Windward-sailing Barbary pirates

Xebec

Xebec pirate ship

!!This post now with added singing – see the bottom of this post!!Â

My canoe sailing and building pal Jim van den Bos sent me this link from The Times newspaper yesterday:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article1449736.ece

Here’s the TS Pelican’s website, which tells the story of her interesting rig; see also this article by Philip Goode, the designer involved in the TS Pelican project: http://www.weatherlysquareriggers.com

The whole thing led me to speculate how Continue reading “Windward-sailing Barbary pirates”

John MacAulay, Hebridean boatbuilder with an interesting theory

Like many Brits I’ve been enjoying the BBC television series Coast, which is made up of interesting segments about various stretches of our coastline. It’s been good stuff most of the time, and has covered areas of our coast most people never get near, such as Spurn Point, and it has often been illuminating and informative.

If I was to make a complaint it would be that at times I have felt the influence of middle-class London youngsters laughing just a little too hard at people who live or holiday at Northern seaside resorts. Directed largely from London as it is, I suppose we should not be surprised that the BBC should be like this from time to time.

Watching this otherwise very enjoyable piece of television couple of weeks ago, I noticed a segment on the Hebridean boatbuilder John MacAulay, and was inspired to use Google to see what I could discover about him.

Here are the BBC’s notes from the programme:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/coast/programmes2/07-outer-hebrides.shtml

Here’s what I found when I Googled for John Macaulay. First, here’s a picture of his yard:
http://www.pbase.com/dwerner/image/50645025

Here’s a scrap of video from the film Am Baile in which he talks about boatbuilding and his ambition to pass his skills on to a younger generation:
http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_videofilm.jsp?item_id=18182

The way that Google can broaden one’s perspective of people can be wonderful. Here’s a review of MacAulay’s book making the plausible argument that all those songs, stories and legends about seal people were based on real encounters with a kayak-using people who used to be seen along the Scottish coast:
Seal-folk and Ocean Paddlers: Sliochd Nan Ron

I’m reminded of all those Australian Aboriginal stories about giant creatures that seem to be supported by fossil evidence – or was it that the fossils were the source of the stories?

Anyway, in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here are some sites that may give some insight:
http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/index.html

There are lots of these stories and ballads. Here’s one recorded by the Oxford book of ballads of 1910:

http://www.bartleby.com/243/31.html

And here’s the Child Ballads version:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch113.htm

Canoe and Boatbuilding for Amateurs

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Body plan of tandem canoe

“The number of boating men who find pleasure merely in sailing a boat is small compared with those who delight not only in handling, but as well in planning, building, improving or ‘tinkering’ generally on their pet craft, and undoubtedly the latter derive the greater amount of pleasure from the sport. They not only feel a pride in the result of their work, but their pleasure goes on, independent of the seasons. No sooner do cold and ice interfere with sport afloat than the craft is hauled up, dismantled, and for the next half year becomes a source of unlimited pleasure to her owner – and a nuisance to his family and friends. We know one eminent canoeist who keeps a fine canoe in his cellar and feeds her on varnish and brass screws for fifty weeks of every year.”

So wrote WP Stephens in the preface to his classic 1889 manual Canoe and Boatbuilding for Amateurs. It was written at a time when the word ‘amateur’ meant something slightly different to what it says to us today, but we probably all recognise the typical boat owner’s compulsion to change and adapt. Go down to anywhere boats are moored on a Saturday morning, and whatever the tide you’ll probably find half of the craft have a happy tinkerer mooching around on board, armed with nuts and bolts, some odd fittings and a tin of varnish. What could be better, apart from actually sailing?

WP Stephens’ book is a fascinating way into the world of sailing canoes in particular, and will make your next trip to a maritime museum showing old canoes much more worthwhile. Perhaps its value lies in the way canoe designers of the time shared their designs in a way that is much less frequent now – the designs laid out in WP Stephens’ book are complete with their offsets and can be built straight off the page.

So I’d encourage you to find any excuse you can to spend an idle hour with an online book that will take you, for free, back to an earlier time:

http://dragonflycanoe.com/stephens/

Sailplan of Tandem Canoe