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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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In defense – at least a little – of the traditonal working scow

We at Chine bLog have very much been enjoying reading Howard Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft, even if the writing is a bit trying. After musing about the types and origins of colonial watercraft, Chapelle turns, in chapter 2, to the simplest of boats, the scow.

“Scow.” The word seems to say it all (unless one is an aficionado of the racing scows of the Midwest) – it sounds like an epithet, even if it isn’t. In fact, flat-bottomed, blunt-ended sailing craft we popular working boats in 19th century America, and they were respected in that role. More than carrying a load of rock, bricks, hay, etc. well, though, Chapelle notes that the boat below, taken from the book:

… appeared a very fast sailer, considering her heavy load. She was heavily canvased, was well-handled by the crew of two, and seemed to be very quick in tacking… The master… claimed that he could weather deep sloops if he kept the scow sailing hard…

The boat in question is a Maine / New Brunswick type of scow sloop, just shy of 40′ LOA with a 12+’ beam. The rig appears to be a gaff sloop.

Maine / New Brunswick type of scow sloop

Chapelle praises these boats as working craft, but then feels the need, at a couple points, to denigrate their appearance. He writes “… the type has never become popular in the pleasure fleet, even in those areas where it was well known and most useful, for it was not a thing of beauty and only appealed to the most practical sailor.” While calling scows “fast” and “weatherly,” he also cites their “clumsy appearance.”

Look, we are not going to say the boat above is going to stack up against DORADE on a beam reach, but Chapelle seems a bit heavy-handed here. The scow above is utilitarian, but she has a gentle sheer and nice overhangs. Set with a nice big gaff main and moderate jib, she’d please the eye. Even the boxy pilot house does not, to our eye, look so off that “clumsy” is in order. This scow is pretty, in her own way, and certainly interesting, even in the pre-generic-mass-produced-sloop years in which Chapelle wrote.

Chapelle is surely accurate that such a boat would never be in fashion, but “in fashion” too often equates to “ordinary” and “ho-hum.” Traditional working boats like this scow are ripe for rediscovery and reinterpretation. Let’s remember more of the graces Chapelle cites and not knee-jerk to disparage these craft.

A quick musing on epoxy use – or overuse – in wooden boat building

The most recent issue of WoodenBoat includes part I of a three-part “how to build” piece on the Phoenix III, a cute sprit-rigged day-sailer from the desk and shop of Aussie Ross Lillistone’s Bayside Wooden Boats. As is generally the case with these pieces in WoodenBoat, the boat is pretty and fun-looking, the article clear and interesting, and the detail on target for the need. Mr. Lillistone clearly has a nice eye as a designer and we are sure he is a great boatbuilder. We don’t want to impugn the big-picture here at all; again, we really like the looks of the boat.

One bit in the article really bugged us, though, and we are interested in others’ opinions. In writing about setting up the transom, Mr. Lillistone writes:

The transom edge, like the bulkheads, is simply cut square, relieving the builder of the tricky process of cutting compound bevels on its edges. The planking will contact only the outer corner of the transom. This is no cause for worry, since the gap will be filled with thickened epoxy when the hull is being planked. After the planking is completed and the hull turned upright, this joint will be further reinforced with a large radius epoxy fillet and double-bias ‘glass tape, making it exceptionally strong.

We would fully expect the method described to do the job, but does it strike anyone else as crossing a line from being accessible to being sloppy and leaning on a crutch? We here at Chine bLog are all about getting as many fine boats like the Phoenix III built as possible and that clearly means knocking down barriers to entry. Epoxy and ‘glass methods like stitch-and-glue, lapstrake-plywood, and the like are valuable ways to do this. We find ourselves getting ruffled, though, when we are leaning on epoxy so much that joinery is getting tossed out wholesale. Yes, the bevels present some extra work, but it’s hardly the trickiest task one faces. We would be curious to hear what you, our readers, think of this. Is there a line of artistry the we should try to hold or have we gotten curmudgeonly here?

Gap filled – Chapelle’s “American Small Sailing Craft” now resides at Chine bLog HQ

American Small Sailing Craft
It was shameful. Howard Chapelle’s classic treatise on American traditional boats, “American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction,” did not exist in our bookshelf here at Chine bLog headquarters. Until a week ago, that is, when Mr. & Mrs. Chine bLog Senior filled this gaping hole. Merry Christmas to Chine bLog!

We have started reading it already. It already seems like it is going to provide so much information that we’ll be even more embarrassed by its absence a month from now. Oh well, at least it is here now.

“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…