The Orphans of Cathorna
Seela Davon’s little boatyard built most of the boats used daily by Cathornans. She takes responsibility for maintaining them, receiving payment in kind from the boats’ main users, or from whoever damaged them if they need repair.
There are numerous boats tied up at the jetty at different times.
The fishing sloops
Used by the fishing families almost every day, there are three of these Cathorna-made sloops. Solidly constructed from local spruce, each has space for six oarsmen and a helm, though they can be easily operated by three. They have a single mast and boom, and carry a triangular mainsail and spinnaker. They are a little too deep-hulled for river work, but the greater stability is worth the slower headway against the current. In addition to seven crew, they can carry half a ton or so of gear before they become difficult to handle. They have two small lockers, one fore and one aft, for all-weather storage; large enough for a square metre or so of gear (or one moderate sized child, as the younger O’Conchubhairs have often demonstrated). The central space can be configured to store fish (the usual layout), carry barrels or seat up to eight troops (besides the seven crew), provided they keep very, very still. They are about seven metres long, perhaps three wide, with a six-metre mast and a draught of about a metre fully loaded, with half a metre freeboard.
The ‘big boat’
A six-seat rowboat, slightly smaller than the sloops at six metres by two and a half. The big boat is mostly used by militia patrols needing to get somewhere fast during the day. It has the same fore and aft storage lockers as the sloops, kept full of arrows, sling stones and crossbow bolts. Shallower draught than the sloops, it can make good speed with six people at the oars, though with no provision for sails it cannot match them heading downstream with an easterly blowing. Tomas has fitted a couple of pedestals inboard for mounting heavy crossbows, which are kept in the armoury. Used with cranequins, these give Cathorna command of the shore wherever this boat goes.
There are five little two-person rowboats at the dock. No two are identical, though most are fairly similar: a single central bench and a bow seat, a slot for a mast, a small underbench locker and not much else. One person can row them easily, two can make good speed. The masts are usually stowed on the jetty, along with a couple of old sails. New sailors use them to learn the trade, and some people use them for errands, fishing trips or recreational journeys. The loggers use them to get upriver when they can’t be bothered walking.
Little more than a circular frame with hides stretched over it, the five coracles stacked upside down on the breakwater are large enough for one person and a backpack and not much else. They have no keel, no rowlocks, in fact no fittings besides a central plank. They wobble frighteningly when someone climbs in, when they start paddling, when they stop paddling, or when they breathe out. Nonetheless, they are very buoyant, provided the occupant sits still and lets the current do all the work. They can be rowed upriver provided one stays to the shallows and paddles carefully, but it is a long, slow road from the lake back up to Cathorna. They are used most by lone fishermen, for errands across the river and by children playing inside the breakwater, especially since the Exploitation of Children Race.
The largest of the boats, the barge is used daily by the anthracite miners to cross the river to work and to come back with the day’s production. It is eight metres long and six wide; robustly constructed by Seela Davon and her boatbuilders, it is simple and strong and prefect for the task. It has no keel or sails or fittings other than a boxy enclosure for coal in the middle, and is light enough for six men to pick up and carry. Eight paddlers, four kneeling each side, can propel this craft at some speed, although they need a skipper with considerable skill to keep it straight. It is shallow draught, drawing less than two feet of water with four people on board (though up to twice that with a full load). It is pulled up on the flats each evening and coal is unloaded by barrow before the boat is carried up to rest against the river wall.
The O’Conchubhairs have a three-person hide canoe, constructed similarly to the coracles. It is collapsible, and can be carried by two people in separate loads (timbers and hides, though both bundles are very awkward). It takes between half and one hour to assemble or dismantle it, depending on skill and practice. It is slow and dififcult to paddle, and does not take kindly to rough treatment. The hides require regular oiling and constant retying when in use. Numerous compromises were made in the name of portability, but it floats and can carry fifty kilos or so of gear with three crew so long as nobody sneezes.
There are a half dozen or so broken old rowboats, canoes and rafts scattered around the village, mostly leaning against huts and houses where they were put when the owners last finished with them. They could be repaired and returned to service by anyone with carpentry or boatbuilding skill
There is a shipwreck a couple of kilometres downstream from the village. Older villagers say it was a Cathorna boat that went out late one night twenty or more years ago. It is about twelve metres long, deep-draughted and slender, with two masts and ample space below decks. Despite the passage of time the timbers are still true, though holed by the rocks and bleached by the sun. Birds nest in the straggly remains of the rigging each year.
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