Looking good

From the bow

Today was more sanding and tidying, plus finishing off the stems. We need to cut some douglas fir for the gunwhales, as the meranti proved too brittle to take the curve at the stern; that should happen later this week, and hopefully at least the inwhales and possibly the gunwhales will be in place for next Sunday.

From the sternFrom the bow

Names again

We are hoping to put a list of possible names in the next Seilachan, including at least a couple of those already suggested by the school.  People will then be able to vote on the website (or by phone or letter if they do not have internet access).  If you have any suggestions for names please let us know within the next few days, as the copy deadline for February’s Seilachan is fast approaching.

The team at work

Jobs for Sunday 26 January

Happily the glue went off all right, despite the slightly chilly conditions and also thanks to Nick B’s excellent heater. Of course this just means that from now on there’s absolutely no possible excuse for failing to make progress, no matter how cold or horrid the weather.

In the immediate aftermath of the thwarts going in we need to clean up some (but very few) glue drips, round off the edges of the frame ends to match the main sections that were done earlier and fillet round where the thwarts meet the hull so that everything’s nice for painting.

We need to cut the stem ends to length and shape them with suitable artistry, preferably before taking photos for Scotland Outdoors Magazine.  Iain O’s drawing  has the forward stem cut off three inches above the sheer and the aft one two and a half (as Mother used to say if all else fails read the instructions) and we’ll go with that unless anyone has a better idea.

The next big job is making and fitting the gunwales and breasthooks. We can make a start at marking out where the various bits will go on the hull. A trial bending of the stock today showed that both the Red Meranti and the Dougie Fir are supple enough to take the curve of the sheer without worries.

A really good push over the next couple of weeks will see the hull ready for the painting team.


700 Years ago this Day

On 24 January  1313 King Robert Bruce granted in favour of Sir Dugald Campbell, Laird of Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, born at Lochow (Lochawe) 1259 or 1262 and son of Sir Cailean Mor a charter of the lands taken from the MacDougalls consisting of Kilcongen (Kilchoan), Degnish, Auchinaclosh (Kilninver) , Auchinsaule (Kilninver), Caddiltoune Ardmaddy), Garpynging (Kilninver), Ardincaple (Ardencaple), Ragray (Kilninver), Kilninver, Esgeallan (Kilninver), Clachanseilach (Clachan Seil), Leternacrosh (Kilninver), Scamadil (Scammadale), Kilveran (Kilninver), Letternamuck (Kilninver) and the isle of Toresay (Torsa), in exchange for providing a twenty six-oared galley equipped with men and victuals.

Seven hundred years later the following exchange took place between Eoghan o’ the Lang Skiff and Choinnich Sgarbheach, the Sage of Doune:

Eoghan: I don’t know what the MacDougalls had done to deserve having their lands taken away and Sir Dugald had a few years earlier backed King Edward against the Bruce. It all goes to show the Campbells usually come up smelling sweet. Glad (in a way) that my great great great Grannie was one.

Choinnich: It was in the Pass of Brander that the MacDougalls learned a lesson taught by Robert the Great, with young Colin Campbell at his shoulder, to the effect that EDW I was a bad person.  That is what they did and some people in Argyll have yet to forgive.  Now, while it is the case that the Campbells, as signatories of The True Solemn Oath and Covenant, found themselves opposed to the heirs of Marjorie Bruce (who would have done far better to marry young Colin of Argyll rather than Walter Stewart), and thus sided with a wee bit Gairman Lairdie, the MacDougalls appear to have escaped without a blemish on their estates, although their character is well known throughout Argyll.  Now I find myself asking, ‘What is this about taking lands off the MacDougalls?  There is surely only MacCallum Mhor that has the power to do such a thing, and himself short on the powers that were once his to command.  If it is not Cleann Caimbeul that is doing this thing then it has no businness to be done for we alone can do such a thing and end up smelling of roses, even if they be the Floo’ers o’ Edinbro.  Stand proud in your Campbell heritage, my kinsman.

Eoghan: Ach, ye have an answer to evrytheeng, ma pretty Freen!

The charter was granted less than 50 years after the conflict between the emerging Scottish kingdom and Norway was resolved at the Treaty of Perth in 1266, which was prefigured by the Battle of Largs in 1263. The early Scottish kings were finding it a hard job coming to grips with the people of the islands, who retained fond memories of the autonomy previously enjoyed and of course were themselves partly of Norse ancestry. The Bruce operated a policy of consolidating his grip on the main land by building castles and installing suitable tough guys to control the unruly Gaels.

It’s interesting to see the notorious political flexibility of the well-named Campbells (literally Cam Beal – crooked mouth, not of course referring to a physical attribute) to the fore so early in the history of our nation.

Sea power was vital to ruling the islands in the pre-road period. Providing a galley of 26 oars was a major endeavour justifying the grant of a huge tract of land, although one can imagine that retaining control would also take some effort. There would have been a big tribe of angry MacDougalls to contend with for a start.

I’ve tried to identify the various estates involved, extending from Loch Awe in the East to the North shore of Loch Melfort on the South along to Degnish Point, then the West boundary running up the middle of Seil Sound to Clachan Seil, but including Torsa Island with the Castle of the Dogs and a North boundary running somewhere to the North of present-day Kilninver along to Loch Awe again.

The anomaly is the inclusion of Ardincaple at the North end of the Isle of Seil. Literally Ard na gCapull, the “point of the horses” this may refer not to real horses but to the black rocky reefs and breaking waves off the point, resembling in the mind of the poetic Gael wild horses. Ardincaple is the site of Ardfad Castle, the seat of the MacDougalls and awarding this to the Campbells would have been a serious provocation, especially as the remainder of the island seems not to have been included. Perhaps that was granted to another of the Campbell knights.

Regarding the actual galley one can assume that there would have been thirteen thwarts or benches, two oarsmen on each and “rooms” of about a metre in length, suggesting a hull length of at least seventeen metres, fifty six feet, if we allow a couple of metres at each end. The image at the top of this post has seventeen oar ports, thirty four oars, and the biggest galleys seem to have been forty oared, but there’s a lack of archaeological evidence and it’s always possible that once the charter had been granted the galley didn’t actually materialise.


The fairies have been at it again

By this time we all know that there are fairies around the cowshed. On the whole they do more good than harm, sometimes doing a little fairing when the rest of us are away, but one or two of them have been naughty, like the mischievous elf who nicked the end of one of the frames at the very start out of annoyance at all the noise we were making. They have a fondness for pencils, which have been disappearing at a terrible rate, and on Sunday one of them made off with a measuring tape. When it was replaced she did something even worse, casting a spell that temporarily made the new one half an inch shorter, just when the stock for the stroke thwart was being measured. Fortunately we’re up to these bad creatures and the problem has been sorted with two little blocks that will be called dobbies, after the virtuous house-elf.

We’ve now got all four thwarts ready to be fixed in place on Sunday. The glue is currently stored in a nice warm place, so it will mix fine and start to go off, but the temperature is forecast to be so low that it won’t cure this month without help. We’ll need to cover the hull with a canopy and leave a light on inside to keep the temperature from dropping too far.

So, apart from putting on enough fleeces to keep yourself warm, would anyone coming on Sunday please bring along an old dustsheet, blanket or whatever?

Postcript 21 January

All done yesterday and we’ll keep the covers for when we add the winged keel. Thanks to all for lots of hard work and to Betty for the tea and cake.

At least it’s not snowing (yet)

We’ll be back to work today, sorting out the final thwart positions, deciding on the position of the supporting beams and fixings.

The wood for these parts has been machined but will of course benefit from the efforts of our specialist sanders as always.

While  working away we can contemplate our futures as stars of stage and screen. We’ve made a good start, featuring in a major national newspaper and it’s rumoured that the BBC are next in line.

Some issues from now on

1             Gunwales/Inwales (I think gunwale describes either the whole rail round the top of the hull or the outside part only and inwale the part inside the hull)

The existing boats mostly have solid gunwales some are inwales totally inside the sheerstrake (the topmost plank) e.g. Chris o’Kanaird, others with a rubbing strip on the outside and the rest inside. The better practice is to go hollow, as it’s lighter and stronger and makes it easier to fit oarlocks/kabes/pins/whatever (of which more later). Unless persuaded otherwise we’ll go hollow, but with good solid webs between the rail and the hull forward of each oar position and lighter webs elsewhere, also solid webs into the ends of the hull.

2             Breasthooks (the flat plates that hold the ends together)

We’ll make these from solid timber rather than plywood and glue them in under the solid ends of the gunwales. This is massively stronger and less fiddly than putting them in between.

3             Oarcrutches/rowlocks/kabes/thole pins (prizes on offer for correct definitions)

 Discussions with skiffies recently have suggested that feelings are a bit divided about using metal fittings. These were outlawed at a vote in 2010 and there will be no change unless and until one is proposed, which can’t happen this year. It’s a puzzle to those of us joining coastal rowing now to understand why the decision was taken. The problem is partly historical because the skiff grew out of the Fisheries Museum’s wanting to replicate the image of traditional rowing on the East coast and they can’t possibly have guessed that the whole thing would go viral.

The skiff of course has a Shetland hull shape and Shetlanders seem to have retained the Norse method with kabes (rectangular wooden pegs) and securing the oars to them with humlibaunds (lengths of line). It’s very likely that the coalminers who built rowing skiffs and raced them out of Buckhaven and Methil at weekends just went for what was cheapest and available, probably either the big iron Admiralty pattern rowlocks found on whalers or metal pins.

The prototype Chris o’Kanaird has kabes and humlibaunds, the latter fitted with kevlar-cored line that is secured to tufnol cleats and the wooden blocks are fastened to the gunwale with what looked like metal bolts. The trouble with tradition is that everyone has a different historical starting place and view about how far you should go.

Being confined to wood doesn’t mean one has to have kabes and humlibaunds. A reasonable alternative is wooden thole pins, either one pin forward of the oar and a securing line round the oar, or two pins close together. There is an argument for thole pins being made of wood rather than iron in that they can break if the rower catches a wave in rough conditions, whereas iron ones can rip out a section of gunwale. This is important for the Cornish gigs which go out in rough seas and have extremely lightly-built hulls, the oldest built, I think, in 1843.

If you look at pictures of Ulla you will see she now has special wooden block rowlocks, essentially replications of what is used on racing shells but made in wood. For no particular reason I think they might be called tophers.

Unless persuaded otherwise I suggest that we fit our boat with a two pin arrangement, which keep us in the spirit of the whole thing, works and doesn’t require securing lines, whether made of Kevlar, cattle hide or the hair of Scottish maidens.

4             The Rudder

Those who’ve been around the shed know about our rudder discussions. It’s likely that rules will be brought in for these, but at present it’s a free for all. The rudder on Chris o’Kanaird is positively dreadful in my view, with a wide blade that protrudes forward, scoops up the sea and stops the boat in a few feet; ideal as a brake but not for steering.

It seems to me that we can either go down our own high-tech route and try to invent something or go for something simple, but keeps the blade as vertical as possible. This does not rule out later innovation, but at least means we can get the boat built and rowing in time for the Spring regattas.

The picture at the top of this post shows the new rudder on the second Anstruther boat, St Ayles. It looks fine to me, but I’d prefer a fore-and-aft tiller to the yoke they have gone for.

Chris Spotted

Just after Hogmanay phones started ringing on the shores of Seil Sound as recovering residents tried to find out exactly what had just passed their windows. Those of us in the know were able to tell them that the long double-ended boat now speeding under the bridge at Clachan Seil was Chris o’Kanaird enjoying his first trip of 2013. He (she?) had come over from Anstruther for the holidays.

The long-awaited Kilmelford Rowing Club has now been formed and hope to start on their kit later this month. Babs and Alan kindly brought Chris round to Loch Melfort today and the weather allowed some of the team to get out on the water. We had a good few circuits of the top end of Loch na Cille and got a nice introduction to skiffing.

Personally the thing that struck me most was finding how little resistance there is as the skiff gathers speed. There was probably less effort involved than in sculling about in a much smaller dinghy. One minute we were at the edge of the moorings, the next right up at the head of the loch, so fast that the photograph Iain B took of us is a wee bit blurred.

I’ve been left mad keen to get our own skiff on the water and slightly frustrated that we haven’t managed to get our remaining wood machined yet, so it will be another week before construction resumes.