The intelligent hemp

Here’s a sweet picture to linger on to for a while. Awesome capture of some fabulous work.

Here’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, five tiny, tiny mariners in the process of making an eye splice on a 4″ inch rope. They seem quite jolly even though under the watchful eyes of a well dressed officer who has his smooth hands conveniently tucked behind his back.

Ok. The real capture is like this:
The year is 1941 and workers in HMC Dockyard is splicing a 20″ hemp cable.
(Library and Archives Canada)

Yes, hemp, this wonderful natural fiber that sailed the seas, clothed(ships and people), nourished and lightened as well as enlightened people and their homes for thousands of years, before being recklessly banned by the US government in 1937 and by the UN who was forced to follow in 1961.

This plant is enormously versatile and can be used to produce over thousand of products, many of which today are petroleum based. Which is also a big reason why it was banned, of course.

Hemp is real nice to sail and to work with. There ain’t nothing like it, actually. To feel the tension of the smooth, tarred rigging stretching and living while you’re running up there to take a reef is a spectacular feeling of being a part of a big living creature, that surges over the wild sea, which is indeed living too.

Right now you might be thinking that this sounds a lot like what you have felt on a ship with petroleum-based rigging, which is probably true…. I kind of got of on a tangent there.
But hemp is amazing. To work with a running and standing rigging in hemp has a special feeling and you have to learn how it acts and reacts and when you do you get the feeling that it is indeed working with you to tackle every situation the best way.
And when you think about the craftmanship being put into the making of the rope, and even try some rope making yourself, every strand and every single yarn is needed in that special place and in that precise condition for this one purpose, it is pretty stupendous.


Wind Wagons

“I Laughed for half an hour when he first told me about the project”, says one of the guys with wild, bushy hair and an adventurous look of not knowing what’s gonna happen out there in the desert – but he grooves on it.

I can imagine him being very energetic and filled to the brim with ideas, telling the other guys of a fun and interesting project he wants to start.
“We’re gonna build a wind wagon and sail across the U S and A!”

For some people it might sound slightly dubious, even stupid…
I thought it was brilliant. For sure, there are some obvious problems to overcome, but it feels like a really fun and exciting challenge that could be one hell of a ride and one would be stupid not to jump – head first – into it. Full speed ahead – nobody pulling the brakes on this Mad Max mutation vehicle from the forests of Sweden. The nation where a fourth of the population once set out to reach the New World and the Promised land out there in way out west where the fields are green and the ground hogs fat around the bum. The American Dream, indeed.

To sail on land is not a new idea and there is indeed some wind powered little hobby one-man-rides of today. However, the chinese had wind powered carts and carriages already during the Ming dynasty (of course!) and in Dutch paintings from the 1600’s large sail powered land ships can be seen, like in this one.
It depicts one of two land-yachts that Simon Stevin in 1649 built for Prince Maurice, who used them to entertain his guests on the beach.

Flora’s Wagon of Fools by Hendrik Pot (c. 1637)

But the idea of traversing the American continent with sailing prairie ships dates back to the mid 1800’s. (Although in Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark journals from their crossings of the plains in the early nineteenth century, there’s a boat on wheels with a hoisted sail that is blowing along.)

During that time, there were some cats growing ideas that instead of using oat and water intensive horses, mules or oxen, that also needed rest from time to time to pull the wagons over the prairies, a sail could be rigged and et voilà, transformed the wagon into sailing ships of the prairies.

Sailing wagon, Brooklyn, NY, late 1800’s.

Not a bad idea! Specially not since there was no transcontinental railroad and no canal through Panama. One of the visionaries was a man called William Thomas who envisioned a fleet of sailing schooners hauling freight from coast to coast across the Santa Fe Trail. This military and commercial highway from Franklin, MO to Santa Fe in New Mexico. 900 miles ( 1400 kilometers) across arid plains, desert and mountain passes.

In 1853 Thomas had a prototype ready to show the army at Fort Leavenworth, in what was then the Kansas territory. It measured 25 feet long, 12 feet high wheels and a single sail on a 7 foot tall mast. The project foundered when the prototype crashed and the financiers pulled out of Overland Navigation Co.

In the 1860’s Kansas there was some more experiments with smaller wind wagons. They weighed about 350 pounds, 3 feet beam, 10 feet length and 6 inches deep and were told to skim across the plains in speed around 15 mph with tops at 40 mph.

One was said to have made the journey from Kansas City to Denver, a trip of over 600 miles, in about 20 days. That makes an average of about 30 miles per day.

Probably the most famous wind wagoner was Samuel Peppard. A Kansas guy that was building a wagon in his barn, in 1859. He owned a sawmill on the Grasshopper river, close to Oskaloosa (facts that I merely bring into the picture because I love the names… and adds to the story, of course) and got help from a friend with his project. The people around gave it the name “Peppards Folly”, and concludes what they thought of it. 1860 was a year of hard drought and bad business, so when Peppard finished the vessel he and three friends immediately set sail for the gold fields of Colorado. They carried 500 pounds of cargo, provisions and camping gear as ballast.

A reporter for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly happened to be at Fort Kearny, Nebraska, when the wagon arrived in May 26th 1860. He described it in an article and interesting enough there’s also an illustrated picture.

A longer detailed description of the journey is also to be found at the Kansas Historical Society and most wind wagon tales seems to be based on Peppard’s story.

The reporter said he timed the wagon over two miles and it took 14 minutes, which would be an average speed 8 mph.
Peppard added:

Our best time was two miles in four minutes. We could not run faster than that rate as the boxing would have heated. One day we went fifty miles in three hours, and in doing so passed 625 teams. There were, you know, a great many people en route to the gold fields… if we went ninety miles a day it was considered a good day’s travel.

The crew almost made it to the destination, but when they were about 50 miles northwest of Denver, they spotted a “dust devil”. Before they could lower the sail it hit them and the wagon was tossed 20 feet up in the air and shattered to pieces when it hit the ground. Luckily nobody was hurt and they could continue hitchhiking into Denver.

Unlike the Leslie reporters illustration, other accounts of the wagon says that it was built with rough timber, like a skiff, with only one mast with two sails on it. One for light winds and one for stronger. On the cover of the children’s book, The Wind wagon, by Celia Barker Lottridge, which is telling the story about Sam Peppard, you can see two square sails on the mast.

In Old Jefferson Town, Oskaloosa, Kansas, this statue of Peppard’s wind wagon was erected.

Regardless of the unfortunate ending, Peppard and his crew had travelled over 500 miles with wind as it’s only power source, mostly along the Oregon trail.

Some further attempts to harvest the free energy source of the prairies has been made a little later in history. In 1877, Kansas Pacific is said to been using sail powered hand carts along the rails. After that, of course, the transcontinental railroad, the Pacific Railroad, went all the way out west to the Promised land of Sacramento, California in 1869. The internal combusting engine made it’s big entrance and with time (1914) the Panama Canal opened for traffic. Before that, a spectacular attempt for another wind wagon was directed by the Texan H.M. Fletcher who proclaimed something along the lines, “sails is the wrong approach” and instead designed a windmill wagon. According to interviews made in the 1970’s and 80’s with old timers who saw Fletcher’s creation, it was simply a wind mill placed on a wagon bed with some sort of drive shaft connected to the wheels and it worked, the wagon moved.

Next historical moment was 1961 when Disney made the film “Windwagon Smith”, who’s storyline goes close enough to the mishaps of Thomas. During the 13 minute film Sailor Smith comes to Westport, Kansas and with over-accentuated mariner language (saying mostly avast!) and prideful snobbishness succeeds to convince the townspeople – and the mayor – who’s daughter catches Smith’s eye, to back his visions and sailing Contestoga-wagon financially. Since I already said it’s close to Thomas’s story, you can figure out how it ends. If you haven’t seen it already, do it. It’s here.

Well okay, for several obvious reasons, and even if some attempts was close to success, a fleet of sailing prairie ships never became reality.

Now, over 150 years later, a crew of swedish hipsters, boat builders, riggers and sailors thinks that it’s time to spin the wheels of the wind wagon again.

The new Wind Wagon measures 12 meter LOA, 4 meter beam, 11 meter tall with a sail area of 84 square meter. Dismantled, the parts can all fit in a 40′ container for shipment to the New World.

The projectis well under way and the wagon is being built by the hands of real people with real dreams!
To me it’s a fun project in a lot of ways. Not the least as a reminder of not losing faith in the prospect of living your dreams – crazy or sacred. Something that we all need to revive from time to time when social norms, bureaucracy and system makes us believe differently and build up walls in our minds that even though they are imaginary, can be hard to tear down.

Let there be wind to fill the sails and to set the wheels of the original High Plain drifters in motion once again.

The tale of a picture – and a schooner

This picture has been seen on several places on the internet, and most of them give an explanation of how a schooner is towing a house, while some discuss if it is the old Bluenose or not.

Either way it is a cool picture and really nice capture which made me interested to find out more.

The picture was taken the 19th of November 1929 in Port au Bras, Newfoundland, one day after the devastating Grand banks earthquake and tsunami, also known as the Laurentian slope earthquake and South shore disaster.
It’s epicenter was in the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Newfoundland in the Laurentian Slope Seismic Zone, about 250 miles south of the Newfoundland  Island and had a magnitude of 7.2.
The quake created a huge landslide which led to a tsunami that struck the Burin Peninsula with heavy impact, killing 28 people and leaving over 10 000 homeless.
This is the only recorded tsunami to have hit the east coast of Canada.

It is obvious that the schooner is not towing this house, it is in fact anchored. And it is not the famous Bluenose.
From two interviews with two men who were then school kids living in Port au Bras made by Alan Ruffman, historical expert on the earthquake, we learn that the schooner is Marian Belle Wolfe, which had taken its place in the bay for the winter, which was common for Labrador fishing vessels in this area by this time (Notice there’s no sails bent on in the picture).
The owner of the house found it floating 1-2 kilometers southeast of the mouth of the bay and towed it into the bay where he tied it temporarily to the schooner. According to one source the owner had stored a lot of dry lumber in the basement of the house, which made it float so high. Another says that another thing was that Newfoundland houses were “built double boarded, that is, they were boarded on the inside of the frame as well as the outside, on account of the severe Newfoundland winters. The concrete posts served as keels and it was almost a houseboat.”

Marion Belle Wolfe was built in Shelburne, NS in 1920, she was 126 feet (38.4m) long and had a Canadian registered tonnage of 116 tons.
In a Cape  Breton Magazine from 1989 I found letters from Charles H. Rafuse and Captain Robbie Robertson who was in the area at the time of the quake, to Alan Ruffman.

“Captain Robbie was no stranger either to the Marian Belle Wolfe, or to her one-time captain, William “Bill” Trenholm, but takes issue with the statement from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic that the schooner was originally built for Captain Trenholm. It is more probable that she was built for Wolfe interests from Dublin Shore. Captain Trenholm of Louisbourg frequently purchased ships, which had seen their best days in fishing, and by repairing them gave them extended life. You will recall that it was he who lost the fishing schooner Joseph McGill. which he was repairing at Louisbourg, when the tidal wave swept her into the harbour. At any rate. Captain Trenholm did not purchase the Marian Belle Wolfe until she had just finished her fishing days. He purchased her at Lunenburg, and Captain Robertson joined him a few days later to take the ship to Halifax. She still had six dories left on her, and “gurry tubs” on deck that were sed in the rendering of cod livers for their oil, as well as 100 tubs of trawl gear, minus hooks, stored under her cabin floor. After Captain Trenholm had completed repairs on the Marian Belle Wolfe, he took on a cargo of salt cod, packed in boxes and drums, at Halifax and proceeded to Barbados where he sold the schooner.

In a later letter of April 8, 1987, Mr. Rafuse wrote to Alan Ruffman regarding the photograph of the schooner: Now to add a further bit of controversy re your picture of the Marian Belle Wolfe and the floating house. As far as Capt. Robertson can ascertain, the Marian Belle Wolfe was owned by the Smith Company in Lunenburg until sold to Wm. Trenholm, and therefore would never have laid over in NFLD for the winter. However, he does suggest that the schooner in the picture could easily be the Golden Glow owned by Warehams, who operated in that area, and most recently in Come-by-Chance. Lunenburg schooners, when sold to NFLD, were never repurchased by Lunenburg interests. Their bones remained in NFLD. NFLD-built schooners were sturdy and were distinguished by a heavy stem….

In Alan Ruffman ‘s letter to Cape Breton’s . Magazine. June 30, 1988, he wrote that after “a great deal of careful research on the postcard scene…(that) it was a photo? graph of a house tied up to the stern of the Marian Belle Wolfe in Little Burin Harbour on the morning of November 19, 1929….” In other words, while Mr. Ruffman apparently agrees with Capt. Robertson that the schooner in the picture is not the Ronald George. Mr. Ruffman disagrees about which vessel the house was tied to for safekeeping after it had been rescued from the open sea by its owner and his son.

"Five Saban owned schooners in a race around Barbados, early 1930's. Among them "Mona Marie", "Marion Belle Wolfe", Captain Will Leverock and "Florence M. Douglas", Captain Herbert Rexford Every of St. John's." from the book Saban Lore, by Will Johnson

Either way, Marian Belle Wolfe was sold to Barbados and ended up in the hands of Capt. Will Leverock from Saba. Even Marians sister ship Mona Marie ended up being owned by a captain from Saba.

The facebook group “Of Saban Descent (Saba, Netherlands Antilles)” has posted a few pictures of the schooner and some comments.

“A painting of the schooner “Marion Belle Wolf” which is in the home of the late James Anthony Simmons. He used to sail on the Marion with Capt. Will Leverock. My cousin Estelle Simmons told me that one of the trips she took to Barbados was …with this schooner. It got becalmed going down the islands and took them a week to get there. It was a large red schooner. Used to also sail from Barbados to the Turks and Caicos islands to get salt. As the Captain and some of the crew were from Saba they would stop here to visit their family.”

“This model was made by Capt. Will Leverock of St. John’s who was her captain for many years. There is also a painting of this lovely Saban owned schooner in the home of the late James Anthony Simmons of The Bottom who used to sail on her. M…y cousin Estelle Simmons (91) told me often about her trip to Barbados on this schooner . They sailed on the Caribbean side of the islands and it was so calm that it took them almost a week to get there. Months later when she came back they sailed on the Atlantic side of the islands and made it back much faster.

At first I could not find anything more about what happened to the ship after she went into the Caribbean trade, and the latest trace of her I found was in Barbados Advocate, December 19, 1951.

In the harbour log we find:
In Carlisle bay
Schooner Marion Bell Wolfe
74 tons net. Capt Every, from British Guiana.

But then I came across a most interesting article, written by Peter Leyel who lives in Switzerland, but sailed in Marian Belle Wolfe in 1952.
The article,
Two Beauties – A Tale of two Trading Schooners seen regularly in Barbados in the 1940s. can be found here. All the pictures are not working, but there are two nice captures of the Marian under sail.

According to Peters article, this ship was broken up after being damaged by the hurricane Janet in Barbados, September 1955.

Sources (not already listed):
Earthquake Canada

Cape Breton Magazine, 1989 issue
The Barbados Advocate, December 19, 1951

Small ships

A 40 feet long boat rigged as a barque

Here’s a cool picture of a small(!) barque that I came across somehow on the net. Couldn’t find any info about the picture, but it’s scribbled a few things on it that’s barely readable: Long boat of …frigate, naval, 40 feet…  is everything that i can read. If anybody have more information about the picture, it would be nice to hear. It’s indeed funny, however. It really looks like quite an intricate and well-built barque rig. The guys standing on the rail looks clearly jolly and who wouldn’t, sailing on this little beaut. The dolphin striker can really make up for it’s name here though. Watch out sea living smiling jumpers or else this one might get you.
One can only imagine how it must be sailing it.

The little brigs sailing in DocklandsIt makes me think of two fairly new additions to the world’s tall ship fleet. The English little brigs. Quite literally, they are small ships. T.S. Bob Allen and Caroline Allen are 9 meter, or 30 feet long (water line) and carries six square – and in total ten sails on their two masts.

The Little Brig Sailing Trust has specially designed the steel vessels to serve as sail training ships for young people – which for them means from ten years and up.
The benefits with these small ships they say is of course lower running costs, since berths, maintenance and everything is cheaper for a small boat, so even the building.

They also call it “the fastest way to introduce someone to square rig sailing”. Which may or may not be the case.

Everyone who sailed on a square rigger and then went small boat sailing might be familiar with the urge to over rig the boat. Set more sails! Here, we are scheming to make our dinghy a bowsprit and a jib – and of course a yard  with a top sail.

I remember enjoying fine moments of life together with good friends on the Susquehanna River, right on the Mason-Dixon line, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and hoisting our cotton square top above all the plastic. She drawed nicely and added quite a bit.

Lines on a sailing boatSquare top sial on a small boat





We sailed over the – thanks to the nuclear plant – warm water and went ashore at a railroad bridge’s cement pillars where large amount of drift wood had collected. Beaver teeth mark were all over those logs. There was even a whole staircase from a house and it probably had beaver teeth marks on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole house came floating by with teeth mark gnawed deep into one corner. Impressive animals.

The ice yacht

Ice yacht
We sailors sometimes find ourselves washed up on a winter shore somewhere when the opportunity to sail south for the winter slipped.
A nifty solution to get some sailing done – right there on the deep frozen waters, is an ice boat or yacht. A wonderful creation that offer not only wintry sailing, but does it with a large dose of speed that gets any adrenaline freak craving for more. These things are fast! Without the friction created between hull and water, the ice yachts are flying ahead in crazy speeds.

Ice boating takes many appearances, all from just regular skates and a piece of cloth for a sail to more elaborate vessels, like the one above and of course more modern renditions of dragon, kite, skate and optimist-sailers etc.
Picture above is borrowed from Jakobstad’s boatyard, Finland, who built this beautiful ice yacht, Papagena, after prints from 1907. With 15,6 meter she is apparently the largest in the world. Another one in the same class are the 50 foot, recently restored, The Rocket, out of New Jersey. Originally built in 1888.
(Here’s an article from the NY times about her.)

Just imagining how fast The Rocket can go, with her 900 square feet sail, makes my socks fly off. I’m not a speed demon, but hey, these are gorgeous vessels that just happens to go very fast.

Ice yaccht rockets with sails set

For a resourceful site about ice yachts, see, available in Swedish, English and German.

For some cool pictures, check out Stockholm’s Ice Yacht Club.

And most importantly, here’s a cool blueprint for a nice ice boat from Popular Mechanics, 1931.
This is a little bigger then an afternoon project, but sometimes we hope to build one on the farm. Crossing the lake on this magnificent craft, slide into a perfect – hand brake style – parking right next to the court where the kids playing hockey.

Daydreaming will have to do, for a while.

Picture of the day

A sailing canoe on a Canadian riverThis is just an awesome photograph.
On their way home after a day on the river, these bon vivants are letting their white triangular sail do the work for them. It’s a lush summer evening and the sun is slowly dropping, putting the surroundings in a dim red and gold glimmer. There is just enough breeze to catch it, after a touch with the paddle she goes slow but slick through the water. A bluejay flies heavily over the river while a woodpecker gently taps the bark of a big oak over yonder. Further up is a beaver out swimming along. A big, dark brown – almost black – beaver is wagging down the riverbed, ready for a swim in the luke warm water. It’s big. Like a medium sized dog. And quite furry. But look at that size. It goes in the drink. Swims halfway out before it sees the canoe and in panic dives under the surface with a big smack on the water with the flat tail.
Flies and mosquitoes are swarming the surface, a dangerous play where many are ending up as dinner for somebody down below. Splash and gone.
Steering clear from some beaver debris. Their teeth have been everywhere, clearing trees, peeling bark, started somewhere but left for a juicier trunk. Look they cut down every one of those big fat tree’s. What an incredible animal. Biting it’s way through the world. There comes one swimming. Ah, it went under.
Look at that buzzard over there. The way it’s sitting on that very high branch curving out over the water, what a view it got. Waiting around for something to die. A squirrel makes more sound then a big deer in the forest, disappears ridiculously fast over the forest floor, flying like an arrow with it’s furry tail for balance.
The night is coming quickly now, let’s see if we can make it to Bare Ass Bend before the dark falls.