Sunday 25 January 2009

OB’s new mast

Not the best weekend for working outside with 50 plus knots of wind hurling about the garden but work on the mast progressed significantly, even if I did lose a ream of sandpaper to various marauding mini tornados. OB spent the morning bucking about on her trolley and I was just moving her to a safer spot when roof tiles lifted off a nearby building with all the ease and grace of dandelion seeds, crashing to the ground and exploding into pieces like, er, well, just like roof tiles... It looked like nowhere would be safe but eventually I tied her to the hedge and got down to some serious graft on the mast.

The original mast broke back in August and for a while it seemed OB would remain a rig-less rowing boat indefinitely. However, the hungry sailing bug must be fed. I have made the mast in a similar way to the previous one—with a round section where the mast passes through the deck, a square piece where the boom and halyard cleat attach which leads into a not-entirely-round upper section that becomes more circular as it tapers. I had intended to do a how-to, or rather a muddle through-to, with text and pictures but I muddled through with such fixed determination that I didn’t look up from the work until it was complete.

This mast is more robust having a diameter of 5.5cm compared with the other’s 4.7cm but it is of Mr M’s standard knotty pine. Rather than take any risks, (the last mast broke on a knot of deadwood) I have drilled out the knots and filled the holes with epoxy.
A few other jobs to be dealt with now that the Workshop is out of the cupboard; the rudder yoke and blade both need finishing and there are a few bumps and bruises on the daggerboard and around the boat in general that could do with some epoxy.

But now when I lie awake listening to that shutter banging (the one I should have been fixing instead of mast building) and that bug comes gnawing I can tell it that soon, soon we shall be sailing.

Thursday 8 January 2009

The boat that split in two

The ‘pontona’ is a traditional Catalan craft, an elusive denizen of the Ebro Delta and more than half way to extinction. Some can be seen languishing in the mud full of water and losing their shape to rot, others list alarmingly, moored to posts in lagoons. And a handful are still in use, working out of the busy fishing port of Sant Carles de la Rapita, the penultimate town on the southern Catalan coast.

Double ended, flat-bottomed and of a heavy carvel build the ‘pontona’ is a rudimentary rowing skiff constructed in different sizes. The shape changes slightly as the design is scaled up and whereas the larger vessels show some decided sheer the smaller versions of the pontona have virtually none, no fore and aft curvature, giving them a boxy, rather childish appearance. They have almost no rocker either.

Propelled by a quant in thin weedy water or by oars, usually plied facing forward in deeper stuff, they were used for fishing with nets on the shallow sheltered waters behind the long sandy spit called el Trabucador on the south side of the river Ebro delta. Some had lateen rigs and crude lee-daggerboards but having low sides and no reserve buoyancy they couldn’t be sailed safely in anything but very calm conditions.

However, with the advent of the internal combustion engine, the ‘pontonas’ demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt. Fishermen took saws to the sterns and, cutting them back one or two frames, mounted outboards on the resulting square transoms. The boats worked well with a small engine but with time larger engines were tried and found not to be so effective, the boats showed a tendency to bury their sterns and ‘wheelie’. The solution? Cut the boats in half and thus obtain a wider, more buoyant transom.

A pontona with a makeshift cuddy

The cut-down, square-transom version of the ‘pontona’ proved efficient and popular enough to warrant a fibreglass version, introduced in the 80’s, which then developed into a rather more typical engine powered skiff though still retaining the name ‘pontona’.

Fibreglass pontona

Though the original double-ended wooden craft for use under oars is now a dying breed on the coast, far up the Ebro River in the town of Flix they still exist. Used as competitive rowing boats they generally carry four oarsmen, and a cox. Though to confuse matters this type of ‘pontona’ is often called a ‘muleta’