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The Duchess of Cornwall: Diary Entry 3

18 October 2007 — 14 August 2008

Stage 3: Laying the Keel

Laying the keel is always a major celebratory stepping stone in boat building.

And champagne glasses were raised at Cockwells Modern and Classic Boatbuilding in Ponsharden when the keel of the new St Mawes Ferry was laid. 

A structural keel is a large beam which the rest of the hull is built up from. The keel runs in the middle of the ship, from the bow to the stern, and serves as the foundation or spine of the structure, providing the major source of structural strength of the hull.

The keel is generally the first part of a ship's hull to be constructed, and laying the keel, or placing the keel in the cradle in which the ship will be built, is often a momentous event in a ship's construction--so much so that the event is often marked with a ceremony, and the term lay the keel has entered the language as a phrase meaning the beginning of any significant undertaking.

To get to this stage involved months of preparation and careful craftsmanship and several pieces of opepe (African hard wood) to be used for the keel for the new 60ft-long ferry.

Owner of Cockwells Dave Cockwell said. “The keel is constructed using several pieces of timber.  There are two large pieces which are scarphed together. (Scarphing involves cutting two pieces of wood in such away that the ends are shaved down to overlap each other to make the joint extremely strong .  The joint is then bolted together).   On the ferry these two pieces joined together make a total of 60ft in length, 6 inches in width and a varying depth with 2 feet at the stern and 6 inches in the bow.  On top of this more opepe is joined.  This is a piece known as the hog.  It is 4 inches deep and 12 inches wide and is steamed into position. 

All these pieces joined together make what is commonly known as the keel” The oak stem and apron are then attached to the keel.

The connection between them is made with a grown oak knee, which is a piece of timber grown into the shape of 90 degrees giving natural strength.  Then the transom is connected in the same way. Once the keel is in place, framing up begins.