In 2013 the Environment Agency unearthed a 900 year old boat on the River Chet near Loddon. The Chet Boat was thankfully saved and preserved by archaeologists. Since 2018 the International Boat Building College (IBTC) on Oulton Broad in Lowestoft has been hard at work on an exciting experimental archaeology project, building a full scale replica of The Chet Boat. Recreating this vessel will allow us to learn how boats were constructed in the past and how they were used for trade on the rivers of the Broads.
The boat was found on the south side of the river Chet half a mile east of Loddon in a palaeochannel that is not recorded on any of the existing maps that record the area from the 18th century onwards. The boat was lying almost upright and was equal ended with no evidence on the structure for either a steering oar or a rudder.
Archaeologists found in situ one stem and one stern post 3.68 m apart, making a boat of about 6m in length. They also found a keel plank made of two pieces scarfed together, with garboard strakes in place on either side of the keel plank. All of the timber was oak. Two frames survived made up of several pieces of oak branch wood scarfed together and pegged to the boat planks.
A mast step had been nailed to the keel plank alongside the frame, giving clear evidence for the presence of a sail.
Building the Boat
To fully try to understand what it would take to create this type of boat, the team at the IBTC decided to forego the use of modern power tools for the creation of the Chet Boat. Instead they learned how to forge their own tools from materials available centuries ago, and have used these traditional tools to build the reconstructed Chet Boat. We were also very lucky to be gifted two oaks from the Raveningham Estate, not far from where the boat was found, which were felled and split by hand to create the materials necessary to create the boat. Using horses to pull the timber from the woods of the estate, we were able to further split the oak using axes, hammers, levers and wedges.
In 2017 we began work on a scale model prototype to test our ideas and methods on how we’d construct the full scale version. We were even able to take this smaller version of the boat out on the waters of Oulton Broad to see how it would handle, and were pleasantly surprised with the speed and manoeuvrability it had while being paddled.
The Chet Boat is nearing completion and soon we will begin
taking the boat out under oar power. When the archaeologists documented the original boat they found the remains of a mast step, but they did not find any remnant of the mast of sails. Later this year we will begin experimenting with a mast and basic sail that we believe would be accurate for a vessel 900 years ago.
Check out the film of our process to obtain the local oak necessary to build the boat. Building the Boat