Reviving the ancient skill of coble-building

A new 26ft long coble is taking shape in Bridlington.
A new 26ft long coble is taking shape in Bridlington.
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The boat is being pushed out on a project to build two identical sailing cobles - the first to be made anywhere in four decades.

The art of building this ancient form of vessel, some say came with the Vikings, has been revived by two boat builders Joe Gelsthorpe and John Clarkson. The two who met while restoring a 40ft coble last year are now building the 26ft boats side by side on Bridlington harbour.

For Mr Clarkson it’s a project he has wanted to do for years. For three decades he worked in commercial joinery, after seeing his order book for cobles dry up overnight and now retired, he is free to do a job which gives him huge satisfaction.

The pair have put up all the money for the project - the nails alone cost £1,000 - and do not know whether they will sell. As to owns which coble it could be decided by the toss of a coin.

Only rough templates are used, the boatbuilders relying on their eye, honed by years of experience. Mr Clarkson said: “You never build two boats alike - even if you make the same they won’t be. There’s been no market for them for a long time; we are not building them because we want to make a profit; we are building them because we want to build them.”

Surprisingly light and bendy, the last larch plank is knocked into position by Mr Clarkson, who tells ex-coastguard operations manager Tony Ellis, who is holding it at the stern end, to give it a “nice big tap”. He then comes over and delivers a few hefty whacks with a mallet before declaring its positioning is right. It will be held in place by oak struts and many nails.

There’s been “unbelievable” interest from the public - many of whom have historical links with coble-building and sailing through their families and are wandering in through the open doors - in stark contrast to youngsters at the local college none of whom took up their offer to learn a fast, fading skill.