Photo gallery: First new wooden crab boat for quarter of a century is launched at Morston Quay

PUBLISHED: 07:16 15 October 2014

The Auk crab boat is launched at Morston Quay. Owner Henry Faire and apprentice boat builder Tom Gathercole.

The Auk crab boat is launched at Morston Quay. Owner Henry Faire and apprentice boat builder Tom Gathercole. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Almost 17 wooden feet of Norfolk perfection gently slid into the water and puttered up Morston creek to cheers and applause from spectators.

Crab boat shopping list

To build a wooden crab boat you will need:

2,000 copper nails.

1,200 larch wedges.

500 silicon bronze woodscrews.

200 silicon bronze gripfast nails.

Two larch trees; one straight and one “swept” - bent for the curved parts.

One oak tree.

10 metres of copper rod (for the hand-made bolts).

22 litres of paint.

Two litres of epoxy glue.

12 tubes of sikaflex sealer.

Between 1,500-2,000 hours.

Lay the keel.

Make a series of frames - moulds to ensure the shape is the same on both sides.

Build the boat on stocks on the ground, with a parallel piece on the roof to make sure everything is perfectly upright.

Use a spoil board to shape the planks - the first is the hardest.

The Auk is the first wooden crab boat to be built on the north Norfolk coast in a quarter of a century and yesterday’s rare launch drew a crowd of admirers to Morston Quay.

Sporting the biggest smile was her proud owner, Henry Faire, who described his new craft as “a Stradivarius among boats – absolute perfection”.

Mr Faire commissioned The Auk from craftsman David Hewitt, of Blakeney, who also made the coastline’s last wooden crab boat, in 1989.

Helped by 17-year-old apprentice Tom Gathercole, Mr Hewitt spent two years building the boat, after the larch and oak used had been left for a year to season.

Times, they are a’changing

Double-ended wooden crab boats were once a familiar sight along the north Norfolk coastline but there is now only one working boat left, owned by John Jonas and based in Cromer.

Nowadays, according to traditional boat-builder David Hewitt, new crab boats tended to be square-sterned skiffs, made of fibreglass and with an out-board motor.

The Auk has a 21hp on-board motor, and a traditional sail, made by craftsman Steve Hall, of Tollesbury, Essex.

“There’s no particular advantage of wooden over fibreglass,” said Mr Hewitt.

“But I always feel wood is a lot nicer in the water. Fibreglass boats are made in moulds so they come out all the same.

“With a wooden one you can have your boat however you like - alter its shape. It has allowed boats to evolve over the years.”

Wendy Pritchard, like Mr Hewitt, is a trustee of the Stiffkey-based Rescue Wooden Boats charity.

She hopes apprentice Tom Gathercole, 17, of Burnham Overy, who helped Mr Hewitt build The Auk, will keep the tradition alive for future generations.

“The finished craft is a perfect example of skills and craftmanship that have been used since Viking times to build robust and beautiful wooden boats,” said Ms Pritchard.

See The Auk being built at

Retired City of London businessman Mr Faire, 56, from Haverhill, Suffolk, will keep The Auk at Morston and plans to use it for mackerel and bass hobby fishing, and pleasure trips.

“Messing about in boats is what I love doing,” he said. “I fish locally here and it seemed a good idea to have a locally-made boat, using David’s skills.

“It was an opportunity to preserve these skills before they die out.”

Mr Faire said he had seen the Viking warship on show at this spring’s British Museum exhibition and had been struck by the timelessness of the boat-building craft.

“The technology and techniques used on my boat are directly linked back to that Viking ship,” he added.

Mr Hewitt, 52, based at Stiffkey boatyard, said building a wooden crab boat was the “be all and end all” of his trade.

He used his well-trained eye,
rather than plans, throughout the work.

He maintains wooden crab boats all along the coast and has built up skills and knowledge through the years.

The Auk’s progress was filmed from start – wood with bark still on – to finish by the Rescue Wooden Boats charity to record and conserve the crafts and skills involved.

The boat was officially launched by Mr Faire’s mother-in-law, Marigold Bullard, whose late husband, Gerry, was one of the former Norwich Bullard’s Brewery family.

She poured beer from a Bullard’s bottle over the boat’s bow.

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1 comment

  • Great story and a beautiful crabber!

    Report this comment

    Chris Booty

    Wednesday, October 15, 2014

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