I’ve often wondered what ‘seamanship’ really is and who, if anyone, has the definitive article in their posession.
It’s not that I don’t understand or approve of the aims of seamanship – it’s about keep lives safe and protecting boats from harm while successfully travelling on the water. But, like the proverbial skinners of cats, boat users all have their own methods, and there seems to be at least as many forms of correct seamanship as there are sailors.
Whatever sea-related activity you care to name, someone somewhere does it differently and will tell you all about it in a very firm and authoritative way – in the club bar, online or, sometimes, even on our own boats.
So I thought it might be fun and informative (and hopefully uncontroversial) to consider what seamanship was thought to be a century or so ago. So here are the cover and first few pages of Tait’s Seamanship, a splendid little document produced by a Glasgow maritime educational establishment whose principals had the good sense to provide courses for masters discreetly in a separate room.
I hope you enjoy the scans – as usual, click on the images for much larger, easily readable images.
Southwold’s famous Sailor’s Reading Room was built in 1864 in memory of a Captain Rayley, who had been an officer at the Battle of Trafalgar, and had died the previous year.
I knew the building as a boy and remember thinking it was as fabulous then as I think it is now. It really hasn’t changed in close to 50 years, and the only sadness is that photography is forbidden and I can’t show you how splendid it really is.
What I can say without fear of contradiction is that the old reading room is packed with a huge variety of treasures, including photos, models and other memorabilia of the local fishermen, sailors and coastguards of years gone by.
Often generations of brothers, fathers, sons and cousins worked at these trades at the same time, and because they so often bore the same name they were often given colourful nicknames – I particularly like the name of one bearded old salt whose photo appears on the Reading Room’s walls. He must have gloried in his handle of ‘Crikey’ Rogers!
Of course, many of them were also lifeboatmen, and since we’ve been to the old town recently in a day or two thanks to some great local friends I’ll add some photos of the restored local lifeboat now on show in a new home near the beach, and some shots from the harbour – including the wonderful Leila. Make sure you come back!
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One of the treats of the Beale Park Thames Boat Show was seeing one of John Macaulay’s traditional Hebridean skiffs full of old-fashioned boatbuilding features.
Note the short floors and ribs, for example – they’re very much what one sees in a Viking ship or Viking canoe. What’s more, the oarlocks and oars obviously belong to a time before the fashion for adopting rowing racing practice brought in round oars in round oarlocks capable of being rotated.
For an earlier post on Macaulay, click here.
This interesting article sheds light on the man himself: John Mcaulay Boatbuilder. Of the virtues of wooden boats he says: ‘There is only one boat worth having and that is a wooden boat. They are unique; one off and beautiful. How anyone with any sensitivity could choose a plastic hull over a wooden one made by hand, I will never know.’
Here’s another newspaper piece in the Stornaway Gazette describing the restoration of a Western Isles boat.
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