AUTHOR DISCLOSURE: I have never lived on a boat. I have never spent more than the 12 or so minutes it took me to get sick to my stomach, on a boat. I know nothing about boats other than I once got on one and was sick within 12-minutes.
Boats are fascinating when it comes to their combination of transportation, domesticity, and labor force. Folks have gravitated to the water for all of history using it for transport, trade, and sport. It is only natural then for us to want to make things that float. A basic raft (a la Tom Sawyer) can be constructed of logs or bundles of reeds tied together. Hollow trunks can be crafted into dugout canoes. In fact, once we, as humans, understood the principle of watertight hulls, we experimented with animal hides and tree bark to attach to a bamboo frame creating a simple, straightforward coracle 1.
If one adds planks to raise the edges of the dugout, and uses wooden struts to secure them in place, the early boatbuilder is well on his way to crafting the only design of wooden boat capable of being built on a large scale. This design then incorporates a keel to which a ribbed frame is added. As the walls continue upward a cargo area is formed and a passenger vessel begins.
It wasn’t until the 5th century onwards that boats turned to ships and ships turned from machines of war to a simple form of transport. The boat has become known in modern times as a Viking longship. By the 11th century the vessels had become more strategic and more elaborate measuring up to 80 feet long, built from oak planks, boasting two high pointed ends, encompassing holes for sixteen oars along each side, and featuring a broad oar that was worked as a rudder by the helmsman. To add to the modernized longship a mast was fashioned near the center on which a long, rectangular sail was hung. What is interesting though is that five boats discovered in the Roskilde Fjord, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, all had similar shapes but also had a double-ended convention in order to support an inclusion of long-range archers (men with bow and arrow). One of the five boats though was built more elaborately and robust than the others including having higher sides and a central hold. These early boats may be examples of of Viking ships that “soldiers”, along with their families and livestock, took on their expeditions to Iceland, Greenland, and perhaps North America.
Do you see where we’re going with this?
As the 15th century set upon us there are rapid developments in nautical life. A second mast is added to sailing vessels and eventually a third mast. By the mid-1400s regular vessel sizes were near 120 feet long and 50 feet wide. The largest European sailing ship (and remember there was nothing tiny in the United States as of yet because Columbus had not even sailed the ocean blue!) of the 15th century is the Spanish carrack which at 1,000 tons becomes the standard vessel of Atlantic trade and adventure into the mid-16th century. Those would soon be trumped though by the oft-ostentatious and gilded merchant ships which needed to be roomy for cargo and strong, presumably to fend off pirates, and comfortable, for the captains and the VIP passengers working hard to secure fortunes in the East. And so it is here that we come to find people living aboard ship. For all intensive and historical purposes the sailing vessel has now turned into a floating living space out of necessity and by design!
Part 1 of 3 on the legacy of boats to the tiny house world. Stay tuned!