Monday 24 November 2008

Boats built to last

The Sant Isidre is one of three remaining ‘barques de mitjana’ (pronounced bar-kas dey mitch-ana) still residing on the Catalan coast. ‘Mitjana’ in this context means mizzen and it is this sail that gives the lateen rigged 14 metre heavy wooden boats their name. The Sant Isidre also flies an almost equilateral jib on a long bowsprit. One would have to look at Phil Bolger’s book on sailing rigs (which I don’t own) to find out exactly how this type of boat would be named in English. The wide, double ended hull with plumb bow and stern follows the typical form of the llaüt.

Built in Mallorca in 1925 as a sail powered trawler by the shipwright Joan Creus Julià it wasn’t long before the ‘patron’ turned the Sant Isidre to smuggling. Caught with a cargo of contraband the boat was decommissioned, de-rigged, painted grey and renamed V13. With her wings clipped the V13 patrolled the fishing on the Catalan coast until the Civil War broke out in 1936 and she was seized by the POUM. (The Marxist political party in whose militia George Orwell fought against the Fascist troops on the Aragon front.) As a gun boat the V13 operated from Port de la Selva on the north side of Cap de Creus. After the Civil War the boat fell into disuse. Limping through the decades until weary with neglect, she was sold for 100 pesetas (0.60 euros) to a diving organisation who gave her a rudimentary refit and, after six years of intermittent use, sold her on to a private owner. She received a Bermudan rig and undertook oceanographic surveys for Greenpeace and other organisations. But in1993 the owner, choked by lack of funds, abandoned the boat in the Port of Palamos. Two years later, though greatly deteriorated, she had a lucky break being discovered and restored by the association Vaixells del Mediterrani. After four years of restoration work the boat was re-launched in 1999 with her original name and lateen rig. The Sant Isidre is now used for cultural and heritage events up and down the Catalan coast.

Quico Despuig of Cadaqués undertook the restoration work and he has been her skipper since. Quico is one of a handful of ‘mestres d’aixa’ (master shipwrights) on this coast. Restoration and maintenance are bread and butter work but this year, working from half models, Quico has also built and launched his own design; ‘Kuyunut’, a 5.94 LOA, 2.16m beam, lateen rigged llaüt. Carvel built of Niangon (Tarrietia utilia) on iroko frames, with Oregon pine for the mast and yard and silicon bronze fastenings throughout. Wanting to maximise sailing performance Quico designed the boat with a fine, deep and slippery underwater hull shape.

The name, pronounced coo-yoo-noot, is a play on the spelling of the Catalan word ‘collonut’ meaning ‘of or having testicles’ but here, I assume, it is used in its colloquial form to mean ‘the bollocks’ as in ‘it’s awesome mate, it’s the bollocks!’

If the boat lives up to its name it should be amazing to say the least.

'Kuyunut' at the Barcelona boat show.

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