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Chine bLog finds and promotes small, traditional / tradition-inspired, and (mostly) wooden boats - their design, building, and use. It is authored by lifelong boater and budding designer / builder Tim Shaw. Enjoy!

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“The Sea & Civilization” impresses as a comprehensive maritime history

The Sea and Civilization
One of the responsibilities we face here at Chine bLog is reviewing books related to traditional boats. We get no less than one request every… how long have we been doing this?… seven years. Even with this taxing set of demands, though, we agreed to accept the publisher Knopf‘s offer of a complimentary copy of a new book called “The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World” by Lincoln Paine. The Knopf representative was willing to work with our strict editorial policy of not writing about any subject until we got around to it, and sure enough, Mr. Paine’s work arrived within a few days.

We will confess, from the outset, being a bit unnerved by anything with “History of the World” in the title (and Mel Brooks not in the credits). Two connotations come to mind:

  1. A gigantic tome of numbing dense-ness that is two parts endurance for every one part education, or
  2. A coverage of the world where “the world” means the Mediterranean, Western Europe, and post-Columbus North America.

Happily “The Sea & Civilization” is neither. Mr. Paine packs a broad, well-organized overview into 600 readable, engaging pages (with some illustrations and a set of maps at the beginning.

Mr. Paine allayed our fears regarding the scope of the book right off the bat: chapter 1, “Taking to the Water” begins with its first section, “Oceana,” describing population of the Pacific and the technology that supported it in a fair manner that is consistent with scholarly work on the subject. Boom – you have our attention. He then moves, in his first chapter, to discuss early waterborne trade in South America and the Caribbean before giving due coverage to the traditional boats of North America, both the Arctic skin boats and the birch bark ones of the Northeast. Credit justly given. Next comes ancient Egypt, getting more play for its maritime exploits than we have seen before. From there, Mr. Paine is thankfully careful to balance Western advances with the developments in South, Southeast, and East Asia. The result is a fully credible world history.

Mr. Paine maintains a few interesting themes across all the eras and regions. Trade is of greatest importance to him, and he shows the many cases in which trade relationships led to cultural bridges. Military affairs in the maritime realm gets good attention, though the discussion is more about limitations of naval warfare than about huge changes in tides of battle, at least until he gets to the 20th century. We were pleased to see Mr. Paine try to weave boatbuilding styles and technologies into the work as another theme. It seems, though, that there is not much known about a great deal of the craft he covers, at least not to the level Mr. Paine was inclined to cite. We wished he’d engaged in a little more speculation of possibilities in some cases.

The only weakness of Mr. Paine’s book, in our view, is that he names so many place names around the world in such quick succession that it can be dizzyingly hard to follow. More detailed maps for each chapter might have helped; in general this is a reasonable cost of covering such a large swath of history in one book. We recommend the book highly, but know this is a drawback. Many thanks to Knopf for including Chine bLog in its outreach strategy.

The Crotch Island Pinky needs – and gets – its own post

On our prior post regarding the Chewonki Institute’s Solar Sail program, our friend Ben Harris was kind enough to provide some great commentary and point out his favorite Chewonki boat, the Crotch Island Pinky. We are posting the photo Ben linked to, the source of which is the Scholarshipwrights of Rockland, which seems to be Lance Lee’s latest incarnation of / successor to / parent organization of the Apprentice Shops he launched over the years. I hope everyone is happy for us to better share this boat, as she is a beauty.

Crotch Island Pinky

This is a classic Maine fishing craft for sure, so I expect Ben’s description of her, “she was… nimbler to weather, dry, and easy to handle,” stems from some ample development in practice over the years. Thanks for sharing, Ben!

Great-sounding trip for teens – Chewonki’s Solar Sail

Chewonki Solar Sail boatThe 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.


View Larger Map

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?!

The story of the last Pacific-crossing balsa raft

We turned on NPR‘s Morning Edition this morning just in time to catch the tail end of a story referencing a balsa raft in Australia tied to a historic voyage.Mental note made to look up the piece made, we went on with the day. The story was “Australia Celebrates A World-Record Ocean Crossing.” It tells of a crew of men who successfully crossed the Pacific, from Ecuador to Australia, in balsa rafts in 1973. The voyage, though it shattered records, promptly become unknown. We had never heard of it and we read about such things. The locals in the small town in New South Wales, Australia where the rafts landed ultimately saved one of the three rafts (actually they rebuilt one from the remains of the final two) and made a museum around it, but it has not been promoted. Fascinating and worth a quick listen.

Unbelievably amazing traditional boat resource from Italy

Big hat-tip here to our friend Carl Cramer, publisher of Wooden Boat and author of its My Wooden Boat of the Week blog – his entry today, drawings of Indonesian outrigger canoes, was great in-and-of itself. Carl was, though, good enough to provide the source site, a resource from Italy which can be roughly (per Google) translated as “Pages dedicated to the Navy and Merchant Navy and seafaring ethnic and historical.” It isn’t clear to me who is behind this site, but – my word! – what a treasure the site owners have amassed!

The site groups sets of resources – I take it many are drawings, but I haven’t browsed very deeply – in sensible clusters that revolve around time period and location. We were drawn to the second section, “Etnografia: i natanti nel mondo,” which we can tell you, senza Google, is “Boats of the World.” We literally don’t know what to show you as a sample – there are so many cool boats to point out. There are drawing sets for every corner of the planet, as far as we can tell, and there are many per set. The set from Indochina Carl references has 299 – 299! – drawings, mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Try these, for starters:

Indonesian outrigger canoe wiht Indonesian boat Sailing ship form Sumatra Vietnamese boat from Saigon

And that is just one region! There are 325 from Africa, including some amazing lateen craft from the northern and eastern sides of the continent:

Egyptian lateen craft Small Somali sailing vessel Sailing outrigger from Mozambique Long canoe of the Niger

I could go on, e.g., this set of 494 from mainland East Asia. Did we say this collection is mindblowing? ’cause it’s mindblowing. Check out the site and the full-sized images. It is fantastic.

Fun chance meeting with photographer Ellen Tynan

Last weekend we were out for a hikelet along the Potomac river and happened upon a woman enjoying the view of the marsh. We got talking and she mentioned, in particular, my Wooden Boat hat. She then revealed that she was a photographer who specialized in classic and traditional boats, and she noted she had been published in the magazine. Her name is Ellen Tynan and, on review, I am sure I have seen her work (also on Flickr).

She is hoping to publish a book in the not-too-distant future: “Boat Lines.” It will compile her photos of traditional boats from six regions of the world: Maori New Zealand, Ireland, Alaska and British Columbia, Peru, Indonesia, and Egypt. Good sampling, there, eh?

I’d suggest browsing through her work and getting a sneak peak at what might be in the book. A quick selection of works that jumped out at us, here at Chine bLog, includes (will open in new tabs/windows):

There are many more great ones. It would be well worth your time to browse them all on your own. Keep an eye out for this great sounding book.

Great paddling day-trip to Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

AL DEMANY CHIMAN at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Bridge over the narrows

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…

‘s up? SUP. (as in stand-up paddleboard)

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.

An update on the restoration of the skipjack ROSIE PARKS

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum has a great fleet and will be the better for adding the restored skipjack, ROSIE PARKS. I have blogged about her before and the museum does a nice job of tracking the update in its blog. I checked in on her while I was there. She’s coming along nicely.

Skipjack ROSIE PARKS

See the “before” pictures in this post from 2007.

Learning to plank – a great time as a CBMM Apprentice for a Day

It happens all too rarely, but I was able to cash in a Christmas gift and spend another great day with Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum‘s Apprentice for a Day program. The current boat is an enhanced reproduction (a reproduction with some more modern updates incorporated) of GHOST, a deadrise bateau from about 1920. GHOST, a deadrise bateau GHOST's transomShe is a longtime fixture in the museum’s collection but has not, as I understand it, seen the water in that time. Little is known, therefore, about her performance. She is just shy of 16′ LOA with a beam shy of 6′. In her day she carried a sprit rig with 146 square feet of sail.

I found her reincarnation with two rough side planks clamped on to molds and an oak stem. Her chine logs and transom were in place – check out that upsweep in the chines and the laminated keel – as were the initial stab at that most curious of Chesapeake boatbuilding creations, the chunk bow.transom and aft end of chine log Chunk bow Rather than planking the forward portion of the bottom, where planks could get twisted and tricky, the builders took a page from the dugout-builders of yore and carved pieces from solid stock. Arduous, but it did the trick.

Our first task was to fit the bottom-most port side plank (the bottom will be diagonally planked).
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