[Editors note:we are doing something here we loath,which is to back-post content to fill in a hole in time. Our only excuse is that the content is genuinely form the period in time,but we never got around to sharing it. Enjoy regardless.]
With the season winding down,we made it out to the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s,MD. With the sailing rig on AL DEMANY CHIMAN complete,it seemed right to put her up for judging again,hoping to beat the second-place finish of two years ago. We also we looking to spread the new sail and try our hand at a race.
Judging looked tough from the outset. Looking around the little green,there was a bumper crop of skin-on-frame boats. Check out the pictures.
The one guy –I didn’t get his name –was showing three,including a Greenland-style kayak he had tricked out with faux-bone spears,mocked-up arctic tools,and even a neoprene “seal.”The others were more straight-forward,but were really well done. AL DEMANY CHIMAN held her own,though,impressing with uniqueness and creativity. We got many nice compliments again. In the end,though,that qajaq was too much,and we took a proud second again.
The race proved much less successful. It was blowing modestly,and for good measure we tied in a reef (worked great!) and headed out with the fleet. Things felt good,with the latest iteration of the leeboard bracket holding it down OK and seeming snug. But then…we came about and the board pivoted up. Athwartships. The bracket failed again in a new way. Ugh. Discouraged but resolute,we headed back in,more iterating ahead of us. In retrospect,we should have given the race a whirl anyway,lateral resistance be darned. But there is always next year…
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,nor his manservant,nor his maidservant,nor his ox,nor his ass,nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)
So that final phrase is fairly open-ended,but is thy neighbor’s Watson Fellowship covered? Because if it is,we’re screwed. We say this after receiving an email this week from a visitor named Will Meadows. Mr. Meadows has recently graduated from university here in the U.S. and succeeded in winning the prestigious fellowship,which grants $25,000 for “a year of independent,purposeful exploration and travel —in international settings new to them —to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness,imagination,openness,and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.”And what will Mr. Meadows do with this gift? Here is where the envy part comes in. He writes:“Traveling for a year non-stop as a Watson Fellow I will build and study traditional canoes on every continent (besides Antarctica).”No one told us we could do that when we were 21! We want a do-over!
In all seriousness,this is an amazing project and we truly commend Mr. Meadows for winning the fellowship and choosing this incredible topic. To be clear,we’d support almost any permutation of this project,but the particular itinerary / boat selection is a great mix. Meadows is covering many major styles and building materials,so the results will allow a great study of strengths and weaknesses as well as unique factors in the evolution of different boat types. In his words:
The global journey begins on lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia where at 12500 feet beautiful reed canoes are made throughout the lake. The native peoples of Titicaca live on floating islands of the same reed harvested in the lake ecosystem a. From there,I build in Zanzibar with the dugout builders of the island,traveling into mainland Tanzania and Uganda as well. After a brief stay in the United Arab Emirates with a palm frond boat builder,I work with Maori war canoe builders on the North Island of New Zealand. Canada calls next in the spring with the intricate birch bark canoes of the north woods. The year ends with a summer building traditional Kayaks in Norway and a stay on the Mekong in northern Laos.
We are,of course,eager to stay in touch with the project. You can too –Mr. Meadows is writing about his travels and sharing his knowledge at the Humanity’s Vessel blog. It’s on our RSS reader and should be on yours too. Please join me in wishing Godspeed to Mr. Meadows!
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 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.
In case anyone thinks I am some kind of wooden boat poseur…I was recently cleaning stuff out and came across a bunch of old checks,including some of the first I ever wrote. Inclued was this one,from 1985:my first subscription to WoodenBoat. Keepin’it real…
Toward the end of the day Saturday,I happened to be on hand when John Harris,father of Chesapeake Light Craft,took a spin in one of the two cocktail class racers that were about. For those who don’t know,these boats are 8′plywood outboard boats that barely hold a single man. They go fast and have a devoted following. John was getting into the boat and setting of when one fo the other guys from CLC yelled out “John! Stop! You’re in the wrong boat! It has a MOTOR! [as John heads out] Uhhh…he’s gone to the dark side.”LOL. John came back after an out-and-back run looking somewhat exhilerated and more than mildly terrified. In the next three minutes I heard him say “the steering is really an art”no less than five times with his eyes the size of bulkhead ports. I wouldn’t be holding your breath for the CLC cocktail class kit.
I wanted to get these pictures of the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival up right away;I’ll be adding captions soon.
[UPDATE] Captions are now on there. I encourage you to browse through. There were some AMAZING AMAZING boats there. I’d highlight the sailing canoe SEVEN STARS,the Melonseeds,the sailing canoe in pictures 4 and 31,and,of course,the Coquina.
For those scoring at home,your 2011 Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival sailing race winner was a Sunfish. A non-traditional,plastic boat –kinda violates my sensibilities. But well done.
I am eager to get going with the paddling race as it is COLD here in St. Michael’s,MD.
[UPDATE] It was me and four kayaks. I got shallaced…again. Time to get my double paddle working with this boat (tried once and I could get my position right). At least the race committee noted I was the only single paddle and called me my own class. So they gave me recognition.