Fundraising and Publicity

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

June Bushell examines archive display on 21st June. Note the deck plan and illustration in background.|Margaret Scroggs

With work progressing as fast as funds would allow, efforts to raise awareness and, gain more local interest were being made. It was now the time to show achievement and the most conspicuous change was the new paddle boxes. Brian Waters tells the story below. Articles started to appear in the local press, and an evening party was held on 26th June, attended by approximately 100 people.

Evening party gets under way.|Margaret Scroggs
From the wheelhouse.|Margaret Scroggs

Progress continued on the less glamorous parts of the ship – replacement of bunker platework, refitting steam pipework and preparing the boiler for hydraulic test. It was at this stage that a fusible plug was fitted on the boiler. It was later shown that this was not required on a marine boiler and had to be removed prior to passenger service.

In Their Own Words – From Paddle Wheels No. 89, Brian Waters

Many of us have – quite understandably – been wondering why the Kingswear Castle project has been taking so long. I think it would be useful to describe briefly what has been involved in just one section of the work – the woodwork. This might help everyone appreciate the amount that had to be done before we arrived at the painting stage – which is only the last of a long list of essential jobs in the work of preservation.

The approach to the problem is two pronged – Restoration and Preservation. Restoration, that is, the processes of drastic surgery and material replacement, is something that should need to be done only once, while preservation, which is aimed at halting the deterioration of the good parts of the ship, never stops.

All the time in our work our enemy has been water, which causes corrosion and rot. Our defence weapons against this are mastic, paint, and, above all, work. As soon as the project started it became quite clear that wood and steel just don’t like each other when water is around. Wherever these two materials had come into contact, such as where the hull plating was touched by the passenger seats, and where the wooden paddle box was bolted to its steel framework, we found that in almost every case the wood had become rotten and the steel had wasted away to almost nothing.

It would have been ludicrous to try to reconstruct the ship without making an attempt to halt the corrosion processes, and we sought the advice of the professionals in the preservation field. After much consideration we chose the course of action suggested to us by BP, who prescribed ‘Aquaseal’ for application between all of the surfaces where wood and metal are to come into contact. They say this will halt the interaction. The other materials we have at our disposal are the wood preservative ‘Cuprinol’ and, of course, paint.

Right from the outset the Society has intended KC to remain around for a long time, and it therefore became a regular practice for all of the steel being treated to be scaled and wire brushed free from rust before preservation with coats of high quality primer and paint. The treatment we used for the wood was a preliminary application of ‘Cuprinol’ preservative, to inhibit bacteria and damp, followed by coatings of quality primer and paint.

Perhaps the most extensive task we have so far undertaken has been the replacement of the ship’s decking. Our appeal has had a generous response, which has already resulted in 400 feet of new decking being laid in the forward well deck.

The procedure for fitting the deck timber is to shape the ends of the planks to match the profile of the teak edging, and then fasten them down in position using coach screws inserted through the steel beams underneath. After laying the planks, the seams are caulked with oakum or cotton, then finished with Jefferies’ Marine Glue, which is melted and poured into the seams. Good weather is essential for this, or the glue simply won’t stick.

Last summer new forecastle bulwarks were fashioned from 10 inch by 4 inch solid timber baulks. These were coaxed to follow the curvature of the hull with the help of a Spanish windlass and other (improvised) paraphernalia, and they were then bolted down following the sticky procedure described above.

As you can imagine, this was quite a heavy job and, as it turned out, it was good practice for the magnum opus which was to occupy our time and efforts for the following eight months – the rebuilding of the paddle boxes.

The main framework of the paddle boxes consists of four semi-circular angle-iron ‘hoops’ made for us by Babcock Power. The previous year these had been welded to form four arches over the rectangular wheel openings. At the foot of these arches, two on each side of the ship, we fitted four heavy oak blocks, shaped carefully to a snug fit on the deck plating and, as usual, bolted down in ‘Aquaseal’. It took some weeks before this first section of the work was completed.

Next some lengths of timber had to be bent over the ‘hoops’, to form a wooden framework on which support beams, top covering boards and the ornate fan-slotted outer facia would eventually be fastened. Our first attempt was largely a failure, the wood being simply soaked in water rather than steamed. Anyway the wood was too knotty, and after many breakages we bought some straight-grained pine and decided to try out the steaming box. We have now got the hang of using it, and it seems that we will need it for some of the future jobs too.

Behind the painted pictures of the Castle, mounted at the centre of each paddle box, is a heavy semi-circular block of oak. Each of these blocks had to be renewed. When the shaping was done and they were fitted in place we had arrived at the exciting stage when the radial fan boards could be secured in position. Now the work done years before, when the old boxes had been dismantled, and carefully dimensioned detailed drawings had been prepared, came to good use. The drawings were needed constantly as a reference, in order to reproduce the intricate patterns of the scalloped slots and round openings – the work of a Naval Architect in holiday mood. Assembly of the starboard side took about five working days, but gaining by our experience in this, the port fan board assembly went together in just a single day – though admittedly a rather long day. KC could now be recognised again as a paddle steamer!

The next job. Supporting strips were screwed inside the fan board assemblies, and, having made the structure firm, the whole surface was levelled off and brought to a smooth finish using a powerful belt sander purpose hired for the day.

The problem that then arose was how to form the half-round beading used to trim the vent slots. These slots are by no means a simple shape to reproduce, and our eventual solution was to steam the half round ash for a couple of hours before bending it to the required profile and leaving it nailed to an old plank for a week, allowing it to dry out and set the shape. It was then easy to remove from its temporary base, and we fastened it to the paddle boxes using copper pins and marine glue, thus leaving it fixed in a permanent and waterproof manner. After all that performance it was noticed that when the ship was originally built the trim had not been bent round at all, but had been cut from solid mahogany in the shape required!

The paddle boxes were roofed over with a double layer of boarding. The underneath skin is comprised of half-inch thick boards steamed and bent to the curvature of the box in a fore-and-aft direction. The top layer is made up of half-inch boards laid the other way, fastened at close intervals to the underlying boarding to -produce a rigid cross-laminated structure. We encountered a number of problems in making this part, because the process was outside our normal experience of woodwork, but we found that things became simpler when the steaming box was brought into use again.

Add the outer trims and name boards and heavy fenders and chafing blocks, and all it needs is a good paint up to make our ship look a young lady once more. It’s been hard going, but well worth it.