No. 37: Crooks Welcome - Better Boat Bits
A rising tide floats all boats. Although they can differ widely, (and we have in our collection over a hundred different ), there are certain parts in every boat that must similarly cope with that same old tide. Let’s look at some of the variations tried.
Some nice knee-work on a Lincolnville salmon wherry, fitted to angle aft, not just straight out from the planking, thus offering better support across the thwart’s width, (and perhaps allowing rainwater to drain off more readily). They are likely made from natural crooks, exploiting the strength of the wood grain in a piece that has grown in a curve or sharp angle.
When you don't have a crook, make your own: the beefy laminated breasthook of 15 ½ ft. USCG peapod 15360, built 1952 at the Curtis Bay yard, Baltimore. Originally a Maine lobstering type, these double-ended small craft were favored for their maneuverability under oars between rocks and hard places. This veteran ‘pod saw service at several Maine coast lighthouses from Wood Island to Quoddy Head when these lights had human tenders. Durability was a primary condition for the USCG keepers, who power-landed these craft onto steep ramps between swells, quickly engaging a cable to the bow to be hoisted before the next wave.
A more refined breasthook on a North Haven dinghy, considered the oldest US sailing yacht class. It sports a hand fashioned brass ornament. Under the varnish is a natural crook with the grain matching the fitted angle. Note also the carefully fitted knees atop the mast thwart and the extra floor knee reinforcing the stem down below.
Installing knees into a boat always presents a choice, the old choice of how much fuss is needed. And knees can be fussy. They must generally be custom-fitted, and their success depends upon how well they make contact to the angle they are meant reinforce. A well fitted knee is appreciated by all; a poorly fitted knee is just a waste of time.
These cast bronze patent knees in a 1913 US Life Saving Service Motor Surf Boat are another approach to the problem. Contract-built to government specification by the Davidson Boatyard in South Portland, this 26 foot craft was meant to be rugged. Such pre-fabricated knees, in theory, simplified the process of obtaining the strength specified, and would ensure that these service boats would be consistent wherever they were built - East coast, West coast, Gulf coast.
However, they still need to be fiddled with. Note that the knee closest to the bow was mounted on an extra thickness to keep its upper end aligned against the inwale. Also, as mounted here, most of the knee’s backside is not contacting the side of the boat, which would greatly add to its effectiveness.
A coaming detail on a power dory, where the inside trim carries up into a gracefully shaped extension that serves to reinforce the butt joint of the fore and aft coaming sections, and the exterior butt block/oarlock fitting.
A 16 ft. closed deck ‘Torpedo’ model canoe, showing the exquisitely matched, symmetrical grain of the varnished mahogany stern-deck. We are debating its Old Town provenance, but have no dispute with the exquisitely extreme sculptural contortions that the deck veneer was coaxed to take
Though often seen in Scandinavian small craft, this natural crook tholepin is instead along the flaring gunnels of a 32 ft. Central Maine Power Co. log-driving bateau. The wear of the long sweeps of the bateau has polished the grain; if broken, a replacement was readily fashioned from material close at hand.
The interior upper edge of the planking laps of this Swampscott style dory have been tidily beaded, an entirely optional flourish of no particular utility, other than to quietly broadcast the maker’s finesse.
The stern of a duck hunting dugout used in Harpswell. The hole lined with greased leather was where an oar was sculled lying low in the boat for a quiet approach with little movement to be seen. A rare survivor, dugouts fail most readily at either end where the log runs out to end grain, which is prone to through-cracking. Though any dugout traces its lineage back to native American craft, this boat also shows some careful external shaping that imitates the sternpost and hollow waterlines of planked smallcraft.
Another gunning boat stern, circa 1920, with the transom sculling-oar hole corked, and the gunner’s back rest to starboard. The 10 ft. length of this wedge-shaped craft was never intended to take an outboard; for the preliminary approach, the steel raised oarlock brackets came into play. The grandson of the builder recalls this craft being painted white for winter sea duck hunting, the better to resemble a cake of ice.
Some delicate craftsmanship at the stern of our 1897 sailing canoe Whynyms. The double rows of fastenings along the planking lines indicate a flush-lapped construction below the full lap sheerstrake. The relatively unfinished rudder, with bandsaw marks still visible on the aft edge, may be a replacement. She was built in Upton, Maine, and is seen below all rigged on her home haunt of Bryant Pond. Popularized after the Civil War by the canoeing exploits and writings of John ‘Rob Roy’ MacGregor, these craft were all the rage among certain circles of Gilded Age sports.
Gilded or not, you've been a sport to get this far. Let me know you've paid a visit to the Orlop!
Chris Hall, Curator of Exhibits
Lincolnville salmon wherry 85.81 gift of Louise Porter
USCG peapod 81.14 gift of USCG South Portland
North Haven dinghy 78.91 gift of George Lewis
Motor Surf Boat 72.216 gift of William A. Brown
Power dory 82.90 gift of John F. Mathews
Torpedo model canoe 77.130 gift of Richard A. Ferren
Batteau 68.2686 gift of Spofford Giddings
Swampscott dory 72.272 gift of H.W. Williams
Dugout 71.242 gift of William Moody
Duck boat 71.296.1 gift of Thatcher B. Pinkham, Jr.
Sailing canoe 80.64 gift of Neale W. Dale