Catamarans Offer a Host of Advantages on the Sea

The catamaran has a unique history among seafaring vehicles.

In fact, it was its unique design that made many Western people skeptical of its usefulness and led to it being ignored for over a century and a half by western civilization.

Fortunately, the world caught on and now catamarans are a very popular watercraft that are used for a variety of applications. 

The What, When, Where, and Who of the Catamaran

Catamarans have been in use for centuries. Their unique history may be attributed, in part, to their unique design. They are very distinctive vehicles with a range of uses. Below, we will explore their history and discover why they are such useful, dependable, sea vehicles. 

What

The word catamaran comes from the word kattumaram, which translates to logs tied together. A catamaran as we know it is a watercraft that has multiple hulls (the hull is the watertight body of a boat). The two hulls of a catamaran can be connected by simple netting, or elaborate structures that offer increased cabin or cargo space. The catamaran’s multi-hull design offers a few advantages. These advantages include;

  • Better handling/easier steering
  • Most types of catamarans have more room than single hulled boats
  • Because of their design they are typically faster than other boats in the same class
  • You can beach them

 When

There is evidence that catamarans were built and used by ancient peoples throughout the world, especially in the pacific. Their sturdy design allowed these ancient people to travel great distances. There is no record of their use in Europe until 1662, but they were still not widely used in the west until the late 1800’s. 

Where

The first known catamarans were developed in the Pacific. More specifically, they were used by the Austronesian peoples in the areas including  Madagascar, Polynesia, and Southeast Asia. The English adventurer, William Dampier, encountered these people in the late 1600’s and brought word of the strange vessels back to Europe. 

The technology didn’t catch on in the west until the late 1800’s. Once sailors in Europe and America understood the benefits of the catamaran, they began to use them extensively.

Who

Other than William Dampier and the early Austronesian people, there are many names that helped to spread the word and use of catamarans. 

  • William Petty designed the first, documented, European, double hulled boat, in 1662. 
  • Mayflower F. Crisp built a two hulled merchant ship in the late 1800’s. It was described as “a fast sailing, fine, sea boat”.
  • In 1876 Nathanael Herreshoff registered a U.S patent for his double hulled craft which was named Amaryllis. This boat performed so well that catamarans were banned from regular sailing races for almost 100 years. 
  • In 1936  Eric de Bisschop built a catamaran in Hawaii and sailed it to his home, in France. 

There are many people who have contributed to catamaran technology throughout the centuries. These are just a few that we decided to highlight. 

Catamarans have their roots in antiquity, but the design is so effective that they are still used extensively today. Catamarans offer increased stability, great steering and handling, and the ability to beach them (lay ashore in shallow water). 

The Austronesian people understood how a double hulled craft would offer important advantages when sailing the seas. The technology allowed them to safely reach islands that were very far away, and almost impossible to reach on other types of ships. Though it took centuries for the western world to adopt this clearly advantageous maritime technology, the catamaran eventually became a staple of the sailing world. Today, catamarans come in all shapes, sizes, speeds, and levels of luxury and can be found all over the world.

Tugboats: Small Boats that Control Large Ships

If you have ever taken a cruise or walked near a port, you may have been intrigued by the tiny boats that seem to effortlessly control ships many times larger.

These tugboats are a crucial aspect of helping today’s megaships navigate small ports safely and efficiently. 

What are Tugboats Used For? 

Many large ships are not capable of maneuvering through shallow waters to pull up close to piers on their own. These ships are often too large and react too slowly to safely get themselves into tight ports, often just a few feet from a wooden dock. Tugboats provide cargo ships, barges, cruise ships, and other large ships with a bit of extra help by pushing or pulling them into ports or out to deeper, more open waters where they are easier to manage. 

History of Tugboats

The steamboat was the earliest type of tugboat. This breed of riverboat appeared in the late 1700s and was the first kind of ship to carry a steam engine. This gave the captain a higher level of independence in controlling the steamboat’s route, rather than being fully dependent upon the wind for power. These early boats that first had a greater capability to power themselves were later modified to be able to push or pull (or “tug”) larger ships, which significantly contributed to the functionality of boats for passenger travel and the ability to create larger and larger ships. 

The Charlotte Dundas is believed to be the first tugboat to receive an official patent. It was constructed in 1802 by William Symington, and the Scotsman’s invention quickly spread throughout the world. While early steamboats were mainly intended for carrying passengers up and down rivers, the idea evolved to use the same technology to increase the agility of a wide variety of maritime vehicles.

While most modern tugboats are used to help ships navigate, they can also be used to transport defunct ships that are in poor condition or no longer run at all to scrap yards, where they are taken apart and the metal may be used to create new ships.

Tugboats and Cruise Ships

While tugboats are tiny in comparison to the floating cities that are modern cruise ships, only two or three tugboats are typically needed to help fully-functioning a cruise ship navigate into or out of ports. The same is true for many other types of large ships. However, tugboats can also be helpful tools in returning damaged ships to shore or preventing them from hitting smaller ships in port during especially rough weather. For example, the Carnival Triumph was towed back into port using several tugboats after a fire disabled its engines in 2013. Many ports provide their own tugboats for cruise ships and other vessels to use, and some even require special captains who know the port especially well to assist in docking the ships. 

Tugboats in Popular Culture

Like any type of vehicle, steamboats and tugboats can be found in popular culture throughout history. One of the best-known examples is Steamboat Willieone of the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons. Other children’s books and TV shows also feature tugboats and other types of boats, often as main characters. 

Tugboats can also be used for various forms of entertainment. Annual tugboat races are held in many rivers and near ports in prominent maritime cities, and a “tugboat ballet” can even be found in Hamburg, Germany. At this event, eight tugboats perform a show of movements that are set to music.       

Tugboats have played a vital role in helping both the shipping industry and passenger maritime travel to grow into what they are today. Because these small boats help large ships maneuver ports, harbors, and even canals more efficiently, ships can continue to increase in size, which makes transporting more passengers and more goods for trade possible. 

Freighter Ships Make Global Trade Possible

If you have ever purchased technology that was made in China or eaten food that was imported from another country, your products likely made part of the journey to your home on a freighter ship.

These large ships make the world smaller by carrying all sorts of goods all over the world. This makes it possible to use products that are made on the other side of the globe every day. 

History of Freighter Ships

Freighter ships were essential to early trade, as they were the first means of transporting goods over long distances. Traders transported cargo down rivers and between seaports long before land travel over significant distances was possible. Early, smaller versions of today’s freighter ships have existed since at least the 14th century BC, and they formed the beginnings of trade routes that have evolved over thousands of years into the globalization that exists today. 

Types of Freighter Ships

Freighter ships are divided into six main categories, which are determined by the type of cargo that they are used for. These categories include general cargo ships, tankers, container ships, dry bulk carriers, reefers, and multipurpose vessels. General cargo ships and reefers carry most types of household goods and food items, while the other categories are primarily used to transport oil, coal, and other natural resources. 

While most freighter ships are owned and run by shipping lines, such as Horizon Lines and Houston Logistics Company, there are also smaller, privately-owned ships that are used for transporting goods.

Shipping Containers

Packing items correctly is a crucial aspect of enabling them to survive long trips on rough seas. With the exception of tankers, which transport liquids, most goods are shipped in large metal shipping containers. Depending on the size of the freighter ship, hundreds or thousands of shipping containers filled with goods are stacked on each ship. In some parts of the world that import far more goods than they export, such as remote towns north of the Arctic Circle, shipping containers are often repurposed as homes or other buildings, rather than sent back out of the country.

Working on Freighter Ships

Many sailors live and work on large freighter ships at any given time. These crew members perform a variety of tasks, such as steering the ship, cleaning and repairing the ship, watching for pirates, and loading and unloading cargo in ports. Routes are typically quite long and may circle the globe so these sailors often spend several months or longer at sea during each trip.  

Passenger Freighter Ships

While freighter ships are primarily used for transporting material goods, it is possible for passengers to travel on some freighter ships. Much like the ocean liners of the Victorian era that were also used to transport mail across the ocean, certain freighter ships can have more than one purpose.

Freighter ships often visit different ports than traditional cruise ships, and they travel to countries that cruise lines rarely visit. While these ships offer passengers simple accommodations and little to do on board, they are an option for travelers who are interested in visiting places that are not typically marketed as tourist attractions. Freighter cruises also offer a quieter, more private option for travelers who are interested in simply spending time on the water, rather than participating in the activities typically found on cruise ships.

Although modern technology allows for many faster methods of shipping goods, such as trains and airplanes, freighter ships are still a vital aspect of global trade. Shipping goods across the globe on ships is often cheaper than using airplanes, and more cargo can typically be transported at once. While freighter ships are no longer the only method of trade available, global trade would be far less efficient if they were no longer used for large-scale transport.    

Barges: Much More than Cargo Carriers

When people hear the word “barge,” they usually think of a cargo carrier, lazily snaking its way down a river.

However, barges are used for much more than hauling freight. Today, these vessels have been transformed into restaurants and even homes!

The History of Barges

By strict definition, a barge is simply a flat-bottomed boat. Barges can either be self-propelled or need to be pushed/pulled by another type of boat. When small barges are on shallower waterways, the crew can help navigate and guide the ship with long poles.  

Barges have a history dating back to ancient times. For the Egyptians, the Nile River served as a major highway. In many sections, the river was too wide for a bridge. Barges were necessary for both transportation and to carry goods. Archaeologists made an exciting discovery when they found a sunken barge off Egypt’s coast in 2000. The ancient barge was right around 90 feet long and is over 2,500 years old! Now dubbed “Ship 17,” the barge was likely involved in trade with Greece and Persia. The vessel would have carried imported and exported goods between the countries. 

Before the Industrial Revolution took hold in the U.S., barges were a necessary way to transport cargo. Barges are perfect for carrying large and heavy items. While travel on a barge is economical, it is also limited to locations where rivers flow. As railways and roads began crisscrossing the country, barges fell out of common use. Trains and vehicles provided more direct options for transporting cargo.  

Barges Today 

While barges may not be as popular as they once were, they are still very much in use. The Calumet River spans from Illinois to Indiana. This vital waterway connects Chicago to Gary, Indiana and barges still carry cargo between the two cities. Tugboat and towboat crews help barges on the Calumet River move along and get to their destination.

Because the Mississippi River spans the entire length of the U.S., it’s also still a vital barge transportation route. On the Mighty Mississippi, as many as 15 barges can be cabled together in what is called a “tow.” A tow of barges is about the size of three football fields! Gravel, salt, cement, and grains are just a few of the items transported by barges on the Mississippi. 

Barges in the City of Lights

Paris, France just might be the world headquarters for repurposed barges! This capital city is home to hundreds of barges that have been converted into everything from houseboats to cafes.

In Paris, rent for an apartment is sky high and real estate is at a premium. People who are looking to live in the city have become creative with housing. It’s not unheard of for barges to be converted into homes. Not only is the price right, but the scenery is beautiful. Word has spread about this more affordable living option. Due to the popularity of houseboats, it’s often difficult to find a mooring to rent. For those lucky enough to have a place to dock, living on the Seine is surely an unmatched experience.

In addition to houseboats, several Parisian restaurants now occupy barges. The upscale Cafe Barge Restaurant is just one such restaurant, located near Notre Dame Cathedral. What could be more quaint than enjoying a glass of wine and French cuisine while floating on the Seine? But these barge restaurants are a popular attraction, so if you’re visiting Paris, it’s best to make reservations so you don’t miss out.

The flexibility and adaptability of barges have helped them stand the test of time. The odds are good that wherever you live, you don’t have to go far to see a barge in action!

Explore the Underwater World on a Sea Scooter

Also known as “underwater scooters,” the sea scooter will have you zipping around underwater like you’re on a jet ski!

What is it? 

The sea scooter is a SCUBA diver’s luxury vehicle! Also called a Dive Propulsion Vehicle (DPV,) as an underwater mode of transportation, there are a number of different options.

More personal and portable scooters are simply a torpedo-shaped motor that divers hold onto with both hands as it propels you through the water. Divers use these to cover more area faster either for recreational or working purposes. Indeed, there is a need for SCUBA divers as an occupation. When a person is diving for a living, it often requires rapid travel underwater. The ability to move quickly is a huge advantage for those types of divers. 

Non-SCUBA Options

There are some other really cool options for those that want to ride a sea scooter, but have no SCUBA experience. A video presented by the YouTube channel Oddity Mall showed that there are underwater scooters with a breathing chamber that let you ride approximately 15 feet underwater. These scooters look very much like actual street scooters but include an oversized helmet that allows you to breathe freely underwater.

These vehicles are very expensive and not typically an impulse buy for private use. To meet the demand, they are often found in major diving destinations for rental and group tours. 

Sea Scooter History

The Diving Almanac identified that the first Dive Propulsion Vehicle was “The Torpille” in 1952 by Dimitri Rebikoff from France. But the sea scooter as we know it today was first called the Aqua Scooter. The story, according to H.I. Sutton, is that an East German chemical engineer named Bernd Boettger created the scooter as a way to flee East Germany to get across the Baltic Sea to Denmark.

This daring escape plan made the sea scooter an instrument of necessity that has evolved into many different options from recreational to professional. It has become a huge hit though in the recreational diving market because it can allow a diver to see more underwater, getting more mileage out of your air tank—literally! 

Options in Sea Scooters

The price point for a sea scooter has a very wide range. How deep do you want to go? How fast do you want to go? What additional features do you want it to include? These are all pressing questions that have a range of answers. You can get sea scooters rated to a more shallow depth that travels only a few miles per hour at a very reasonable cost. Many scooters also include a camera mount, so you can do a little cinematography while you explore the underwater landscape.

The amount of time you get on one run is also another consideration. While you won’t be underwater for hours on end anyway, you want to make sure that your battery won’t give out on you mid-trip. Professional quality sea scooters will take you to much greater depths at faster speeds. These are not at all cheap, but then again are not necessary for recreational divers.

People have always wanted to see what life is like underwater. SCUBA allows this, but sea scooters provide an opportunity to see and do more of this beautiful world. The functionality of sea scooters has come so far over the years with options for virtually any budget and certainly any level of dive experience.

With options available for people to enjoy without SCUBA experience, the sea scooter has definitely come to a point where everyone can enjoy life among the fish for a little while. 

Surf’s Up: Freedom in the Water

Riding Free

Water sports are always sure to bring fun and enjoyment for all. But if there’s one watercraft that can allow for the greatest of freedom, it’s the surfboard.

Speeding over the curl of that perfect, cresting wave with a mist of blue water on your face is an experience beyond compare, and the surfboard is the instrument that makes it all possible.

peeding over the curl of that perfect, cresting wave with a mist of blue water on your face is an experience beyond compare, and the surfboard is the instrument that makes it all possible.

Like many sports, surfing can be practiced at virtually any age, but in order to excel, the water demands relentless discipline and athleticism. And it’s not without its share of danger. Ask any surfer, and they will say the risk is well worth the reward. This is a code shared among thrillseekers. Central to success is the surfboard itself, and it has quite a tale to tell. 

Surfboard Story

The surfboard is as an open vessel used for play and for sport on the ocean’s ever-changing current. But the roots of the craft have origins dating all the way back to Peruvian ancients, circa 3,000 BC. These early surf crafts were unearthed by archaeological digs in South America, proving that the prototypical surfboards were employed primarily as transportation modes across bodies of water. Civilizations past made use of the native totora reed (or Californian Bullrush) as the raw materials for their inventive floating devices. Imagine the thrill of that first successful float, heralding the expanse of possibilities for travel and trade. In early use, fishermen were likely to have laid prone atop the vessel. At other times, they are thought to have floated in a kneeling position while making use of a long stick of bamboo as a paddling device through the waters.

Around 300 AD, Polynesian settlers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, and in tow came their rich he’e nalu culture. At this time, surfboards were quite large by today’s standards. They were essentially fashioned into solid, flat wood planks. Frequently used for fun, these early crafts also played a role in ceremony, training for rulers, and as a means to resolve disputes.

Over the next sixteen hundred years, the surfboard’s evolution reached profound advancements. In the early 20th century, surfing gained mass popularity following the annex of Hawaii by the U.S. government. This fostered an unprecedented growth in surfing culture, and it wouldn’t end there.

Tom Blake introduced the first hollow surfboard, rocking the scene in 1929. This design became the first mass-produced surfboard, and it was picked up by numerous companies. The development of plastics following WWII also changed the game on the open water. A streamlined, big-wave model was introduced to the market in 1950 by George Downing.

The year 1970 saw the advent of Lightning Bolt, whose refined surfboard included none other than a lightning bolt image on deck. This proved to be a stellar business move for the company, as everybody wants to surf in style. In the 90’s, the longboard experienced life anew as lighter, three-finned surfboards became available. 

Shortly after the world entered the 21st century, surfing manufacturers got “on board” with the growing green movement. Using revolutionized bio-friendly materials, these surfboards proved to be a hit among environmentally-savvy surfers. With their playground located within the majesty of the ocean, it’s only natural that surfers embrace this trend.

Daring to Dream

The surfboard’s evolution has allowed for greater and greater advancements in the sport. From humble beginnings as a simple raft to a vehicle for demonstrating incredible athleticism, one thing remains constant: rider, board, and ocean must merge into one. Surfing invites not only an appreciation and awe for the ocean, but for the technological beauty of the surfboard itself. 

Skipjack: The Best Boat for Oyster Dredging

There’s nothing like fresh-caught seafood, and oysters are no exception. 

Skipjacks are Chesapeake Bay sailboats used for oyster dredging, or collecting oysters from along the ocean floor in a basket. Learn more about them so you can spot them in action the next time you go to the coast.

What Is a Skipjack?

Skipjacks are sailboats with a single sail mast. The boom is usually as long as the ship deck itself, and the large surface area of the sails are designed to work with the light winds of the area. It has a wooden hull with a small cabin, and the entire ship is only forty or fifty feet long.. The design mirrors sharpies from Long Island Sound. Because these ships are built entirely for the purpose of dredging, they have rollers and bumpers mounted on both sides to control the equipment. This boat design took advantage of the increasing availability of wood planks, which made them cheaper to build and easier to repair.  

The one thing you won’t find on a skipjack is much in the way of motorized power. Maryland used to completely ban the use of powered vehicles for collecting oysters. So the boats only have a motor for the windlass, which hoists buckets and anchors.

The History of Oyster Dredging Along the East Coast

From 1820 through 1865, Maryland banned the practice of dredging for oysters. Once the law was changed in 1865, however, Maryland still forbade the use of steam-powered vehicles. So shipbuilders had to be creative. They started with the bugeye, a log-based canoe that was too small, and then the brogan. 

But their log-based construction used up a lot of valuable wood at a time when supply was scarce, so builders modified sharpies into cheaper, easier alternatives to bugeyes toward the end of the nineteenth century. The laws were changed again in 1965 to allow for limited motorboat use. That decreased the demand for skipjacks, and the last one was built in 1993. Less than thirty skipjacks remain actively fishing today out of the approximately 2,000 boats ever created for Chesapeake Bay oyster dredging. The deadrise was another late nineteenth oyster dredging boat in the area, though deadrises were also used for crabbing.

Oysters from the Chesapeake Bay area peaked in 1884, and the popularity of dredging in skipjacks has dropped ever since. However, the Chesapeake Bay area is constantly trying to restore the deplenished oyster beds, so skipjacks might be making a comeback.

Traditional oyster dredgers could be in the bay for weeks at a time, collecting oysters for delivery to the ports or local restaurants. 

Some Fun Trivia About Skipjacks

  • Skipjacks are the Maryland state boat. Maryland named the famous working boat their official state boat in 1985.
  • No one is quite sure where the name came from. It might come from an old English word for a servant, or it might come from a colloquial name for flying fish in New England. But two places it didn’t come from are skipjack tuna and skipjack shad, two other kinds of fish. ‘Skipjack’ is just too popular and divergent a name for historians to track it down.
  • The Chesapeake Bay has a long oyster history. People may have been gathering oysters in the area for more than 6,000 years. Skipjacks became popular during the tail end of gathering this popular treat.
  • People are planting oysters. The Oyster Recovery Partnership in Maryland is trying to keep a healthy oyster population in place. They’ve planted 8 billion back in the bay to counteract overdredging. 

While skipjacks may not be as active as they used to be, Maryland preservationists maintain the remaining boats in the Chesapeake Bay fleet. You also might see them dredging on days when motorboats aren’t allowed or during celebrations.