Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Half a boat

. . . coming to an anchor about nine of the clock the same day, within a league of the shore, we hoised out the one halfe of our shallop and . . . [we] went ashore . . . 

Hang on a minute.  Half a shallop?  They got to shore in half a boat?
"They" are an early exploration crew of New England in 1602.  A shallop is a rowboat affair (though it would have sails, too) that you would use to get from your sailing ship to shore.  Otherwise your ship's large keel would hit sand and get stuck, and you'd still have to swim or wade to make it to land.  Shallops were also used to explore rivers and shallow waters near shore.

I was sure I'd read that wrong.  I may not know much, but I know you can't sail in half a boat.  I gave it a couple more go's -- it still seemed to say they got to shore in half a boat.  So I moved on.  It was one more mystery, one more disconnect between the centuries, one more copying error perhaps.

Then a few lines later:
. . . so returning (towards evening) to our shallop (for by that time, the other part was brought ashore and set together) . . . 

OK, so we have a cool piece of technology here.  A boat that not only divides in two, but both halves are seaworthy!  What did it look like?  How did it fasten together?

Come to find out, a shipbuilding firm in Maryland has made a working reproduction of one of these shallops and it looked like this:

See the seam?  On each side of that seam was a watertight wall, so the two halves were truly independent.  The keel -- the long board or log on the very bottom of the boat that has so much to do with a ship's internal integrity -- is actually in three parts, with a removable middle part that then went into place and kept the whole thing steady.  The purpose of dividing the shallop was for better, more space-efficient storage on board the ship. 

Sultana Projects reconstructed one of these for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown in 2007.  Here's what it looked like when they were still building it.  See the dividing wall?

Once reconstructed, this shallop was sailed all over Chesapeake Bay in 2007.  They even launched it in the traditional way:  in two parts.

So there you go:  boating in half a boat.  

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