Historic King’s Lynn fishing boat Baden Powell could soon set sail again

High and dry with just a tarpaulin to spare her blushes and protect her from the elements, it might not seem the most dignified berth for such a fine old lady of the sea. But craftsmen and historians are determined to restore the Baden Powell to her former glory, and see her set sail again.

Wood worker Geoff Sheppard checks the thickness of the oak plank he's just sawn from a whale-sized trunk in a shower of sawdust.

'Trees come down and we fell trees,' he shrugs, as he downs tools for a cuppa. 'We try and find the best value for it, and this is a great thing to get involved with.

'I grew up a stone's throw from the Fisher Fleet. I can remember clambering over her in the mud - that must be 50 years ago.'

Every Wednesday, the sound of hammering and the drone of buzz saws drown out the skylarks in a corner of the Fens, as the Worfolk Boat Trust pull on their overalls.

Charitable status has put fresh wind in the sails of volunteers restoring historic fishing boat the Baden Powell.

She's the last of her kind, a double-ender built to harvest the rich shellfish of The Wash more than a century ago.

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Double-ended means she has a bow at either end. Her crew could ground her on a mudbank in the estuary, jump over the side to rake cockles, then push her off easily when her holds were full for the return trip to Lynn.

She braved the storms and the treacherous currents that rip between the shifting sandbanks to land her catch for nearly 100 years, before she wound up high and dry.

Now enthusiasts are working hard to restore the Baden Powell - and restore her to her rightfull place in Lynn's maritime heritage.

'Some might say she's got a bit of a shallow bottom but we're Norfolk boys and we like girls with a shallow bottom,' said Lynn-based jeweller Tim Clayton - the project's chief womble when it comes to ferreting out fresh supplies of wood.

'She's the first boat Walter Worfolk built when he moved down here and the last of the double-enders that we know of in a restorable condition.

'She was built for a purpose, with a very shallow draught. The crew would take an oar out with them, to feel for cockles.

'They'd wait for the tide to go then rake them into bags. Then they'd wait for the tide to come back.

'It seemed a crying shame to just chop her up and throw her away.'

Several of Baden Powell's oak frames need replacing with new timber. Mr Clayton's forays far and wide across farmer's fields have yielded a pile of twisted trunks and boughs, from which the curved frames - the skeleton of the boat - are being fashioned.

They could have had her craned onto a lorry, trucked off to Lowestoft, and brought back pristine six months later - for little change from �250,000.

They could probably have had a replica built for half that. But doing so would have sent another little bit of King's Lynn's history down the river.

Walter Worfolk built the Baden Powel in 1900, for Lynn fisherman Harry Cook. Mr Cook liked her so much he gave Mr Worfolk an extra fiver, on top of the �50 agreed - and a cruet set for Mrs Worfolk.

Walter moved to Lynn from his native Yorkshire in 1899. He set up a boatwright's yard on the Nar, close to Boal Quay.

His family had been boat builders for generations, building canal barges, sloops and keels - 60ft wooden trading ships that served the East Coast ports from the Humber to The Wash.

Wherever boats were needed, the Worfolk's crafted them from oak and pitch pine, copper nails and caulking. The Baden Powell was the first in a line of 600 or so vessels that took shape in their Lynn yard.

Back in a farmyard near Terrington, those determined to see her put to sea again hope their newly-accorded charitable status will bring a fair wind on the fund raising front. It opens up the possibility of Heritage Lottery funding, for starters.

'Being a proper charity enables us to make applications for funding from a variety of sources and we shall be starting to do that now,' said Mr Clayton.

'We have persuaded the Charity Commission that we aren't just enthusiasts who want to restore a classic local fishing boat and go for jaunts up and down the river.

'We believe we have the means, the ability, the will and the skills to get the Baden Powell back in the water and inform people how much we owe to Lynn's boatbuilders, particularly the Worfolks, who have played such a major role in the town's history.'

West Norfolk council is planning to install pontoon moorings on the Ouse near the Green Quay. The Worfolk Boat Trust hopes to snag Baden Powell a berth on them.

Before that, there are hopes a temporary yard could be set up nearby. After her fishing career ended in the early 1990s, the Baden Powell was given to True's Yard, an independent fishing museum.

Pulled up on Boal Quay, she suffered from vandalism and the elements, before she was moved to her current location for security.

Here and there, abandoned hulks sit amid the forest of Norfolk reed that has invaded the silted-up Nar Loop. There was talk of a marina as the flagship of Lynn's regeneration, which has brought new development and industry to the once-bustling waterfront.

While the marina plan was torpedoed by the recession, the restoration of Baden Powell will bring another chapter of Lynn's proud seafaring history back to life when she makes her proud return to the river that was once the town's lifeblood.

The trust will be downing tools on Saturday, June 18 and firing up a hog roast beside the Baden Powell.

There'll be a full-on feed, followed by sea shanties and dancing - as well as a chance to see how work is progressing on the boat and meet those restoring her.

Tickets priced �20 are available from Tim Clayton Jewellery, 23 Chapel Street, King's Lynn PE30 1EG 01553 772329, e-mail info@floatourboat.co.uk .

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