From the Loft Floor to the Sea charts the building of the Falmouth pilot cutter, Pellew from drawings to launch and is a delight, says Yachting Monthly literary reviewer, Julia Jones

From the Loft Floor to the Sea
Christian Topf
Lodestar Books £45

This glorious book can be read as a narrative celebrating ‘the art and craft of traditional wooden boat construction’ or it can be enjoyed piecemeal.

Christian Topf made weekly visits to designer-shipwright Luke Powell and his team at Truro’s new Rhoda Mary Heritage Yard, recording the three-year process that brings a Falmouth pilot cutter from an idea, a set of scaled-up drawings and massive piles of wood to a vibrant working vessel.

Pellew – named for an inspirational Cornish Admiral – was modelled on the large pilot cutter Vincent, built in 1852.

Officially, therefore, Pellew is a replica yet that feels such an inadequate word.

She’s the ninth and largest in a series of pilot cutters built by Powell and his team, and is used to take paying guests on sailing holidays, and to keep traditional seafaring skills alive.

In my mind this makes her a working vessel, merely doing a different job from her older sisters.

As Topf’s weekly record develops, it becomes increasingly obvious that Pellew is to be fitted out for a genuine 21st century purpose, not a 19th century pretence.

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The process, however, is a key part of the purpose.

It’s a project to maintain craftsmen’s skills, respect for materials and understanding of the relationship between form and function.

In her foreword, Hannah Cunliffe pays tribute to author/photographer Topf’s level of knowledge and empathy for traditional build.

Although modern power tools are being used (some specially adapted for their challenging tasks), Topf’s text and photographs brilliantly convey the sheer physicality of building a wooden vessel on this scale.

People look small beside the timbers; they must work together to lift weighty material and force joints into place. Precision matters.

Some workers devise external guides to accuracy; others work ‘by eye’.

The process is awe-inspiring, beautiful but also sweaty, hard, cold and grubby.

Every page of the book is a pleasure in its own right; a delight from start to finish.

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