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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.