Updated: Nov 16, 2021
A small group of parents and staff from Canary Wharf College came together to find ways that we could enhance the school and raise money for outdoor activities. I was lucky enough to be part of this group.
One person said “how about building a boat, to use to clean our docks”.
This was the birth of the idea. We used a safety vessel, kindly lent to us by the DSWC, and took out our own children to trail the idea. We set off on a cold, wet February weekend in the search for plastic rubbish and treasure! As the horizontal rain lashed down, we adults wondered “why are we doing this?” but the children loved it, young Harry said “this is not fishing, this is so much more than fishing”. They had a BALL, thrived on it, it was from this moment we knew we had a winner.
The “Original Plastic Fishing Team at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, Feb 2017.
“This is not Fishing, this is so much more than fishing”!
We looked at other vessels claiming to be of recycled plastic but on inspection were only using a fraction of recycled material. We wanted the hull of our vessel to be as near to 100% recycled material, as possible. At this point we began working with the Hubbub Foundation, who helped us to get the project started by sponsoring our first few test runs with children from the school (Canary Wharf College). Hubbub were also working on a clean up project in the Thames and had close links with the recycling industry and the recycling plastic industry.
Photo Lynn Bew Images
In the mean time, my knowledge was getting more in depth. We could not roto mould as the plastic is not pure enough, any impurity in the recycled plastic mix would make the plastic tear. All objects made from recycled plastic (outdoor bins, chairs and playground equipment) are from large clumpy materials. We were going to have to build from this material and this lead to other problems:
It is VERY heavy
It bends a lot
Nothing will glue to it very well, the surfaces are too shiney
It has no tensile strength
I spoke to a few boat builders and hit a brick wall. Towards the end, all enquires led to Mark Edwards MBE of Richmond Boat Builders. Gavin from Hubbub and myself went to see Mark in his workshop, to me it was a cross between the best toy shop, sweet shop and Diagon Alley all rolled into one. I was not hopeful, as Mark is a traditional boat builder making amazing project including the Queens Gloriana, here we were asking him to use plastic.
His eyes lit up, “yes I have used this for other projects it is great and yes I would love to build you a boat made out of recycled plastic, I look forward to the challenge”
Samples of the plastic were sent to him and he looked at methods to glue and join the plastic together, the suppliers plas wood could make extruded planks as well as sheets of plastic. Mark suggested using traditional copper clasps, which are used in traditional clinker boat building, and this turned out to be an extremely effective method as it was tight and gave a degree of movement.
For the design we needed to have a vessel that would take twelve people, have the space to work, to be ok with all the people on one side and had to clear the lowest bridge in the Millwall Docks which is 1.5m above the water. It became clear that we needed a punt shaped vessel. Mark came up with a sketch, I wanted to have an idea of sizes and scale so I transferred this to old fashioned graph paper below, the finished vessel was pretty much the same as the drawing.
My drawing of Poly-Mer
As the plastic is floppy, a mould of the underside of the vessel had to be built and the vessel built on top until she was strong enough to have her own strength.
I was lucky to be there for the laying of the first piece of plastic.
To get buoyancy to float and to give strength, the floor and sides were glued between light foam. This foam does not take up water, we submerged a sample for weeks and it remained dry. Then this was enclosed and the floor was laid on top.
Next she was taken out the shed and tested on the water. She was them subjected to a “swamp test”, she was loaded with weights to simulate people, and the electric outboard and then loaded with water and swished from side to side. She passed this with flying colours.
The launch was an amazing day, with so many different people coming together. Jack and I turned up at the DSWC at 0700 to the sun rising over the dock to make sure she was in pristine condition.
After speeches Poly-Mer was named and took her first trips on the dock with our special guests. Since them Poly-Mer and her sister ships have taken hundreds of people on the water and tons of waste and recycled material out of the London Docks and other waterways in the UK.
I am are proud to be involved with Poly-Mer and look forward to her giving joy and slowly changing our attitude to plastic.
Since I wrote this there have been five other recycled plastic vessels built and many people who have enjoyed being on the water truly making a difference to our world.
Paul Bew City Sailing