The shell build at Alexander Boatbuilders [09 March 2006 – 10 May 2006]


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All pictures Copyright © 2005 - 2006 C J Wells

























Shell completed – transferred to Sandhills Narrowboats Limited on 10 May 2006



BELLE was transferred from Alexander Boatbuilders to Sandhills Narrowboats Limited by truck on 10 May 2006.  Here she will undergo fitting out to the stage possible / practicable on dry land.  Thereafter, she will be transferred into the water at Hanbury Wharf on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal where her trim will be checked and her ballasting adjusted as required, a few small finishing jobs carried out and then she will be commissioned.  If all goes according to plan, then we should take delivery at the end of August / early September 2006.


We had a brilliant day watching it all happen – thanks to Jim, Dean, Dawn, Gary and Mark for accommodating us.  We tried our best to keep out of the way, but we have to admit to behaving like the paparazzi from time to time!  We biked over to Alexander Boatbuilders in Stourport-on-Severn early morning so that we could take a few photographs / video of her before she was loaded onto the truck and then we watched the loading itself.  Its amazing what you can do with a fork lift truck and a couple of tubes to act as rollers – that’s all that was used to get her out of the workshop ready for the lifting straps on the crane.  Inevitable thoughts whizzed through our minds - Will the straps be strong enough? Will they be spaced far enough apart to keep her balanced? and, and, and.. - Just leave it to them to get on with it and keep taking the pictures!


Tried to convince Stelle that she should sit ‘backwards’ on our motorbike [you know; like those doing the camera work at the London marathon and push-biking events, etc.].  That way she could take some photographs and video whilst we went in convoy with the truck, but she was having none of it.  Spoilsport!


BELLE arrived at Sandhills Narrowboats Limited workshop unscathed.  The crane had left in advance of the truck and was ready and waiting at Sandhills to unload her again.  Shortly after she had been unloaded, attention was then turned to moving ‘Jay’ [the boat just finished] out of the workshop.  This was another feat of shoving and pulling, this time with a small Caterpillar digger, before the straps could be offered up ready for craning.  Jay was loaded onto the truck ready for transfer to Hanbury Wharf.  BELLE was lifted again, swung around through 90 degrees and then manoeuvred into the workshop; her new home for about the next four months or so.  Phew – glad that all went well.


Photographs of some features that have been finished during the last couple of weeks:


















Grilles have been fitted to both ends of the bow thruster tubes to keep the logs out.  Sacrificial anodes have been fitted under the swim and there are two more to be added to the bow.  The gas locker cover can now be seen, as can quite a lot of stuff around the stern [e.g. taff rails, rudder and tiller, weed hatch, mooring studs, fuel tank filler splash-backs and the main access cover in the counter, etc.].  The access cover in the counter is arranged so that it will not lift unless the stern doors are open.  You cannot see the stern doors; they are lying out of harms way inside the boat, along with all the other doors.  The removable gunwale sections have been cut / plated – not shown here, but nevertheless will be fitted eventually are some retaining pins to stop these removable sections moving upward if they should happen to be pulled using a boat hook, etc.  You can now see the brass runners fitted to the stern roof hatch – as such; this hatch slides back and forth very easily.  If you look very closely at the cabin roof, you will see that a loop has been added for attaching the centre mooring rope.


























General views showing shell build progress as at 28 April 2006.


The stern bulkhead is now in place and there has been a great deal of welding going on since our last visit.  All of the portholes have been cut – two of the roof hatch apertures have been cut / formed and the third is well on its way.  Frames have been added to the side door apertures and the stern door aperture.  The stern hatch frame / rails are in place – these rails will be topped with brass ‘runners’ in due course, ready for the stern hatch itself.  Note the small steps at the stern [one on each side] – useful for when you fall in the cut and need a foothold whilst grabbing the tiller or a taff rail and hauling yourself out again.  This of course is only possible if your legs have not been ‘chewed off’ by the propeller.


So, we are now at the stage where most of the steelwork has been done.  The remainder of the steelwork will be carried out next week and then BELLE will be fully fettled and cleaned ready for her first coat of primer and blacking in readiness for transfer to Sandhills Narrowboats Limited for fitting out – transfer is now scheduled for 10 May 2006.


Today was the first opportunity to stand on the counter to get a helmsman’s view of the bow – it’s an awful long way from here to the sharp end!


























General views showing shell build progress as at 13 April 2006.


We now have cabin walls and a roof!  We think it would be fair to say that BELLE is now actually taking on the appearance of a narrowboat.  All the portholes barring one have been cut in both cabin sides, as have the side door apertures.  There is still one porthole to be cut on the starboard cabin side [the one for the toilet] – this will be cut when the two main sheets of steel that form this side have been fully welded together.


A handrail has been incorporated into each cabin wall where it overlaps the front bulkhead and fender eyes have been incorporated into the gunwales.  The flanged box pictured [bottom row] is the one we mentioned 27 March 2006 – the bow thruster will be mounted into this box and the whole sub-assembly lowered into the flanged box just visible through the cut-out in the well deck at the bow.


Stiffeners have been added to the internal surfaces of the cabin wall and the roof – apologies but no photographs of these yet, owing to the sparks flying and welding flashes on this trip!




















General views showing shell build progress as at 07 April 2006.


Most of the work carried out since our last visit has been concentrated upon the fiddly bits in the stern area.  The fuel tank structure has been added - this extends right around the stern and underneath the partially formed counter.  This structure actually incorporates two more or less equally sized separate tanks; each with its own filler, breather, drain and take-off points.  One tank will be used for fuelling the engine whilst the other tank will be used for fuelling the central heating boiler and the saloon stove.  The weed hatch for the main propeller is situated just forward of the fuel tank structure – this will eventually be fitted with a quick release cover assembly.


You can see some partially formed decorative scrolling on the edges of the counter – this is very similar to the decorative scrolling that has already been incorporated into the edges of the foredeck.  There is also a fleur-de-leys effect where the bow post blends into the foredeck [just in front of the gas locker].  Note the hole that has been cut through the port hull side to serve as drain for the well deck.  There is another hole just like this one in the starboard side.


Work was just starting on the cabin walls when I left.


























General views showing shell build progress as at 27 March 2006.


The hull side walls are now all in place (including the section that wraps around the stern), as are most of the rubbing strakes.  The cabin front bulkhead has been erected and the bow section forward of this bulkhead is substantially complete – the bows were just being ‘flared’ at the gunwale level when I left. 


The removable gunwale sections for the bow will be cut / formed after the cabin walls and cabin roof are in place.  Note that a tread pattern well deck has been fitted to help reduce the risk of slipping, especially when manoeuvring a motorbike on and off this deck through the openings provided by the removable gunwale sections.


There is a recessed cut-out at the forward end of the bow well deck to provide access to the bow thruster unit – ordinarily, this cut-out will be ‘closed’ by a tread patterned cover plate held in place by ten countersunk fasteners.  The bow thruster unit is fixed into a separate flanged box that in turn is lowered into the flanged box that you can see through this cut-out.  The flanges are clamped together using eight fasteners and a gasket to prevent water seepage.  As such, bow thruster maintenance and clearing bow thruster propeller fouls is a relatively straightforward process and it is not necessary to remove the boat from the water to do this [beware – many bow thruster installations do require the boat to be removed from the water in order to clear fouls and when attending to the propeller(s) and the lower portions of the bow thruster unit].


The stern gland has been fitted to the stern tube ready to accept the main propeller shaft.


























General views showing shell build progress as at 20 March 2006.


The upper sections of the bow have been formed, some rubbing strakes tack welded into place and the holes cut ready for the bow thruster tube sub-assembly (you can see part of the bow thruster tube sub-assembly on the floor awaiting fitting/welding).  The gas locker base has been formed along with the leading edge of the foredeck.  Most of the floor bearers and hull vertical side stiffeners are now in place, as are the longitudinal members that stiffen the hull sides just below the gunwale level.  There has also been some significant progress at the stern end – the swim is now fully formed and the engine bearers are in place, as is the skin tank for engine cooling and the hole for the stern tube (for the propeller).



























General views showing shell build progress as at 13 March 2006.


The base plate was only laid on 09 March 2006 so things are moving forward pretty quickly.  The port and starboard hull sides/gunwales have been formed along with the lower sections of the bow and they have all been tack welded to the base.  Some of the floor bearers and hull vertical side stiffeners have been tack welded in place – there are many more to be added.