Cardigan looks to its sailing past

Nigel Armstrong
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Joe McAskill stands by the half-scale model of the Cardigan-built ship Victory Chimes, one of the last three ships built at the close of that era.

Ceremony Saturday during Heritage Day will pay tribute to community’s shipbuilding industry

Joe McAskill started from scratch to build a section of a wooden ship, gaining great admiration for the centuries-old craft in the process.

McAskill has been hired by the Cardigan Area Heritage Association to build a half-scale segment of a hull, as if in dry dock, of one of the region’s last wood-ship builds, a vessel called Victory Chimes.

The model frame will be presented on Saturday, July 12, at 1:30 in Cardigan during Heritage Day. Money for the project comes from 2014 funding awarded to the association.

“Our legacy here in Cardigan is shipbuilding, which spanned a hundred years,” said Nora MacDonald of the association. “We want to pay tribute to all the shipwrights, the captains and the tradesmen.”

The work that went into a wooden ship is spectacular, said McAskill. With no background in the trade, he found that printed plans for Island ships are extremely rare.

Instead, builders would construct a table-top half-model for the potential buyer to approve, then turn the project over to a master shipbuilder to scale up to full size.

McAskill took to researching in ship-building literature to try and replicate some of the techniques. He began after last Christmas and has about 400 hours into the project that is very modest compared to a full-scale ship build.

The model shows some ribs, a keel assembly, some planking, all of which must be notched or shaped to the curves of the hull shape.

Originally a ship had wooden keel parts that were huge, 40 to 50 feet long that would weigh up to 500 to 600 pounds each, said McAskill.

Ships were held together with some bolts, some nails but because of the expense of metal hardware, many joins were held together with trunnels, or tree nails. They were round wooden pegs, soaked in linseed oil, slightly split to hold a wooden wedge that is driven in with a mallet. The expansion from the wedge and the water’s expansion effect on the linseed oil holds the whole thing together.

“There might be 40 or 50,000 of these in a boat,” said McAskill. “They were a cheap source of fastener.”

Shipbuilders had to consider the kinds of wood available at reasonable cost, so this model has a hardwood keel and pine ribs, joined using techniques that had to be used when massive trees allowing one-piece construction were gone. Wood had to be dry enough that warping and cracking didn’t affect sea-worthiness.

“They built it as quickly as they could, got it in the water and did whatever they could to waterproof “ said McAskill. “Every ship had a master carpenter on board when it sailed, to keep it afloat.”

Ships had to go to drydock to be scarped to remove wood affected by worms, seams had to be re waterproofed with “pitch” from pine trees.

Organizations: Cardigan Area Heritage Association

Geographic location: Cardigan, Iceland

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Recent comments

  • McAskill Woodworking Ltd
    July 11, 2014 - 10:20

    Thank you for the great write up Nigel. Just wanted to clarify on the ribs. We used Pine for the ribs because it was well air dried and large enough for this project. Originally the ribs would have been made with Spruce and possibly Birch in some areas.

  • Really
    July 11, 2014 - 09:01

    What a great way to spend tax dollars , real useful . This is the reason I love to pay taxes . Fools certainly like to blow other peoples money . No wonder the government has the attitude it has when putting this province so far in debt .