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Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 7

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The dramatic final chapters of Shanghaied in which the hated crimpers come aboard, sing and play melodeons and finally our hero makes his escape.

‘And thus they volleyed up cunningly, persuasively to our men. The spiders and the flies.

‘Yes apparently Molly Fortune ashore waited feverishly to kiss their dry and salt-cracked lips. (She would kiss them for one night perhaps, and then poor Jack, Shanghaied again, with his fabulously-paid shore job yet ahead, and the night as dark as Erebus, would awaken to find the relentless arms of Father Neptune once more closely entwined about him; sans bag, sans money, sans respect, sans everything. Done again! Doped again – his sole posession “a dead horse”!)’

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For the rest of this series of posts:
Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 1

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 2

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 3

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 4

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 5

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 6

Shanghaied out of Frisco in the Nineties by Hiram P Bailey – part 7

More on the book Cockleshell Canoes by Quentin Rees

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Mark 7 military canoes. Photos supplied by Quentin Rees
and published with permission

Quentin Rees’s recent book Cockleshell Canoes is a thoroughly researched and well illustrated celebration of a group of people who have become part of canoe history.

Some, such as Blondie Hasler and the team of commandos who took part in the daring Operation Frankton are already well known. Commemorated in a major film titled Cockleshell Heroes, it was an attack by ten commandos in canoes on Bordeaux Harbour in occupied France during December 1942. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill believed the mission shortened World War II by six months, and Admiral the Earl Mountbatten deemed it as the ‘most courageous and imaginative of all the raids ever carried out by the men of Combined Operations Commands‘.

Sadly, most of the brave individuals involved were eventually captured and shot by the Germans, who at that time regarded commandos as equivalent to spies.

However, the roles of many others have previously remained unsung. In this book Rees has weaved together real-life testimonies from the stories of the courageous soldiers who used the canoes, their military commanders, and the canoes’ inventors and designers, and tells of an epic journey of progress that took canoe development took from Cornwall, all along the Southern English Coast and beyond – even to the tropical island of Ceylon.

The canoes proved to be valuable in many of the theatres of WWII, and thousands of the various models were sent worldwide, often being used by the various Special Forces, including by the the espionage specialists of Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Click here to buy a copy from Amazon – The Cockleshell Canoes: British Military Canoes of World War Two Cockleshell Hero canoes at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

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The proper proportion of salt in his veins that a British boy ought to have

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The sort of dinghy we’re told a boy should have. Now
that part seems fair enough!

Have you got the proper proportion of salt in your veins?

These days they say too much salt in your veins causes osmotic pressure leading to raised blood pressure, which leads ultimately to end-organ damage. But it wasn’t always like this, and certainly not when they were busy bringing up the breed that led men into the dreadful battles of World War 1.

I’ve been reading The Complete Yachtsman by B Heckstall-Smith and E Du Boulay, first published in 1912. Much of what it has to say is sensible and reasonable. For example, there’s a great section on the draftsmanship involved in yacht designing. All in all, I’m pleased I invested in a copy.

Nevertheless, there are some bits that bear all the hallmarks of 1912. Take this priceless paragraph on teaching a boy to row, for example:

‘If a boy is of the right sort, with the proper proportion of salt in his veins that a British boy ought to have, he will soon get to love his little craft and a steady development in his character and improvement in his health will be visible to all who know and watch him; for there is no sport in the world that brings out all that is best in a man like that of learning to use the sea for his playground; judgement, courage, and especially self-reliance, are learned there as they can be nowhere else. In all other branches of sport, when a lad or a man feels he has had enough of it he can generally retire. Not so at sea; if he should be caught out in a squall he must fight his way back himself, using his brain to set one force of nature against another to his advantage, and not until the fight is over, and the boat is safe in some shelteredwater, can he rest or retire. This is why the sea so often makes men of boys, and heroes of men.’

Can’t you just smell the tanned leather, liniment and pipe-smoke in that voice? Pass the port Heckstall-Smith, and damn and blast the foreigners.

Copies of The Complete Yachtsman may be obtainable via ABE Books – I’ve been told there are lots around in second-hand bookshops, but the one I have is the first I can recall having seen.

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John Welsford’s Pilgrim – by the man himself

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John Welsford’s Pilgrim takes shape on the drawing board

Inspired by my post yesterday, John Welsford has kindly written a short essay about his Pilgrim project, and about his long-standing admiration for the fishing boats of the English South Coast. It seems my remark about convergent evolution was quite wide of the mark, for John knew what direction he was travelling all along!

Pilgrim, a history and what I am aiming at

For many years I have had a real interest in the small fishing craft of the English South Coast. This area is one where high inshore winds, fast currents and rough seas have bred a type of small craft of exceptional seaworthiness, very smooth motion and surprising speed under sail.

The Falmouth quay punt is one at the larger end of the scale, and smaller boats were beach launched or sailed from the many tiny fishing ports between Falmouth and the Solent. Many of the distinctive types are closely related in hull shape, and I so envied their ability that I took a set of lines from a Falmouth quay punt, drew them up at ¼ scale and set out to reduce the shape to a set of numbers.

On completing that analysis it was evident that the boat fitted right in the middle of all the desirable statistics for comfortable and able cruising yachts plus some interesting characteristics that are not so common in todays production boats. With the design of small serious blue water cruisers in mind I set out to design a boat that would have those characteristics, but which would be easier for an unskilled backyard boatbuilder to produce than the original shape would be.

I drew up a design called Houdini, half the length of what I had in mind, but wider due to the scale effect that reduces stability as a boat gets smaller. This is a plywood boat, quite easy to build, a centreboarder rather than a deep keel boat, and both comfortable and roomy for her size but still right on the “numbers” so a valid vehicle for testing the theory.

I sailed Houdini for three summers, went out in conditions ranging from flat calm to seriously bad and she was wonderful! Just what I’d hoped for, and a real reward for all the figure work and the tow test models that had lead to the design.

Since then I have drawn Swaggie, junk-rigged and just over 18ft long, intended for offshore work and just big enough for a couple to cruise long distances in; Sundowner, which at 21ft 4in on deck is about the size of the smaller Falmouth quay punts; and now Pilgrim, which is for my own use.

Swaggie and Sundowner are interesting boats, much more roomy than you’d expect, better sailers than their considerable beam and weight would suggest, and they both have very comfortable motion in a seaway. More confirmation that the theory is in the right direction.

With that experience in mind, and the prospect of a bigger build ahead of me that will take five years or more to complete, I decided to build myself a cruising open boat so that I’d have a sanity machine to get away in when the combination of a fulltime day job (which I need to pay for the big boat),a design business, and the pressure of building a 12 ton cruiser gets a bit much.


I first set a target of March 2010 for a trip in the new boat. That’s our late summer, and generally a time of settled weather and mild temperatures.

The trip is a bit over 200 miles along a coast where at that time of year there can be strong onshore winds, and where there are long stretches with no harbours, which set the criteria, stable, very able, strong to windward in open sea conditions, and all of the other desireable things for a boat intended for a week on board in near blue water conditions.

Pilgrim is the result, descended from the small fishing boats of the English South Coast, set up for comfortable sleeping on board, with bouyancy enough to enable self-rescuing in the event of a swamping, with about 300 kg of ballast to hold her up in a blow. Some of that weight is lead bolted to the boats keel, some is in the steel centerboard and some is internal water ballast to get the boat back to a weight that I can tow with my 2-litre car.

The structure is as simple as I can make it so that I have a chance of building it in the timeframe allowed. In materials it required about what I had already in my workshop, so she has a rig that was drawn up from spars that I already have, and will use fittings that I’ve collected over the years and have kept for just this sort of project. This is a shoestring, no frills building project!

I have begun a diary on her design build so that people can follow the process of a designer thinking aloud on paper, then drawing the plans, and then the boat growing as she is put together, and at the end I’ll be writing of the adventures we have on the way up the coast.

There are three diary notes there now, and you can read them here: http://www.jwboatdesigns.co.nz.

I’ll be keeping your editor up to date as well, so, watch this space too.

John Welsford. designer

See John’s website or contact him at jwboatdesigns@xtra.co.nz.

(Top) A gaff sloop-rigged Houdini, the first of this style of boat. Even though she’s a sheet plywood amateur built 14 footer she still evokes a sense of her parentage. This one is of builder Herco and friends sailing Kurkprop (think of the sound the cork makes when you open a bottle of champagne) in the South African sun; (Second row, left) Swaggie, sailing near her builder Luis‘ home port in Uruguay, bigger, a lot heavier and rigged very differently. But still the same numbers, and proportions (Second row, right, and bottom) Resolution, built to the Sundowner design, showing her underwater lines, and sitting at her berth waiting to be rigged. Designed to cope with Cape Horn, the first of the Sundowner boats to be launched she sails and handles like a much much bigger boat. She’s based on the same line of thinking, with similar numbers and ratios, and again produced the same result. Pilgrim should be more of the same, says John

The story of Collar’s, the Whitstable boatyard

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Gamecock, built at Collar’s boatyard, Whitstable, in 1907. I took these
photos in Faversham Creek last weekend from the decks of Dorma, a
1923 Hillyard – thanks for the trip Steve!

I was charmed this week to find the story of Collar’s boatyard told by the Simply Whitstable website.

The yard remained for many years in he same family, and among their famous smacks are Rose and Ada, Gamecock and Emeline.

Simply Whitstable also has sections on sailing barges and on the town’s fishing industry, including material about the famous local oyster beds, spratting, whelking, various rescues – and tales of old boats.

For more on smacks generally, see the Sailing Smacks website and the Wikipedia.

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Folding boats at the Isle of Wight Classic Boat Museum, Newport

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Berthon collapsible rescue boat

Folding ship's lifeboat built by Salter

(Top) The Reverend Berthon’s collapsible rescue boat.
(Immediately above) Salter’s folding ship’s lifeboat

My partner Julie has just returned from the Isle of Wight with a nice collection of photos, from the island’s Classic Boat Museum at Newport.

Folding boats have been a popular theme on this weblog and I’ve had small folding boats very much in mind in the last few days after an unpleasant late-night incident in an inflatable, so I thought I should start with a couple of new examples I haven’t seen before.

The first is a Berthon collapsible lifeboat designed by the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon, and built at Romsey, close to Southampton across the water. Apparently Berthon began designing his folding lifeboats after one of his clergymen survived a shipwreck in 1849. This particular boat was probably built fairly early on – that is, close to 150 years ago.

The second was constructed by Salters of Oxford, in what is believed to have been the year 1898. I gather the museum is exploring its options with a view to getting the boat back to a launchable condition. I do hope they manage it.

Thanks for the photos Julie!

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The concertina at sea

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Dan Worralll article Concertinas at sea

This weekend I was lucky to meet Dan Worrall, an anglo concertina player from Texas who has written a series of fascinating articles about the instrument.

His latest paper examining the widely-held perception that the instrument has a strong connection with sailors is required reading for those of us with an interest in sea songs and music!

For some years there has been a widely held view that the ‘tina-playing sailor was a myth – they might bring a concertina bought on the quayside home as a present, but they would be impractical instruments on a boat because steel reeds would be subject to corrosion. With no real evidence to work from, I tended towards this view myself.

However, from the evidence Dan has found, it turns out that sailors in times past did play concertinas. In a way, that should be no surprise when one considers the limited options sailors have had for entertainment during their precious leisure hours at sea – ask a ex-merchant navy seaman over fifty years old who remembers voyages made before video players were widely available, and he’ll usually tell you how important music making was on board ship.

That being so, then why shouldn’t an instrument as popular as the anglo concertina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries be an important part of the music-making scene on board ship, if a way can be found of keeping the instrument dry? After all, many types of instruments are susceptible to damage from damp and salt, not least the fiddle.

For shanties and other sea songs, see Stan Hugill’s books at ABE Books

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