Heron’s Maiden Voyage

Posted By on September 16, 2014

It’s been a long haul, but Heron touched the water for the first time last week. A friend with a heavy equipment trailer was able to move her for us over to the Battle of Plattsburgh bicentennial event.

Heron leaves her construction bunks.

Heron leaves her construction bunks.

We knew that the heavy trailer would have difficulty getting into where Heron had been slowly building all these years, so our first task was to move her out into the open yard. We laid a bunch of log rollers along her keel and hooked a chain through her bobstay fastenings (which go through the keel and iron keel shoe alike) to the bucket of the tractor. It was pretty nerve-wracking seeing her start to move. She settled comfortably onto her port bilge and keel. It took us several hours to move her a few hundred feet, since we were being very careful to avoid letting her get ahead of us or the rollers. With only two people, it was a delicate job. The final destination for the night was a large earthen ramp we’d constructed to make it easier to get her up and onto the trailer. In the morning, our friend with the trailer arrived and we loaded her up. That was where things almost went very badly – as Heron‘s bow rose up onto the trailer, one of the rollers jammed in the space between trailer and ramp and she came down hard on the next one. All of her 4+ tons landed squarely on one roller on the starboard side, crushing it up into the hull and fracturing the three planks it spanned. We were past the point of no return and decided to continue loading. I went back up to the boatyard and grabbed the full 5 gallon pail of tar and the caulking tools. Once she was strapped down, it was time to head out for the 2 hour drive. Heron was designed to fit on a trailer without needing any special permits (she’s 8′ wide and 10’2″ from keel to rails) but with a 3′ tall trailer it felt like a close thing making it under bridges. Needless to say, other cars on the road gave us a wide berth. She drew a lot of looks as we passed through the small towns of Northern Vermont and New York.

heron trailerEkk and I spent the whole drive over making emergency plans for the launch, since we had no idea how bad the roller damage might be. We had several factors in our favor even if it did turn out to be serious: a) she’s made of wood; b) was empty of ballast for the trip, since we didn’t want to push it on a borrowed trailer; c) we’d put every fastener there ourselves and knew how to replace every single thing on her. As it turned out, there was significant damage, but we were able to repair it on site. We used a comealong to get her off the trailer and immediately pulled her around the dock to the shallow sandy beach on the other side. With one person standing on the port rail, we could bring the damaged side out of the water enough for me to screw the injured battens back into place and recaulk it. Then we decided to let her settle on the bottom overnight to soak and swell the planks.

The newlyweds pose for pics. We weren't intentionally photobombing; there was just nowhere else for us to go!

The newlyweds pose for pics. We weren’t intentionally photobombing; there was just nowhere else for us to go!

Wednesday night and Thursday morning were the most harrowing part of the trip. Heron sat along her keel on the bottom in ~3 feet of water, with plenty of her topsides exposed but sloshing back and forth to keep the planks wet. We had chosen this sheltered north-facing beach very carefully, as winds of 5o mph were expected that night from the south. We slept on the beach with canvas over a mooring line, so if she moved we’d be the first to know. Thursday morning saw several large yachts from the marina breaking their moorings and blowing out into the sandbars of Cumberland Bay. One particularly big vessel smashed her way through a few of her neighbors before getting clear – when I went over the next morning, there was a big catamaran completely dismasted and nursing huge holes in her port hull. Our little cove stayed sheltered, though, and while the wind howling through the trees was unsettling the evening passed without incident.

We had numerous visitors while we were setting up Heron. The most entertaining was a newly married couple who saw us and pulled up to ask if they could take pictures on board. We agreed, though I think it’s pretty brave to take a white dress onto a newly tarred boat! 😉 The boat ramp grew more active throughout Friday as other vessels and bateaux arrived. Work progressed fairly slowly with all the time we spent showing her off and accepting congratulations. It was hard to believe she was finally floating after all these years. She was still very tippy without any ballast in her, as we expected she would be, so we organized a work party and moved over 700lbs of rocks into her bilges. That brought her down about 6-8 inches in the water but not enough. By this point, her planks had swelled tightly closed. When we first launched her, she was taking on probably ten inches to a foot of water an hour. One day later, she was at 1 inch an hour. Friday saw her settle out at the rate she maintained all weekend: half an inch an hour or less. Considering that there was about 6 feet of damaged seam below the waterline that I couldn’t reach to recaulk effectively, that’s a pretty good rate.

Moving a piece of railway track.

Moving a piece of railway track.

Due to the Saranac’s extremely shallow waters this year (there were bateaux running aground in ankle-deep water out in the middle of the bay) and concerns over ballast, we decided to forgo putting up the masts this time. They weigh about 200lbs a piece. In addition to her 400 lb iron keel shoe, we’d put in about 700 lbs of stone ballast and still needed more. There were numerous pieces of scrap iron in the water along the shore, so we scavenged some of that. The small 18th century rowing vessels known as bateaux were built specifically as cargo haulers, and even the small ones can move a lot of weight. This boat, the Growler, has carried 1000lb cannon slung underneath the hull. I’d spotted a piece of long-abandoned railroad track in the water earlier in the day, and Growler helped me move it over to where we could pass it through Heron’s stern lights and down along her keel. We figure that weighed close to another 400-500 lbs. With all this weight added, she was sitting very comfortably in the water. She was still high, but had stiffened up considerably. Half a dozen people on one side simply made that side settle a little lower, not go into a gut-clenching roll as she had while empty. Nevertheless, we asked all cannon crews serving on board to go with minimal crew.

We’d taken a dinghy out the previous day and marked a channel we knew Heron could pass through to get into the deeper waters of the bay. Unfortunately, the wind shifted overnight and when we woke up on Sunday the bay was even shallower than it had been. Four days of wind from the south had piled up water into the bay, and when it swapped to northerly winds the bay dropped by almost a foot. Heron was now drawing close to 3.5 feet with the added ballast and the weight of three cannons and their crews. She set clear of the dock and looked promising, then the northerly winds pushed us out of the channel we’d marked and into a sandbar. Heron doesn’t have auxiliary power yet; we were rowing and poling her around, with a couple of the smaller row gunboats standing by as needed. She hit hard aground and refused to move. We moved the crewmen around to shift weight, and had several gunboats take lines and try to pull her off to no avail. It was embarrassing, but not the end of the world. She didn’t take any damage. And besides, this sort of thing happened all the time in the age of fighting sail. And at least we didn’t have to throw the cannon overboard like they did back then in order to lighten her enough to get off. We ended up running a line back to the fixed pilings of the pier and having a team of guys haul her off. Then we rowed back to the dock and set up as a stationary gun platform for the battle.

Heron aground.

It turned out that having Heron so close to shore for the battle worked out pretty well for the spectators. There were close to a hundred or more on the shore where we were, even though this was far from the main viewing area. The spectators got to see several cannon being served and fired from only a few dozen yards away. We were involved in the battle as British gunboats made firing runs past us and received our shot in return. While it wasn’t as great as being out in the main part of the bay, I think we did a good job of making the best of it and still putting on a good show.

Guns on deck.

Guns on deck.

Overall, Heron‘s first adventure went fairly well. She floated (which is always a nagging fear with a new boat) and served her purpose with cannon on deck. I had to head out on Sunday afternoon, leaving Ekk alone to keep an eye on her until our friend with the trailer comes back on Wednesday to haul her out and take Heron home. This was the last event we’d had planned for the season, so she will go back to her bunks in our boatyard for the winter. Now that we know her hull design works, there’s a lot of finish work to do. She’s getting two watertight bulkheads installed belowdecks (we didn’t put them in for the first launch because we knew she’d take up a lot of water and wanted to be able to pump the whole hull at once while we stayed in shallow water) and crew accommodations, plus all the finish carpentry and painting that got overlooked in the rush just to get her floating.

Welcome to the fleet, Heron!

Christmas Cheer in June

Posted By on March 28, 2014

If you’ve been following along the progress of our rigging fund, you’ll have seen that one of the ways we’re saying thank you to donors is with an invitation to a special party being held at her launching and commissioning celebration. (June 14th, at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont!)


The Christmas pudding, soaking in brandy and tightly sealed up to age for a few months until perfect.

Since I’m an overachiever at heart, I’m starting the preparations for that now. When you think of the edible symbols of celebration, maybe you think of birthday cakes or the holiday turkey. Two hundred years ago, one of the major dishes served at holidays such as Christmas was a fruit pudding aged in brandy. They’re a wonderfully comforting treat that has sadly degenerated into today’s theoretically edible yet ageless fruitcake speckled with artificially colored bits of God knows what.

The original 18th century recipes were nothing like that sketchy fruitcake doorstop that’s been being circulated from relative to relative since about 1982. A properly made Christmas pudding is sweet-but-not-cloyingly-so, dense and spicy and filled with fruit and nuts. And, of course, the all important brandy it’s been soaking in for at least a few months and preferably a year or more. They’re boiled for hours on end and then sealed up while hot with enough brandy to keep it preserved for the aging process. The long aging period lets all the flavors mellow and blend together. To serve, you heat it up and serve with (surprise!) more brandy. I’m pretty sure that it’s delicious all on its own, but to be honest all the brandy involved makes it even better – as far as I can remember, anyways.

There are a bunch of recipe variants for boiled fruit puddings in 18th century cookbooks. I turned to my trusty secondary source Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, which seems to have in turn been inspired by Elizabeth Hammond’s Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book from 1819. Fortunately, plagiarism appears to have been rife in early modern culinary circles and it’s not uncommon to see entire chapters copied and pasted from older books into new.

Christmas Pudding Recipe from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, p35-36.

1 cup flour
2 cups soft, fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup dried currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1/3 cup candied orange peel, chopped
1/3 cup candied citron, chopped
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 lb suet, finely grated
3 eggs
3/4 cup brandy






All the ingredients, ready to go.

All the ingredients, ready to go.

Combine flour, bread crumbs, sugar, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Stir in the fruit and nuts. Mix in the suet, then add eggs and 1/2 cup of the brandy. Work the mixture with your hands

Scrape the batter into a greased 6-cup pudding basin. Tie a well-floured cloth over the pudding, leaving room for expansion. Place the pudding in a pot of boiling water, cover, and steam for 5 hours or more. Add more boiling water as the level drops – make sure it’s boiling when added or the cooking will be delayed.

Take the pudding out of the water and let it cool. Remove the cloth, then add the rest of the brandy. Cover tightly and store somewhere cool for at least three weeks. These things will keep for months if not years unrefrigerated.

To serve, tie it back up in a floured cloth and steam for at least two hours. Remove from the pot, take off the cloth, and place on a serving dish. Serve with flaming brandy sauce.

Elizabeth Hammond’s recipe, Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book.

Elizabeth Hammond’s recipe has a lot more suet and eggs, which leads me to suspect that her recipe would be a lot softer and possibly like a quaking pudding in consistency.

Boiled plum or Christmas pudding.
Cut a pound of beef-suet extremely fine, to which add a pound of raisins well stoned, half a pound of currants, picked, cleaned, and dried, some nutmeg, two spoonsful of brandy, two ounces of candied lemon-peel, and one ounce of candied orange-peel shred fine, six well beaten eggs, a gill of cream, and seven or eight table-spoonsful of flour, mix them well, and boil it four hours; when done, serve with melted butter and grated sugar.


The pudding is now resting quietly in its brandy bath. If you’d like to try a piece, come visit us at the launch celebration on June 14th!

Save the Date: Launch Party, June 14!

Posted By on March 17, 2014



With the rigging fund at goal and progress booming along nicely, it looks like we can safely now announce the official launch and commissioning celebrations for Heron. Our first event of the year will be at the Kids’ Pirate Festival on Lake Champlain. We plan to launch her a few days ahead of time to let her planks swell and then sail to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at Vergennes, VT.

We are still finalizing our schedule of events for the summer but can confidently say that we have several more events already lined up on Lake Champlain and the New England seacoast. If you’re an event organizer who would like to invite us somewhere, please email Sarah@heart-of-oak.com for availability and rates.

Thank you all for helping out with this fantastic project – come see Heron in the water on June 14th and raise a glass to her future!

Conversations with Sarah

Posted By on March 4, 2014

Sarah and I were talking recently about upcoming content for this website and realized we haven’t said a lot about why we’re doing all this. So we whipped up a few questions and interviewed each other. Sarah drew the short straw chose to go first. My answers will come later.

Sarah as a safety-conscious - if not fashion-conscious child aboard a sailboat.

Sarah as a safety-conscious – if not fashion-conscious – child aboard a sailboat belonging to a friend of the family.

What got you started in maritime stuff?

Sarah: My dad is mostly to blame for this. My sister and I grew up puttering in small boats. We had a canoe and a small Point Judith daysailer, and spent a lot of our spare time each summer exploring local lakes and ponds. My dad had a sailboat when he was just out of college and did some yacht delivery work. I grew up listening to his stories of sailing around New England and transiting from the East Coast to Bermuda. He’s also a maritime history buff, so every vacation involved a trip to some historic ship museum or maritime site. I devoured children’s books about Robert Ballard’s Titanic expedition. One prominent family vacation I remember as a very small child was getting to visit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and seeing R/V Knorr (one of the ships used on the 1985 Titanic expedition) in port. When I got a little older, I started building my own boats from models of Greek triremes all the way up to 50-gallon plastic barrels cut in half lengthways and bolted together so I could pole my way through the nearby swamps.

What’s your favorite aspect of maritime history?

Sarah: I’m an Atlantic historian at heart. Some schools look at European or African or American history; Atlantic history looks at the ocean itself and the relationships of the nations that cross it. I’ve always been fascinated with the voyages of exploration, early settlement attempts, and how indigenous peoples and Europeans interacted and were changed by each other. That all couldn’t happen without boats. I’ve also had a long standing interest in the artificial social microcosms created on board ships at sea.

Why do you like reenactment?

Sarah: For me, there’s a bunch of factors at play. I love to get to try out the material culture of the time and see how it works. You really get a feel for what life in earlier eras might have been like when you’re seeing how the food tastes and how well the clothing handles the rain or heat. It gives me a connection to what I’m reading – you can read an account of furling a sail at night in a storm or loading and firing a cannon, but until you’ve actually done it you have no idea what it really feels like. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people over the years at reenactments, both in the general public and fellow history geeks. There’s no one reason people attend events.

Sarah explaining how to furl a sail while on the beach with Merganser, 2007.

Sarah explaining how to furl a sail while on the beach with Merganser, 2007.

As a museum professional, interpretation is my favorite part of the job. I love talking to people about history and making them as interested as I am. I meet a lot of folks who tell me how bored they were in history classes in school, and by the end of our interaction usually they’re asking me questions for how they can learn more. That makes me feel like I’m really making a difference. Familiarity with history is important for understanding current affairs in their context. The War of 1812 played a big role in determining Canada’s position within the larger British Empire, and it was the first glimpse of the US as a world power. The American Revolution contains complex themes of colonialization, armed insurgency, the rights of citizens vs those of subjects, and economic independence – all topics highly relevant in the news today.

If you could meet a figure from maritime history, who would you pick?

Sarah: I would like to sit and talk with Jane Townshend, the only woman we know by name proven to have served at the Battle of Trafalgar. Undoubtedly other women saw action aboard the various nations’ ships that were there – a survey of Royal Navy personnel files for that period includes men and boys who gave their birthplace as “at sea,” so that ought to count for something – but Jane is the only one whose name is known and whose captain testified to her presence. We only know about her because she applied for the Naval General Service Medal in 1847. Women were officially invisible on board and didn’t appear in muster rolls. When Jane applied for her service medal, she proved her service with a certificate signed by Captain (later Admiral) Philip Charles Dunham, under whom she’d seen action aboard HMS Defiance at Trafalgar. Defiance engaged both the Spanish three-decker Principe de Asturias and the French 74 gunner Aigle during the battle. Defiance managed to capture the Aigle, but her crew probably didn’t get any prize money for it as Aigle sank under tow after the battle. The action cost Defiance seventeen lives and fifty-three injured men. Captain Dunham wrote “strong and highly satisfactory certificates of her useful services during the action” to support Jane’s petition, but her request was denied on the grounds that there were so many women serving illicitly in the fleet that if the Royal Navy were to grant one woman the Service Medal it would leave them open to countless other female petitions.

A Milling Match Between Decks, c1812.

A Milling Match Between Decks, c1812.

I’d be curious to ask Jane Townshend about what it was like at the scene of Trafalgar, certainly, but more pressing would be my desire to learn about her and her everyday life on board. Why was she on board? Was she married? A poster on one of the genealogy forums I frequent noticed that there was a 32-year-old Able Seaman named Thomas Townsend aboard Defiance at Trafalgar – was she his wife? We don’t even know her birthdate, just that she was still alive in 1847 to apply for the medal. I want to ask her where she slept, where her meals came from, how she interacted with the rest of the crew – and the other women on board. What did she do during the battle? What did she do on a daily basis when everything was calm? So many questions, and women at sea in this period are so dimly documented.

What has been the hardest part of building Heron for you?

Sarah: The sheer physical work! Moving logs out of the backcountry with ropes and pulleys, on snowshoes. Cutting and pounding trunnel after trunnel. Transforming miles of heavy worn cable into snowdrifts of picked tow fibers to be tarred and pounded into her seams. And all of that under the little voice in the back of your head that says, “Gee, I sure hope you know what you’re doing with all this.” But the work has been good for me, and this isn’t the first boat we’ve built… just the largest. We’ve both read a lot of maritime safety manuals and construction reports, and done tons of woodworking projects that incorporate the same skill sets we’re using here on Heron. It’s just the scale that’s new for us.

Want to help make sure Heron is in the water this summer? Throw a few bucks at our rigging fund!

Locally Sourced Timber; or, Logging by Hand

Posted By on February 28, 2014

Hauling spruce logs. The blue plastic half-barrel helps the logs skid over the snow instead of plowing into it.

Hauling spruce logs. The blue plastic half-barrel helps the logs skid over the snow instead of plowing into it.

We knew going into this project that we were going to have to get creative if Heron was ever going to see the water. As a wooden vessel, she obviously was going to call for almost a literal ton of timber. Fortunately, we live in a very rural and heavily wooded area, so we have been getting to watch her change before our eyes from a group of standing trees to a finished wooden sailing vessel. Much of the timber that went into Heron came from our own woodlots or those of friends. Since we don’t have much in the way of heavy equipment, that meant hauling chainsaws and comealongs into the back mountains (often on snowshoes) and then dragging logs down the mile or so to the boatyard. Once in the yard, they’re either sawn or hewn near the boat or lugged into the truck and taken to a nearby sawmill. It’s backbreaking work at times and definitely gives you a feel for the sheer amount of effort that went into woodworking in the early modern era!

Heron contains at least seven different kinds of wood. Her keel and frames are made of oak. The keel is made of 5 runs of heavy oak planking (2″+) trunneled together with locust and tarred all over. We made the trunnels with locust timber from a friend’s woodlot that had had windstorm damage – all that locust was literally a windfall for us, as it is extremely durable and long lasting. Ekk made the tools necessary for cutting and shaping trunnels, copying the equipment as seen at Essex Shipbuilding Museum. We wrote a blog post about the whole trunnel process a few years ago.

Moving logs.

Moving logs.

She’s planked with Eastern hemlock. We chose hemlock for a couple of reasons – it’s affordable, durable, and commonly available in our area. We’ve seen untreated exterior porches made of hemlock last 15+ years, so we’ve got high hopes for it lasting even longer with all the tar we’re using to preserve Heron. In the next town over from our place in Northern Vermont, an old sawmill site along a river was exposed a few years ago via bank erosion. It had been buried for about a hundred years, but the lumber piles that emerged were still sound enough to provide the wood for a new deck for the current landowner. In the 18th century, and especially in the rough and ready shipyards that sprung up during the numerous armed conflicts along Lake Champlain, shipwrights tended to use any wood they could find to do the job. One prominent example is the brig Eagle, built in only 19 days in 1814 at Vergennes, VT. She served throughout the rest of the War of 1812 but was abandoned to sink a few years into the peace.

Taking a break from logging, with a goat in my lap.

Taking a break from logging, with a goat in my lap.

We are making her spars with spruce from our back lot and from a neighbor’s lot and sawmill. Spruce was the timber of choice for spars on sailing vessels, and still is highly prized for that purpose among traditional wooden sailing craft aficionados. The logs from the neighbor’s lot were being taken down as part of their farming operation, as they were clearing more pasture for their sheep and goats. The spruce logs are all nearly 30′ long, which gives us plenty of leeway to trim them down to their final length as trunk (lower) masts. Topmasts are also spruce and the rigging is designed to let us hoist them into place from on deck. This will give us more flexibility in her sail plan while keeping her crew requirements small.

All in all, the vast majority of her timber has been sourced within 20 miles of her construction and obtained either through our own labor or bartering with friends. We’re now at the point where the materials we need can’t be provided by our own labor alone. If you’d like to have a part in seeing Heron finish her transformation, or have enjoyed these blog posts, please consider throwing a few dollars at our fundraising efforts to help defray the costs of the 200 yards of canvas and nearly 2 miles of rope and other cordage she’s still going to need. We can handsew the sails ourselves and turn that smaller cordage into the heavy cables necessary for her anchor & shrouds, but not without the raw materials to work with.

Help launch Heron this spring!

Posted By on February 26, 2014

brig_1_sm With spring right around the corner, and Heron‘s hull sitting largely completed, we’re now in the home stretch for a big launch party sometime this spring! We’ve built Heron ourselves with traditional materials. If you can spare a few bucks to help us obtain the 200 yards of raw canvas and nearly 2 miles of rope that will become her sails and rigging, she’ll be sailing before you know it!

Her hull is just about done and ready. Now we just have to handsew all the sails and physically make the larger rope, like the giant honking nerds that we are…


Favorite Event Moments

Posted By on February 14, 2014

Walking Merganser along the shore.

Walking Merganser along the shore.

Over on the Heart of Oak Facebook page, we were recently talking about favorite events to attend. I’m not sure I have a favorite particular event, but I’ve got a few that I look forward to every year and fond memories of a couple of one-time events that were fantastic.

One of my favorite reenactment moments was up at an event on the Restigouche in New Brunswick in 2010. We were hanging out with the Sea Rats, a bunch of ragged young guys in an equally battered boat. There was a strong breeze blowing that day, and both the Sea Rats’ boat and Merganser got blown downwind. We towed them to shore and walked the mile or two along the beach back to camp. There was a lot of scrap metal on the beach, old wrought iron washed out from 19th century industrial sites, and the blacksmiths among us filled the boats. Okay, so it didn’t feel so much 18th century as post-apocalypse, but it still was a great time.

Members of the Sea Rats on the Restigouche River in New Brunswick.

Members of the Sea Rats on the Restigouche River in New Brunswick.

That was a really neat event for a bunch of reasons. The event featured a wreath laying and procession under sail up the river to a recreated fort site. We had a perfect wind for the way down (not so much for the way back) and were able to hoist every scrap of canvas Merganser could carry. She looked very impressive going downwind wing-and-wing with the square top sails flying. The locals were extremely friendly and glad to have the boats’ participation. This part of New Brunswick is tri-cultural – there are three communities, English, French, and Mi’kmaq surrounding the river. The event honored the cultural heritage of all three groups. I particularly enjoyed getting to explore some of the recreated traditional Mi’kmaq thatched buildings.

Memories of that event are also a little poignant for us, because this was the last event we were able to hang out with the Sea Rats. Their leader, Joe Ruggiero, was killed in an accident a few months later and the group faded away. They were a great group of enthusiastic young guys – the reenactment hobby needs more like them.

DSC04482Another favorite event memory was of an event that could’ve been one of our worst (though no fault of the event organizers) if it hadn’t been for the team spirit of the boat crews. At the Burning of Kingston event in New York, the site had a few problems going for it the weekend we were there, but every one pulled together and it ended up giving us some of our favorite anecdotes. It was a lunar high tide, so the parking lot flooded unexpectedly. Ekk took our dinghy for a sail over the neat rows of yellow parking spaces. The Hudson River is an active shipping lane at that point of the river, so we kept a watch system all night to keep an eye on the boats in case of cargo ships’ wakes or local curiosity. Each boat crew contributed to the shift system so we had at least one person each hour safeguarding all our craft.It was great to be able to sleep secure in the knowledge that the boats were safe and we’d be woken if there were any problems.

The weather alternated between rain and freezing rain all weekend. I spent much of the weekend keeping a fire going so we had hot meals. I’d made a batch of hardtack that had lived up to its name, and ended up wrapping it in a towel and thumping it with the back of a hatchet on our firewood pile. A couple of Redcoats wandered by and paused to see what I was doing. I explained I was breaking up the hardtack for our supper. One of them looked me up and down, raised an eyebrow, and said, “You Navy guys are tough.” And kept walking.

In the middle of the winter, it’s nice to think back on warm summer nights around a campfire with friends. I enjoy history (obviously) but the camaraderie of like-minded companions is one of the biggest perks to this hobby. Even the rainiest, most miserable events are still made special by a group of friends sitting under a spare sail and swapping stories until the weather clears enough to sail. Roll on, the spring!

Tis the season

Posted By on December 4, 2013

For mincemeat! Not the anemic, sickly-sweet corn syrup sludge oozing out of commercial pies, but the real stuff with actual beef and booze. I used to make up a batch every year, but have missed it lately. Maybe this season I’ll get back into it. This is the recipe I use. It comes from my favorite Age of Fighting Sail secondary source cookbook, Lobscouse and Spotted Dog. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin eat mince pies as part of their Christmas celebrations referenced in The Fortune of War, set during the War of 1812.

Makes about 3 quarts

3lb shin of beef
1 lb suet, finely grated
1 ¾ cups dried currants
¾ cups raisins
½ cup candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
½ cup candied citron, coarsely chopped
1 pound tart apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped (~3 cups)
Juice and coarsely chopped zest of one lemon
Juice and coarsely chopped zest of one Seville orange
2 TB grated ginger
2 cups sugar
1 tsp mace
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 TB ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
½ cup cider
½ cup brandy
½ cup red wine

Put the beef in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered two hours or until the meat is tender enough to fall off the bone. (I used a crockpot for this.) Drain the meat and pick out any bones, fat, and gristle. It’ll make about one pound of shredded meat bits. Chop the meat and mix with all the other ingredients. Put the mincemeat in a sealed container and set it aside to ripen somewhere in a cool, dark place. It’ll be ready to use in about 2 weeks, but only improves with age.

Sailor’s Bookshelf: Modern Resources

Posted By on September 8, 2013

Star Islanders (including us) coming out for a gam with private yacht, 2011.

Star Islanders coming out for a gam with private gaff rigged vessel, 2011. Ekk and I were already on board.

One common question we’re asked is how we got the design and inspiration for Merganser and Heron. The answer is that we both read like crazy, visit every maritime museum we can find, and get permission to crawl over, under, and inside any historic ship we see.

The major books in the field for historic shipbuilding are the works of Howard Chappelle, who was a curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution. We recommend everything he wrote, honestly, but the two most useful works are his History of American Sailing Ships and History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development. These are exactly what they claim to be – intricately detailed surveys of American civilian and naval sailing vessels, filled with hundreds of hull sketches, rigging plans, service histories, and a wealth of other details. Our copies are well worn and filled with post it notes to mark various ideas we used in Merganser or Heron. Chappelle’s Search for Speed Under Sail: 1700-1855 was also a very good resource, as it talked about the various improvements made to rigging and hull designs in the quest for faster sailing ships. I personally loved The American Fishing Schooners 1825-1935, though it’s not quite as relevant since we usually do late 18th century / early 19th century military portrayals.

For rigging a traditional sailing ship, the two books we have found you can’t live without are The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford W. Ashley and Emiliano Marino’s Sailmaker’s Apprentice. Ashley covers pretty much every knot you will ever need to know and a couple thousand you’ll never need to use, for everything from rigging to fancywork. It’s also great because it’s a standardized reference to the names of knots. A lot of traditional knots have several names, or the same name applies to a couple different tying styles. With Ashley’s, you can use the knot’s identification number and know exactly which one is being discussed. The Sailmaker’s Apprentice expands on that knowledge and covers how to cut and drape sails of all sizes and purposes, and goes in depth on the knowledge needed to create sails that draw properly.

All these books are available on Amazon. If you follow this link for your purchase, a portion of the proceeds will go to support the nonprofit that runs Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth NH.

Sailmaker’s Apprentice

Goodbye, Merganser!

Posted By on September 3, 2013

DSC02537 After 7 years of loyal service, we have found a new home for Merganser.  We are focusing our energies right now on making Heron‘s completion an imminent reality. Once Heron is in the water, Merganser won’t be used as much as she deserves, so we made the hard choice to let her go. Merganser will be going down to the Maine seacoast, where hopefully she will continue to sail for many years to come.

Her last event will be the Battle of Plattsburgh reenactment on Lake Champlain in New York state, two weeks from now (Sept 13-15). If you’re in the area, come by and say goodbye to a grand old girl as she moves on to the next phase of her career. We plan to hold a brief ceremony among the boat crews after the last naval battle of the event to toast Merganser and all the doors she’s opened for us over the years.