May 2, 2013

Three little-known boat types

THERE MUST BE HUNDREDS of names for different types of boats around the world. Patrick Boyle mentions a few of them in his book Sailing in a Nutshell (Methuen, London, 1938) and his list contains three I’d never heard of before.

Near the beginning of the book Boyle discusses the various kinds of sailboats a beginner might be tempted to purchase. He ends up by declaring that if you really mean to sail in style — and especially if you intend to wear white trousers and to look sometimes through a telescope — then the right vessel for you is a yawl.  He continues:

“Right, then, a yawl it is. The procedure for acquiring one of your own is familiar enough in one form or another to most people, even on shore, and is known as ‘buying.’

“Note: There is no point in paying any attention to such exotic or egregious types of craft as scows, dhows, catboats, jollyboats, barquentines, corvettes, hoys, galliots, lerrets, randans, bucentaurs, gondolas, wherries, ferries, corsairs, xebecs, sampans, catamarans or junks . . .”

Well, the three I’d never come across before were the lerret, the randan, and the bucentaur. In fact, I was so over-confident of my nautical knowledge that I took it for granted that Boyle had made those names up. After all, this is a book of exaggerated humor. But some cautious nook of my brain suggested it might be wise to do some research, lest I made a fool of myself (again) in public. And lo! all three are real boats.

The lerret. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia says of the lerret:

“A boat of great strength, built for the heavy seas: used about the Isle of Portland.”

Wiktionary describes the lerret as “A traditional fishing boat of southwest England.”

The randan. The Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge (Cornell) says of the randan:

“In England, a boat having three thwarts and operated by three oarsmen, single oars being pulled from forward and after thwarts, while man on midship pulls two oars. This arrangement often is termed randan fashion; as, to row r. fashion.”

The bucentaur.  The same invaluable encyclopedia says the bucentaur (Italian bucentoro) was the “State barge of Venice used each year (1177 - 1797) by the Doge at a ceremony known as Marriage of the Adriatic, signifying subjection of the sea to her husband, the Venetian Republic.”

Well, there we are. We live and learn.

Today’s Thought
What’s in a name?  that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Sir Winston Churchill used to say there were only two things more difficult than making an after-dinner speech. One was climbing a ladder leaning toward you, and the other kissing a girl leaning away from you.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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