actually. They'd done the most fantastic job, but Simon was more tired than I'd ever seen him.
He gets very serious when he's tired.
Once they'd built the wheelhouse, Simon roofed it, used the old windows to temporarily glaze it, painted it and commissioned removable sides.
Of course, he saved the part of the front wall on which the wheel, chain steering and makers plate are mounted.
THE NEW DECK.
While she was very well cared for by the tannery that commisioned her, later in her life she had been left uncovered. Luckily the years of painting her inside with red oxide had saved her from too much water damage.
We decided early on that we wanted to give her a permenant deck and Alan's crew got to work welding steel to the iron combing.
We covered over the bulk of the open hold area with a large curved deck.
Alan and his team did a fantastic job on the deck, as with everything else. It's perfect and exactly what we wanted.
Toward the bow, they built us a nine foot long flat platform... or as we like to call it, the cocktail deck.
May 2007. Simon started cutting holes in the new deck to make skylights.
September 2007. Simon builds a second skylight.
July 2008. And look, now we've decked the deck to go with our deck chairs!
THE OLD DECK.
The old deck had suffered. It was pitted, it was rusted, it had leaky portholes, it was generally in need of some TLC.
The combing was, well... wiggly. It'd been beaten up over the years. There were bits that need repair and it was a pretty tricky area to work on as it has all the old hooks and braces from the time when it was covered in boards and tarps.
Turned out that it wasn't nearly as bad as we'd initially thought. Alot of the rust we could see on the deck was just dust from the angle grinding people had done on the decks of the neighbouring boats and it was just sitting on top of the undamaged paint-work.
We added some railing for the trip around the coast, and because we wanted the kids to be safe.
Notice the winch. It was a real triumph when we managed to get hold that. They're not as easy to come by as you might think.
...yes, we know...Blue and Green... Just as soon as we'd painted her, we were inundated by people telling us what bad luck it was. No-one thought to mention it to us before we bought the paint though. Anyway, we liked it and it made us feel like we'd got a lawn.
A quick history lesson: When Thomas was a working boat, she had a two man crew. She would travel up and down from the tannery to the sea ports shipping the raw materials and the finished leather. The only living space was a small semi-circular cabin in the bow separated from the main hold by a thick steel bulkhead.
The cabin has two narrow fold down cots and a tiny fold down table in the centre... that's about it, apart from some cupboards around the sides.
The cabin was cramped and very claustrophobic.
The wood-burner in the centre was the only source of heat and all meals would have been cooked on it.
The only way in or out was through the very small hatch, and that was also the only ventilation.
As we very quickly found though, the lack of ventilation can be a problem once you've got the wood-burner going. We have strong memories of sitting outside when it was snowing one night in Yorkshire because in the cabin it was sauna like and we couldn't breathe.
Beneath the raised floor there's quite a deep space, and behind the cupboards there's more. If we took out the woodwork, there's actually a reasonably sized space in there.
Summer 2006 Simon spent 3 days in the void under the floor chipping and treating the hull before concrete ballast was going to be poured in. Those 3 days were the hottest of the summer and inside the void with no air circulating and the metal hull heated up by the sunshine it was unbearably hot, like being inside a radiator. I swear he actually cooked in those days, he had a huge headache for days and kept throwing up.
It was a hideous job too, clouds of fine dust in the air, in his eyes and in his lungs, despite wearing a mask. He did a cracking job though and we were able to weigh down the bow with the concrete, making the barge much more manoeuvrable.
The other advantage of the concrete is that it seals the metal away from the air and since we know that it was cleaned and treated properly before it was covered up, we can be pretty sure that any damage has been stopped in it's tracks.
The bulkhead wall separating the cabin from the main hold had a couple of holes in it where the rainwater had got in through the old hatch and soaked into the ply floor by the wall. Since it wasn't working as a bulkhead anyway, once we had decked over the hold we decided that it was time to cut a door between the cabin and what was to become our living area.
A couple of hours and a pack of 2mm grinding disks later and I'd cut a door shaped hole.
It really made life a lot easier, plus it solved the ventilation problem.
Seems strange to say now, but we actually spent some time living in that little cabin. Comfortable it was not... romantic, no... in fact it has very little to recommend it... really, what the hell were we thinking!
These days, we don't spend much time in there, although Simon's youngest son says it's his favourite place in the world and likes to sleep in there when he's over so Simon's built a new floor and touched up the paintwork. The port bunk is often made up ready for Bruno.
Welcome to our cosy home.
Still, although everyone thought we were crazy, right from the early days we had a very clear vision of what Thomas could be and would be to us. We could look around the hold and see where we would put the furniture. So, slowly but surely (and with the help of a very happy scrap metal merchant) Alan, John and Nikky made all that steel, wood, debris disappear. The large tanks were cut out and Thomas began to look naked.
Don't be fooled into thinking that it took a quick sweep around to clean up though. In our house the above photo is known as "before the lung transplants".
God only knows how many times the hold was swept and vacumed. It barely seemed to make a dent.
The dust was so fine that any breeze will send it swirling into the air, ready to settle again later, and so cloying that it seems to hide in any rough surface.
For months it was ingrained so deep that we couldn't wash it out of our pores.
The metalwork inside the hold was covered in years and years worth of red oxide paint.
It had helped to seal it against the elements, but there was still damage there so we had to chip, wire brush, clean, treat and paint every single panel and rib. That takes a very long time and it's a horrible job. I recommend having a big supply of hot chocolate, a good mask, goggles and a big strong boyfriend to do it for you.
Still, it took weeks of work. The chipping gave me terrible tennis elbow (I couldn't even lift a cup of tea, which was a huge problem!), so I ended up passing the job onto poor old Simon. Have I mentioned how lovely he is yet?
One problem we found with the interior walls, was that some bright spark had painted some of the pannels with Bitumen which is almost impossible to strip or paint on. We tried lots of things, got tips from practically everyone, but nothing made any impression on it and in the end we just had to cover the Bitumen with gloss paint.Gradually we started to replace the dark red with grey primer and our lives became a little lighter. The bilge was a worry. There always seemed to water in it in the early days. Fear told us there was a hole somewhere, that we were going to sink and that the sky was going to cave in...
But happily, once we got the deck put on, we found that the bilge dried up and all our fears turned out to be unfounded.
These days the bilge is shiny and clean. We've got an access panel over it in the kids room and we check it every so often, like you do. I think Simon just likes to stroke it really, he likes to show it off to friends and neighbours.
Sounds a bit odd when I say it out loud...The panel in the bulkhead between the engine room and the main hold had been removed so the engines could be swapped. When they bolted it back we bunged up the gaps with expanding foam so no fumes can leak through, but it'll be easy to remove again if we ever need to. The living conditions...
Now you won't believe this, but...
...we moved onto Thomas in January 2007, when we were stuck at Teddington lock because the water was running too fast to go any further up stream.
Somehow, Simon had convinced me to give up the flat we lived in. I think he'd convinced himself it was going to be exciting and fun to live aboard while we converted her. God knows why I said yes.
We had no insulation or electricity. At first we slept in the crew cabin on the bunks, but we soon got a sofa bed in the main hold so we could keep each other warm in the night. We put up a tarpaulin at the cabin end of the boat to try to keep some heat in.
We used to get woken up by the icicles falling off the ceiling onto our heads as the morning sun warmed them up.
A moment at this point to mention just how lovely Sally Woodward is.
Sally and Tony have a Humber Barge called Daybreak which they have moored at Staines. They restored and converted Daybreak from scratch, and have converted her to sail so they often take her out to sea and sail around the coast.
Anyway, Sally came to visit early in January, bearing cake and words of encouragement. It wasn't until she came that we realised just how much we needed those words.
Sometimes it takes someone like Sally, who doesn't look at you like you've lost the plot, to bring back a sense of normality.
Gradually we started to make the place more livable. In our bedroom / living room, we got some polystyrene sheeting and stuck it to the ceiling. We also got some loft lagging and stuck it on the walls.
Once we moved the boat up-stream we had shore power and we could have lights some electric heaters and a TV with Eastenders. Oh, what luxury.
When Spring came, we had a different problem. As soon as the sun came out, the metal of the boat would heat up and it was like living in a radiator.
You can see below that we put some celetex siver-sided foam insulation against the walls which helped a little, but by summer 2007 it regularly reached more than 40 degrees inside the boat and there was little we could do to ventilate.
Simon had a plan though, and I arrived back from Japan to find that he'd cut a fabulous skylight in the curved deck and our dark tunnel was suddenly a bright and open space. The ventilation too was great.
It was very heavy work, Simon had worked so hard to get it done before I got back. He was so tired, but justifiably proud.
... on the 3rd day, Simon said "Let there be light!" and there was light. And Simon saw that it was good.
Notice the tents. For a while there they were the walk-in wardrobe and the kids' bedrooms.
I arrived home from another trip to check up on how the wheelhouse redesign was going and Simon had cut another skylight.
Here's the view from the top of the new wheelhouse while he builds them.
The amount of light that these skylights let in is amazing.
After months living in a darkened tunnel, we also suddenly felt connected to the outside world. Now you can see the sky and it makes you feel happy.
The big push - Come December, we had another huge job on our hands.
Christmas was coming and we were to have the kids. Having been through one winter on a boat with no insulation, we decided we really needed to address the problem. It was going to be expensive, but worth it
We'd arranged a date for the spray foam insulation guys to come, but then we got a unexpected phone call telling us that they were coming a week earlier.
Suddenly, we were faced with having a week and half to clear everything out of the boat and get it battened before they arrive.
The trouble was that we had to go away for work for the first week of that, which left us only 4 days to do all the work!
Without battens, we'd have no way of attaching our finished walls and ceiling to the hull and deck. It just had to be done.
So... Simon cut tags, ground the paint off the ribs where the tags were to go and welded them at 4 inch; intervals to the ribs. To these we had to attach over 1000 feet; of 2x1 battens.
The big push
It was a huge job.
We realised early on that we wouldn't have time to batten out the front cabin and that, since we would need to keep the fire going in the crew cabin through the winter, we will have to insulate that area at a later date.
In 4 days, and with the enormous help of Peter, Tim, Debs and Alex (thank god for family), we managed it, just.
There are a couple of areas we wish we'd done more to, but it nearly killed us and we just didn't have time.
Our lovely helpers did the most amazing job. They worked so hard and with such skill and dedication... You suddenly realise how lucky you are at times like that.
We were so tired though and we knew we had to stop when we actually set fire to Simon's feet just through exhaustion.
That's a pretty good sign that you're too tired to carry on we thought and so on the 4th night we slept.
On the 5th day, Clive and Bill arrived and within a day, they'd almost finished. It was amazing.
Battoning on roof after 1st day spraying
They came back the next morning to do the wheelhouse. The difference in temperature was immediate. It was like being in a cosy igloo.
Looking aft after the second day spray foaming.
Looking aft after the second day spray foaming.
After they'd left, I put the house back in some kind of order and Simon returned that night to something resembling a loft apartment in Alaska.
But there was no rest. The very next day, we bought more wood and ply and began to build dividing walls.
Notice the newly installed heating system. Peter gave us the wood-burner, and we picked up some chimney parts from France when we were there in October. Simon then chocked up the fire and connected all the dots. Warmth, hurrah!
Rear Cabin - Matthew Schofield came over for a drink one night and ended up helping Simon build another room at the back which will be the kids' room.
Toilet goes up - Next door, I built a small utility room that will house the chemical loo for a while until we get the proper bathroom sorted.
Simon gets stuck into building beds for the boys.
In the space of a week we'd emptied the boat, welded, angle ground, battened, insulated, built 3 rooms, put flooring into one of them, gathered furniture from across the country, fallen over, set fire to ourselves... we were absolutely exhausted.
But we didn't and were up again early the next day.
We decorated and wrapped and shopped and gathered...
Now, if we could just get the cooker connected to the gas, we'd be ready for christmas...but that's another story.
The kids open their presents.
Obviously, being a room that houses 4 boys at various times, it gets very messy and I'm almost afraid to go in there sometimes.
As an xmas pressie, Alex has donated a huge TV, DVD and video to the land of boys, so it can be gaming central. Ah, it's the 37' things that make a home!
March 2008 - Karen paints the floor
and builds a larder and shelves for the kitchen area.
October 2008 - Simon starts to lay the reclaimed flooring that he's worked so hard on.
He made a floating frame from 2x2, fitting celotex insulation neatly into the gaps. We've had lots of people telling us how we should fix the floor onto the sides or drill into the concrete ballast underneath. Both these ideas had possible problems attached though.
Fixing the floor to the sides was not only alot of work (involving stripping insulation and welding), but could prove problematic when you take into account the huge expansion and contraction of the iron hull over the different seasons.
Drilling into the concrete floor to fix the wood was far too scary an option. If we create weaknesses in the ballast, we just don't know how well it'll hold up to the constant strain of the floor moving. We just couldn't take that risk.
So, we opted to create a completely free floating floor, which appears to be working wonderfully well. There's very little movement as it's supported by the concrete floor and it feels absolutely solid.
See how clever my lovely man is!
...and look how great this reclaimed, weathered wood is.
We just arrived back after new year and were overcome by how lovely and homely it seems even when it's been left empty for days. It's suddenly struck us that it's a real home now and not just a skip that we're converting. Hurrah!
... now, about the plumbing...?
So, the bedroom...
Let me introduce you to our mate Andrew. He's a bloody star.
He's a builder and tiler, who lives on a boat near us and he's like a whirl-wind. Simon had mentioned to Andrew that he planned to build a raised floor in our bedroom and Andrew offered to come over and lend a hand.
It became very clear though that Andrew knew so, so much more than we did about building and happily he was OK with taking charge and showing us how it was done. Where we would have put in a 1.5 foot gap between struts, Andrew put in a 1 foot gap. Where we would have put in a couple of screws, he put in 2 screws and 2 nails at different directions to allow for all the stresses. It made so much sense once he showed you. Another thing about Andrew, is that his work is really precise and well thought out. If it's not perfect, he'll take it out and start again, but he works so fast it's like having hired two men rather than one! Simon and Andrew worked so hard and it really shows. The raised platform is so solid that there's no movement. You'd think it was bedded into the concrete.