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National Trust brings the craft of boat building back to the Tamar

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

Shaune Blight, National Trust skipper of Shamrock and boat-builder and restorer, in the boat shed at Cotehele, Cornwall PICTURE Emily Whitfield-Wicks

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The Tamar used to be one of the busiest waterways in the region until the giant copper mines and hundreds of tiny market gardens closed.

But now the old-fashioned banging and rasping sounds of traditional maritime transport are returning to the river.

It's happening at National Trust-owned Cotehele Quay where the charity has hired the services of a professional ship-keeper – and he is finding plenty to occupy his time, mending and renovating boats from the river's industrious past.

Fourth generation Tamar waterman Shaune Blight is to be found each day in the trust's boat shed down by the river – and at the moment he is completing the renovation of a once common craft that has almost entirely vanished between Calstock and Plymouth Hoe.

She's a 14-foot workboat of the kind that would once have acted as busy and highly useful tenders to the Tamar barges.

Indeed, this particular boat once played little sister to Mr Blight's other charge – the Shamrock – the only working, floating Tamar barge still in existence.

"I look after the Shamrock and am also her skipper – and I do all the repairs on her," Mr Blight told me when I visited the trust's boat shed which is open to the public.

"This is her workboat – her tender – and it was totally wrecked when I found her. They had her built when they finished the Shamrock. She was a workboat for that period.

"She would have been used to tow the barge, or when you needed to take something out to the barge, or kedge an anchor upriver if you had no wind.

"She's a multipurpose boat, built to row light in the water but be sturdy enough to take a lot of work," he added. "She's got three rowing stations – and in a way that's what it's all about. If you've got a few barges you need to move around, a couple of extra men can jump in – and you've got your extra rowing power to pull the barges in and out of a dock."

Mr Blight told me the newly refurbished tender would be back on the water acting as the Shamrock's workboat next spring.

In the meantime, members of the public are welcome to call at Cotehele and see the maritime work that is under way.

The trust's head ranger at Cotehele, Joe Lawrence, explained why the charity had upgraded its water-bound operations at the property.

"The Shamrock is shared at the moment, but the National Maritime Museum has taken the decision to pull back – though they've been very gracious in giving us ten years' worth of grant to help maintain her. But that finishes in 2015. After that we have to find somewhere in the region of £30,000 to keep Shamrock going. She's not exactly a working boat, but we will take her out – she's been down to Plymouth several times and we are looking into similar ventures next year.

"We will be looking at doing talks, then taking people out on the river so they can really see what we've been talking about," he went on.

"The boat-building and boat-keeping is totally new to us and we're looking at various projects and ideas to create an income so we can carry on looking after the Shamrock.

"At the moment visitors can go on board her – and go into the boat shed and find out more. But we want to build on that," said Mr Lawrence.

"What we are hoping to do next year is get some more volunteer meet-and-greeters for each day, which will mean Shamrock can be open from midday through to about four o'clock throughout the week."

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