Monday, November 19, 2012

A Bullseye in Sam Son

Written from Sam Son (Thanh Hoa Province)--17 Nov 2012
Sam Son is the closest seaside resort to Hanoi, though the actual distance and time to travel depends heavily on the state of Highway One, which has been an interesting variable the past couple of years.  They've been widening and upgrading the roadway, which I'm sure will be wonderful someday.  In the meantime, as is always the case here, the highway is also the jobsite.  All the work is done under traffic, by which I mean DIRECTLY under traffic.  We help with the compaction, and when we locate soft spots we proof roll them all to heck.  So for 40 km or thereabouts north of Thanh Hoa City the road is a war zone, complete with tank traps and bomb craters.  That of course makes the bus and truck drivers crankier than usual, so they are much more interested in running motorbikes off what little of the roadbed might be passable.  Makes for interesting riding.  Yesterday was pretty darkly overcast, but there was only one small rain shower, enough to muddy up the highway, so we have dust in our ears, nose, eyes and mustache (ask the bike about her air filter. . .I might have to figure out how to get in to it sometime soon)  BUT ALSO we managed to get a nice crust of mud over most everything.  The pleasures of motorbike travel are intermittent.

So I had to complain about something before I celebrate the arrival in Sam Son.  It's late in their season again (kids are back in school, it's cooling off, nobody's going to the beach) so once again the place is empty, but out on the beach the fishermen are still launching through the little surf, the sailing rafts are still there, and people are still building the classic traditional northern style fishing boat.  These boats are long and slender, descended directly from a sailing hull that goes back who knows how far, and they're built entirely differently from a Western style boat.  Since the western style boats seem to be taking over at a pretty fierce rate all along the Vietnamese coast, displacing the older traditional local styles, I've been very interested in these beautiful sea creatures for several years now and I've never managed to figure out just how they're put together.  I mean, I've crawled through half a dozen of them one way or another, photographing construction details and I've sorted through the trash left over from ripping all the rotten wood out of an old one when it was being rebuilt, so I know pretty much all their secrets, how they're fastened, how they're framed and the placement of their bulkheads and hatches and so forth, but. . .until now I've not understood how it's actually done, starting from scratch.
When I first fell in love--she was beached over the tide in front of Sam Son town, oh so pretty.  As I found out later, this particular one actually is a Christian boat, the cross is not an accident or part of the nav light display (though some of the crosses have red lights at their tips. . )

So arriving here late yesterday afternoon was a direct hit.  There are three of the boats going together out on the beach as we speak.  One is almost complete, even has her engine, shaft and prop.  Another is just a week or two behind, no engine, no deadwood, no caulking, or at least, not complete yet.  The last one was just the bottom, all bolted together and prime painted, something I'd seen once before near Hue. . .but in this case, the port side was complete up to the rub rail, and lying on the sand next to the bottom, its heat-bent stern propped up in the air, and two men working along cutting the bevel on its lower edge.  The starboard side lay close alongside on the proper side of the boat, the stern planking complete and toasting over the fire bending up into shape.  The forward end of the side was still under construction, with an older/wiser fellow and two younger men fitting more planks to finish out the starboard bow.  They use slices cut from the tree whichever way the tree grew, so the two sides end up the same shape, but the run of planking goes every which way, with pieces scarfed in wherever/however needed, and sometimes some amazing timber flaws left to be remedied during the caulking.
Almost finished. . .nothing new here. . .but on down the beach
Okay. . .so. . .it's not exactly the Mona Lisa, but what you have here is the port side, complete up to the rubrail (lacking all framing but the one temporary cleat) all edge nailed and bent into the stern curve, and somehow laid out in the necessary shape to turn into a boat. . .and in the background, the bottom, complete, including the transverse framing and primer (probably the only paint it'll get in the hold).  The starboard side, across the way, is a little behind, planks still being fitted into the forward end.
It couldn't have been clearer if it were written in foot-high letters in bright red.  These boats are not planked up on frames.  Rather the foundation, the bottom, is completed, then the sides up to the rubrail are built flat on the ground on either side, and in one grand move they're hoisted into place and the three key pieces are stitched together to build a boat.  There's hardly a bit of framing on the sides when they're raised.  Rather (and this is typical of small and traditional boats in much of Viet Nam) they're just edge nailed together.  In this case, with hand forged spikes about 6" long, square and tapered full length.  A chiseled notch is cut for each nail on the face of the upper plank and a leading hole is drilled through into the lower plank.  The spike is given a slight bend so that it tends to stay centered in the lower plank. . .though that's not a perfect thing.

The rest of the process is perfectly clear now, the individually fitted upper ribs with their hockey stick ends will be added after the sides are up, the deck beams and decking, hatch coamings and cabin top framing all added in due course.

Anyway, this probably ranks somewhere below finding the Rosetta Stone (and knowing what it was!!) but for me and my poking around Vietnamese boat yards and harbors the past few years, this is right there in the same category.

So I'm spending an extra day in Sam Son this year and won't move on to Cua Lo until tomorrow after lunch (I'll try to time it so I'm there well before dark this time).  And there's this to look forward to. . .no typhoon this trip, no flooding!  If the road is whole it'll be a pleasure jaunt.  Maybe I'd better give myself an extra hour or two.  H'mm.  For now I need to get back to the beach, no knowing what they've been up to while I'm drinking tea in the shade.

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