Story of a London Boatyard – March 2012

Spring is nearly upon us and work has been hectic since the bridge to Lots Ait was floated into place in January.

Our attention has been on the workshop building, where new glass has been installed in all the windows, and electricity and light has been installed. The building is now painted in an attractive shade of lincoln green, and the whole site is transformed, with barges already occupying most of the moorings.

We are currently building out the mess room and bathroom in the workshop, and are excited with the progress so far. We will have loos, a shower, a small kitchen and a sitting area that will open out onto the rear of the island overlooking the main channel of the Thames and Kew palace beyond.

We are now ready to host boatbuilders and similar crafts in our shared workshop space, with “pod” areas equipped with workbench, cabinet and access to electricity for light and power. We already have a builder of replica antique aeroplanes on site, and other boatbuilders ready to take space, so come by and pick your pod!

The grand opening party is now planned for late April and will be by invitation only.Invitations will be sent to all those who have registered interest and for whom we have e-mail addresses. We hope to see you there, so do register.

Work on the slipway and outside area is continuing. We have a design for the new slipway railway trolley from our engineers, and Dolores the ex-army recovery truck is on site with winch in placewaiting to bring the sites and sounds of boatbuilding back to the island.

Look forward to a thriving new community of West London crafts and boatbuiders in our unique island setting.









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Story of a London Boatyard

With the bridge in place, and Landlord’s site works nearing completion, the story of the revival of the Lots Ait Boatyard can begin in earnest.

Where to begin? There are so many different and challenging tasks ahead, but so much opportunity out there to create a living business, one that serves it’s community, provides needed services, jobs, and facilities and, yes, a reasonable living for a hardworking owner/manager.

I read that if you start with a vision clearly in your head, then, with focus and perseverance, it will surely happen – well, here goes!

I see a workshop on a Saturday morning – there are several groups of friends working on projects in the space sharing area. A strip-planked runabout is taking shape in one corner, and, in another, an old GP14 sailing dinghy is being stripped and repainted. Music is playing. The coffee is on. A small pile of machined sapele is waiting to be turned into the cabin of an Edwardian riverboat. Friends chat. A mechanical engineer is helping to bed in an engine and align its propeller shaft. Others are discussing how to size and source an electric motor and battery package for a small day-boat. It’s buzzy, positive and creative. Projects are getting completed and everyone is happy to be involved

Monday morning, high tide, the slipway is being prepared to pull out a 40′ narrowboat for survey and replacement of anodes and propeller. It is floated onto the slipway trolley, and the winch grinds into action, pulling it out onto the slipway ready for the work to be done. With any luck, she will be back in the water on the high tide tomorrow, work completed, ready to cruise.

In the tidal dock, a Tjalk barge is moored, waiting for restoration work to be completed inside. A modern bathroom and kitchen will be fitted, and woodwork and planking restored throughout. New insulation will protect the owners from the cold, damp winters familiar to the liveaboard boaters of the past.

After work, people will gather in front of the fire in the mess room, or out on the patio overlooking the Thames and Kew Palace beyond, for a chat and a coffee, or perhaps a glass of something stronger. Views will be exchanged, problems solved, friends made, lives improved……

So, like I said, where to start?

Utilities,water, electric, waste water, phone, are connected across the bridge. Electricity circuits need to be installed round the workshop and outside onto the hardstand. The mess room, toilets and shower need to be installed over in the southwest corner. Water, sewage and phone connections need to be made, and utility contracts arranged.

Machine tools have to be purchased and moved on to the island. They are too big to carry across the bridge. A workboat will have to be hired or acquired to move this cargo and future shipments of materials and supplies. I have purchased a planer/thicknesser, which sits in storage in a factory in Sussex.

The slipway is covered in mud, and the contractors have pushed one of the railway tracks out of alignment with their big caterpillar machines. A trolley will have to be designed and built to enable boats to be winched in for service or storage on the hard stand. The Slip will have to be cleaned and fixed, with trolley and winch installed.

We have built a website, and done some press releases, but, as the economy bounces along what is hopefully the bottom, will the customers be there. Will we be able to get insurance, finance, permits and approvals for all the work that has to be done.

And, when we have built it, will they come?

I have a story to write about this project, its challenges, victories, and its outcome. I don’t yet know where it will lead, but the journey will, I think, be amazing, and I hope you will join me on  it.

Next time ……….. the slipway trolley!

Slipway? what slipway? This is, literally, the railhead.










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Full speed ahead at Lots Ait Boatyard Brentford

Having spent the last few days on Lots Ait I thought I you’d like to hear about the progress.

Footbridge being put in place at Lots AitJust over a week ago the new 26 ton pedestrian bridge was successfully installed.  Thankfully this delicate procedure was helped by near perfect weather conditions at the most critical final hour of the installation process and the footbridge now links Lots Ait Island to the Brentford shore.  Having the footbridge in place saves the 20 minute round trip by boat at high tide or across the mud in the caterpillar at low tide.

Work on the site is progressing really well with the installation of utilities and services to the docks, and the finishing work on the workshop and outside area near completion.

The site still looks more like a ploughed field than a boatyard due to the mud that has been tracked up the slipway by the crawlers, and we have been tempted to consider planting vegetables instead of storing boats.  However, the date for the final clean up is fast approaching and this will make all the difference.

Inside the workshop, work is beginning to install electric circuits, water, wastewater and communications systems, and all the other comforts of home, ready for the boatyard to open in April 2012.

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Turning that Dream into a Reality

John Watson
John’s Boat Works
Making that Boat building dream come true

I bought my first boat plan – an 18’ Ken Hankinson runabout – back in 1998, when I was living in the Texas Hill Country, and owner and manager of “The Christmas Store” in Fredericksburg (that’s a whole other story!).
I did have a fairly decent workshop at the house, and more than once, I would take the plans out, tack them up to the wall and start setting up to bring Ken’s plans to life.
After a while the plans faded in the Texas heat and could no longer be read, so, undaunted, I eventuallypurchased a second set, which is the one now sitting on the top shelf in my office at the farm in Derbyshire. I still have a fairly decent workshop and space in the barn, although I have swapped the heat of Texas for the wintery unpredictability of the English climate, but the runabout, sadly, remains unrealised.
I would have to admit that, in the interim, I have had the privilege of studying professional boatbuilding techniques at the excellent Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis, have built a Haven 12 ½ day sailer based on an original Herreschof design, and am about half way through a Selway Fisher 18’ river boat, but that Hankinson runabout still stalks me in the night, and demands to be built.
I know I’m not the only one with an unbuilt runabout in my life. I only have to look at Google Analytics under “boat plans” to know that.
So my mission at Lot’s Ait is to find those people – you know who you are – in the London area, and bring them together in a community that can provide the help and encouragement, support, tools and supplies that stand between those plans and the high achievement that comes from building and launching your very own boat.
So whether it is the lack of room in the garage or back yard, lack of confidence in your skills, lack of knowledge about the right woods, glues, engines, or boatbuilding techniques, or just the lack of a mate to help you offer up that plank for the nineteenth time, fear no more.
At the Lot’s Ait Boatyard, we will be providing all those things and more in a helpful, friendly club-like atmosphere. Our goal will be to enable you to get your project off the plans and onto the river, whether you are realising the dream of building from scratch, restoring an old friend back to her former glory, or performing routine maintenance to ensure that next summer’s adventures are not plagued with mechanical, structural or any other unplanned disappointments.
If you are one of the people I am speaking to, send me an e-mail for more information, or to get on our waiting list for spaces when the island boatyard comes back to life this spring. Be part of our adventure and let us be part of yours. I look forward to meeting you!

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Lot’s Ait Brentford Boatyard

John’s Boat Works is negotiating a Lease to take over the former Thames Lighter boatbuilding facility at Lot’s Ait, one of Brentford’s historical waterfront businesses.
Lot’s Ait is one of London’s lost and abandoned islands. Located between Kew Gardens and the Brentford shorefront, Lot’s Ait is one of the Brentford Aits, whose early function was to provide a screen of trees between Kew Palace and the offensive goings on on the Brentford shore.
Originally used as a place to harvest willow, the island bacame the home of the Thames Lighterage Company during Brentford’s heyday as the principal freight transfer link between the Port of London and Brunel’s Great Western Railway.
In the 1960′s, with the coming of motorways and containerisation, the Docks went into terminal decline, along with the majority of the marine service industries that supported them.
The boatbuilding facility on Lot’s Ait was abandoned, and left to return to nature.
Now, 40 years later, the original boatbuilding facilities are in the process of being restored and brought back to their original use, and will become the new London home for John’s Boat Works.
The revitalised yard will be one of the few active boatyards on the upper tidal Thames, serving the boating community on the river and on the Grand Union canal system.
Our services will include boatbuilding, repair, service and maintenance, DIY boat repair, education and courses, and involvement in local community and heritage projects.
John’s Boat Works Lot’s Ait boatyard will be opening for business in early 2012, and we look forward to servicing and contributing to the local community, and bringing back to life a small part of Brentford’s riverfront heritage.

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The boat building project

Lone Twin’s Boat Project is using the latest yacht building methods to turn wooden objects donated by people from across the South East into a seaworthy archive of stories and memories. We have a top designer and a fearlessly adventurous team of craftspeople on board. And now we need your help.

We want your wood – but not just any old wood. Pencil or piano – exotic as Zebrawood or as familiar as pine – we want something that’s a part of you, something with a story to tell. Come and tell us that story, and your donation will be used along with thousands of others to construct this seafaring record of our lives.

There are other ways to get involved with The Boat Project. You can become a boatyard volunteer, or set three sheets to the wind by training as a member of the crew. You might even have an inspired idea for the name of the boat, and be there to swing the bottle at the christening ceremony.

Following the adventures of its maiden voyage, the boat will be gifted back to the region as a permanent resource for the public.

The Boat Project is part of Artists Taking the Lead, a series of 12 public art commissions across the UK to celebrate the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The Boat Project is the winning commission for the South East region and is funded by Arts Council England.

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