14th July  2015

Those of you following the progress of our historic boat Python will be pleased to hear that, after a lengthy period of waiting while funding for the renovation of her hull was sought, the work is now progressing apace. We have been very fortunate to be awarded a grant by the IWA  from the Keith Ayling Fund towards the repairs to Python’s hull, click here, and National Historic Ships will also be chipping in with a £1000 grant towards the work, click here.

Python is currently in the experienced hands of P.J. Barber Boatbuilder in Long Eaton. Paul is carrying out the equivalent of open heart surgery on the boat and, to the uninitiated, the pictures could make you believe that she died on the operating table! Paul has successfully restored boats that were in a far more perilous state than Python, so we have full confidence in a full recovery.

The first thing to do was to remove the old corroded metal; in Python’s case that meant cutting the entire bottom off and a sizable chunk of the footings too. At this point it is a little too late to change our mind! Are you sure about this?

With all the bottom removed, the strength of the hull was gone. Imagine cutting the bottom out of a cardboard box and the resulting floppy structure, well that is what Paul had to deal with. An experienced boat builder can use this to their advantage. Great care was taken to support Python along her length to ensure she did not twist or distort.

Python is well known for the fact that she has a “kink” in her middle. This was inadvertently created when she was shortened by British Waterways in the 1980’s and has been the cause of many problems for the crew when Python tries to squeeze her bulge into a lock that is a bit narrow. Using an angle grinder and a welder Paul has been able to give Python a tummy tuck and restore the width of her waistline to something much closer to what she would have been when she was built in 1929. You can see the tack welds along the gunwale (just below the blue painted bit) where this has been done in the photo below.

In this photo you will also notice the area at the bottom of Python’s hull resembles one large air vent. This is where the old corroded metal from the footings has been cut out. You can also see Helen, one of Python’s crew, studying the new ‘self-draining hold’. This could save the need for a bilge pump in future as any rain that falls in the hold will just drain out! Paul has a far more practical solution and will be replacing this with new metal.

A new gas locker is being installed into the void in Python’s bow.

The engine exhaust used to exit the boat through the stern, leaving sooty marks on her shiny yellow paintwork. After consulting with various experts, we have decided to change this to an exhaust stack that comes out through the cabin top. The original exhaust hole has been blanked off. No more sooty marks! The internal locker in the bow has also been removed. This will facilitate improved access at the bow of the boat.

Elsewhere in the country, at a workshop tucked behind Union Canal Carriers in Braunston, Python’s Lister engine has been entrusted to the experienced hands of Johnathon for a rebuild. We have hundreds of photos of parts, thick with black oil and caked with carbon, that used to be bolted together and beat as one to power Python on her tours. Johnathon reports that, while the engine was especially badly worn, it was extremely close to blowing the cylinder head gasket and so, if we had not been fortunate enough to find funding to get this work done now, the engine would have failed before much longer. Phew!

Jan Warsop.

Photos courtesy of Karen Parrott and David Dawson.