Progress is being made on the long, complicated process of restoring Castletown’s nautical treasure, Peggy.
The boat, regarded to be one of the world’s oldest yachts, sits in the boat house of the Nautical Museum in Bridge Street, which was formerly the home of George Quayle, who built Peggy in the late 18th century.
Manx National Heritage discovered the boat was perilously close to collapse, due to the damp and cold conditions of the boat house, and embarked on the restoration process earlier this year.
First a specially-designed steel cradle had to be inserted under the boat, within a very tight space, to give her support and this work was carried out in the summer time.
‘The harness worked brilliantly,’ said Chris Weeks, conservator of objects at Manx National Heritage. ‘There was an unknown when we lifted her that bits would settle and some pieces would fall off, in the event our calculations were spot on, the boat did not even creak. Now she is fully supported along its length and that fits it like a glove.
‘There were an awful lot of things to keep under control to lift and put her in the cradle was very difficult to co-ordinate, it did preoccupy me. It did go very well, down to very skilled technician Geoffrey Mitchell.’
Mr Weeks explained the next stage of the process involved digging out the earth to make room for rails on which Peggy will slide out of the boat house.
‘We are preparing to dig out in front of the boat yard cellar – that will be done by an archaeological contractor and has gone out to tender. We need planning permission for alterations to the site, even though it is not a registered building we are keen to process it as though it is. There will be a very large hole outside the cellar so we can bring it [the Peggy] out. We are hoping to commence the dig early in the new year to open [the museum] in spring in the same way we have done for the past 50 years.’
A planning application (13/91286/B) was submitted to dismantle the existing timber steps and stairs and remove 20th Century masonry blocking from the historic door opening along with archaeological removal of existing boatyard backfill at the museum.
At the same time, historic consultancy practice Drury McPherson Partnership has been researching the archives to discover more about the site.
‘Paul Drury has done a complete trawl of the national archive to find all the papers to do with the occupancy of the site,’ said Mr Weeks. ‘That has thrown up some very interesting facts about how he [George Quayle] used the site and what he was doing, how many boats he had. Outside the little cabin room, George constructed a ship’s deck. The walls around that were not as high as today. It was like the deck of a ship – there were remains of that in the 1920s, people used to hang their washing from it.’
Also, Manx National Heritage is identifying a suitable location for the Peggy once she is removed from the boat house, where the delicate process of restoration can take place.
Mr Weeks said: ‘We are working with our partners in government. Our attention has turned from the boat to the next stage – we have to identify a building, there will be a shed within the building, in that we will reduce the humidity gradually.’
By October next year, Peggy should be out of the home she has occupied for some 200 years. But before that, visitors over the summer months will be able to see her in situ and view, from a temporary walkway, the 10-foot hole in front of the boat house which is being archaeologically examined.
‘When we get the boat into its new location, there will be the mother of all conservation campaigns to embark on,’ said Mr Weeks. ‘The boat is unique in many ways: its form and structure, also its surface because of the original paint. It is very, very unusual, we have to treat it as a piece of painted furniture or sculpture.
‘I feel people should be close to the Peggy, this is the oldest pleasure yacht in the world. The Isle of Man is the epicentre of the yachting world because of it and people should be excited and proud about it.’