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


  1. The function of the pole might be to act as a temporary mooring if there is a hole in the stern. Salmon punts on the Rivern Severn had these and some of the willow trees along its banks are these poles taken root. Holes are also seen in a few Bronze Age logboat sterns that might have had a similar function.

  2. Hi Edwin,
    I was wondering about the function of the rod beside the sternpost, outside of the hull. The admidships pole to which I believe you refer seems to be supporting the cabin top. Interesting, though, about the salmon punts. I take it that the through-hull hole appears on an overhanging part of the hull, above the waterline?

    1. Yes, seems I was wrong, too hasty a look at the photos. Such a pole must either go through a hole in an overhang or something like a small centreboard case with its top above the water level.

  3. Bob,
    I've been staring at the photo of the rod on the stern for a while...
    It does seem to be a steering device, more on the order of a sculling paddle than a rudder. It has an arm attached to a line, which passes through the stern post. Apparently it passes through the hull on each side, so the helmsman can pull on either end (or very possibly it's a continuous rope). It would be a variation on the steering oar used on Viking boats.

  4. Doryman -- I do believe you're right. Though it's curious: as long as they went to the trouble of rigging up this "linkage" to the rudder, why not instead mount the outboard engine there with a similar linkage and steer with the engine, with the advantage of directed thrust?

  5. Because the boat needs to steer when the motor isn't running. (oars or poles). A steering rudder strong enough to carry the motor too would be an engineered piece of equipment involving welding.
    On boats rigged this way, the helmsman will turn the rudder and the motor simultaneously to make tight turns. (I have an old sailboat that requires some tricky manipulation, in this fashion, in close quarters. Also, with the motor mounted off the shear, you get limited thrust when the motor is turned toward the hull, so the rudder does more of the work.)

  6. "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."

    Thames spritsail barges had braces [or guys?] running aft from the head of the sprit to the gunwales on the quarters just forward of the mizzen.

    1. Not braces: they control the angles of yards on square-rigged boats.
      Not guys: they support terrestrial mast in the way that stays and shrouds support marine masts.
      They are vangs, in the original sense of the word. When close-hauled they reduce the twist at the top of a sprit-sail or a gaff-sail. Vangs are now rarely seen on anything except the Thames sprit-sail barge, where they are used effectively.
      'Vang' or 'boom-vang' in the North American sense, meaning a kicking-strap, might have arisen from a misunderstanding of the original meaning.

  7. Indigenous Houseboats are best described as floating cottages on luscious and tranquil backwaters. they explicit centuries old style of Kerala craftsmanship combined with modern luxury. It offers excellent accommodation for a whole family and you will enjoy a heavenly cruise through the labyrinth of Vembanad Lake. Indigenous Houseboats won best Best Exhibit Award at the International Boat Show held at Le Meridien,Cochin.

  8. In most cases I would block comments like the above as spam, but this one sneaks in under the wire for relevance. The houseboats do indeed look luxurious and, for a Westerner, they seem to have a sufficient level of exoticism for us to consider them "indigenous". Here's the link:

  9. Kerala Holiday Packages A Well Organised Travel Agent in India Offers Kerala Houseboat Tour , Enjoy Kerala Houseboat Packages With Reasonable Price.