Protecting the Reaper during lockdown and beyond
By Nick Chalmers, Boats Club Member
Very few wooden boats survive to reach 100 years of age. One of the reasons is the constant threat of degradation of the wood due to environmental factors. The Reaper, at nearly 120, is, therefore, a really important historical artefact.
Wooden boats are susceptible to problems resulting both from water and from drying out, and the Reaper is at risk even when lying alongside her pontoon in Anstruther Harbour. Rainwater and condensation, when they are allowed to collect in puddles on board, can create an environment where bacteria and fungi flourish. These can attack the wood fibre resulting in rot. Saltwater, on the other hand, is good for the wood in that it prevents fungal and bacterial attack. However, it may cause corrosion of metal fastenings that hold the wood components together; and this corrosion can soften the surrounding wood too. Drought causes loss of moisture content from wood, which then shrinks, allowing cracks to appear and seams to open up.
After the Reaper’s return from restoration at Rosyth last year, a range of strategies has been agreed between the Museum and Boats Club to keep the deck in good condition.
• Boats Club members have been washing the deck regularly with seawater during dry periods to maintain moisture content and high levels of salinity.
• There are a number of locations at the margin of the deck (in the angles between the frames and covering boards) where rainwater can collect in puddles. When the boat is lying alongside and not rolling in the waves, these puddles can stagnate and potentially cause rot. To prevent this, Donald McDonald and Wince Stewart (Boats Club members) have, respectively, designed and made a number of oak wedges, each specially cut to the correct angle, to be located in these niches so the rainwater runs off.
• During lockdown, when the weather was dry, Dave and Sadie Crowther got special permission to treat the deck with oil. They applied two coats of a mixture of raw and boiled linseed oil. This penetrates through the pores of the wood into the fibre, thus preventing rainwater from seeping into the interior of the deck planks. It also hardens to provide a protective coat. Following this, the saltwater washing will no longer be necessary, but oiling will need to be repeated at intervals.
Protecting the Reaper against the elements will require vigilance, regular maintenance and team effort if she is to survive for another century. Boats Club volunteers play an essential role in this.