Sunday 27 April 2008

What’s up with OB?

There hasn’t been a post about her all month I know, but that’s not to say that progress isn’t being made. For the past two weeks I’ve been making spars. They’re still not finished; circumstances, mainly the tiresome business of earning an honest penny, contriving to keep me out of the workshop while I work myself to a high pitch of anticipation—for we have the new sails.

The sails, laid out on the lawn crisp and bright are, at first glance, fantastic. But I wonder if they may be slightly over engineered, reinforced beyond the level of stress they can hope to encounter. The mizzen looks especially beefy and I wonder how it will set. A cursory trial in the garden with sailboard masts and assorted poles looked not quite right, rather starched and uncomfortable, a bit odd. Both sails seem to beg that vital ingredient, a sackful of wind. But April hasn’t been a good month for launching; apart from being away due to the honest penny business, when I have been at home it’s been waves, waves and waves.

However, the weather’s cleared now—so get on with those spars Ben.

I’ve also been addressing some pressing jobs on the hull. OB’s a young boat but she’s had a fair amount of use and it shows in chips, bumps, bruises and dull, scratched varnish. I’ve started by eliminating the self bailers—they let in a continuous trickle when closed and more when opened so out they go. I’ve installed some drain plugs to let water out when we arrive back at the beach but at sea I’ll continue to bail by hand. I’ve painted her bottom, added some long overdue centreboard slot lips, which should also contributed to a dryer cockpit, and a small stainless steel forefoot protector.
I’ve still to touch up the interior paintwork and sand and varnish the decks. But soon we’ll be all a-tanto, shipshape and trim, ready for the sea again.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Talking of pailebots…

Every time I’ve driven to Tarragona over the last few weeks I’ve seen two wooden topmasts reaching over buildings, begging my attention like the hands of school children eager to supply the correct answer.Today I eventually went down to the harbour to investigate. It was the wrong end of the day for photos or rather, the best shooting angle was facing the sun. So the pix aren’t too hot but there are plenty of photos on the web of this splendid schooner, ‘Invader’.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Catalan fishermen

In celebration of finally having a functioning scanner, here are some postcards of Catalan fishermen. The photos are by Josep Esquirol (1879-1934). Taken at the beginning of the last century they show fishermen from l’Escala on the Costa Brava, a town renowned, then as now, for its anchovies.

I find their bearded, weather-beaten faces fascinating.

This is L’avi Calons (granpa Calons)

L’avi Niol

and El menut Petot (little Petot)

This last is a picture of the bay at l’Escala taken in 1915 and showing the fishing fleet of lateen rigged llauts and llaguts (the llagut has less beam for overall length than the llaut) leaving the beach with a favourable off shore breeze. The pretty gaff cutter with the clipper bow in the middle distance may pose a problem for some of the fishing boats.

The schooner in the background supplied the anchovy industry with salt. Interestingly this type of boat is called a pailebot in Spanish and Catalan; the word is derived from the English ‘pilot-boat’, the designs being inspired by America schooners from the turn of the last century.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Dalí's boat

Salvador Dalí sailed a llaut; I saw it once at the Barcelona boat show, bright yellow and named Gala after his wife and muse.

Recently as I hurried through the new industrial estate outside Cadaqués I was happily surprised to see the llaut Gala. She’d shrugged off the front corner of her tarp for a sniff of the Tramontana and was looking quite sprightly despite her years. Apparently the llaut is due for restoration. I found it easy to imagine Dalí with his cane and moustache, his wife artistically sprawled, as they pootled around the rocky coast of Cap de Creus.

Dalí’s house at Port Ligat was originally a fisherman’s cottage that grew over the years with Salvador in residence, eventually sprouting eggs on the roof. Amongst the surreal images around I particularly liked this ‘dinghy with tree’ and these sundials, the first is by Dalí and the second is in his style though I don’t know who it’s by.

I’d taken Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander to read (for the third time) knowing that O’Brian wrote the Aubrey/Maturin books just up the coast over the French border in Colliure and that he, like Dalí, was inspired by the Mediterranean light that plays over this rugged landscape. It was a pleasure to read of Jack Aubrey’s adventures as they seemed to be taking place just over the horizon. Aubrey, in command of the 14 gun sloop 'Sophie', captures the 32 gun lateen rigged xebec frigate, 'Cacafuego', in a brilliantly audacious action and while I was wondering what a xebec might look like I came across a model shop in a Cadaqués back street with one on display.

Enjoying the wind and the light.

Sunday 13 April 2008

Thole pins

Being a user of thole pins I’m always interested to compare and contrast pins on other boats. Here are some from my trip to Cap de Creus.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

More llauts

A few more beached llauts.

I love these untreated olive branch oar holders.

Monday 7 April 2008

El Llaut

The llaut (ya’oot) is the traditional hull shape of the western Med. Although there are many variations in the design, broadly speaking a llaut is a beamy, double-ended boat with a plumb stem and stern.
Originally lateen rigged fishing craft, llauts nowadays have inboard diesels mounted in what would have been the fish hold. A short mast and long yard supported by a crutch at the stern are merely a decorative acknowledgment of the boats’ past.

Most also carry oars although the hull shape is unsuited to easy rowing. A friend of mine, that once owned one, rather unsympathetically claimed that the boats were also hopeless under sail and power. However, the boats have a huge amount of built-in buoyancy, their beam makes them extremely stable and their shallow draft makes them ideal for beaching if some sort of winch or block and tackle is available to pull them up the shore, for the older wooden hulls, as well as the more modern GRP versions, are heavy.

Modern sailing llauts are rather more svelte and some have reversed raked transoms. I’ve never had the pleasure of sailing one of these craft but apparently they go well, the lateen rig is simple yet powerful with good windward qualities and the underwater profile, with two long, shallow bilge keels or runners and a large skeg, is sufficient to keep them on course.

Unlike Tarragona the north of Catalonia hasn’t shed its mantle of maritime heritage and quantities of llauts huddle in ports or bask, above the high water mark, on beaches. On the Costa Brava the llaut is still very much the fashionable day boat for pottering from cove to bay and, although some owners try to improve performance under power by adding an unsightly skirt of sorts at the stern to give a straighter, flatter run aft, there is nothing that smacks of the Mediterranean quite as much as seeing one of these little boats, through a clutch of wind tortured stone pines, as you weave down a path to a secluded cove.

Sunday 6 April 2008

La Tramontana

Work has taken me to the Costa Brava for two weeks and although the timetable has been intense I’ve taken every opportunity to explore the area, as always from the point of view of a small boat sailor.Previously I’ve known this coast for windsurfing and for years regularly made the journey to Sant Pere Pescador or Sant Martí de Empuries to sail in famously nuclear conditions, but it had been a very long time since I’d been to Cap de Creus and Cadaqués.

The Tramontana has blown almost continually, comfortably reaching a force seven most days. The wind brings a remarkable raw beauty to the land and sea. The thrashing maquis gives up luxurious aromas of lavender, thyme and rosemary. The air is cool and clean, the sky a polished dome of flawless blue and the sun gilds the seas from shore to rim. All very pretty indeed.

Local lore, however, upholds that prolonged exposure to the wind gives rise to neurosis and apparently Cadaqués boasts the highest number of neurotics in Spain. Most of these seem to take up painting inspired, no doubt, by the cape’s most illustrious late denizen, Salvador Dalí and galleries chocker with quaint boating scenes abound.

Local councils are also keen to foster the surrealist image and giant eggs, loaves of bread and other surreal sculptures can be found distracting drivers on roundabouts throughout the region.

Cap de Creus is a natural park and it is pleasure to see an area of Spanish coastline that doesn’t have ugly developments crowding down to the water. Long sheltered bays and shallow coves providing protection from all quarters are liberally scattered about the coast making it a dream cruising area for the small boat sailor—so long as the Tramontana isn’t furiously hammering out of the north.

I spent some time at Port Ligat where Dalí’s house, surrounded by olive and cypress trees on three sides and open to the sea on the fourth, snuggles into the distinctive slate. Walking the shore where the great artist roamed and delighting in the landscape brought me strangely close to the man. Not to the point of seeing spindly-legged elephants tripping through the olive groves but enough to spend an hour inventing outlandish similes and metaphors while watching eddies on the water.

Some images in which the sea or boats feature in Dalí’s work.
In Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano we see a typical llaut in the foregound.

Figure at a Window shows the bay at Port Ligat.
And The Ship shows a Tramontana sea.I imagine the wind played havoc with Dalí’s moustache.