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BOSUN SCHOOL – SMALL BOATS

A valuable and essential tool in advancing the learning of seamanship, and an integral part of Lunenburg’s Bosun School, is small boat work. Understanding and competently working small boats is essential in becoming a proper seaman and, eventually, a Bosun. And a Captain for that matter. All the decisions made by the small boat skipper are those that get made by the captain of a larger vessel with often more immediate consequences. So small boats it is.

Our fleet of small boats comprises a variety of craft from a dugout canoe to dories, skiffs, open sloops and a longboat for pulling and sailing, to a modern fibreglass sloop and a beautiful 26-foot wooden schooner.

Now “small boat work” does not solely denote jumping in one of these, messing around and becoming a proficient boat handler. Bosun School starts with inspecting and preparing the boats for launching, fixing whatever needs to be fixed, surface prep and painting, rigging them up as required, then launching them.

Learn to determine and assemble boat gear as necessary and then be instructed to use the boats while, well, using them. This is hands-on. Learn to row, scull or pull; sail in small open boats or larger sloops and schooners; practice in outboard powered skiffs… all the while hearing and understanding sound principles of small boat work: areas of operation, weather considerations, limitations and capabilities of boats, gear and crew. Instruction, followed by practice and more instruction followed by more practice. Several hours a day of we can.

While the boats are in the water, tend to them as they demand, and care for the gear. They may need their moorings overhauled, so check them frequently. The boats may need bailing due to rain or maybe even just old fashioned leaking. Pump them out. If heavy weather is on the way – its October isn’t it? – deal with them. And at the end of the season, recover them all, label and stow the gear, clean and winterise the boats in sheds or on hard stands in the yard at the Dory Shop. The whole seasonal cycle condensed into eight or so weeks. If you were awake during all of this, you are well underway to becoming a cox’n.

Last week, we rigged and launched BLUE BOAT, a modern 24-foot fibreglass sloop. She needed little work, just a couple of fibreglass patches and a lick of paint. To step her mast, sheer legs were stepped on the ground either side of the mast step, next to the cradle, and crossed. The mast, laying fore and aft along the deck of the sloop, with all its rigging attached, was hoisted horizontally by a tackle from the sheer legs, then canted vertical and lowered into position and secured by shrouds and stays.

With the sheer legs knocked down, a system of runner and tackle was rigged between two fixed points and the boat cradle. With all hands clapping onto the tackle, we dragged the cradle over wooden bearers towards the water over the soft slope of the Dory Shop’s black beach. Once in the water, the cradle dug into the soft shale, so with a system of levers and a tackle upon the tackle, the cradle slid slowly into deeper water, floating off the sloop. It may be how they set up Stonehenge but we did it with our own hands, not a travel lift in sight.

Yesterday, we took BLUE BOAT sailing for the first time. Her rig was fine-tuned and secured, sail bent and the boat kitted out. We sailed her off the mooring and alongside a floating dock, changed the small jib for the racing jib, loaded a couple more hands and sailed into Lunenburg Bay in 10 to 15 knots of Easterly breeze in glorious afternoon sunshine. After a couple of boards between the Lunenburg docks and Battery Point, we spotted MR. BONES’s unmistakable green and orange sails. MR BONES had just been finished that afternoon and launched for its first sail from the beach at the Dory Shop. Our silver-bali skiff was also out as a chase boat. What a way to spend the afternoon!

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