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.
We here at Chine bLog were sad to hear the news earlier this week of the passing of Harold “Dynamite”Payson. If the late,great Phil Bolger deserved eternal bliss for designing the Gloucester Light Dory,Dynamite Payson deserves the same for making the great design so accessible. Dynamite Payson literally wrote the book on building the Gloucester Light Dory,the one I used when I built one at age 16. How to Build the Gloucester Light Dory:A Classic in Plywood was a well-produced,easy-to-follow guide to building the boat,and it made the project possible. I even contacted Mr. Payson a year later to inquire about the feasibility of adding a sliding seat to the boat. He responded graciously to a 17 year-old kid without much forethought on hydrodynamics. I wish I could have met him.
Carl Cramer,of Wooden Boat Publications,did know him,and wrote a nice obituary on Monday. Carl is also quoted in one in the Bangor Daily News that gives more background on the man. Read these and learn about this obviously great man and important contributor to the resurgence of wooden boats.
Last Winter we finally read one of Tim Severin’s books,The China Voyage:Across The Pacific By Bamboo Raft and posted some reactions,all positive. One of our friends said,at the time,that if we liked that book,Severin’s The Brendan Voyage:Across the Atlantic in a Leather Boat was better still. Well,we finally read it. And we concur. It is an absolutely fantastic read.
The Brendan Voyage is also half sailing yarn and half archeological text. There is,apparently,a medieval Irish text,Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, that tells of a voyage St. Brendan took in the North Atlantic in a leather boat,what we now call a curragh. It is,in fact,conceivable to interpret the text to say that St. Brendan and a crew of Irish monks reached Newfoundland around the sixth century,long before Leif Erikson’s boys and WAAAYYY before that poser Columbus. Scholars,of course,disagree about the extent to which it is factual or fantasy. One of the grounds for skepticism was that a leather boat could never make such a voyage. Severin set out to build a replica,using sixth-century technology,and sail it from Ireland to North America,specifically Newfoundland,Canada. Given the subtitle,I don’t think I am a spoiler to say that the crew proves the hypothesis and completes the voyage,adding evidence to support the Irish being the first Europeans to hit these shores.
Everything about the book is amazing. » Continue reading Fantastic read:Tim Severin’s “The Brendan Voyage” »
This is certainly the best design I ever made…When I come up for judgment and they stop me at the gate and ask,‘What’s your excuse?’I’ll tell them I designed the Gloucester Light Dory and they’ll have to let me in.
- Phil Bolger (taken from his obituary in the Boston Globe)
For the record,I don’t think this is at all how it went down on Sunday,when Phil Bolger’s brilliant life came to a close. You don’t design the Gloucester Light Dory,and countless other great boats,and then have to answer for yourself. You get waved on through and directed to the VIP lounge. And,if you are Phil Bolger,you then walk out of the VIP lounge and begin rethinking the design of the whole place,because you know you can probably help God Himself “think outside the box.”
Our corner of the world,lovers of small boats,especially wooden and classic ones,is feeling the great loss of Phil Bolger two days ago. We here at Chine bLog are in especially deep mourning. As I have noted,the aforementioned “Gloucester Gull”was the first boat we built and was truly a thing of beauty. The sweep of the sheer is divine,the rake of the ends spot-on,the project of building her accessible to most,and the performance magical. The design has no equal,and those of us who design boats on any level accept a second rung of greatness as the best possible outcome,much the way any rock band knows it will never quite touch St. Pepper’s.
As great as the Gloucester Light Dory and a handful of other Bolger designs are (see my tribute to him from several months back),what has to set Phil apart in the historical record is his willingness to stand above convention and fashion. If you have never grabbed his 103 Sailing Rigs,you are missing out on a great text on small boat rigs. Sure,there are the many boatloads of practical advice,but the true value are the genius pieces of common sense. Bolger rants over and over,for example,about how arbitrary racing rules have dictated rig preferences for boats that are rarely –or never –beholden to those rules. He writes of the dipping lug rig:
…the dipping lug remains ideal for the use for which it has always been ideal:to produce maximum power in a straight line with minimum clutter on deck and wind resistance aloft. The cartoon shows it as an auxiliary sail on a motorboat,a purpose for which it is so much better than any other rig ever devised that its a monument to the rarity of common sense that its so little used.
Bolger never forgot that each boat had a purpose,and to create a design that fulfills traits unaligned to that purpose was beyond counterproductive. In some sense it is so easy –figure out the problem you are trying to solve and solve it. Period. But few ever do that,and Bolger did it almost every time out. Are some of his designs ugly as all get out? Absolutely,but read the design spec first. If you want something that allows one to bird-watch in shoal-draft water in all weather,guess what:you don’t get Rosinante. You just don’t. Bolger used to do design commentaries in the dearly-departed Small Boat Journal (readers would send in requirements and he’d knock out a sketch to solve the problem). I used to go nuts looking at the lines,but then you read the boat’s purpose and it all makes sense. No one else could so focus himself on the needs of the owner and so divorce himself from “the way things are supposed to be.”
I hope we’ll see another Phil Bolger,but I am not betting on it. Such brilliance only comes around once. Fair winds and following seas,Phil –you will be much missed and always admired.
And now,if you don’t mind,I am going to keep trying to create a design that is 1/4 of the Gloucester Light Dory.
I actually had the crazed idea to read a book recently. Doesn’t happen much –I am lucky if I can clear my magazine rack in a given month. Long on my to do list,though,had been reading some of Tim Severin’s works. Severin is an Irishman (at least he lives there) with an fascinating joint interest in history,archeology,and epic voyages,mostly maritime ones. Sound intriguing? It gets better. Severin’s shtick has been to identify an unproven or poorly understood historical journey,build a traditional boat,if a maritime one,that represents the type of that era,and then recreate the journey to see if it could have happened as theorized. Oh yeah,I am IN! I have known about him for a while and only just got around to checking him out.
I began with The China Voyage:Across The Pacific By Bamboo Raft. Apparently there are a group of archeologists who believe (or believed,as of the early 1990s) that there was contact between East Asian cultures and Central American cultures within the last couple millennia. » Continue reading Thinking about a ocean voyage on a bamboo raft? Read “The China Voyage” »
I recently read “Shadow Divers:The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II”,by Robert Kurson. It is a well-known book at this point and you may have read it. If not,you really ought to –it is fantastic. It tells the true story of a group of American wreck divers who discover a U-Boat sunk off the coast of New Jersey where no U-boat ought to be. Two men in particular pursue its identity and the story follows their tumultuous multi-year effort to prove their case. Great stuff.
I recently picked up a great book for my kids:The Island-below-the-Star. It a wonderful story / “myth”about Polynesian discovery of Hawaii in a double-hull canoe and the navigation skills that help the voyage. Worth grabbing for fellow traditional boat lovers with size-small crew floating about.
As I mentioned recently,my dad gave me Frank and Margaret Dye’s Ocean Crossing Wayfarer:To Iceland and Norway in a 16ft Open Boat for Christmas and I tore through it in several days. Great book for those liking adventure or those liking nice wooden boats.
For those not in the know,Frank Dye began investigating the possibilities of dinghy cruising in the early ’60s. He bought a Wayfarer dinghy and began going offshore,into –and then across –the North Sea. He survived force 8 gales and kept pushing. The book details two voyages:one from Northern Scotland to Iceland and one form Northern Scotland to the Faeroe Islands and then central Norway. Both were double-handed trips,and both are full of the fine line between expert seamanship and sheer lunacy. It is all,however,entertaining,the moreso because of Dye’s no-ego style (Margaret’s words based on Frank’s logs).
Even more interesting is the appendices,which detail the supply lists and lessons learned from the trips (the Dye’s went on to do many more dinghy cruises). In particular,he reviews equipment choices (including updates in the newer edition on more modern alternatives) and even maps out rigging / layout he used on the Wayfarer WANDERER. Its fascinating and makes you think a bit about following the Dye’s brave lead…
There is logic to this,but I won’t get into it. Suffice it to say that I had recently been thinking about the wooden dories and river boats indigenous to the American West. I don’t know much about these boats and have never been in one,so I don’t think about them much (of course,that means nothing,since I think a lot about lots of boats I have never been in –let’s move on…). Well,lo and behold,if my nightly missive from the good people at Google didn’t bring me a little something on the subject (courtesy of The Statesman Journal form Salem,Oregon). I guy named Roger Fletcher from Oregon has just written a book about these boats that is the culmination of his exhaustive research into them. He literally resurrected 13 designs (publishing 11) from the dead and has now preserved them. The boat is called Drift Boats and River Dories:Their History,Design,Construction,and Use,and it looks like a great resource. I certainly am inclined to raise a toast to Mr. Fletcher’s efforts –we need people like him to make sure great designs and the thinking behind them remain available.
I particularly liked a few passages from the article that found me:
“My passion for boats is tied to the parallels I see between the river and how one runs this course we call life,”Fletcher said. “The river is wonderful medicine for the river of life. That sounds kind of hokey,but that’s where my passion is. I enjoy fly fishing and I enjoy getting out,but that isn’t what pulls me. It’s the river itself,and the people who share the passion.”
His research,the hard work that it was,sucked him in…this led me down a path that brought me in touch with a variety of marvelous people whose passion for rivers and river people surpasses my own…”By telling the story of those people,he also tells the story of the boats.
“What I’ve done is define the key points in time in the evolution of boats —what caused the builder to quit building a square-end boat and start building a double-ended boat,”Fletcher said. “What were the circumstances,what experiences did he have and how did he do it? I discovered the history of these boats and my natural curiosity took over. These boats are Oregon’s unique contribution to the wooden boat world,and that has become more and more obvious as I’ve done the research.”