Skokholm Summer Work Party August 2012

31st August 2012
Day 1 – Saturday 18th
Saturday was a complete contrast to earlier in the week when the possibility of the weekend crossing to the island was touch and go. Today was the best chance and the boat would go at 15.30. Arriving in good time at Martins Haven it was good to meet up with the builders I met last year. There was a different set of volunteers this time, so more new names to remember. There was a huge pile of gear to load first, however. Apart from luggage and food for twenty or so people, there were power tools, two cement mixers (yes, really!), large solar panels, planks of wood and a further multitude of building supplies to go on board. All had to be carried up a narrow path and manually passed down the jetty. Exhausting enough, but it all had to be unloaded too. Which was interesting, given the swell at South Haven, but thankfully due to the boatman John Reynolds’s skills and help from those on the jetty it all went well. After a very welcome cup of tea and some cake we settled into our accommodation. Due to the arrival time there was little work that could be done. The builders got prepared for the following day, and mist nets were put up with some birds caught and ringed

All the gear waiting to be loaded at Martins Haven

Loading a cement mixer

Day 2 – Sunday 19th
Sunday morning was very wet. It was both a soggy and slippy job digging out a new hole for the new site for the ram pump for the water supply. The soil was waterlogged and full of sandstone rocks, which because they blended in with the colour of the soil often only became apparent when the shovel struck one. The pump will be lower by a couple of metres or so in order to give a greater head of water. I have no idea how a ram pump works, but it does. The rain also delayed the builders putting up scaffolding to repair the jetty. The afternoon was warm and sunny, so work could progress. Work on the electrical system was done by Henry who is a volunteer but a retired qualified electrician. Henry first came to Skokholm 46 years ago at the age of fifteen as an apprentice with Trinity House to work on the electrics in the lighthouse. It’s funny how things turn round. The warden’s quarters were gutted in readiness for the roof to be replaced. Preparation work was done for the base of the main water tank, ensuring the shuttering for the concrete was level. The requirement for the tank was that the level dropped no more than a couple of millimetres per metre. A hole was started by the well for the placement of yet another tank in the water supply system.

Taking the roof off

The debris left inside

Day 3 – Monday 20th
Three of us spent the whole day mixing concrete for the main water tank base. With two mixers on the go, we had a continuous system of adding aggregate, cement and water followed by pouring and spreading. The two outer thirds of the base were completed. Meanwhile the builders made further headway on the replacing the roof including that above the kitchen. All in all work progressed at a good pace.

Pouring the concrete for the water tank base

Day 4 – Tuesday 21st
The base for the water tank was completed, albeit with a slight dip in the middle which would be evened out later with a layer of sand. A small area was dug out further down the slope below the level of the base of the main tank, for a small tank which will house a UV sterilisation system. Plastic piping for the water was laid out ready between the tank sites. The well tank hole was enlarged and deepened so that a good base can be built. The ground was clayey and full of rocks, which made digging a hard job. All the new roof sheets were in place on the warden’s block.
The boat came in the afternoon, with Joe the cameraman and Tim taking the opportunity to leave. Meanwhile, two research workers, Gordon Main the film director and two actors, Peter and Owen came over. The tide was very low which meant a precarious landing onto the rocks beyond the end of the jetty. A couple of scaffolding planks were brought into use too! I must add that this is not the way a visitor landing would be handled.

Bird ringing at breakfast

Working on the new roof

Preparing the shuttering for the top of the jetty

A cosy evening in the cottage in front of the wood burning stove

Day 5 – Wednesday 22nd
Most work was concentrated on the water tank bases and finishing off the roof.
For some of us the second half of the afternoon was spent walking around in 1930s costume being filmed by Gordon for his series of programmes about Skokholm. The night sky was particularly clear, so I tried some star trail images. The Milky Way was clearly visible, something not seen in many areas these days due to the enormous amount of light pollution.

Giving Jerry the warden a send off before he takes up a new job monitoring penguins in the south Atlantic

The night sky above the cottage

Day 6 – Thursday 23rd
Time constraints meant that the builders, Owen and Jasper left on the boat, as the next opportunity for getting off was likely to be Sunday. It was also the opportunity for two more volunteers, Phil and Dorothy, and Lewis to come over.
Later in the afternoon we managed to bet the shuttering for the well tank base level thanks to some advice from Henry, so that it’s all ready for when we get a further delivery of concrete.
The glass fibre base for the main tank was assembled and bolted together, after some pondering of the instructions.

Re-siting the ram pump

Reading the tank assembly instructions

Day 7 – Friday 24th
The night was wild wet and windy. I woke up to grey skies and rain. Fortunately there was work to do indoors, clearing out old timbers, rubble and other rubbish left by the builders. We could then start rebuilding the tops of the walls up to the roof in the old warden’s quarters. A wooden roof beam which had been taken down was cut to fit and reinserted so that it was above head height. I took photographs of the kitchen, wheelhouse and one room for use on the trust’s website and booking leaflets.

The kitchen used by visitors

The Wheelhouse, or dining room

The Crow's Nest room in the central accommodation block

A mouse skeleton found behind a wall panel

Day 8 – Saturday 25th
Saturday was the day the first week’s volunteers were due to leave, but the conditions were too rough for the boat to land. The top part of the jetty had a temporary covering of concrete to help prevent a large part falling off during the coming winter, after which a complete rebuilding job can be done in the spring. This was in addition to the tie rods that the builders had inserted earlier. All the sides of the main water tank were bolted on, so that next week’s volunteers can work on the top cover. I took a few further photographs of the accommodation and cottage common room.

The primitive protection for the concrete on the jetty, but it worked!

The cottage common room - note the paraffin lamp on the table but there is electric light these days

Day 9 – Sunday 26th
It was an early start as the boat was due just after 9 am for the changeover of work party volunteers. At least there was only a small amount of luggage and food to unload, but there was a lot to put on the boat courtesy of Gordon’s filming gear. We had all gathered down at South Haven for the boat, while Gordon was still on top of the cliff with Peter shooting more footage. Fortunately he made it down in time.
I look forward to seeing the series which starts on ITV Wales on September 14th.

Gordon filming in South Haven

All text and images © Keith Rowley 2012

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