The Open Boat

by editor

by Lance Lee

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Traditional watercraft are an index to the ethos of communities around the earth is a long stated conviction. It underscores this website, the forty plus years of practical demonstrations which apprenticing on land and sea are based (the Apprenticiceshops, Atlantic Challenge and Tremolino! and now Scholarshipwrights’ “Once and Future Hampton boat” project).

It is the open boats which stand out most significantly. They rise technically, historically and practically—as used in weather and sea conditions around the globe and they reflect the theme of folk. Open boats become magisterial. From the dugout canoe to the yawl, or yole, or jollyboat, the whitehalls of the crimps and watermen, the inshore fishermen, ship-to-shore transport, lighters, pinnaces, and admiral’s barges. The finest, as declared by those who drew their certitude from their centuries of ‘greasy luck’ were the whaleboats.

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Gordan Grant’s drawing from his book, Greasy Luck, 1932

The whaleboat was without a rival as a boat….the whaleboat…was the best seaboat that man could evolve, with no limitations as to size, weight, or model. —Clifford Ashley

This website is based upon an archive which extends to the 1930s but was both inspired by and so experientially begun in Aberdovey, Wales in April of 1966. The  26-ft dipping lug rigged Outward Bound cutters were if not direct descendants then tangible echos of the lifeboats of torpedoed merchant maritime shipping of World War II. The warden of the Aberdovey Outward Bound School in’66 was Captain Freddy Fuller, twice torpedoed in the Battle of the Atlantic, shown below, and cast away 35 days in open boats.

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The essense of the open boat is represented in the Race Point surf boat, above, designed by Pete Culler and here under  apprentice construction in the Restorationshop of the Bath Marine Museum in 1980. Here are clean lines, simplicity, the high bow of seakeeping worth, perhaps fame . Here too is the “figure of eight’ of the sheer of a thousand open boats. Fishermen, seamen and artists have been long drawn to them for as practical as aesthetic reasons. The Grand Banks dories exemplify this ‘Eight.

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Sam Manning’s drawing in John Gardner’s The Dory Book.

Because of great good fortune we initiate this series of the open boats with the Lowestoft. Ten days ago I was invited to study and record—in photos and taped interviews– the finest materials of a quarter century’s quest. Malcolm Darch must be considered the Lowestoft beach yawl Georgiana’s biographer (see older post “The Lowestoft Beach Yawls: An Emblem of Samaritan Service”). The plank-on-frame model of Georgiana was first extensively researched, then constructed and sold to Nick Hide, who then spirited her off  to Whetstone in North London who in late March met me at Paddington  station and guided me to her.

Five years ago the conviction that a full scale copy of this watercraft must be built overwhelmed me. This because:

 Technically—these were open boats of up to 70 feet LOA (Reindeer was 74′) of brilliant design and construction. None have been built for a century.  A 2012 discussion with John Kearon, one of the finest boatwrights of the U.K.  yield suggestions which suggest that from the two finest models known, trial and error and as strong a care or reason to do so, a new Lowestoft can be built.

Historically––These yawls were beach launched to rescue stranded and wretched vessels on the North Sea, shifting sandbanks of Norfolk and Suffock between 1800 and circa 1910 from the Thames estuary to Aldebough. The launching method included use of the ‘setting pole’ a stout timber manned by many  members of the “Beach Companies “ who owned and operated these craft. The poles were used to literally ram the yawls through the surf together with others in the surf and the crew on the oars.

Samaritan service––each of the three programs or “iterations’ of this website, the forty plus years of expereiential learning on which they are based and the inspiration and educational patterns of the Legacy of Kurt Hahn  may be condensed into Hahn’s Four Pillars. Of them, Fitness, Expeditions, Projects and Service, it is the last which was the most prized and which emerges increasingly as critical to our times as to all former ones. Taking a 50—60—70 ft. LOA open boat through night or day surf into North Sea gales to rescue is enacted compassion as dramatically performed as we have ever encountered..

So five years ago I designed a Makershop, a “Museum of Skills” to invite the broad public, museum-like to recognize the critical practices of making in a cuture increasingly drawn to information. The central exhibit and focus would or will be apprentice construction of a Lowestoft Beach yawl.

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As we move to continue The Once and Future Hampton as the 19th century pickup trucks of the Maine and New England coasts we find two other swarms of pickups: There are the Norwegan faerings and Bahama dinghy-boats. We have built from all three working traditions which connected the island communiites offshore of the Norwegian ‘leads, the 700 islands of the Bahamas and the Hamptons from the New Hampshire coast to the Labrador.

The series includes a Toulinguet of the Labrador, the Rundgatting of Sweden, Sixern of Scotland, Balancelle d’Espagnole of Spain and France, Trainere of the Basque Country, “Bantries” or French navy admiral’s barges, a fistful of cats––Friendship, Maine, Cape Cod, Great South Bay, and the first Azorean whaleboat to have been built in fifty years.

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On the Ganges, India                                                                                         Lance Lee