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Author Topic: Any sailors out there?
Meredith
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I'd like to check the reasonableness of something in my WIP if anybody knows much about ocean sailing in a small boat.

Situation: I have a character in Iceland who wants to sail to North America (Newfoundland). The only boat available to him is a small fishing skiff meant for one or two men.

This would be in a time period in which there would be potentially more storms and more sea ice in the North Atlantic than today.

According to the Icelandic sagas, there is a route from Iceland to Greenland that involves (weather permitting) approximately three days at sea. If he followed the Greenland coast around (which would take some time), it's only about 15 miles across from Greenland to Ellesmere Island. Then the northerly winds and the Labrador Current would drive him to Newfoundland, approximately two days at sea from Ellesmere to Baffin Island and then two more days to Newfoundland.

My question is: is this at all reasonable in such a small boat? Or should I have him be picked up by a larger boat along the way? It's undeniably more dramatic if he does it himself, but is it believable?

Anyone have any ideas?

Of course, according to the sagas, one ship got blown off course out of Iceland and ended up discovering North America.

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rcmann
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Not an ocean sailor. But the Norse did get here. Their settlements have been dug up. Maybe depends on how seaworthy your craft is compared to a viking longboat. And how experienced and skillful your MC is. Barring storms of course. And sea monsters. And mer people.
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DavidS
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I'd say it's possible, providing the character is a good seaman and picks a good weather window. And probably enjoys a slice of luck or two.

Something like a ships lifeboat would probably be better than a fishing boat - provided it could be sailed not just rowed. Still any boat designed for fishing in the North Atlantic would be pretty sturdy.

I think he'd have to be able to harbor hop around the Greenland coast to shelter from storms and to rest.

I think of voyages such as Shackleton's escape from Antarctica to South Georgia - described in this page (along with some stunning scenery). Also Bligh's voyage in an open life boat after the mutiny. Neither of these were solo journeys, but are extraordinary feats of navigation in small craft.

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Meredith
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Thanks. That helps.

FYI, this is an alternate history. (Sea monsters actually sound like an interesting possibility. [Smile] I'd been focusing on just the difficulties of the voyage.)

It takes place around 1350-1400. (After the last documented voyage from the New World to Iceland in 1347.) Viking ships didn't have lifeboats.

The fishing boat has a sail, built by the same principles of shipbuilding as the viking ships. (Actually, it would be a knarr (or cargo ship), not a longboat, for an ocean crossing.)

I could make the skiff as large as a four-man boat, but I thought that would be more difficult for a single person to manage. Maybe I'm wrong.

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MartinV
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When a single man crew in involved, any sea voyage is more or less suicidal. So what you're saying only makes sense if there are very high stakes at hand.
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Meredith
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Well, I think they're high.

It is possible that I could have him pick up one or two others to go with him, possibly in Greenland. I'm mulling that one over.

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extrinsic
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I am a mariner, probaby one of my stronger passions. A main concern I'd have with a small fishing skiff crossing open ocean is whether it's got an open cockpit. Waves swamping small open boats is a major oceanic hazard. An enclosed cockpit or cabin and a respectable bilge pump for bailing would suffice for a short, solo-handed open ocean crossing circa fourteenth century nautical technology. Yes, credible.

The current Atlantic crossing record is held by Hugo Vilhen's purpose-built Father's Day, five feet, four inches, 1993, in 106 days, from Newfoundland to Falmouth. He reported thirty-foot waves that rolled his capsule-like boat, about the size of a bathtub.

A twenty-seven foot sailing skiff with a square sail, lateen rigged, and a mostly enclosed deck would be about the smallest sailboat I'd care to take into the unknown. However, I've been several miles offshore paddling a twelve-foot open canoe.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
I am a mariner, probaby one of my stronger passions. A main conern I'd have with a small fishing skiff crossing open ocean is whether it's got an open cockpit. Swamping small open boats is a major oceanic hazard. An enclosed cockpit or cabin and a respectable bilge pump for bailing would suffice for a short, solo-handed open ocean crossing circa fourteenth century nautical technology. Yes, credible.

The current Atlantic crossing record is held by Hugo Vilhen's purpose-built Father's Day, five feet, four inches, 1993, in 106 days, from Newfoundland to Falmouth. He reported thirty-foot waves that rolled his capsule-like boat, about the size of a bathtub.

Many thanks. Hmm. Vikings didn't have enclosed cabins, even on their big cargo ships. But this character would have seen inuit boats on previous trips--kayaks are covered, umiaks aren't. He's already shown quick thinking and the ability to improvise in unexpected ways. Especially when he's desperate, he could be innovative. Maybe he fashions a hide covering for part of the boat?

I'm liking the idea of having him go solo just across to Greenland--that's only three days at sea out of sight of land for one of the larger (and broader) knarrs, according to the sagas. It's okay if he and the skiff arrive pretty banged up. Then he can accidentally meet up with someone with a bigger boat (knarr) who can turn out to have also been tricked by the antagonists so they can team up.

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extrinsic
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A hide cover, a planked deck with hull scuppers to shed water, or maybe air bladders lashed into the bilges would do. The critical necessity is air capsules that afford positive flotation so a bailing gang isn't needed to keep the bilges dry.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Water bags made of something like goat stomachs and filled with air would work for air capsules, I think?
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rcmann
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His major problem would be weather. Can't vouch for the north sea, but the NE coast of North America is remarkably lethal during the bad seasons. I have read accounts that lead me to believe the rest of the northern Atlantic is equally bad or worse.

Alone is a problem other ways. He has to sleep. He has to eat. Who stands watch while he tries to rest. Does he have four hands, to haul ropes, guide the rudder, and unpack the food all at once? You are setting this guy up for an epic journey.

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Meredith
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I don't have a problem torturing him on the journey. It just has to be reasonably believable that he makes it in the end.
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extrinsic
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Nautical history is also one of my passions. Let's see if some of it may be of service.

Nordlands were common Nordic fishing boats in the fourteenth century, from fifteen or so feet up to sixty or so long, 1:3 or 1:4 beam width to length, wider beams for carrying cargo and stability, narrower for speed. Double-ended lapstraked pine hulls, seams liberally payed with oakum (wool cord and tar). Single short, stout mast about six feet tall, a sister mast spliced atop for heights of twelve or more feet, height roughly half to two-thirds of hull length.

Freeboard, the distance from the waterline to the gunwhales is higher for open oceen-going vessels than for protected water vessels. A Nordland of twenty or so feet length that fishes out to sea might do well with a five-foot freeboard.

Single square sail made of felted wool, brails along the top for lashing to or parrels fitting around the boom, loose footed--no lower boom, several rows of reef lines to shorten sail, a control line at each clew end. Most early sailing vessels had deadeye pulleys for turning lines and belaying pins for standing ends. The square sail will tack upwind a few degrees, despite beliefs to the contrary. Otherwise, rowing stations for power, no thole pins or oarlocks; lashings to hold an oar's pivot point. No thwarts either. Rowers sit on chests or barrels. Fore and aft counters might be partially decked over. Open middle hold.

Speed four to fifteen knots depending on conditions. "Favoring winds and following seas" is a mariner's blessing for good reason.

No rudder, a steering oar lashed to the stoer or steering side, right side facing forward or starboard. Lar- or ladeboard left side.

Staple foodstuffs circa fourteenth century for Nordic mariners were dulse porridge and breads, or twice-baked coarse breads made from barley, rye, or oats, also made into porridges. Sweet porridges were rare. Meat porridges or stews were high table fare. Simple porridges of dulse, suet, and lichen (Iceland Moss) were common shipboard staples along the North Atlantic. A large jar or pot of cold porridge or "burgoo" stew could last in cold North Atlantic climes for several weeks.

Meats were more often fish than beef, kine, or fowl, often pickled. Butter was rare too on mariners' fares. Suet was common, or for North Atlantic cultures, whale and walrus meat and fats.

Woven cloth, again, for the high table. Felted wools were for commoners. Flax linen was more for landlubbers.

A knife and a fiddle were common mariners' tools. The fiddle is like a marlinspike, a stiff, pointed conical tool for loosening tough knots.

Vikings sunstones were used for compasses. The way light shone through a sunstone could tell what direction a cloud-hidden sun was by depolarizing sunlight. One angle of sunstone crystals depolarizes light. Many other tricks of the trade too, observing currents, winds, cloud movements, detritus in the water, flotsam, water color, insects and birds' movements.

A single-handed mariner doesn't have a lot to do on a small Nordland, say of twenty or so feet. One line on each clew end of the sail to adjust occasionally, and a steering oar to sweep as needed, otherwise lashed on course. A pair of oars or sweeps for when the winds are off. A pot of burgoo to eat from, a barrel or a few goat stomach bags of drinking water, and otherwise keep a watchful weather eye out and keep bailing leaks. From the deck of such a boat, on a clear horizon, the distance seeable is about ten miles around, ten ahead, ten behind, ten to starboard, ten to ladeboard. If visibility is poor, stand off and wait for better conditions.

However, once things start to go the slightest bit off, they have a tendency to cascade into disaster quickly.

[ July 27, 2012, 10:10 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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