Maritime Kent update: Replica cog boat The Nicholas
Dave Batchelor and Paul Damon of the Sandwich Medieval Trust give an update on a fascinating project to build a replica of a medieval ship.
Posted Fri, 29 Sep 2023
Sandwich Medieval Trust began a project to construct a replica medieval warship to be called The Nicholas when the trust moved into the Sandwich Medieval Centre in 2019. The type of boat is called a ‘cog’ and it would have been a common sight in Sandwich and around the Kent coast (as well as in northern European ports from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea) between about 1335 to 1485 (see sandwichmedieval.org/sandwich). A cog is depicted on the Sandwich town seal from this period.
In Europe, examples of these boats have been found and preserved but, in England, no example has been found to date hence our desire to build a replica. The cog is a development of a Viking longboat but with greater breadth relative to length, for cargo carrying purposes, and with a rudder and tiller for steering in lieu of a side mounted steering oar.
The Sandwich Medieval Trust lacked the resources necessary to build such a boat from the keel upwards so one of our Trustees, Bob Martin, found a website findafishingboat.com where there was a disused Brixham trawler hull for sale. This was perfect for our purposes as it has a massive oak frame with larch planking, exactly as a medieval cog would have had. It was also correct in terms of breadth to length ratio and stern and bow design.
We had the hull taken from Torpoint in Plymouth, where it was lying, on a low loader truck to Dover Marina where it was installed on a hard standing in January 2020. This allowed us to have the hull sandblasted after which we carried out the majority of the necessary hull and deck repairs, prior to priming and painting. We then started on the alteration works which included raising the height of the gunwales, installing hatches, a rudder and a tiller and also cleats for ropes.
At this point we decided that we had a hull worthy of display on our mooring adjacent to the Sandwich Medieval Centre so we had it towed from Dover to Sandwich in June 2021. We have been continuing with the alteration works using hand tools and medieval practices wherever possible. In the workshop at the centre we have fabricated the windlass and the capstan. Both started off as lengths of ash trunk which we debarked, cut pockets for oak turning levers and mounted on oak supporting frameworks. The ratchet mechanisms were fabricated on the centre’s forge by Steve Batchelor, our blacksmith.
In the meantime we are continuing to deal with rotten timbers to framework, hull and deck planking and this has involved cutting out the damaged pieces and using them as templates to cut and shape new pieces of timber. Once we have completed these repairs, we will be able to proceed with the fore and aft/stern castle constructions. These will be made in sections, using hand tools, in our workshop and taken out to The Nicholas’s deck and fixed in place. They will be oak framed and have larch deck and side planking. We also intend to install a mast and rigging – the mast will be 14 metres high rising from the keel structure through the deck.
We will not have the resources at the centre to shape and install such a large and heavy piece of timber so we will have to return to the boat to a dry dock to have it installed by crane.
With a mast, rigging and a square sail in place, we think that The Nicholas will be an interesting attraction on Sandwich Quay. We will allow the public onto the deck via a gangplank and there will be actors on board in period costume to explain and demonstrate aspects of medieval mariners’ lives. In time, we will look to having The Nicholas sail to Pegwell Bay and back although actual sailing may be difficult due to the narrowness of the River Stour and its meandering nature.
However, unlike medieval mariners we will be able to use the original trawler’s 14 litre, 8 cylinder Gardner diesel engine to speed us on our stately way!
In the meantime The Nicholas is currently moored up on the Quayside next to the medieval centre and we often have the gangplank up and the side covers off at the weekends to allow visitors to have a closer look. The centre is currently open Thursday to Sunday 10am to 4pm but we can often accommodate visitors on other days as long as these visits are pre-arranged (see below).
If you want more information or are interested in visiting Sandwich Medieval Centre the link to the website is sandwichmedieval.org→
To arrange a visit to see The Nicholas outside opening hours please email the centre at firstname.lastname@example.org→
If you are interested in Kent’s maritime history during this period and the voyages and vessels that were operating in the county at that time it well worth a look at a website developed by the University of Southampton `The Merchant Fleet of Late Medieval and Tudor England, 1400–1580’ at medievalandtudorships.org→