Coral Tortoise --- Lingard's Neo-"nutshell" Dinghy

~ A tender for the mind, an imagined sailing dinghy

Shell Mound, low tide In the second week of March 2011, the mornings' low tides at the Shell Mound near Cedar Key showed oyster bar after bar to the southern horizon. The Mound is on a tip of lowland in the fertile saltmarsh facing southwest to the Gulf. One morning the shallows brought me back to Captain Tom Lingard's sailing dinghy, vital to Joseph Conrad's story, The Rescue, A Romance of the Shallows.

The dinghy was aboard Lingard's "brig," which roamed the Malay Archipelago. He was as comfortable at the tiller of the lugsail dinghy as at the wheel of his tall-sparred, black brigantine (the love of his life).

Conrad wrote of Lingard's dinghy, "...she was in shape somewhat like half a nutshell...loaded with Lingard's heavy frame she would climb sturdily the steep ridges, slide squatting into the hollows of the sea, or, now and then, take a sedate leap over a short wave. Her behaviour had a stout trustworthiness about it, and she reminded one of a surefooted mountain-pony carrying over difficult ground a rider much bigger than himself."

It's such an appealing vision, one can almost see the dinghy on a Kodachrome day, gurgling staunchly along.

Sometimes I want Conrad's surefooted, little horse instead of a frisky, winged mountain goat of a sailing canoe. While I love sailing canoes, now and again I want to sprawl athwartship, or stand up and gawk. If the ease of shoreside handling of a fine, solo canoe could be combined with a stable, stand-up dinghy that could carry two... .

Picture a very light, but plump dinghy's midship gun'l on your shoulder, oars and rig gathered in your other arm while you stroll to the water, maybe through muck and over oysters, across sand, or out a dock.

Grin sailing dinghy The third week in March, a week after the low tide mornings, Lingard's dinghy was still stuck in my mind. One night under the blazing moon, old eight foot Grin glowed at me in an uncannily fleshly way. She flaunted her full and burdensome form, still as comely, functional and Rubenesque as ever.

There's the shape for the Neo-nutshell! Not exactly her shape, like using her for a plug for a mold, or as a mold for a stripper, but more the notion of her shape.

Writing some of this in our twenty foot trailer jostled by heavy gusts of dark, spring squalls, rain thrashing straight through under the concrete platform, the Kodachrome day's hues drained to grays.

For me, those squalls were like Conrad's, "...weeping sky of lamentable greyness," which Lingard watched from under his dinghy on a sandbar, while waiting out two days' "freshening sea-breeze" --- after he'd carried her there on his head.

I can imagine being tucked under a wide hull like Grin's, gun'l in the sand against it, and, in her lee, a few sand gnats out for blood between sand blasts and sideways rain. At less than fifty pounds --- in the range of modern sailing canoes --- she'd need to be secured against gusts.

Grin sailing dinghy A foam and carbon hull could be less than forty pounds. Since Grin is so full bodied, a smaller boat would be okay, too --- but I'd add an inch or two of freeboard and build her chined shape inside Grin, using her as a basket mold. She could be three millimeter ply with light glass, carbon, and/or kevlar. Or, as Geoff Chick reminded me, she could be skin-on-frame, like George Dyson's baidarkas and their thick, nylon 'rhino' hide skins on 6061 aluminum tube frames --- probably under thirty pounds.

The lateral plane question pops into my mind at odd times, shoving aside K's treatments and consequences, my ninety year old dad's problems, health insurance, money, all of it. Grin has a daggerboard (deplorable) and a skeg. Between them she sails 'like a witch' --- sublimely. A centerboard, leeboards, or pivoting bilge boards could work, too, but we want it simple and light. The powerful hull could pound to weather, but she'll necessarily be less weatherly than a lofty luffed, deep foiled version. But after that lost two or three degrees of weatherliness, she'd fly. I envision a balance lug rig with feather-light spars, and maybe a small, crafty, pivoting forward board. And a full, clean skeg.

Grin sailing dinghy Coral Tortoise? While I wrote this a coral snake visited three days before expiring peacefully, just as colorful in its stillness. And an energetic and speedy male box turtle showed up, too, with a gorgeously marked shell and bright yellow patterned head and forelegs.

Is Coral Tortoise just a salty brain snack, gulped with grape juice in tough times? Will I have time to build her? Or use her if I did? I wish I knew.


Back to top
Back to main page