A warm, friendly Heather welcome

We are delighted to share Heather, an historic boat, artistic refuge and home for over a century, laying on the ancient Broads Waterways of Norfolk.

It is our aim to preserve the distinctive character of Heather, enabling future generations to enjoy her charms. We welcome you to explore the houseboat and bountiful riverside beyond...

Andrew, Timothy and Christopher

21 June 2012

Country Houseboat Rescue

Andrew tapping nails to hold the refurbished 
cedar panel boards into place

The refitting out of the saloon, as part of the second phase of Heather's restoration is almost completed. Renewing the woodwork has been a very slow process and there are many more finishing details on board ahead. The houseboat has been described as presentable or 'shabby chic.' Although, we are also mindful not to over restore Heather. 

Having removed most of the sections of ceiling panelling on both sides of the saloon, we discovered the timbers behind them were worn in places. Previously, there was little air flow behind this space, which lead to corrosion. The nineteen twenties horizontal soft wood battens, most of the ends of the oak roof beams and some of the cedar panels had suffered wear. 

Firstly, the decayed timbers were removed. The woodwork was then cleaned and thoroughly soaked by brushing and spraying Advanced Chemical Specialities water based wood treatment, to stop any potential rot.

The complex and labour intensive process of renewal has been just like piecing together a large jigsaw puzzle. New tanalised battens, running horizontally, were fixed with strong mastic ~ as opposed to dozens of steel screws and nails. The upper portion of the bilges (behind the bottom section of the panelling) has been coated with best black anti foul, after a suggestion by Nigel Royall Esq. This replicates the thick coats of bitumen tar, which has mostly disappeared with the passage of time. The paint reinvigorates and protects the inside of the hull against bugs and rot.

The neat cedar panel boards, with planed edges, were originally attached to the battens with galvanised iron cut clasp nails. We numbered the panels and found them easy to split and dent. After enquiring at nearby Tim Collin Timber Yard, on the Rhond at Hoveton; the crew discovered that the cedar used on board Heather was probably North American in origin. It is virtually irreplaceable today, as modern forested timber is often fast grown and is usually green or 'wet', as opposed to being seasoned.

With some difficulty, the damaged panel boards were individually repaired and cleaned. We decided to reuse panelling from the wardrobe to repair damaged sections in the saloon. (The inside of the wardrobe will be left bare, so the various types of wood used in Heather's original construction can be seen.) This was one of the most labour intensive and fiddly parts of the on board restoration. The crew pieced the panel boards togetherplaced them in a frame and glued them with mastic.

Over fifty years of thick paint and varnish, daubed on the panels has been tidied. We rehung the panels with new stainless steel nails and screws. Any blemishes like holes were filled and the boards were sanded. We then painted both the roof head lining and panelling in a smart ivory finish. It is strange that most of the hard graft, undertaken over weeks, will be hidden beneath the sections of panelling!

Heather's costly maintenance is funded by her part owners and some donations. Curiously, unlike larger craft (UK historic ships over 33 foot in length), charitable trusts and local statutory organisations, we receive no external funding. Hopefully, a buoyant future lays ahead for the unique and diverse fleet of historic craft, surviving in Broadland.

Come and see the houseboat and our small shop at our events this season. (The shop may only be open at certain events.)

Andrew, Chris

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King's Head Staithe, Hoveton, pictured from Wroxham public Parish Staithe