Monday, July 16, 2007

Testing the Boat

First - what is the best small boat for a pirate? I've been reading Under the Black Flag and it is clear that dug-out canoes were almost universal in the Americas. They were used as general open coastal and river craft, as tenders for merchant ships, and as small attack crafts by pirates. In a few cases, pirate attacks were made exclusively by canoes.

There are good reasons for their popularity. A small boat takes a lot of skilled effort to make. Someone has to cut the wood, saw it into planks, let it dry (possibly), plane it and finally make it into a boat. These all required skilled craftsmen.

On the other hand, making a dug-put canoe mainly requires a large tree and some time. You cut down the tree, cut it to length, then slowly use a smoldering fire to hollow out the canoe.

There are a lot of draw-backs to a dug-out. They could be quite wide but were always narrow. More important for modern pirates, they tipped over easily. This is especially important to my wife who has no small boat experience.

So we went with a plastic rowboat which looks like it was traditionally made.

It came ready to row but it took me a few weeks to get it ready to sail. The sail itself was easy but I also had to make a rudder and dagger board. Note - Dagger boards were not period. The technology needed to make a hole in the bottom of the boat and seal it to a guide is pretty modern. I half considered using leeboards which are attached on each side. You drop the one on the lee side (away from the wind). I didn't because the rowboat is really too small to accommodate the leeboards and the oars.

So we finally got ready to try the boat.

Getting the boat on top of the van is tough because Jennie can't help much. That means that I have to push a 100+ pound boat myself.

We went to a park with a small boat launch. Since we don't have a trailer we parked and I took the boat down to the water by hand. This wasn't difficult. The "wheel in the keel" helps a lot.

I launched it and Jennie got in. I rowed around a bit. It rowed fairly well. I had a bit of trouble steering because of a side-wind.

So we decided to try it with the sail.

For rowing, I sat in the middle seat and Jennie sat in the rear. In order to sail, I would have to be in the back and Jennie in the middle. I pulled the boat up to the dock and got out to get the sail and other equipment.

Having Jennie move was a bit of a disaster. She fell out in a classic Funniest Home Videos move. It seems that he knees are too weak to simply turn around so she had to stand up and lost her balance.

That's why she was wearing a life jacket.

So there she was, holding to the dock and unable to climb out. At someone else's suggestion, she held on to the boat and we pulled her to shallow water.

BTW, what would happen if Jennie tipped the boat over and spilled both of us out? Simple - I would climb back in then the the oars to tow her to land. Two years ago I was able to climb into the Pilgrim Shallop and it has higher sides.

New plan - I would test the sail by myself.

It worked. A moderate breeze moved the boat and I could change direction. I was testing to see how close I could sail to the wind when I had a problem. I had mounted the tiller using a wooden dowel and it wasn't string enough. Suddenly I was at the mercy of the wind. I tried to take the sail in but the sprit was harder to take in from the boat than I had hoped. I unloosed the snotter (isn't that a great term) but the sail was still catching the wind. I took the sail down completely which solved that problem but was more involved than I want.

Improvements for next time:

Obviously I need to come up with a better rudder mount. I think I will redesign the tiller, making it longer so that I can reach it from the middle seat easier. I also want it to pivot up so that I don't have to move around it when I am on the rear seat.

I also want to put in an extra line for taking in the sprit. That part should not be difficult.

So sailing time was much too short but it showed that I am on the right track.

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