Tag Archives: mast

Folkboat mast and boom for sale

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Fowey boatbuilder Marcus Lewis has written to let us know about this for sale offer – which I would guess might be a godsend for someone…

‘I am re-rigging my vintage wooden Folkboat over the winter and converting her to a gaff ketch! I will have for sale a Sitka spruce mast and boom, made to order for me just over a year ago, by Collars.

‘It comes fully rigged.

‘I would be prepared to accept either cash or a shorter wooden mast, and gaff. My new rig will feature a loose-footed mainsail. I am 73 and need a less lively set-up as I tend to sail single handed!

‘Regards, Nick Messinger, SY Oakleaf, Portland’

If you’re interested, email me at gmatkin@gmail.com and I’ll pass the message along.

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The almost unbelievable galley

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Galley drawing from On the High Seas – click for a larger image

Idly reading my first edition copy of On the High Seas by E Keble Chatterton, I was astonished to find this drawing of a galley.

The book itself is a largely unstructured collection of salty yarns about mutiny, exploration, slavers, pirates and high adventure – the chapter headings themselves tell a story, for they include: Chpt 1 Deep Sea Roving, Chpt IV The Profession of Piracy, Chpt VIII St Helena and the Slavers and Chpt XI Gambling with Death.

I can’t be sure that the proportions of the tippy-looking vessel shown are truly representative, but for me at least, this drawing of a galley from the chapter on the Profession of Piracy raises some practical points. It has a rig that would normally be expected to be best in beating rather than running – but I suspect sailing upwind was not its main purpose. For one thing I imagine the rowing galleries must have been vulnerable to digging-in when heeled, causing a kind of wild reverse-broach; for another I’d guess that like one of Pete Culler’s recreational skiff users, the commanders of these craft would row upwind when it was faster than sailing.

The power question is interesting. By my count there are two galleries of 27 oars here, each with six oarsmen. If well trained and well they fed, could theoretically deliver 0.2hp each – and by my calculation hat’s 324 oarsmen who, in my calculation should be able to deliver a total of 65hp. That’s not a huge amount of grunt for a ship this size, but even this figure would have to be reduced by some factor because it must have been difficult for the oarsmen at the inner and outer extremes of each oar to deliver their theoretical maximum, either because of the lack of travel or because of too much.

Surely, the man by the gunwale must have been chosen for his massive strength and the man at the far end for his height and span?

The detail shown here is fabulous. Just look at the warlike group on the forecastle and the three guns. I’d hate to see one of these coming my way, particularly if I had no wind to escape!

Here’s what Keble-Chatterton has to say:

‘The corsairs of Tunis rarely emerged from the Mediterranean, but sailed about off the south of Sardinia, or Cape Passaro at the heel of Sicily, or that historic pirate area among the Ionian Islands. The latter was a risky sphere, for the Venetian naval galleys with sails, masts, big crews of oarsmen, and with bow-guns, wsere not infrequently to be met with. The Moors feared these Venetians as their deadliest enemies, nor was the Battle of Lepanto yet forgotten. Using handy lateen-sail feluccas, with plenty of men to row as required in light or head winds, the Tunis pirates had and endless series of bays, creeks, and islands wherein to creep for rest and recreation. Such islands as Candia, Lampedusa, Rhodes and Cyprus could be used; but Tunis itself, being an open roadstead with inadequate protection from the fort, was not for them an ideal base. Algiers, on the contrary, was protected by a mole and a citadel; and there was a light showing to enable the rovers to get home from the sea.’

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The Valiant Sailor, a powerful song of naval warfare in the 18th century

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The singing Jack Crawford

Regular readers will remember a recent post about a press-ganged keelman who became a war hero, Jack Crawford, who climbed to the top of his ship’s damaged mast under heavy fire, and nailed the Union Jack to it. This important and astonishingly brave act won him an audience with King George III and a pension.

If you followed the link in the earlier post, you will know that there’s another Jack Crawford, a singer who has recently made a CD of largely traditional songs.

By an amazing coincidence, it turns out that one of them describes being press-ganged and then forced to fight at sea, and I’m glad to say that Jack’s considered performance is timed to make every word count.

My perspective of The Valiant Sailor is that it’s an important, eye-opening song with an understandably bitter point of view, and really should be heard by anyone with a romantic view of the Royal Navy of the time, warfare in the era of the wooden walls, or of press-ganging.

However, Jack has a different view of it, and as he sings this song (and I don’t) he’s obviously given it much more thought than I have. Here’s what he had to say in an email to me earlier:

‘You write of a “song with an understandably bitter point of view” and yet, when I sing it I feel no bitterness. Consider the closing sentiment “and here I lie a-bleeding all on the deck and it’s all for her sweet safety I must die.”

‘In my view, the sailor has become reconciled to his fate and he understands the necessity to defend his country at sea – and die in the process if that’s what the Fates decree. It’s not the life he chose and thread of the song is a linear narrative of how he came to be in that situation. As such, it’s far from romantic, but I don’t think it’s bitter. Granted, we have “thousands of times I’ve wished myself home” to make it quite clear (as if we were in any doubt) that he’s not enjoying himself, and who can blame him, but there’s no bitterness there. The dominant emotion is the sadness of his longing to return to his “Polly on the shore” and the stark realization that he never will.

‘I reprise the first verse to drive home the enormity of the events and serve as a warning to other young men – not from bitterness but as sound practical advice supported by a salutary lesson. I don’t think a song based on bitterness would have endured so well through changing times.’

I think this quality of enduring is significant. This is a song that remained in oral transmission right into the 20th century: more than a century after the events it describes, ordinary people still felt it had something of value that was worth remembering, even though the author was long forgotten to them. That, of course, is the real meaning of the term ‘folk song’.

Click here to hear an MP3 of Jack’s version of The Valiant Sailor (it’s a biggish file, but well worth the short wait) from the CD Pride of the Season, and click here to buy a copy.