The Naulahka Story

Boat builder Alan Williams’s beautiful 100-year-old Naulahka, which was once rowed by pupils from Shrewsbury School. Williams is now looking for a new custodian for her. Photo: Alan Williams

1 July 2022

By Alan Williams

Alan Williams, boat builder and boat restorer in the UK, is trying to find a new “custodian” for his fully restored half-rigged, clinker-built tub boat, which was once built for Shrewsbury School.

For 28 years, I have had in my possession an old tub boat, which originally comes from Shrewsbury School. I have called her the Naulahka after an 1892 book of that title by Rudyard Kipling, where there is a love story and a quest for a fabled gem in India called the Naulahka and reputably of unimaginable worth. It is now time, I feel, to find a new custodian for my Naulahka.

She is some 27ft long, a half-rigged tub boat of mahogany clinker (7 planks a side) on sawn oak frames, thought to be Salter or Eton built, some time in the early part of the 20th century. Job number 0362 is stenciled on the rudder blade.

Built for Shrewsbury School, she was assigned to the house Severn Hill, which colours are maroon and gray. The words ‘Severn Hill’ are found in pencil on the underside of her bottom boards along with splodges of maroon and gray paint marking all her components, this was superseded by the letter ‘A’ for component identification.

She was used to introduce the boys into the sport of rowing, primarily as a coxed pair, but she can be either rowed or sculled.

When the next generation of tub boats came along, she was let go. She was acquired by Ironbridge Rowing Club in Telford to teach novice members. Fast forward to the mid-1990s, the rowing club had to clear the boat store prior to demolition, making way for a new clubhouse and facilities. Some of the vessels past their ‘sell date’ were consigned to a bonfire. I believe there were five others and I managed to save No 0362 along with four oars, three sweeps and a scull, from the fire.

Twenty-eight years and two house moves later, with the benefit of COVID lockdown and retirement, not only is Naulahka fully restored, she also has a mobile trailable boathouse in the form of a 1960s Slingsby sail plain trailer, fitted out with cradles, rack for oars, quant, launching trolley, trestle, etc. She is easily loaded and unloaded by one person.

Photo: Alan Williams

The restoration involved stripping back to bare wood. The keel needed a local repair in one place and the keelson in another. I have replaced about 50% of floors and frames in grown oak. The planking, stringers and risers are fine, so then it was a case of lots of varnish in and out.

The thawts, foot stretchers, rudder and yoke, sliding seats, bottom boards, wrought iron coxswain seat, outriggers, top stay, rowlocks for sweeps and sculls are all good and ready to go.

The Naulahka with her oars and sculls. Photo Alan Williams

I am taking her to the Thames Traditional Boat Festival in Henley on 15-17 July for those who would like to take a closer look at her.

If you are seriously interested in becoming the Naulahka’s new custodian, please contact Alan Williams at email: master.shipwright at tiscali.co.uk

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