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Posts Tagged ‘boating history’

Over the years, I’ve written a lot of book reviews for publications such as The International Journal of Maritime History, The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord and WoodenBoat magazine. Lately, I’ve also been reviewing boats. This is, if anything, more fun than reviewing books about boats, though unfortunately you don’t get to keep the boat at the end of the review(!).

Last year, I reviewed a Sea Flea outboard hydroplane. This year, it was the Mirror Dinghy and a Peterborough Canoe Company “Nomad” longitudinal strip outboard runabout.

mirror dinghy 4

If you’ve spent any time at all in sailing clubs in North America or Europe, chances are you’ve seen at least a few of the many dinghies drawn by the English designer and boatbuilder Jack Holt (1912–1995), who drew more than 40 boats during his long career. He was noted for his early adoption of marine plywood with a particular focus on dinghies that could be home-built by amateurs. Two of his more distinctive designs are the Enterprise (1956), with its baby blue sails, and the Mirror (1962), with its red sailcloth. Interestingly, the Enterprise (The News Chronicle) and the Mirror (The Daily Mirror) are, along with the DN Iceboat (The Detroit News), three small craft designs sponsored by newspapers that have gone on to great success.

According to the international class association, more than 70,000 of these small dinghies have been built worldwide, and the Mirror is now an international one-design class overseen by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). Mirror hull #1, EILEEN, was constructed in 1963 and is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, England. Originally gunter-rigged, the class now also permits a Bermudan mainsail. The Mirror was an early design to employ stitch-and-glue construction. Home-built boats still use this method, but some professionally built hulls are also available in foam-sandwich fiberglass in the United Kingdom. The first generation of spars was all wood, but masts are now commonly aluminum.

The dinghy measures 10’11” LOA x 4’7” beam, with a board-down draft of 28”. Sail area is 49 sq ft in the main, 20 sq ft in the jib, and the spinnaker adds an additional 47 sq ft. The racing crew is two, but the boat can easily accommodate three adults or an adult and several children for daysailing. Plans for this strict one-design are not commercially available, and Mirrors are sold only as complete kits, hull kits, bare hulls, or sail-away boats.Mirror dinghies can often be found on the used-boat market in central and eastern Canada, particularly through the website of the Ontario Mirror Dinghy Association at www.mirrorsailing.ca.

Mirror dinghy kits are available in North America from Mirror Sailing Development, 34 Lee Ave., Bradford, ON, l3Z 1A9, Canada, 905–775–4771, lbellamy@ca.inter.net. General information about the class is available from the International Mirror Class Association www.mirrorsailing.org and www.dinghyalmanac.com/mirror, where you will find links to national associations in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

nomad page 1959 pcc catalogue

The Nomad was from the upper end of the Peterborough Canoe Company’s outboard offerings. Owners could have the boat as an open outboard or add steering, windshield and deck hardware to turn the Nomad into the double-cockpit runabout shown here. The sail-away price in 1959 was $730.00.

Over the years, Ken Lavalette and his crew at Woodwind Yachts in Nestleton, Ontario, have restored more than 50 cedar-strip boats. Well-loved and well-used, they often come into his shop more than a little worse for wear and leave looking a whole lot better. As he worked on these boats over the years, it occurred to Ken that often the number of hours required to restore them wasn’t far off what it would take to build one from scratch. At 15’ LOA and 5’ beam, the Nomad was big enough to carry some people and some gear, but small enough to be easily trailered and stored. Was there a market for a new traditionally-built cedar-strip runabout?

nomad 1

There was only one way to find out, so he measured an original 1957-58 Nomad and built the robust, nearly-solid mould required for this method of construction. He left the hull shape unchanged from the original, but increased the scantlings of the stem, keel, ribs, transom, planking and deck slightly based on what he had learned from his many restorations of this type. Underway, the boat feels solid and reliable. 25 mph is not at all fast by today’s standards, but it’s a speed that will get you where you want to go and still let you have a pleasant conversation on the way. It might also save enough on gas, even with an older two-stroke, to let you pay for dinner when you get there.

With simple lines and an elegant all-bright finish, the boat is a head-turner both on the water and on the road. New Peterborough Nomads built in the traditional longitudinal cedar strip technique and equipped with re-built 1950s outboards are available from Woodwind Yachts. Used cedar-strip boats in a variety of sizes and configurations can often be found for sale in classified ads and at antique and classic boat shows and auctions.

Both reviews appear in WoodenBoat Magazine’s 2014 Small Boatswhich is on newsstands now.

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In response to a post at the end of July about re-canvassing the 1937 Old Town, reader David Little posted an interesting comment in response to my use of epoxy as a canvas filler:

I understand the need to make things last longer…although it seems the previous traditional filler and paint lasted pretty long considering it was put on over 70 years ago….i do not subscribe however to taking the tradition out of traditional…i would not have gone to modern methods as a filler…the synthetic somehow doesn’t sit well with my view of tradition…just my thoughts.

His thoughts prompted some thoughts of my own, beginning with the words of a true expert on the subject.

Fiddler_on_the_roofAs the film opens, Tevye says:  “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!” (boat builders and restorers might take some ironic pleasure in the other song the film made famous: “If I was a Rich Man. . .”) But what is tradition, and by association, what is traditional?

At a fairly fine and granular level, tradition means simply keeping things exactly like they were. In the context of boatbuilding, this might mean that a steam-bent rib of white oak should always and only be made from white oak. At a mechanical level, traditions can be founded on properties. The oak rib, for instance, is such because oak happens to be an excellent material from which to bend ribs. But, it isn’t the only one, so one also sees small boats with ribs made of ash, elm and cedar, among other woods, because they share the same mechanical properties. Substituting one of these woods for another might therefore be “un-traditional,” but it may not necessarily change the fundamental character of the boat, because the steam-bent rib is still doing what has always done.

However, if you were to make a change in the structure of that rib, you’re dealing with tradition in a different way. Let’s say that your steam-bent oak rib becomes a laminated epoxy oak rib. Now you’ve introduced a significant change and, I would suggest, broken from tradition, because the rigidity and strength of the epoxy change the properties of the rib. The outward similarity–someone looking at the boat would still see a thin bent rib–masks a significant change. In the same way, a glued-lapstrake plywood boat is still lapstrake, and therefore nominally traditional, but whatever the outward similarity, it is a fundamentally different structure with different mechanical properties whose component parts have a different working relationship than in a traditional lapstrake boat.

To me, one test to apply would be the Arts & Craft movement’s maxim “Truth to Materials.” If the component parts of a boat still bear the same mechanical relationship to each other as they did in the original, then, possibly with minor variations, the boat might be said to be traditional. That is, a lapstrake dinghy built with clench nails and rivets and steam-bent frames in North America is traditional with respect to the same dinghy built in the UK, notwithstanding that when the builder moved across the pond he found out that he couldn’t get the larch stock he was used to for planking so he substituted oak.

Thus, with all due respect to American Traders, who build this canoe, this is not traditional:

Trapper14What started life as a wood/canvas canoe, where a non-water tight wooden shell supported a layer of waterproofed canvas stretched tightly around it, is now a different kind of watercraft, where resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth not only keeps the wood water tight but is also mechanically and chemically bonded to it. Before the mail starts coming in, I’m not saying it’s not a good canoe, just that for all of its outward similarities to wood/canvas canoes it is a fundamentally different structure.

This, by comparison, is traditional, at least to my way of thinking:

DSCF0426

Yes, the canvas has been filled with epoxy, and not a mixture of silica, linseed oil and white lead. However, 1) it’s still cotton canvas; 2) it’s still not fastened to the hull except by tacks at the ends and gunwales; and 3) it still comes off in a couple of big pieces when it’s time to re-canvas.

Interesting topic to ponder. What do you think?

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A little late for Mother’s Day (we’re clearly running on Cultural Standard Time here at Playing With Boats, which is always a bit behind real-world time), here are some images of women in canoes from my collection, all from around the turn of the last century.

Entitled “Landing,” this card shows our friend alighting from a handsome little lapstrake cruising canoe.

Some time later, in the same canoe, with the same lacy shawl (or a gill-net, but somehow I think it’s a shawl. . .) but with a different outfit (but a no less fluffy hat), she bids “Goodbye.” We can only speculate about what’s happened in between these two cards. Judging from how straight the post is, I’d say we’re looking at the stern of the canoe here.

Scenes suggestive of shoreside trysts notwithstanding, the theme of womens’ independence shows up often in these postcards–we might call it the “canoe of one’s own” motif. In a sporty sailor suit, charmingly encircled with two lines of rope and with a decorative background of paddles, our subject is clearly enjoying being out for a paddle. As she’s out on her own doing a sports activity, a pleasure all-too-rarely afforded women of her era, perhaps the most important word is “yourself.” She certainly seems to be firmly in control of her canoe.

“Paddling my own canoe” is another motif that shows up frequently in popular culture images of canoing. I wouldn’t say she looks altogether comfortable, and there’s at least a chance that she’s holding an oar and not a paddle, but the point remains that women like her can and did paddle their own canoes at the turn of the last century.

She’s definitely holding a paddle, but she’s kneeling aft of the bow seat, and I have a feeling that the line tied to the seat frame is holding her fast to the shore, so this shot strongly suggests “studio.”

The more of these cards you look at, the more interesting they get. Here we have several elements from other images, including the same initial “D” painted on the bow as above, albeit on a bright-finished canoe. The red and white striped fabric and the shawl lying on the deck sure look a lot like those in the first image, and come to think of it, her dress and hat are also pretty similar. That’s a pretty wide-shafted paddle she’s holding, too.

OK, strictly speaking Kate Vaughan isn’t in a canoe, but she is wearing the colours of the American Canoe Association in this 1890s card from the Duke Tobacco Company, part of their “Yacht Colors of the World” series. Kate Vaughan (1852-1903) was a well-known English actress and music-hall performer.

While you’re reading the impressive list of yacht clubs on the back of the card, take a moment to enjoy the exquisite typography of the titles at the top and bottom. There’s a font that’s worth reconstructing.

Until next time, when we might have done enough work on it to get back to our sailing canoe design. . .

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One of the things I’ve always found almost as interesting as boats is images of boats, especially pop culture and advertising images. Pop culture? Really? But it’s so, well, so popular. What does it really have to say? A lot, I think.

The same argument is sometimes levelled at pleasure boating as not being a subject worthy of serious study because it “only” deals with pleasure (as if the pursuit of pleasure hasn’t been a constant of human affairs for some time now). The thing about pleasure boating, and its wealthy cousin yachting, is that they’re of significance precisely because they’re not serious (unless you’re trying to win the America‘s Cup, perhaps), and this is what makes them important. The purchase of a pleasure boat is the ultimate discretionary expenditure. There’s no practical reason to own it unless you want to, or you think it’s beautiful, or it makes you happy, or all three. If you think about it, then, these purchases can tell us about what we really want, unfettered by the practicalities that constrain our everyday acquisitions. If pleasure boats are an interesting place to study people, therefore, then advertising for pleasure boats, or that uses pleasure boats, is a great place to find out what we all desire.

I’ve been collecting images of pleasure boating for a while now, and for me it’s a real pleasure because I only acquire things that interest me. No scheme, no system, no need to have footnotes or be representative of a particular historical style or period. I just get things I like. I think I’ll share some of these with you from time to time, so here’s a few to start us off. These are all on the theme of canoes and double paddles.

Our 1890s friend here with the snappy beanie, striped shirt and moustache to match is paddling a sturdy little Rob Roy type. He’s also advertising coffee while he enjoys boating. Here’s what the back of the card looks like:

And the connection between Lion coffee and canoeing is, well, it is what ever you would like it to be. As it it says at the top, you had to buy the coffee to get this charming trade card.

On a less muscular and manly note, we have some very slender 1880s young ladies paddling some very slender Rob Roy canoes. I’m not sure what the displacement of the hull in the background is, but I would think that it’s not suited to rough water use. This is a lovely, serene pastoral image, perfect to accompany your note to a friend.

Skip ahead a few years to the 1920s, and this trim couple have been so rejuvenated by taking Dr. Roussel’s anti-anemia remedy that they are able to paddle in perfect synchronization–as the tag line says, it gives you strength.

And here’s a personal favourite. Once again, nothing says Rob Roy canoe like a striped t-shirt. One of the earliest pieces in my little collection, this tiny tobacco card, measuring 3″ x 1  1/2″,  is from 1888, one of a set that depicted a rather ecclectic group of watercraft ranging from iceboats to battleships.  It is also one of the earlier instances I’ve seen of the slightly disturbing pairing of canoeing [think healthy, outdoors, clean] with tobacco and smoking [think the opposite]. This ran all the way through to Camel cigarette ads in the 1980s that showed our hero lighting up as he paddled.

There’s so much to like about this image, including its well-proportioned canoe, the tam on the paddler’s head, the artful spray of water fro the upper paddle blade and the large, pointillist printing dots. Two nice boats in the background too, one with a dipping lug to the left and another canoe or two to the right.

Until next time. . .

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As I mentioned in the last post, I started to do some work on the original linesplan for  the late 19th century decked sailing canoe Isalo to explore making the arc bottomed hull suitable for the flat panels of stitch-and-glue construction. I began drawing by hand, but then I decided to put the lines on the computer and see what I could come up with. To do this, I used a hull design program called DelftShip, a development of an earlier program called Freeship (which is still available from SourceForge). Both programs are powerful, full-featured naval architecture packages, and both are free. Once you figure out how to use them for canoes, you could also design yourself an oil tanker, passenger ship or tug if you’re so inclined. A professional version of Delftship with more features is also available for €150, with the latest version slated for release in late February. These programs have a steep learning curve, no pun intended, but are well worth the investment of time.

One thing they’re particularly useful for is projects like Isalo, because with them you can import a scanned linesplan of unknown scale, such as you might find in a magazine, and, as long as you know a couple of the principle dimensions, draw new fair lines on top of the original. There’s a handy tutorial about how to do this, based on, of all things, Leo Friede’s legendary 16-30 sailing canoe Mermaid on the WoodenBoat Forum. If you use this tutorial, go through it with the DelftShip manual in front of you, because author Bruce Taylor leaves out a couple of important steps whose absence will drive you crazy until you also read the DelftShip tutorial on Reproducing An Existing Lines Plan, which you can download from the company’s web site.

Even though I’m planning to add one or more chines, I thought I would start by getting Isalo‘s original arc-bottomed hull re-drawn in DelftShip. After a weekend’s worth of work, here’s what I’ve come up with:

This is the main Delftship window with all four views: perspective, profile, plan and body plan. Much as with regular lofting and fairing, you alternate between them, working iteratively on each one to gradually firm up and reconcile the lines. In each case, the starting point is the original linesplan in a background layer, on top of which you work with curves and the control mesh to shape the new lines.

Here’s the profile with the three main lines defined: the centreline of the hull [composed of bow, stern and bottom], the chine and the sheer.

And here’s the body plan, with the control curves [red] and stations [green]. Once you begin to develop the wireframe, you can add the other side of the hull and shade it to check on your progress.

 One of the most useful features for a project like this is that you can also run a developability check on the panels to see if they can be gotten out of plywood, which nominally doesn’t like to do compound curves, though you can torture it into shape to a certain extent. When you use that feature, the program adds red shading to show you areas that can’t be expanded into flat sheets.

DelftShip is telling me that the sections below the chine aren’t developable, which is not surprising since they’re still the original rounded arc bottom. The good news is that I seem gotten the topsides pretty straight, as it’s all green from sheer to chine. The next step is to go back to the body plan and make sure I’ve added enough curvature to the bottom to capture the volume of the original hull below the waterline. After that, I’ll  ask DelftShip to calculate the hydrostatics to get some numbers against which I can compare my multichine versions as they’re developed.

Until next time. . .

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Well, it’s December 22nd, 2011. The Fiddlehead is done, all my hand tools have been sharpened and tuned up again and I have a couple of weeks off work and some precious free time. What better way to end the year and look ahead to 2012 than to think about what boat I should build next?

Three possibilities have been going through my head for a while. Back in the mid 1990s when I worked at the old Marine Museum of Upper Canada with Peter the Boatbuilder (see last post), we taught a workshop course called “Introduction to Lapstrake Boatbuilding.” The boat we used as the example was Pete Culler’s 13′ lapstrake canoe, a design he called Butternut. This is a lovely little boat, weighing about 35 lbs. We liked it because it showed you everything you needed to know about traditional lapstrake boatbuilding in a nice small package that didn’t go through a whole lot of materials, and was also small enough that we could have two of them underway in the shop at the same time. We told the students it was “the original personal watercraft,” a boat you wear more than use. Here’s one of the completed Butternuts:

As usual with these projects, I didn’t end up with one for myself, so maybe now it’s time? Something this light would also fit on top of Wendy’s little Nissan, and be light enough for her to get up and down easily. Butternut is featured on pp. 23-25 of John Burke’s book Pete Culler’s Boats. The original book is out of print but WoodenBoat have reprinted a catalogue of Culler’s designs. A simple lines plan can be ordered from the Ships’ Plans Department at Mystic Seaport.

Another boat I’ve had in my head even longer than Butternut is the late Bob Baker’s lapstrake canoe Piccolo. He designed this for WoodenBoat back in the magazine’s early days, and a comprehensive how-to-build article appeared in issues no. 36 and 37. It’s an exquisite little sailing canoe, a boat of thoroughgoing charm and modest windward ability (but gentlemen don’t cruise to windward anyways, right?). I liked this boat as soon as I saw her and have always wanted one. Plans are available from The WoodenBoat Store. I’ve gotten as far as lofting Piccolo and starting to pile up some cedar to plank her with (sorry for the grainy photo, hard to take a picture of pencil lines on lofting!):

Two little lapstrake canoes, two worthwhile projects, and eventually I’ll probably build one of each. I’m still thinking about the 16-30 sliding seat canoe, though. One of the ideas I’ve been mulling over is turning the 16-30 into a how-to-build book that also includes some of the history of canoe sailing. I’ve made a couple of false starts on this, but they’ve always come up short. I think one of the things holding me back has been the fact that, much as I love the 16-30 and the sliding seat era of canoe sailing, it was a relatively late development, and isn’t really representative of the whole 1870-1900 era when recreational canoeing first flourished.

An idea came to me in the shower a while ago (often happens there, perhaps the water hitting my head shakes loose a thought?): what about developing another historic canoe design for construction in modern materials that could be a companion to the 16-30? The aims of that project (see the 16-30 page on this blog) were to capture the decked sliding seat canoe sailing experience in a boat that could be built by one person with average tools and skills, in a garage, in a winter, using readily-available parts and materials. Could I find an original design for a cruising sailing canoe that could be adapted the same way? If I did that, then the book could feature these boats as “bookends” exemplifying the range of canoe sailing types, with some history sandwiched in between, and complete plans and building instructions for both.

On to the search for a suitable design. One of the things that made the 16-30 work was that the original boat I was inspired by was a hard-chine hull. I don’t mind turning hard-chine cedar on oak into hard-chine stitch and glue plywood, but I’m not as interested in rendering a round-bottomed hull into a multi-chine stitch and glue boat. Then I came across a design while browsing through Forest & Stream, a treasure trove of canoeing, yachting and other 19th century sporting history. Called Isalo (which is a town in Madagascar, not sure of the connection to canoeing), the boat is a hard-chined hull with a removable sliding seat and two sliding gunter rigs: a cruising outfit of 60 + 18 square feet and a racing rig of 100 + 30 square feet.

This design looks as though it has some potential, so the first step is to do a feasibility study by scaling the design up, re-drawing the lines, generating offsets and thinking about how she might be built. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time, here’s an interesting development for those interested in the history of small craft. Isalo‘s lines were originally published in The Model Yachtsman and Canoeist, a British magazine which appeared from 1884-1894. It wasn’t what you’d call a mass-circulation piece, so original copies are very hard to find. The Albert Strange Association has just announced that the whole run of 2000 pages has been digitized and made available on two CDs in a searchable pdf format for the very reasonable price of 15 pounds sterling. You can order your copy from the Association’s web site. Perfect Christmas gift for the boating historian on your list.

Best wishes of the season to you all.

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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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