Francie builds boat with recycled material

Francie builds boat with recycled material

6 October 2021

A DOWNPATRICK man is realising his dream of building a river boat by using recycled materials such as wood pallets and aluminium.

Instead of costing around £50,000 for a new boat of the same size and specification, Francie Morgan aims to finish his 24ft boat on a budget of £2,500.

The 79 year-old intends to launch the four-berth boat from Carrybridge in Upper Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh next May, with the help and support of his family and many friends.

But before that, he would love to enter it as a float in next year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick. 

While the main structure is complete, Francie will be working over the winter and spring to fit out the inside.

The father-of-seven began to build the boat last year during lockdown and scoured scrape-yards and recycled materials yards to get items which either cost him a fraction of their original price or where the owners were only too happy to get rid of them. 

“There’s men who are only too happy to see me coming to take away some pallets. It could normally cost them £300 to hire a skip to dispose of them,” said Francie, who estimates he has used 150 pallets so far.

“I once got 27 sheets of aluminium for £200 — that’s for nothing to what they would cost new. I like to use things that people might think of being rubbish, or having no other use, but that’s not true at all.”

Francie is intending that 95 percent of his boat will be made from recycled materials as he has bought a re-serviced engine and other items for the interior. 

He has been working six hours a day since last April, making the boat in three separate sections — the hull, the mid section and the cabin — in his large workshop at home on the Ardglass Road before assembling them outside.

“I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to work on it, it was so exciting and great to see the progress and it finally coming together,” he said.

He has devised an innovative way of creating ballast in the boat by drilling 38 holes in the hull to allow water in to sink the boat which is then offset by the air pressure inside creating air pockets for the right balance of ballast and float.

“It’s only an Irishman who would build a boat hull and then drill holes into it, but people will be interested in this method once the boat is on the water,” said Francie.

A retired woodcutting machinist, Francie can turn his hand to many a trade, and has done so over the years, even building the two-bedroom cottage for him and his wife, Patricia.

His attention to detail and planning was so thorough that he built a 24-inch scaled model of the boat in four weeks so that he could see exactly how his design would work in practice

With the help of friends, he has been videoing his progress on the boat building in order to give other people a detailed instruction on how to do it for themselves.

“I’ve designed the boat to a simple construction so that if anyone knows how to use a hammer and a saw, they will be able to make this as it’s all made with butt joints. There’s nothing complicated about it, ” said Francie.

“The whole point of building the boat is show people that it can be done from recycled materials and even though something is made out of what some people might see as rubbish, it can still be done well.”

His river boat won’t be made for speed, which suits him just fine. 

He got his first taste of river boating when he and his wife hired a cruise boat on the Erne about 15 years ago.

“It was absolutely beautiful and I loved going along at about five miles an hour as you had time to see everything around you.

“It was a bit of a shock than to get back in the car and go then even at 40mph. I really enjoyed the speed that the river boat goes at.”

Part of the joy and excitement for Francie working on the boat is knowing what enjoyment his large family of 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and their parents will have over the years to come.

“The boat should last about 30-40 years and we all hope to enjoy it. It’s got to the stage where the family are asking ‘if our boat is ready’ yet,” he added.

Francie and Patricia moved to Downpatrick with four of their children in the early 1970s due to the Troubles in Belfast.

He is planning to name the boat The Hockaninny after spending some time on a school trip to Nissan huts in the Dundrum area.

“There must have been about 100 of us kids staying in these huts in a field at the time,” explained Francie.

“There was nothing for us to do other than play on a discarded bunk bed which had only three legs. It became our bus, our boat, our train, anything we could think of to play on and one day one lad named it The Hockaninny.

“So there was this piece of rubbish that gave us endless pleasure and entertainment and I hope the boat will also do it over the years to come.”