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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Houseboat and Sprit Rig in Kerala

Rounding out a nice big batch of photos from the Indian state of Kerala, here are a couple of sizable stitch-planked houseboats, and a class of open boat powered by a sprit rig. 


So much to see here. Huge, decorative sternpost. Manual bilge pump. Sewn planks. Cabin side covers can be raised as individual windows. From the rod along the bottom of the woven cabinsides, it appears that each side can also be raised as a whole. (Click any image to enlarge.)
I like the little ventilator on the cabin top. I suspect the outboard engine is auxiliary power, and that the prime mover is the pole, as shown on another similar boat, below. Not sure what the rod is sticking up next to the sternpost -- it doesn't seem to be a rudder stock.
A similar boat being propelled by bamboo poles fore and aft.  Note the solid aft cabin bulkhead. The stern poler has no view forward, so the bow poler must do the pilotage. With the sides lifted, there's plenty of ventilation, even without the little cabintop ventilator shown in the previous photos. 
There appear to be many passengers aboard. While I'm fairly certain the design is a houseboat, perhaps this one is giving tours. Or maybe it's just a big family, or a social gathering. I love the complex curves of the cabintop.
An open canoe-shaped hull propelled by a square spritsail.  The spars appear to be bamboo poles; the sail to be made of cloth bags sewn together. 
The same boat passing one of the sand dredging barges discussed in an earlier post.
"Put any two sailboats of a similar type next to one another, and it's axiomatic that they'll race." (Tom Rankin, friend and past employer)
The masts are stepped well forward. There appear to be braces to the heads of the sprits -- something I don't believe I've ever seen on a Western sprit rig. Steering is by means of an oar over the port (!) quarter.
Please do not reuse these photos without written permission. Many thanks to Paul Wilson, who shot these photos in 2004. See more of Paul's photos in earlier posts on manual dredging and hull-sewing techniques in Kerala; boats in Rameswaram and Veranasi, India; outrigger canoes in Goa, India; longtail boats in Myanmar; and bancas in the Philippines

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Spinning and Stitching in Kerala

We recently looked at how sewn boats are used in manual dredging operations in the Indian state of Kerala. Now we'll look at the construction of Keralan boats, and at the process of making the coir (coconut fiber) ropes that hold them together. All photos are courtesy of Paul Wilson, to whom sincere thanks are given.


A careful look at this elegant canoe reveals coir bundles that run along the inside of the seams. The bundles are neatly bound in place with stitches of coir that penetrate the hull. (Click any image to enlarge.)
On this larger hull, the planks have been notched so that the stitches are flush to the outer surface and largely protected from abrasion. Note the stitches fastening the hood ends to the stem. Gunwales are nailed or spiked in place. Admidships, it appears that the hull is having some kind of waterproof coating, possibly tar, applied.
I believe the man is treating the stitches with a waterproofing agent, or possibly plugging the stitch holes with tarred pegs.
Again, coir bundles are nicely lashed over the interior seams. Full, one-piece frames are widely spaced but hefty, and the structure is additionally strengthened with four thwarts nailed to the top of the gunwales, and two seats fastened below them. Solid construction!
Making coir rope is women's work in Kerala. I believe these photos show both the spinning of light cordage from loose fiber, and the twisting of several cords into rope. As I'm thoroughly ignorant about rope-making, I'll allow the rest of the photos to speak for themselves to anyone who can hear them.





Do you know rope-making? Please post comments or email me to share your knowledge about the process shown in these photos. Thanks. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

1941 Old Town Guide, Never Used


Maine Maritime Museum, in the shipbuilding city of Bath, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In an exhibit of "favorite" items from its 50 years of collecting is this fine old 20-foot Old Town Guide model canoe. Here's what the exhibit card says:
This canoe comes with an unusual story. It was purchased at the Old Town factory by Charles H. Cahill, Jr., in August, 1941. He brought it home to Bath, and never used it. Always intending to use it "soon," he kept it first in a cellar, and then for 42 years in a storage bay of the gas station he owned, under blankets. Still attached are the leather straps which held it to a rack on Cahill's pickup truck, and the red flag for the overhanging end on that trip from Old Town to Bath. This is a 1941 canoe in factory-finish condition (with a few dings). 
Old Town designed this model for stability and steadiness, for carrying inexperienced sportsmen and sportswomen. It was popular with guides and with directors of summer camps. Dark green was the stock color; this one has the mahogany gunwale upgrade. 
His children inherited the canoe about 2004, and decided it belonged here at the Museum.
Wow. The notion of a valuable old canoe stored (usually in a barn) and forgotten is a popular collector's dream. But that the canoe might be pristine and unused goes beyond the common fantasy.


Foredeck with original decal in fine condition. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Serial number on stem: 127036-20. Also shown is the forward end of the removable floorboards, held in place with a turnbutton made from a section of the same brass half-round that's used for the stembands.
Red flag used during transport.
Leather straps used during transport.
Mahogany gunwales, original seat caning, Old Town's trademark diamond-head seat hanger bolts -- nice all around.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Manual Dredging in Kerala

Reader Paul Wilson shot these photos in the southwest Indian state of Kerala in 2004. Here's his description:
The boats are traditional construction with edge sewn planks using coconut husk (coir). They are normally used for a variety of purposes but when we were there they were using them mainly for collecting sand and gravel from the river bottom to use for building materials.
My captions follow.
Several boats work together, apparently cooperatively. It would be interesting to know the business structure. Possibilities include: all boats owned by a single party; all boats privately owned but contracted to a single party; or all boats privately owned but working in cooperation. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Dredging is done by hand. One man handles this smaller boat, while another is in the water, near the stern.
Sand and gravel are collected from the bottom in baskets and hoisted into the boat. I wonder what the digging guy thinks about his partner shielding himself from the rain.
One of the larger boats in the fleet collects a heavy cargo. The two shirtless man are diggers. There are two polers, at bow and stern. I guess the other two are managers, doing what managers do.
The same boat as above.
Even in the calmest water, I'd be nervous about this load.  Perhaps there's no word for "freeboard" in Malayalam?
The poles sticking up from the riverbed are probably used to keep track of which areas have been dredged.

In future posts, we'll look at Paul's photos showing the construction of these boats, including spinning the coir.

Thanks again to Paul for this contribution. For more of Paul's photos of Indian boats on this blog, see: boats of Varanasi and Rameswaram and Goa outrigger canoes.

Also see a previous post on surf boats of Kerala.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Opposite Ends of India

More photos of Indian boats from reader Paul Wilson, who kindly provided photos for earlier posts on boats in Goa, Philippine bancas, and Myanmar longtails

The first batch was taken in Varanasi (also known as Benares) in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in 2004. Here's Paul's brief description, followed by my captions:
(Varanasi is a) sacred pilgrim city along the banks of the Ganges. On the other side of India from Kerala but very similar boats to the ones in Kerala. [We'll look at the Kerala photos in a future post; Ed.] I included these pictures to show that the construction of the boats is also edge sewn planking. I think it is interesting to see how they add the frames after the planks are sewn together. It surprises me how poorly supported the planking is in the photo. The color you see in the water is flower petals from the burials and the pilgrims religious offerings. In the pictures you can also see the high water marks when the river goes to flood.
Although these boats resemble Western craft superficially, their shell-first, smooth-skinned construction makes them quite different in fact. (Click any image to enlarge.)
There seem to be both double-ended and transom-stern boats here. No hint in the photo about how these boats are used.
The hull planking is complete. The frames have been cut but are yet to be installed, and the width of the hull is set by temporary bamboo stretchers.. Note how the frames don't quite match the curve of the hull. As the components are fastened to one another, they will both deform somewhat, but I'd bet that the hull will conform more to the shape of the frames than vice versa.
A very nice leaf-shaped hull. The frames don't extend into the bottom: they only support the planking between the turn of the bilge and the gunwales. The deck beams, however, are hefty. The framework that's being used to dry clothes might also be used to support very lightweight walls and a roof, or might serve to display goods for sale.
The fourth boat from the top is considerably longer but no wider than the others, and narrower than some of them. She looks fast and graceful.
Fascinating rig: a tall single mast carrying square mainsail and topsail, and steered with a side rudder. (Let's not speculate about cultural transmission with Medieval Europe.)
Paul took the next set of photos in 2004 in Rameswaram, a town on Pamban Island, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu at the opposite end of the Indian subcontinent and close to Sri Lanka. 
Coastal fishing scene. The boats here are deeper than the river craft shown in the Varanasi photos.
These hulls have quite a lot of rocker. Although the water is dead calm in this shot, they are probably meant to maneuver in surf. 
With full floor timbers and much more heavily framed than the Varanasi boats,  this boat could easily be mistaken for a Western design.
Profile shot of the same boat.
The lateen rig on a steeply canted mast and a stern rudder provide significant contrast to the Varanasi sailboat shown earlier.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Goan Sewn Outrigger Canoes

Reader Paul Wilson sent us nice photos of some outrigger canoes from Goa, on India's west coast. (See earlier posts for Paul's photos of Philippine bancas and Burmese longtails.) Here's his brief description:

As I am sure you know, Goa used to be a Portuguese colony. The Catholic influenced paintings on the side of the proas are beautiful. You can really see the progression from a dug-out log to higher freeboard with edge stitched planks. There seems to be a wide variety of materials used for the stitching from the traditional coconut husk to fishing line.
My own captions follow. 
Built upon a dugout base, the canoe is "extended" by sewing additional strakes to raise the freeboard. Note how the hull is straight-sided and the outrigger float is straight: as we'll see below, these features are not constants. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Stitching of the uppermost strake is obvious in this shot. The Catholic iconography is more than just a hold-over from the colonial era. More than a quarter of Goa's population is Christian. A false keel and false lower stem have been added to protect the dugout hull from damage or abrasion when beaching. 
In contrast to the top photo, the added strakes on this canoe tilt outward considerably from the dugout base. The outrigger float is also curved, not straight. I believe those are oars, not paddles, but I see no evidence of rowlocks, tholes, thimbles or other mechanism to hold the shaft against the gunwale.
The lashings of the outrigger booms have been tightened with Spanish windlasses. The short levers of the windlasses are a permanent part of the boat's rigging. If the lashings loosen, the windlass lever can be freed at one end and turned another time or two to tighten them, after which it is lashed back in place. 
Paul's wife catches a bit of shade and provides scale for the photo. These canoes are bigger than they appear in isolation.
A nice detail shot, showing the lashing over the coir bundle that serves as external caulking between the dugout base and the added strake. Also a good view of the lashings for the false stem that joins the washstrakes.
A similar shot with a bit more context. The hull rests on cross-timbers which, I think allow it to dry more readily. They look too small to be effective as rollers for moving the boat over loose sand, but they might serve effectively as skids.
You can see the hull lashings from the inside at lower right. Note how the added strakes bow sharply outward from the dugout base. There are big blocks on the inside of the gunwale that appear to be related to the use of oars, but still no sign of rowlocks, tholes, etc. At least four thwarts provide seats for at least four crew, which might be needed to row out through surf. The vertical post near the end probably serves as a fulcrum for a steering oar. On this example, the Spanish windlasses are lashed at the middle and at both ends, which would make tightening the boom-to-hull lashings a bit more work.
Permanently-installed Spanish windlasses are used on the float-to-boom connection too. Don't know if there's any reason for the humpbacked shape of the float. The blunt end is also curious, since a tapered end would be more efficient.


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