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Archive for the ‘Boating’ Category

My last post was April 18th, 2011. There’s been a lot of water go under the bridge since then, including a couple of deaths in the family and a major car accident that kept me out of the workshop and away from the computer, but I’m pleased to report that I’m back in action.

Received a nice compliment on the blog from Rod Levene of the Historic Canoe and Kayak Association in the UK, and I’ll return the favour by suggesting that a visit to their website at http://www.hcka.org.uk/site/index.html is well worth your time. They have a wide interest in a very eclectric group of small boats. They’re also involved with the Open Canoe Sailing Group, another worthwhile organization. The OCSG is supported by Solway Dory, whose tagline is “The Home of Canoe Sailing.” Solway Dory was started by John Bull in the early 1980s, and here’s another connection.

A number of years ago, I picked up a copy of John Bull’s book Sail Your Canoe: How to Add Sails to Your Canoe (now out of print, I think, but Solway Dory may know more). On the strength of that, I ordered a set of plans for his “Little Pete” design, a double-chined stitch and glue boat with a lateen rig and a single daggerboard. I had a number of years of good sailing and paddling with this little boat:

I’ve just started another building project which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Until then. . .

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We were talking in the last post about canoe clubs. Here are some more of the members of the Toronto Canoe Club out on a cruise in the late 1880s. Canoeing offered sportsmen a whole separate world of rituals, activities and annual meets and cruises. Of course, one had to be properly equipped and attired for such activities. It wasn’t long before specialized canoeing gear began to be offered for sale:

One of the centres of sailing canoe activity was in the 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River. This beautiful area, with Ontario on the north bank of the river and New York state on the south, was home to a thriving recreational economy. Frequent trains brought vacationers north to any number of palatial hotels on the mainland and some of the islands. Fishing guides waited to take city “sports” out in the region’s eponymous St. Lawrence skiff and cook them a shore dinner afterwards. Most summers, members of the American Canoe Association gathered at Sugar Island, on the Canadian side of the river, for two weeks of racing, cruising, sailing, paddling and fellowship.

That’s a St. Lawrence Skiff in the right foreground, lurking as a light-air canoe race drifts by in the twilight. What were canoeists sailing at these meets? The first generation of boats were multi-purpose cruising canoes, able to be paddled (generally with a double paddle) or sailed. Derived from MacGregor’s original Rob Roy, they were generally round-bilged and often lapstrake planked. If smooth skinned, their hulls were generally of batten-seam carvel construction. Mostly decked over, they had cockpits and deck hatches to allow access to storage compartments.

The rig was usually divided into two sails, a main and a “jigger” or “dandy” at the stern, to keep the centre of effort low and allow for trimming and balance. The masts were usually unstayed, and seldom sported jibs. As above, the sail plan was usually either a lateen or some variant of the lug. Sometimes the plans were mixed, and one boat would carry both a lug main and a lateen mizzen. Lugs, either standing (as above) or balanced, offered a powerful, low aspect ratio sail that didn’t require a long mast and was divided into easily-reefable sections with full-length battens. This latter was important as canoe sailors couldn’t exactly get up out of the cockpit and walk forward to take in a reef.

Canoeists debated endlessly about the merits of particular hulls and rigs. Significant early canoes lent their names to design types, and the sporting press of the day was filled with disquisitions about the relative merits of the Shadow, the Pearl, the Nautilus and the Ringleader. North American canoeists discussed types within their own clubs and within their own national organizations but also with British enthusiasts across the Atlantic. Out of these discussions arose an international sporting rivalry that is still contested to this day for a trophy first awarded in the 19th century: The International Challenge Cup.

At the centre of this international rivalry was a famous canoeist and his even better-known canoe: Warington Baden Powell and his Nautilus.

To be continued. . .

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By the mid 1980s, I has been sailing  for a while, beginning with Flying Juniors and Lasers in Vancouver, and extending eventually to anything I could cadge a ride on, including a Chinese junk and a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter. I was browsing in a bookstore, looking for something boat-related to spend that week’s grocery money on, when I picked up the April 1985 issue of The Yacht. I think it’s folded now, but at the time it was a glossy, swanky publication with wonderful photography. Paging through it, I came across page 94, which carried an article by Steve Clark entitled “The International Canoe: Mercurial Fantasy.” I can’t honestly recall if I’d ever really thought too much about sailing canoes before that moment, but reading Steve’s article fixed that pretty quickly. The image above smacked me between the eyes just like the handle of the rake that you left lying in the back yard, and I haven’t been the same since.

I mean, how could you look at that old-school Swedish IC photo and not want to go do that right away. Planing to windward, the skipper is perched at the end of his sliding seat, perfectly balanced (for the moment) between his rig (a foil in the air) and his centerboard (a foil in the water) with only a little hull between the two. All of a sudden, I needed to know more about canoe sailing, and about International Canoes in particular.

I posted a message to rec.boats [remember Usenet?] asking for anyone who could provide some information about these wonderful boats, and maybe help me find one of my own. Replies came back from a couple of stalwarts of the Chesapeake Bay IC community [one of whom, sailmaker and Moth afficionado Rod Mincher, runs a great sailing blog of his own]. Some chatting back and forth did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm. The grapevine told me that there was a boat located just outside NY City that might be available. Its owner had recently passed away, and his widow was cleaning out the garage. It was IC US 78, a Lou Whitman Manana II design. Here’s Lou aboard one of his boats off City Island in the 1960s.

So, off I went down to New York City to have a look (just a look, mind you, I wasn’t going to buy it. . .) at this canoe. As I drove south, I was thinking of what Steve Clark had said at the end of his article.

Canoes combine power with lack of drag. Their speed potential is outstanding, but what probably makes the Canoe most attractive is the nature of that potential, for it is not realized without consummate technique and finesse. For this reason, the Canoe lives on a frontier of the imagination that historically few have ventured to cross, and from which even fewer have chosen to return.

What I saw when I arrived at the house in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge was a very tired boat that had been outdoors a little too long. The Manana hulls had been produced by Max Andersson in Sweden, who was normally a builder of racing canoes and kayaks. In the technology of the 1950s, they were hot-moulded, laid up from layers of veneer adhered with resorcinol glue which had to be cured by heat and pressure in an autoclave. This produced a light, strong frameless hull with one great disadvantage: it didn’t age well. By the time I saw US 78, she had been sitting out in the back yard for too long, and water had gotten into the veneer seams on the bottom. The result looked like an old head of Savoy cabbage, with the veneers sprung up in all directions.

Nevertheless, I loaded her on top of the truck, along with all the gear and a nice piece of stained oak which the sailor’s widow thought was part of the boat but which was really the center leaf from an old dining room table, and headed back north. What I didn’t take, and I regret it to this day, was the William English paddling canoe that was hanging overhead in the garage, and was in much better shape. I only had room for one boat on the truck, though, and I had IC on the brain. Now I had one in my hands, too.

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If W.P. Stephens had written only Canoe and Boat Building: A Manual for Amateurs, his place in boating history would be secure. He clinched his nomination for the all-time boating hall of fame, however, with Traditions and Memories of American Yachting.

Traditions and Memories

1981 edition by International Marine Publishing Company is on the right; the 1989 edition by WoodenBoat magazine is on the left.

The book began as a series of 83 articles that Stephens wrote for Motor Boating magazine between 1939 and 1946. Appropriately for a project of such biblical proportions, the first article was titled “The Genesis of American Yachting.” In a characteristically self-deprecating preface, he wrote

In offering this book to my fellow yachtsmen I feel that a few words of explanation or excuse are necessary: first, for the absence of formal style which is usually found in the recording of serious history; and secondly, for the lack of chronological order. . .The method of narration which suggested itself as the most fitting is that pursued by yachtsmen about the fire in winter and afloat or on the club porch in the season–reminiscent, discursive, argumentative, often wandering from the immediate subject.

We all have reason to be thankful that Stephens went about writing these articles in his own style, for the manner in which they are presented is thoroughly charming, and the side tracks and digressions, which are, after all, the way that history proceeds, are nothing that cannot be surmounted by the use of the very complete index.

The articles were collected and published in a book several times, with the most complete collection brought out in 1981 by International Marine Publishing Company. In 1989, WoodenBoat magazine performed a great service to yachting and boating history by bringing out a new and comprehensive edition on the 50th anniversary of Stephens’ death. All of the previous collections had been printed exactly as they originally appeared in the magazine. For the new edition, WoodenBoat re-set the articles in new type and devoted considerable effort to sourcing originals of the illustrations used in the articles, and added some 40 new images.

And what is in this wonderful book? Just about anything you could want to know about North American yachting and boating, from the sport’s beginnings in the middle of the 19th century, through the epic era of the America‘s Cup, to the great sloop vs. cutter and keel vs. centerboard debates to sandbaggers, catboats and of course, sailing canoes and canoe yawls.

The book is profusely illustrated with lines plans, sail plans, general arrangement drawings, photographs, engravings and paintings. As you page through the many drawings, you will from time to time see one of exceptional quality, such as this arrangement plan of the cutter Yolande.

Close examination of the finest examples of draughting in the book will often reveal the initials “C.P.K.” somewhere on the right-hand side of the drawing. Those stand for Charles P. Kunhardt. And who was he? Well, that’s another book. Until then. . .

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