Since 2018, the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) has been hard at work on an exciting experimental archaeology project, building a full scale replica of The Chet Boat which was unearthed by the Environment Agency in 2013 from the bank of the River Chet. This project is one of the 38 projects that make up the Water, Mills and Marshes Landscape Partnership Scheme, so when Gary Breeze approached us to help with their school engagement programme we naturally, said yes! What better place to take children than a huge building full of saws, sanders, wood shavings, half built boats, varnish and carbon fibre? Over the last two months a total of 182 students from 5 schools, North Denes Primary School, Fairhaven C of E Primary School, Acle Primary School, Brundall Primary School and Reedham Primary School, passed through their doors.
The focus of the day was how boat design is not only influenced by what the boat will be used for but also the environment in which it will be used. The students also had a chance to do some practical woodwork. We began the day in school with a half hour introduction to the Chet Boat Project and the main habitats of the Broads National Park. We also discussed what the people living in the Broads area 900 years ago might have eaten, worn, built their houses from, used for transport and believed in. First stop Breydon Water and the view from Burgh Castle out over Halvergate Marshes. This exposed the students to the type of environment the Chet Boat had been built for, nosing through reedbeds or down marsh dykes with no space to turn around, and helped them imagine what it might have been like living out on the marshes!
Then it was on to the Boatbuilding College where the students were treated to a fascinating tour of the premises to see how, not only the Chet Boat replica was made, but also to see modern fibre glass and other wooden boats being built. Terms like carvel, clinker, caulking, oakum, copper, stern, bow, keel and lofting flew about while being demonstrated or pointed out. To our surprise the students found wood shavings engrossing; many having never seen them before. If we’d charged for each handful they took away with them we’d be rich! With their wealth of new knowledge the students then worked in groups to design various boats for use in the Broads 900 years ago.
Having had the tour of the College and seen all the state of the art modern machinery, sanders, planers, chainsaws and electric drills, that help today’s boat builders the students developed a healthy respect for the boat builders of 900 years ago. While looking at the Chet Boat replica they learnt the man who built that boat would have had to use tools such as a hand turned drill, made his own nails in a forge and use an axe to turn the tree trunk into planks. They loved the set of “clothes pegs” that were used instead of a vice to hold the planks together until the nails had been driven in!
After lunch was definitely the best bit of everyone’s day – the students got to carve runes into wood using chisels and mallets and practice the art of roving with drills, copper nails and hammers!! The regular occupants of the College always knew when Mike Tupper had finished his roving demonstration by the sudden enthusiastic cacophony of hammers bashing away at copper, wood and the odd finger! The rune carving was, much to everyone’s relief, bloodless and a massive hit! It was a pleasure to see the students who were at first awkward with the chisel and mallet gain in confidence and learn to adjust how they held the tools and the pressure they applied resulting in some lovely, legible carvings. No-one ever wanted to stop and chunks of wood with various names, initials and emoji’s were carted home to be proudly presented to their families.