Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review: The Saga of Cimba

I read a lot of cruising narratives, many of which I plan to review here in time. I find many of these books both entertaining and informative, even if the writer has a different style of travel than I'm interested in or sails a type of vessel I'll probably never own. Most of the books of this type that I read were written in recent years, as cruising has become much more popular due to the availability of fiberglass boats, both new and used, and new equipment such as GPS receivers to take the hard work out of navigation.

Before this new wave of modern cruisers appeared, the pioneers of modern singlehanded or family-style voyaging under sail had to either build their boats themselves or convert existing vessels, mostly built of wood, to their needs. Most sailors these days would stay ashore if this was still the case, but thanks to those who did it the hard way and wrote about it, the way has been made much easier for those of us with an abundance of boat choices at our disposal. Their successes and failures, described in the great books many of them wrote, have saved many of us from coming to grief through lack of knowledge. Most people who sail today and even think just a little about long-distance voyaging and cruising are familiar with the works of at least some of these writers like: Joshua Slocum, Hal Roth, Bernard Moitessier, the Smeetens, and John Guzzwell. But there are other, lesser known sailors from this era as well, and some of the best writings are easy to overlook.

The Saga of Cimba: A Journey from Nova Scotia to the South Seas

by Richard Maury is one such sailing classic that I myself passed up for years, even though I had noticed it from time to time among the more contemporary narratives in the sailing section of various bookstores. It was only a few months ago, when I was lacking something inspiring to read, that I decided to pick up this book that was first published in 1939 and remains in print. Upon reading the first chapter, I found myself immediately hooked. This is one of those rare narratives that not only recounts a fascinating adventure, but does so with a captivating writing style that takes you right along and makes you want to find an old fishing schooner and follow in the author's footsteps.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the voyage recounted in this book is the time period in which it took place - in the 1930s - before World War II brought the remote South Pacific islands into mainstream consciousness and when practically no one set out to voyage half way around the world for pleasure on a small, short-handed sailing vessel. This was a time of almost limitless freedom for those few who could pull off such a voyage. The world was wide open to them and the rules and regulations and fees that we have to pay for docking and even anchoring in many places were unheard of then.

One of the most difficult hurdles in the 1930s was simply finding an affordable vessel of suitable size and adequate seaworthiness for such a voyage. Maury and his partner in the adventure at last found their ship among a fishing fleet on the Nova Scotia coast. "We first saw her from the top of the cliff. She turned at her chains to every attack of wind, swaying, airy, buoyant, as though cut of fragile porcelain on the sea below. She was a two-masted schooner, almost as small as they go, almost as stalwart...."

The schooner, which they subsequently purchased and christened Cimba, was 35-feet overall with a 26-foot waterline and 9 1/2-foot beam. She carried a fisherman's working rig - gaff mainsail and foresail, and one jib. Maury and Carrol Huddleston sailed her down the coast to Stamford Harbor where they planned to fit out and equip the vessel for the voyage ahead.

From this point on, two ocean passages lay ahead: New York to Bermuda, and Bermuda to the Caribbean Islands. To prepare they made some modifications to the schooner, such as adding a deck hatch to ventilate the cabin, painting the hull and cabin and rebuilding the engine. The also took on the necessary stores and supplies, including everything needed to maintain the hull, rigging and sails. In light of the time period and the remoteness of their ultimate destination, it's not surprising that ship's equipment included a 30.30 Winchester rifle with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and a .38 revolver and 12-gauge shotgun. Despite the preparations and large equipment list, the schooner "retained an air of almost puritanical simplicity on deck and down below" according to Maury.

Maury's first setback occurred when his friend Carrol was swept overboard and lost his life in the harbor while tending the schooner in a storm. This event is mentioned only in a short paragraph. Maury sailed for Bermuda shortly after with a new crew - "Dombey" Dickinson. The schooner proved her seaworthiness in a winter storm en route that caused a rollover and set fire to the cabin with coals scattered throughout the interior. From Bermuda, the pair sailed Cimba on to Grand Turk and then through the Windward Passage past Haiti to Kingston, Jamaica. From Jamaica they ran down to Panama's San Blas Archipelago and explored some of the jungle rivers of the coast. On the Pacific side of the Canal, they explored the Perlas Islands and then set sail for the Galapagos.

Among the remote Galapagos, so little visited at the time, they came upon a wrecked boat on a deserted beach, with two skeletons in the sand nearby. They also found fresh footprints and heard a rifle shot from somewhere in the interior. Maury's account of the unraveling of these mysteries again illustrates how different the world was back in 1935 for a couple of adventurers willing to sail to such far-flung islands.

Onward into the Pacific, on the 3,000-mile downhill run to the South Seas, Cimba, working west and south averaged 6.4 knots or 150 miles per day. Maury writes: "The testing of a craft goes on forever - but a point is reached where finally the spirits of ship and men to some degree reflect each other, where often the weakness of one becomes the weakness of the other, the strength of one the other's strength."

Cimba made landfall off Ua Hiva in the Marquesas 19 days out from the Galapagos. Beginning in the Marquesas, Maury and his partner found the South Pacific they were looking for, and their adventures continued through the French territories and then westward to Fiji, where the voyage sadly ended on a reef. Although the schooner was with great difficulty salvaged and rebuilt on the beach, Maury never managed to sail on to New Guinea as planned due to various complications, and ended up leaving her in Fiji.

If you've every dreamed of sailing to the South Seas, or if you simply like good adventure narratives, you will love The Saga of Cimba. If you have an ounce of interest in boats or sailing this book will make you long for a sturdy old fishing schooner that you can fix up and point south. The book is still in print and you can buy it in bookstores or at the link below, or probably find it your local library. Richard Maury may have written only one book, but the The Saga of Simba deserves to be an enduring classic in the literature of the sea. It's definitely worth checking out, but watch out, or you may find it inflicts a bad case of sea fever.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Parker Exuma 52, Sarah

Below: The Reuel Parker Exuma 52 Sarah on a nice reach. (photo from Reuel Parker's website)

In my last post I wrote about meeting Reuel Parker at a boatyard in Florida and seeing his newest 45-foot sharpie schooner coming together rapidly under his relentless boatbuilding pace. In addition to meeting him and seeing this new project, it was a delight to see one of the finest examples of his previous work afloat at the dock just a short walk away from the yard. The schooner Sarah has got to be one of the most beautiful wooden sailing vessels I've ever seen and it was a real treat to be able to take some photos of her, even if it was nearly dark out. Below is an overview as I first saw her, taken from an adjacent dock in the marina. To my eye, everything about the proportions and lines of this vessel is just right. She has it all: shoal draft, schooner rig, and traditional lines, yet is built in an easy to maintain cold-molded modern wood construction using epoxy. Modern cruising conveniences like the cockpit bimini that is so nice to have in the latitudes where she sails have been incorporated without detracting from her good looks.

After admiring her from a distance where we could take in the whole ship, my friend David and I then walked around to the dock where she was moored to get a closer look. Here is a shot of the bow, where you can see the windlass and twin sampson posts set up to handle the ground tackle needed for serious cruising.

This shot from the starboard bow shows traditional schooner twin house arrangement typical of many of Parker's designs, as well as such fitting touches as the belaying pins at the shrouds. The fit and finish of this vessel was as good as any I've seen, and from up close it was obvious that she has been lovingly maintained and is in like new condition despite the fact that she was built in the mid-80s.

Sarah's cockpit showing a gracefully rounded coaming aft and substantial mooring posts on the aft decks, something noticeably lacking in modern yachts. The old and new blend seamlessly together here though, with modern engine controls, bimini and lifelines integrated into timeless lines in a tasteful manner.

Here's a view of the stern showing the well-proportioned and practical bimini and the dinghy hung from davits aft.

Sarah is 52'-6" on deck and has a 13' beam, yet only draws 2'-9" of water, making her exceptionally shoal draft for such a big vessel. She's rigged as a schooner because on a vessel this size, this rig is low cost and easily handled by a small crew compared to a more modern marconi rig. She is said to be very weatherly and quite fast, able to sustain speeds of over 10 knots.

Sarah was built using Parkers cold-molded wood construction technique because it is fast, inexpensive, and incredibly strong. Photos and details of her construction can be found in his book: The New Cold-Molded Boatbuilding: From Lofting to Launching. The hull bottom is built with double-diagonal planking over tongue and groove fore-and-aft planking, as explained in his building method. There are no frames or floor timbers, and there is no cabin sole. You walk right on the inside of the hull, which allows it to have a flatter run for shoal draft. Watertight bulkheads divide the cabins and provide increased safety compared to other ballasted monohull vessels.

All in all Sarah quite the vessel. I'm generally a small boat enthusiast, and she's a little big for my needs, but I could adapt I suppose. Sarah is a real ship, and I do love schooners. What a great liveaboard cruiser she would be for the remote shallow water areas of the Bahamas, the Western Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Meeting Reuel Parker

I spent last week in Jupiter, Florida as planned, helping David Halladay and the crew at Boatsmith with the intial set up of the hulls for the Tiki 30 catamaran they are building. It would have been worth the 1600 mile round trip just to see the beginnings of this Wharram catamaran, but as it turned out, I also was fortunate enough to meet yacht designer and author, Reuel B. Parker and see his latest sharpie under construction.

I recently wrote about Reuel Parker here in these pages under the topic: What is a Sharpie? In this post I described his definitave work on these specialized sailboats, The Sharpie Book, published in 1994 by International Marine. I've long been interested in his design work, since like James Wharram he has voyaged and cruised extensively and his focus has been on simple, relatively inexpensive craft that can be self-built by almost anyone.

Before I went to Florida, David told me that he had met Reuel by chance at a boatyard where he had gone to look at another vessel. He saw this big sharpie being built in a corner of the yard, under a temporary tent shed, and immediately thought it was a Parker design. David asked the man working on it if it was, and he said yes, but the builder didn't bother to mention that he was Reuel Parker himself. David only learned this after stopping by a couple more times and attempting to start a conversation. But as he found out, when Reuel Parker is busy building a boat, he doesn't like to waste time socializing. He told David that if he stopped to talk to eveyone who had questions he would never get any work done. But since he did say that he would be willing to talk one evening after working hours, over an ale or two, David and I took off an hour early one day from the shop, stopping along the way to pick up some Bass Ale.

We found Reuel Parker working late that evening, and at first he ignored us, and seemed to have forgotten meeting David previously. We hung around the periphery of his temporary shop and admired the lines of the new sharpie he was working on, carefully staying out of his way. At last Reuel warmed up a bit, and as it was getting late, put his tools down and accepted a bottle of ale. He told us the boat he was building was a stretched and modified version of the San Juan 36 found in The Sharpie Book. This new vessel was 45-feet long and had extra outside ballast in the form of a shallow lead shoe. Reuel had made amazing progress, having just been working on the boat for 9 1/2 weeks. He told us he works seven days per week, and at this stage the outside of the hull was complete with sheathing and primer, and was turned right side up. The interior was over half complete, and he was almost ready to begin decking and building the cabin houses. This 45-foot schooner was being built for a remarkably low outlay in materials, as Reuel has perfected the art of building high quality boats while avoiding expensive, specialized "marine" products.

In the photo below you can see the flared hullsides and gently-arced flat bottom that characterizes a Parker sharpie. Reuel Parker (seated) explains the design to David Halladay. He became much more talkative when he realized we were quite familiar with his design work and that we both have a sincere love of boats. Reuel told us he was building this new design "on spec" just as David is building his Tiki 30.

Below is a view into the stern of this shoal-draft double ender. You can see the simplicity of the construction, with it's plywood hull sides and bottom and framing of mostly ordinary construction grade timbers. Epoxy resin is used throughout for laminating, sheathing, and filleting. The interior paint is an industrial Sherwin Williams epoxy product called Tile Clad #2, described in detail in Parker's books on boatbuilding.

Despite it's shoal draft and simplicity, this 45-foot schooner will have comfortable accomodations for cruising, divided into two separate cabins. Here you can see the dinette area, which is located so that the crew can eat meals while looking out the starboard portlights. The large centerboard trunk can also be seen here, just inboard of the dinette. The plywood hullsides in the interior will be planked with thin strips of tongue and groove hardwood. Most bulkheads are painted white. Every thing is designed for long life and low maintenance.

And speaking of well-built and well-maintained vessels, right next to the yard where Parker is set up, is a marina where Sarah, an outstanding example of one of his cold-molded shallow-draft schooners, is docked. David and I walked over to take a look at her, and I was blown away by the elegance and beauty of this 52-foot sailing vessel. My only regret was that it was nearly dark when I took a few photos of her, but even so you can get the idea below. I'll post more photos and details about Sarah in a future article.

Our visit with Reuel Parker lasted maybe a half hour, after which time he was ready to get cleaned up after a long day of boatbuilding. While talking to him I was so intent on the listening to his thoughts on boatbuilding that I totally forgot to ask if he had any of his books for sale in the office trailer parked right next to the project. So on Sunday morning, when I left Jupiter for the drive back to Mississippi, I detoured back to the boatyard, where I once again found Mr. Parker and had the pleasure of another short conversation with him about boats. I purchased signed copies of two of his books: The New Cold-Molded Boatbuilding: From Lofting to Launching and The Voyages of Fishers Hornpipe.

I'll be reviewing those here as well. I had read a borrowed copy of the cold-molded boatbuilding manual before, and learned a lot from it. The narrative of his earlier voyages on Fishers Hornpipe promises to be an exciting read and I can't wait to get into it. I hope to be back in south Florida soon for the launching of David's Tiki 30, and at the rate Reuel Parker is going, I might be in time to see his new schooner go into the water as well.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Professionally Built Tiki 30

Just a little over a week ago I wrote in these pages about my friend, David Halladay and his marine carpentry company Boatsmith in Jupiter, Fl. I mentioned that David was ready to take orders to start building large wood-epoxy composite boats, and especially how he would like to build a Wharram catamaran. Well, he's gone from dreaming to doing in the space of that week and his crew of craftsmen in the shop behind his house have already cut out and prepared all the parts for both hulls of a Wharram Tiki 30. This is exciting news to me as the Tiki 30 is one of the designs I really like and one that I almost decided to build before realizing the Tiki 26 would be better for my own needs. David is not building this one to keep, either. It is being built on spec and you can contract early to have it custom finished the way you want it, or he will build it exactly to plan and sell it afterwards. Either way, you can be assured that this Tiki 30 will be built to the highest standards and with the best materials under the direction of a master craftsman.

The Tiki 30 building crew at Boatsmith: Nicolas, Pascual, David Halladay (center) Tomas, and Alejandro looking over the plans on the morning of the first day.

As a boat carpenter who has worked for David many times in the past on various projects, I naturally wanted to get involved in this one, so I'm heading down there tomorrow to spend three days working in the shop and to assist in the assembly and setting up of the two hulls. Since I've done this recently on my own Tiki 26, maybe my experience will be helpful. The other aspect of the project that I'm involved in is helping David to document the build by creating a blog about it, similar to my Tiki 26 blog Element II

Visit the new blog and check out the design work I've done on it. David and I will both be posting updates there, and in the future most will probably come from him. But while I'm in Florida I plan to take a lot of new photos in the shop and maybe some video clips for You Tube as well. I will also keep you posted here, but for the latest on this professionally built Tiki 30, keep an eye on: Pro-Built Tiki 30

As for me, I'm looking forward to some warm south Florida weather and seeing palm trees least for a few days!

New Tiki 26 in the Channel Islands

I just received these latest photos the other day from Philip Le Maitre, who has recently completed a new Tiki 26 in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. Phil has sent me construction photos a couple of times in the past few months. He's done an amazing job of the build and has completed it in just 12 months. He's not a newcomer to building Wharram cats, however, having built a Tiki 21 in 1984 and then a Tiki 31 in 1990. He says he never really got on with the Tiki 31 and eventually sold her, owning a few monohulls before missing Tikis again and picking up another secondhand Tiki 21.

Phil told me he always wanted a Tiki 26, seeing it as the ideal size and tried to find a used one to buy but with no luck, went ahead and built it from scratch. Judging by these photos, I think he made the right decision. This is inspiration to me, as I slog on through the endless epoxy fillets in the interior of my second hull and look forward to better boatbuilding weather.

I really like the paint job on this one too - it reminds me of the first Wharram I built - my Hitia 17, Segundo Vez which I painted with the same color scheme. He named his new boat Scooby, obviously after the cartoon character as seen on the graphic below. I'm looking forward to seeing Scooby launched, and hopefully receiving more photos once Phil is sailing.

Here you can see the large, open cockpit. Phil elected to install the outboard on a bracket behind the aft beam, giving even more clear space in the cockpit.

"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...