Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sailing the Whitehall

We've taken the Whitehall out the last couple of Saturdays. Last week there was no wind at all so I tried the rowing seat. It worked quite well with my legs doing most of the work. I rowed a mile and a half to two miles and I never had to breath hard.

This week there was some wind so I finally got to try the sails.

Technically it was what is know as light wind. I think the wind was in the 5-10 mph range. This is a good windspeed for trying sailing since there is enough wind to get you moving but not enough to cause problems.

The Whitehall sails really well. I was pretty much able to go anywhere I wanted. There were a couple of times that the wind died and we did one tack as the wind was dying. I was able to use the job to get us out of that.

When the wind was blowing from the side or slightly ahead of us the boat really sped along. A few times I was overtaking modern sailboats going the same direction.

I was cautious. I could have gotten more speed out of her but I didn't want to get the side too close to the water so I slacked off sail a bit. We still had to lean into the wind.

I was especially proud that I was able to pull right up to the dock and grab a cleat with my boathook.

I tried it with the centerboard up and down. I couldn't tell the difference. The Whitehall is designed to move in a straight line so the centerboard may be superfluous.

I ordered a couple of new cleats for the rail. I had been using a pair of cleats meant for controlling the job when single-handing. These are rather small and are forward of where I wanted them. I found some reasonably-priced bronze cleats on-line and got them in time to install them Friday. They helped a lot in controlling the boat at a dock. I really wonder why no one ever installed a pair before?

A couple of improvements I need to make before we go to the Hampton Blackbeard Festival next week - I improvised a brail line for taking in the sail in a hurry. I'm going to replace it with one that is longer and a different type of rope. I want to be able to identify it easily since this is what we will use if we need to take in the sail in an emergency. Along the same lines, I am going to use a small carabiner to attach the boom to traveler. I want to be able to detach this quickly in an emergency. Taking the traveler line free takes too long. Yesterday I had to use a marlinspike to get the stopper knot out. With the carabiner I can leave the line permanently attached.

I need some way to be able to tie off the tiller. I used the long one and it kept swinging wide. At dock it kept getting caught on the dock. When sailing it would swing out of reach if I took my hand off of it to pump out the boat. Maybe I can rig up something with the new cleats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pirates on the Santa Maria - 2009

We had our pirate event on the Santa Maria. Turnout was good - we had around 30 pirates. Visitor attendance was also good. This was the best weekend to date (unfortunately it has been a bad year).

The attack on the ship wasn't as well planned as I would have liked but it worked. We had scratch crews manning guns on the Santa Maria. A new unit brought a small mortar so some experienced gunners fired that while the new people fired a howitzer from the shore. I quickly trained someone on using my swivel gun and she did a great job with some assist from someone who had helped me last year.

I was on my boat attacking the ship with a small swivel gun and hand-arms. We also had a couple of people on the jetty and defenders firing from the quarter deck.

After the ship closed on Saturday there was a lot of posing for pictures. Most pirates reenactors don't get to take over a ship long enough to do extended photo ops.

Around 15 people spent the night on the ship. There were some complaints about how hard the deck is to sleep on and how cold it was (the low was in the upper 40s). One thing I like about pirate events is that people sleep late. Usually I'm one of the last up at reenactments but I am usually one of the first at pirate events.

Sunday's battle was slightly scaled down. Several people could only be there for Saturday and we were out of powder for my swivel gun. We still managed a credible battle.

People started packing in earnest after the battle and were pretty much gone by 4:00. This was a shame since the ship still had visitors but it is a fact of life for reenactments where people come from out of town.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting the Whitehall in the Water

In the last few weeks I managed to finish sanding and painting the Whitehall and get it ready to put in the water. I spent the last two weeks before launching it pouring water into it to swell the planks. I saw this recommended as a way of avoiding the "Oh my God, my boat's sinking!" feeling when a wood planked boat is put in the water after a long haul-out. I'm glad I did this. When I first started soaking the hull, water poured out. Later it still dribbled out.

We got it in the water down a nasty boat ramp. The car got stuck in some wet mud (silt) and we had to get some help to get it loose. While we waited for a tow chain, I rowed the Whitehall around a bit. It handled fine.

The occasion was a pirate event at the Santa Maria which is 1/2 mile from the boat launch. After we got the car free, I set off with a volunteer crew. I didn't have the rudder on yet so we steered with the oars and a paddle that I used from the bow. The boat took a on a bit of water but not too much.

I checked it regularly. By nightfall it had stopped taking in water. It still leaks when people are in it. The extra weight forces the boat lower in the water and water seeps in past planks that have not swollen shut yet. If I could just have three or four people sit in the boat for 6-8 hours then this leak would swell shut, also.

We used it for the battle both days. We had three people the first day and four the second. Michael and I also went out with the wives. The boat is fine with four people - not crowded at all. We could fit in a fifth person. Any more than that would be crowded.

It rows well. It has three rowing stations but only two sets of oars. I decided that this is so that one person can row from the middle station (the sliding rowing seat and the foot pedals for the tiller are both set up for here. If you have two people rowing then it is better to have them in the first and third rowing stations. That way the oars don't have to be in perfect unison.

The swivel gun mount I rigged up on the bow worked perfectly. The small gun I have is quite loud, especially with a double charge.

We had three people on the way back to the boat ramp - two rowing and one at the tiller. I could tell the difference when I was rowing by myself but it wasn't a lot harder. A half-hour row upstream wasn't enough to make me breath hard. My hands where the main thing that got tired although I could feel it later.

We did have some trouble with the oars and the oarlocks, especially with the "sweeps" - the traditionally shaped oars. I used those on the row to the boat ramp and the collars that are supposed to keep the oar from going too far up the oarlock are too small. I need to do something to make these bigger.

Other that that, everything worked fine. Now I want to try sailing it but that will have to wait a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pet Peeves

There are a lot of things that show up at historic festivals that shouldn't. Many of these have jumped from celtic and Renaissance festivals.

Bodhrons - Those flat drums that are played on-handed. I don't object to them as instruments. I know several talented bodhron players. Unfortunately, none of them come to historic events. The people who pull these out at historic events seldom have any idea how to play them properly. You are supposed to press your left hand against the skin from the back, changing the tone as you play. You hold the beater like a pencil and only use one end with a sort of brushing motion. When played properly, it is a rather soft instrument and one of the few drums that isn't a monotone.

Even if played correctly, these instruments are inappropriate. Some people trace them back hundreds of years. Others say that they were an agricultural tool that was occasionally used for rhythm in very poor, agricultural areas of Ireland and not a part of mainstream Irish music until the 1970s. Either way, they were obscure before the late 20th century.

Utilikilts - A proper kilt is a long piece of wool, folded into pleats and belted into a garment. Later (we're talking Victorian period) the pleats were sewn into the kilt to make it easier to put on. In the 1990s, some Americans started making kilts out of heavy cotton with wide pleats sewn in and snap closures. These are fine for celtic fesitvals but out of place at historic events. I have one but I am selective where I wear it.

Irish Music - It used to be that you heard lots of old folk music at historic events. These days it is pretty much limited to 19th and 20th century Irish music. Don't get me wrong - I love Irish music and play in Irish sessions a few times a month, but most of it is out of period for anything earlier than the Civil War.