The other evening,the editorial staff here at Chine bLog got flipping through one of the kids’copies of Ranger Rick magazine,the venerable publication from the National Wildlife Federation. Usually the magazine is a source for pre-teen wildlife education,but this one issue actually contained Chine bLog fodder:a picture of a gorgeous,traditional open boat with a gaff-headed ketch rig. The article discussed a program called Solar Sail,a Maine coastal adventure for teenagers. We had to dive in to this story.
The boat is part of the fleet owned by Chewonki,a one-time summer camp in Wiscasset,ME that has grown into a broader environmental education organization. We know of it first because we spent a week there in fifth grade and secondly because it is just up-river from a former Chine bLog family property. The area is all kinds of mid-Maine gorgeous and the organization well-regarded.
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The Solar Sail trip is for girls and boys ages 13-16. It begins with land-based education on sustainability,but then takes to the water in one of these lovely boats for a multi-day camp-cruise from Montsweag Bay to Mount Desert. Obviously the trip is fully “naturally”powered –sail and oar to move the boat and solar for the safety electronics.
We couldn’t find much about the boat itself beyond the pictures. It looks to be about 30′LOA,double-ended,and fully open. She appears to be wooden and has attractive,rough-hewn spars. The rigging looks traditional and relatively simple. I love the plumb stem and raked stern post. Can we convince the kids to join up in a couple years?!
I had been scoping a day-trip paddle to Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge,on Maryland’s Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake,for a year and half,but I had never managed to get it to work. Until Friday. I loaded AL DEMANY CHIMAN and headed out to the cute village of Queenstown,MD,on the south bank of the Chester River. Putting in by the town dock,I headed out of the little harbor and lined up the 2nm passage to the Refuge. The Refuge is an island –barely –around which the Chester River sweeps in a big U. There was little wind and not much boat traffic,so it was smooth and quiet.
Once across,I headed around the southern end and meandered along the western side. It was mixed marsh and short beaches for most of the way,sometimes augmented with rip-rap. I saw a number of bald eagles,a couple of adorable little sandpipers,and the usual blue herons. Occasionally I crossed large schools of small fish.
After lunch at the spot above,I passed through the narrows at the north end of the island. This passage was no problem for Al DEMANY CHIMAN or a kayak,but I wouldn’t want to draw much more.
The eastern side was also lovely marsh,extending further from the woods on this side. There were also more inlets on this side and no rip-rap. I turned up one cow-nosed stingray,but less other animal life until heading back across the Chester,where there were further fish schools.
All told,it was a great paddle. I calculated it was about 13nm and I was paddling for about 5 hours,putting me right on my past cruising speed of roughly 2.5kts. I need more of these…
The Chine bLog family is back from a tropical vacation to Puerto Rico. While there,I did get my paddle on:I finally explored the stand-up paddleboard (SUP) phenomenon. No photos exist,this by fortune,not by design. There was a strong breeze and the water was choppy. My windsurfing experience served me somewhat from a balance standpoint,but it was definitely a “first outing”performance. I enjoyed it,made a little progress,and fulfilled a long-overdue need to try this paddling form.
So,what do I think? I don’t see myself rushing out to add a paddleboard to my fleet. The skills and body motions required are unique,and there is no doubt you get a different workout than in a canoe or kayak. I like to take in the surroundings and explore while I paddle,though,and,while there is no doubt one could use a paddleboard in this way,it feels like these craft require more concentration on balance and such than I would care to devote.
It is clear that stand-up paddleboarding is the latest thing in recreational small boating,getting some of the mass-audience buzz that kayaks did 15 years or so ago. If paddleboards continue to be a big piece of the paddling establishment,I would be completely fine with it. From a holier-than-thou,natural-power-purist standpoint,paddleboards are absolutely legit,especially if the lot is liberally sprinkled with non-plastic offerings like Chesapeake Light Craft’s Kaholo. Many people can and should have fun with them,and I hope they do.
This said,though,I expect stand-up paddleboarding to be like windsurfing,not like kayaking. Windsurfing got huge buzz in the 80s and then tapered when many recreational users found the sport too hard to do routinely. Kayaking came on because of its simplicity,particularly with beamy recreational designs. You still see a good bit of kayaking rental traffic because the kayak form is genius in allowing someone to cover some distance without having to get too distracted from the surroundings. I think stand-up paddleboarding will prove to be too hard for the average recreational user to enjoy over a longer term,and this wave will crest and the sport will be left to a smaller number of core enthusiasts. We’ll see what happens,I guess.
Double-down on Friendship Sloops –with which we have no problem –because Great Harbor Boatworks posted a nice set from the Southwest Harbor Friendship Sloop Race on its Facebook page (thanks to Thomas Armstrong of 70.8% for the share). The lead-off boat in the photo album is the one below,which is a cutter we believe named RESOLUTE. She is so beautiful it hurts.
Here’s another image courtesy of of Facebook,this one on the WoodenBoat Facebook page:two lovely Friendship Sloops,with full sails set,racing (I believe) at one of last year’s Friendship Sloop Society events. Just amazing boats. Ultimate photo credit,I believe,goes to the Friendship Sloop Society,to which I need to pay more attention.
We had a nice family paddle at our standby put-in of Mason Neck State Park. Mostly overcast,but warm and calm,good for trying out the rebuilt ama. I’ll have to test it more,but my initial observations are that we working the aft end SEEMS to make her a touch zippier (biased observation noted) and,as planned,water mostly stayed out of it. The main hull is also drier thanks to some touch-up of the skin seams at the bottom of the stems. And fun was had by all. Good to be underway again.
I wrote recently a couple of reviews of books by Tim Severin and promised a couple more. Well,behold.
As I noted in the prior post,Severin took a few months off after his exploration of the history behind the Jason and the Argonauts story and the returned to Turkey with the same galley he used to explore Homer’s “The Odyssey”. This is the story of “The Ulysses Voyage.”It seems scholars have been all over the Mediterranean map –literally –placing the scenes of Ulysses trip back from Troy,with a consensus,of sorts,involving Sicily for a great many episodes. Severin noted,though,that no one had ever taken a period craft and recreated the voyage,thus factoring-in realistic sailing / rowing speeds,navigation styles and abilities,weather patterns,etc. With a smaller crew than the Jason Voyage,and using mostly sail,he did this,ultimately placing the geography of “The Odyssey”much closer to its Greek home.
As is true of the Jason Voyage,this book is well worth reading. What it lacks in nautical adventure (there are,at best,minor scrapes here) it more than makes up for in discussion of how Bronze Age captains navigated,the complicated weather of the Aegean,and Greek coastal topography and features. In total,Severin presents an extremely tight argument,not only in favor of his new map but also against other versions,which include Sicily and other ports further afield. Severin shows it is not reasonable for a galley of that period,under command of a competent skipper,to have made it that far,nor do the features,seen from sea-level,fit the story nearly as well as do scenes from Greece. Really fascinating read.
As far as I can tell,“The Spice Islands Voyage”is the last of Severin’s nautical adventures for me. As the name suggests,this voyage takes place in eastern Indonesia,tracing the path of Alfred Wallace,a naturalist who,at least,co-developed key concepts of evolution with Charles Darwin. While there are some interesting aspects of this book,mostly around hints that Darwin may have swiped theories from Wallace,it was,on the whole,a disappointment. The short story is that a great many places in the region that Wallace described had,by the time Severin and crew visited,suffered severe environmental degradation. While this story is important to tell,it is depressing as heck to read. Furthermore,Wallace’s story is not terribly interesting. He suffers from all kinds of maladies and was clearly brave,but malarial outbreaks do not make for racy adventure. Correspondingly,Severin’s voyage is not that compelling. There are again only minor scrapes and troubles. All told,it’s a little dry.
One interesting aspect that gets a little attention is the boat Severin and crew use. The boat,the ALFRED WALLACE,is a prahu kalulis,indigenous to the western part of the Indonesian archipelago. The boat is fairly shallow and beamy,looking not unlike a modern dingy-inspired racer. The rig,though,is made of a pair of square sails that have elements of a lug rig in them. Severin calls it a tilted rectangular,or layar tanja,rig. In fact,in tacking,the sails are brailed and the yards dipped around the mast. Severin indicated that the boat was fast and that the sails had a good deal of driving power,but that they are not easy to tack,especially in weather. Compounding this issue,there is not really a good way to reef the sails. Finally,the boat has no keel,so stability was also an issue. These craft were traditionally used for short transit in protected waters. They look beautiful,but they are not appropriate for being in a true sea. Severin and crew suffered only a couple near mishaps,and both seemed to be more a function of pushing the boat in not particularly outrageous weather.
I had not heard of John Fairfax,but I ran cross a tweet (by @halliew) of his NY Times obit. What a fantastic read! The guy was first to row solo across an ocean (Atlantic) and also did the Pacific with a partner. And these were just the later adventures in his life. Check this out for an entertaining Sunday read.
I also read,in recent times,Tim Severin‘s “The Jason Voyage”,his attempt at following the mythical story of Jason and the Argonauts. He had a Bronze Age Aegean galley built using archeological evidence and historical texts. This was the real deal –it would have banks of rowers toiling away and the characteristic “ram”bow. He set off from Greece and headed for the Dardanelles,following the legend’s trail and,once again,finding evidence that the myth may have been based on reality. Among the most fascinating aspects of the voyage was that it debunked the longstanding reason for it being myth:a vessel of that era could not have transited to notorious currents of the Dardanelles and Bosporus. Severin,though,figured out how to use back-eddies and other local nuances of the waterway to successful complete the trip from the Aegean to the Black Sea. Once there,the voyage continued to current-day Georgia,wherein Severin and crew “seal the deal”by identifying the likely source for the golden fleece as well as numerous other facts that match the stories.
I was almost tempted to make this book second to The Brendan Voyage,if only because the myth-to-facts aspect of the book are so compelling. In the end,I gave The Sinbad Voyage the honor,but this is a close third. The year after he completed this voyage,Severin took the same boat on another voyage to trace Ulysses’s voyage in “The Odyssey”. That book is in the on-deck-circle on my bed-side table and I look forward to sharing a review with you all soon.
I have had some time to sift through the back catalog here at Chine bLog headquarters and noted that I never covered a few key books I read in the last couple years. In particular,after knocking off Tim Severin‘s The China Voyage and then his The Brendan Voyage,I moved on to his some of his other like books. Severin’s trip in BRENDAN,the authentic 9th century curragh,got his wheels spinning,it seems,and he hit on another mythical journey to test:the adventures of Sinbad.
It was commonly accepted at the time (~1980),that these writings were pure myth. Severin arranged to build a replica 9th century dhow in Oman,scouring the Arabian Sea shores for period materials,especially the coconut husk fiber builders of the day used to lash the boat together. Yes,these were plank–on-frame boats that were fully lashed. He and a crew then sailed the boat from Oman to China,identifying sources for the supposedly mythical elements and,thereby,suggesting the Sinbad stories may have been based on an amalgamation of true events.
The first quarter or so of the book is all about the boat and its materials,and that alone makes it worth reading. The actual voyage is not as gripping as that of the BRENDAN,but it is still an engaging story. If you haven’t read any Severin,I’d start with The Brendan Voyage and then grab this one immediately afterwards. Here is a summary piece if you need more convincing.