Friday 28 August 2009

Rowing cross-oared again

I’m afraid that the craft that I previously referred to as a ‘polbiero’ is actually a ‘dorna’. I’d had some inkling of this but was finally able to confirm my suspicion when I met a Galician ‘dorna’ owner at the XXIII festival of lateen sail in Cadaqués. (More on this festival in another post.) Suso, author of the blog ‘Lajareu por Barlovento’ , was participating with his dorna, Tamariua, which he kindly let me sail and row.

The Dorna requires a crew of two to tack the dipping lug sail. The helm, having put the tiller over unhooks the sheet, leaves their position and, grasping the clew of the sail, dashes nimbly round the mast. While the crew first lowers the sail a few feet to enable the yard to pass freely round the front of the mast, then raises it again tying off the halyard to windward where it acts as a stay. The helm then re-attaches the sheet with a quick turn round a small belaying pin. It is rather complicated to perform on the confined decks of the dorna but with practice and coordination I imagine it could be quite a graceful step-by-step dance.

My efforts weren’t particularly graceful but I hoped to do better at the oars. The two-piece sweeps are as long as the dorna. Being so large they are also heavy but with so much of the oar inboard of the pins they are balanced. I found it hard to keep they blades out of the water on the recovery but the stroke was powerful and satisfying.

For the solo sailor the dorna would be a challenge. Not only due to the difficulty of single-handedly tacking and gybing but also because the crossed oar rowing, while fine for fishing, does not really make suitable auxiliary power. I think it would be difficult to row this boat alone for hours at a stretch maintaining a 3-knot average speed. However, when rowed by two people, as it more commonly was, the boat moves along easily and briskly. Stroke oar sits in the on the stern thwart and bow oar on the central one. Due to the length of the oars the starboard rower sits on the port side of the boat and vice versa.

As before I was struck by the contrasts of this boat. The rustic simplicity of the build and rig compared with the complexity of the hull form. The area of Galicia in northwest Spain has Celtic roots and the dorna hull form derived, according to Suso, from Viking craft. The dorna proved to be a big head-turner on the Catalan coast upstaging many of the smaller lateen rigged craft.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Christian Auge and Mare C

Back in May I saw a stumpy wing mast among the typical aluminium forest of spars. It belonged to a small catamaran with folding wings. One glance was enough to see that it was a serious sea-going boat. The man on board looked like he’d been at sea for some time so I invited him home for dinner.
Christian Auge has been sailing since he was twenty-two. Searching for his first sailing boat he drove across Asia and then flew to the Marquesas where he fell in with the unlikely crew of a pilot, a call girl and a guru aboard their trimaran. When relations among the trio broke up they gave Christian the boat. He sailed 400 nm to the Tuamoas where he worked trading between the islands. He met Bernard Moitessier and became friends, giving Bernard his first taste of multihull sailing. Of Moitessier Christian told me that you couldn’t hope for a better crew, that, for all his experience, he would never presume to interfere with how you sailed your boat, he was always open, humble and willing.

Christian worked his way around the world on boats and began his own career designing and building with the Mike Birch team in New Bedford for the 1976 OSTAR. In 40 years on the sea he has sailed some 250,000 miles and is now designing a 28-foot proa with a rotating rig in which he hopes to take part in the next Jester Challenge.

Deciding that he was spending too much time in front of the computer he prepared an early summer cruise on the ply and epoxy catamaran Mare C. A friend had designed and built the boat for speed but Christian cut two metres off the mast to achieve a more cruiser friendly sail area. He set off in the 5.5 metre catamaran with 11square metres of mainsail and six of jib. The whacking great mast added another 2.5 square metres and gave the boat a cruising speed of up to 15 knots. He sailed from Sète in France and planned to continue non-stop down the Mediterranean to Algiers. However, he met calms and contrary head winds. Having no auxiliary power he could do nothing but wait for the weather to become more favourable. He stopped at Ibiza and then, with insufficient time to make the African continent, decided to head back to France.

On the way back the weather again failed him and after four days at sea with only two hours sleep and with his knee playing up he decided to stop at Torredembarra to find some medication.

I was amazed by Christian’s ability at 62 to endure the discomforts of long hours on a small boat. He had no mattress or boat tent and generally just slept on the deck in his wet weather gear. He lived on a Spartan diet of dried fruit and nuts, tinned sardines and roll ups.

We looked over Onawind Blue together, it was interesting to compare the two boats, OB and Mare C were completely different concepts, however OB was about to embark on a similar cruise. Conceivably Mare C could have made the 140 mile passage from Ibiza in 14 to 15 hours at an average of 10 knots. OB could have done the same in 48 hours at her stately average of 3 knots. In the event, however, OB also took four days from Ibiza to Torredembarra including a rest day.

Christian liked OB and was impressed by the build quality (though of course I distracted him when his eyes wandered to the dodgy bits) and reckoned that she would be perfect for such a cruise. This thumbs up from an experienced sailor boosted my confidence enormously —I’d been having grave doubts. Meeting Christian was a turning point. He made it sound as if anyone could sail offshore in a small engineless boat incurring less risk that they would by driving up the motorway. The OB cruise was on again.

A few days later the wind came fair and he set off to sail non-stop to France. I watched him through binos from the beach. Mare C was doing about six knots on a light southerly, Christian was leaning on a wing rolling a cigarette. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get going.

Monday 3 August 2009