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by Craig Hohm - The Finger Lakes, New York - USA
To Part One To Part Two To Part Three
To Part Four To Part Five To Part Six
To Part Seven To Part Eight To Part Nine
To Part Ten To Part Eleven  

The Whaleboat hit the water to the sound of viking horns. It floated!

 The crew climbed aboard and we began the process of sorting out the 140 lbs/100 linear feet of the oars.    I feel certain there is some organized way to deal with these monsters but can't say we have figured it out yet.  Once everyone had their oar in place we began the process of learning to row in unison.  

After fifteen minutes or so we were starting to come into sync. I believe that the most efficient  stroke is short, involving a moderate (not extreme) stretch in the reach. More than once a giant crustacean took the rower out of their seat. Still, within minutes we were moving along very smoothly. Notice the bend in the oars.

The boat is very stable and very slippery, moving along at an easy 4-5 kn with coordinated (not strenuous) rowing.  There needs to be a standard series of commands for handling the oars, and thanks to Google and the Navy, here they are: When coming alongside the dock for example, I say " toss oars" and the oars are pointed  straight up.

It takes a fair amount of muscle to lift the oar up like this. In the middle of the lake it is easier to pull them athwartship to rest: "bank oars".

There was not much wind, but we did pull out the sails and fiddle with the set up. The mizzen was easy, the main was not.  The 16' sprit is a handful even when it is not blowing and requires at least two people who know what they are doing.

Here it is is fully rigged, 15" & 16" foot oars stowed on the centerline, with the 17' and steering oars hung in the oar locks.

A few weeks later we had the official launch, hosted by Harbor Club Marina (thanks George), and featuring boat rides, Hohmbrew (thanks John), music, and maritime skills.

We rigged a target on strings across the harbor and took shots at it with a full sized harpoon (10). It was not an easy hit, there being only three strikes the whole day, and a dispute broke out over the winner..…  I suppose I should cede to my son.

Several crews tried out the oars and we got the sails up later.  Again, not much wind. There was a fair amount of piratical fervor among the crews who regularly cried out for pillaging, razing, etc. It is fortunate that this boat, without engine, does not need a registration in the state of NY; without those registration numbers, no one will be able to prove anything.

If you find yourself hosting one of these events, with the public exposure of your sweetheart to shoes, beer cans, etc, bear in mind the mantra " It is only new once", and get the scratches over with.
There are a few videos on youtube of this day:

The biggest challenge of this summer turned out to be trying to get enough crew to take the boat out . It can be sailed by three able seamen but more is better. It will move under two paddles (stored along the centerboard trunk) in light airs but needs the rowers to move well into the wind.

Season events

1. Geneva
The boat was invited to the Geneva finger Lakes Antique Boat Show where unfortunately it spent the week-end on a trailer since I was at work. I made up a placard for information, but received no takers on this challenge:

"The Keuka Whaler is a prototype community boat for the Finger Lakes, a boat for people to row and sail together in no-octane regattas. This boat is a replica of an 1850's sperm whale fishery boat lofted from the offsets of the Newport News Mariner's Museum boat in Virginia. These offsets are from Willets Ansel's "The Whaleboat" (1978). The construction was adapted for lapstrake epoxy  but the hull shape is identical to the original. The total materials for the hull were about $3000 (not including trailer, sails and hardware). I have the hope that other groups will build their own whalers and join us to row and sail, and be heros of the lakes. To that end, I will offer the molds and the full size lofting (along with my advice) to any group or individual who is ready to build the next boat. " (* this offer stands to on-line readers as well).

Picking up the boat on Sunday night I was glad to have the bilge pump. Someone more clever than me can figure out the volume, but I heard there were 3" of rain the night before; it was a lot.

2.  The Odyssey
Drawing upon the stamina of some long distance canoe racers for crew, we rowed the boat from Branchport to Hammondsport to join the Wine Country Classic Boat Show in July.

We set out about 10 against a steady 6-8 kn head wind. The Waterdog served as support for snacks, rest, bathrooms, etc. We had 8 crew, and rotated two off in the Waterdog during the trek. Altogether it took us about 6 hours to row the 18 miles  down the lake, making about 3 kn against the wind.   We received a warm welcome from the gas engine runabouts when we arrived.

3. Ithaca
My son and I took two willing but inexperienced sailors with us in 20 kn winds a few weeks later.  Running downwind from the launch at Tremain park under mizzen and jib,  we reached the south end of the lake , and throwing caution literally to the wind, we deployed the main and turned into a beam reach, "cracking on to make all sneer". Within about 30 seconds we had carried away the peak outhaul cleat on the mainsail . So we struck the main and carried on with jib and mizzen, roaring across the 3 foot waves and reassuring the squeakers. No spray, no untoward or awkward behavior, just an exhilarating day on the water.  The hull tracks well with little leeway (centerboard down) and the rudder is very light in the hand and turns the boat quickly.  I don't have any photos of this, but lots of people took them from other boats; anyone out there have some to share?

4. The end of the season.
November 11 was a fabulous sunny day,  warm with steady winds 6-8kn. Eight of us, not quite a ton, spent the afternoon on the water under sail. Again, it was amazing to see how fast this boat is with such light wind;  we were easily doing hull speed most of the time (I figure a LWL about 25', which makes theoretical hull speed of 6.7 kn. ) At times we were exceeding 7 on GPS. The photos tell it all.

Aficianotoes will notice that the snotters needs to be tightened. The big sprit is a powerful sail  and a quantitative difference in handling compared to the mizzen. It is 120 sf with halyard, brail, sheet, peak out haul and sprit halyard. It is boomless except when running downwind.  The sheet does not require a block. In practice reefing is pretty straightforward with this sail once it is set up;  the sprit halyard is essential. (see article 5 in this series).

We will see how things go next year but I am wondering if setting the sprit on the mainsail before standing the mast up would be easier than trying to sling the sprit with the sail flogging; one would have to unfurl the sail in the boat, brail the peak, and set the sprit in the snotter before marching the mast up through the hinge gate into the mast step. Then,  one tensions the snotter, releases the brail, and hauls on the sheet to get underway. This is worth a try. The only other issue that occurs to me now is possibly stiffening the steering oar; It feels a little wobbly and is 15 lbs lighter than the museum oar: note the droop in photo below. I spoke  to the guys at WEST about this and may put a layer of fiberglass cloth in epoxy along the the shaft this winter.

Now the boat is snugged down in the barn for the winter. Many people have asked me how long this build took. I actually don't know but  I know for a fact that I could have finished about 2 months earlier if I was not required to twirl my cat around on the swivel stool twice a day. He would come into the shop and disrupt work until he was given a spin. I believe I also wasted about 2 months looking for my pencil. The boat was built over three winters.

I would like to acknowledge my debts to:

  1. my wife, Sue,  who actually encourages me to do these things.
  2. Moray Mcphail who did the custom hardware and shared his vast knowledge of all things traditional ( ). When Moray asked me what I was going to do with this boat, I said I wanted to keep it. He said " Good Lord!  Where are you going to store it?". I replied that I hoped it would fit in my barn, but if not, my wife said we should build a new barn for it. There was a pause and he said " May I have her after she's done with you?"
  3. Iain Oughtred who offered construction suggestions (and the example of the the Grey Seal)
  4. Tom Jackson for his article on designing a traditional sailing rig and numerous responses to my emails.
  5. Douglas Fowler for the great sails
  6. Willets Ansel for writing the wonderful book I bought in 1988.
  7. Clifford Ashley for his "Yankee Whaler" and his ever inspirational "Book of Knots"
  8. and my crew of  whalers who showed up when I built it.

Looking forward to next year.

*the smudge on the photo below visually represents me having a really good idea and then promptly forgetting it.

Bonus audio: The Whaler's Song


in these days of streaming internet there's little a man can do
to pit his metal 'gainst real foes and prove his derring do
you're stuck behind a keyboard making tiny clicking sounds
growing dull and flabby as you push your mouse around.
don't settle for a job that has you lashed down to a chair
daydreaming of retirement and struggling with despair,
for a man must be a hero if his heart's to be at ease
that's why we hunt the jet ski on the stormy keuka seas

kawasaki, yamaha, it matters not the name
4 stroke or two or turbo charged, to us they're all the same
they're noisy smelly creatures and it's been our noble toil
to hunt them on the finger lakes and drain them of their oil.
the harpoon flies, the line pays out, the straining engine whines
and soon the thing has gone fin up and the silence is sublime,
there's nowhere near the oil we were getting from the whale
but saving all that gasoline must surely tip the scale.

while strolling through the Branchport, a tour bus hove in view
to my surprise twas filled with keuka wine tour ingenue
they boldly beckoned to me, they were brazen in their ploy
to snare a keuka whaler for their private cabin boy.
they shrieked and howled with laughter, i hitched up my trousers blue
and said "my dears, though i should like to pay respects to you,
i cannot come aboard you, though to please you all i could,
for my harpoon's been spoken for to serve the greater good".

if you're young or old , man or woman , short or maybe tall
if you're strong and stalwart, brave and true, and answer to our call
you'll join a cause that's worthy and environment'ly kind
to rid the pristine waters of that nasty high-pitched whine
so join the whalers now my friend and climb yourselves aboard
the finest longboat in the lakes , swell our happy hoard,
fresh air and regular exercise are benefits to those
who hustle to their stations at the cry of "THAR SHE BLOWS!"

come along my bully boys , grab yourselves an oar
raise your voices lustily and let me hear you roar
we'll ply the glacial watersheds , our fortunes for to make
while hunting for the jet ski on the shores of keuka lake

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