Yarrr... I don't know what it is
April 19, 2006 4:23 AM   Subscribe

What is this rusty nautical item? (image in the more inside)

I was in Galway with my girlfriend this weekend, and down at the waterfront we saw this thing:

Unknown rusty artifact

What is it? Some ideas we had were that it was a trap of some sort, or an anchor, but neither seemed particularly likely.
posted by antifuse to Grab Bag (63 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think that'a a turned over currach -- a traditional irish boat.
posted by bim at 5:01 AM on April 19, 2006

Hmm, good question. My first guess would be maybe an anchor point for a boat? It looks almost like it would swivel. Was the chain to keep it from being stolen, or to attach other things to?

A currach is also possible, but man, what a messed up boat design that is. :)
posted by Malor at 5:18 AM on April 19, 2006

A metal currach? (I'm assuming "rusty" is used literally).
posted by Leon at 5:22 AM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: Ahh, perhaps some more details are in order - it is, indeed, rusty and made of metal of some sort. If it's a currach, it's a dang small one, as this thing was *maybe* 4 feet long. The chain appears to be what was originally used to attach this thing to whatever it would have been attached to - since we were down at the pier, I assumed it was something that would have been originally attached to a boat, hence my thoughts that it might be an anchor of some sort.
posted by antifuse at 5:39 AM on April 19, 2006

What's the base made of? Did it appear to be a monument or an abandoned piece of junk? Was it fixed to the base, or free-standing? What was the immediate area like - dock, seashore, promenade? I don't have a clue, but maybe even more details would help.

Long shot - Google Earth? Maybe it's been tagged.
posted by Leon at 5:48 AM on April 19, 2006

It looks like a large metal buoy of some sort? Maybe with the bottom section taken off so it would sit on that plinth?
posted by fire&wings at 5:57 AM on April 19, 2006

Am I seeing things, or does it appear to have 3 wheels on the bottom? Perhaps it's an early, experimental submersible vehicle that was designed to be dragged along the sea floor? John Philip Holland, credited by some with inventing the submarine, was born in neighboring County Clare.
posted by syzygy at 6:03 AM on April 19, 2006

The neck looks too asymmetrical to me for it to be a buoy with part chopped off. Note how it flattens towards the 'truncated' side.

I don't think it could be any kind of experimental sub - it's just too small. But those do look like wheels to me. There's another shot closer in on the neck in the flickr album which also shows a wheel.
posted by edd at 6:10 AM on April 19, 2006

I don't think it would be an anchor.... the strips of metal are pretty intricate, and I can't imagine why they'd bother making an anchor like that.

Whatever it is, it has to have some fairly sophisticated function... otherwise there'd be no reason to use all those strips. With the strips and the ribbing, it's obviously designed to take up some space, to be hollow, and to have some strength.

Maybe it's a lobster trap? I thought those were made of wood, though. Hmm.
posted by Malor at 6:16 AM on April 19, 2006

Could it be an old method for dry-docking a boat? Push 4 of those things down into the water at low tide, wait for high tide and have a boat float in and sink into them as the tide goes out, and then pull all four up along with the boat.

Seems like there would be an easier way to do this but before personal vehicles maybe this was the way?
posted by jwells at 6:23 AM on April 19, 2006

I was also thinking perhaps a lobster trap, but you'd think they'd make it less solid - it'd be a mesh with holes too small for lobsters to get through. Otherwise you're hauling up and lugging around a lot of extra weight.
posted by edd at 6:23 AM on April 19, 2006

I think it's a replica of a currach for the touristas. Thus, metal is OK and prevents vandalism. As for the wheels, you remember the Trojan horse, don't you? Well...beware of the Irish bearing gifts! :>
posted by bim at 6:28 AM on April 19, 2006

Oh that's a good idea, jwells...but I think they'd need some kind of attachment to be sure they didn't slip sideways. Otherwise, they'd just slide to one side as the boat settled, and it would end up in the mud. I'm not really seeing the wheels that everyone else seems to... are they big enough to not get stuck?

antifuse, you didn't happen to take any pictures of the other side?
posted by Malor at 6:30 AM on April 19, 2006

Where exactly in Galway? Maybe we can find a reference to it.
posted by bim at 6:30 AM on April 19, 2006

Sculpture of some kind? Seems like a nautical type of artwork inspired by any of the above.

Sea Anchor? I've heard the term, but have never actually seen one.
posted by Gungho at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: I never noticed the wheelie bit to it. Unfortunately, I only took the two pictures (I just thought it was neat looking, whatever it was, but upon looking back at the pictures my curiosity was piqued). It appears to be mounted, monument/sculpture-like, on the plinth, so it could very well be a scale model of something.

It was in the Claddagh Quay area of Galway. Basically, right smack in the dead centre of this Google Map.
posted by antifuse at 6:49 AM on April 19, 2006

Malor, I meant two on each side so the boat would get wedged between them :-)

The wheels are barely visible below it, but most easily seen on the bottom here.
posted by jwells at 6:50 AM on April 19, 2006

From a different photographer, an alternate view with wheels more prominent.
posted by Danelope at 6:51 AM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and since I lacked preview... I thought it might be an old sea anchor as well, having heard the term but never seen one, but all the ones I've seen appear to be more like water parachutes.
posted by antifuse at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2006

...appear to be more like water parachutes.
Interesting...I was wondering if it was some sort of contraption meant to act as a sort of brake for sailing ships? Push it overboard and it holds water in the same way a parachute fills with air, effectively slowing the boat.
And, yes, I am pulling this straight outta my ass.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:57 AM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: And for those of you really curious about where, exactly, it is, I've created a Google Earth Placemark file for the location. :)
posted by antifuse at 7:08 AM on April 19, 2006

jwell: I don't think that would work without an attachment point...boats are pretty heavy, especially when the bilge is still full of water, and the boat would probably just push the carriers to the side if they weren't attached to one another to prevent it.

Danelope's alternate view picture is interesting. See the slot up on top? That looks like it's meant to carry something... but it's way too shallow for a boat keel. Hmm.

Thorzdad: they do that with sails, basically... attach some ropes and toss it overboard. Voila! A sea anchor. They're used to keep the ship pointed into the wind in very high storms. But sea anchors float, they don't sink. If they sank, the boat would face away from the wind, and would be torn apart.
posted by Malor at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2006

IANAS, but I think "water parachute" is a good description of a sea anchor. The device is used where the sea bottom is too deep for a regular anchor to reach, and the wind is blowing hard enough in a direction the crew doesn't want to go. The sea anchor slows the ship's drifting with the wind. I assume it's used when they can't use power (or sails) to stop the drift.

the object in question wouldn't make a very good sea anchor, IMO.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2006

Or what Malor said.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:26 AM on April 19, 2006

Good point Malor. It seems even less likely with Danelope's photo as it is a trike. It also looks like there is a sculpture behind it so I'm wondering if it is art. The photog called it a "rusty boar" - is that due to it's likeness to a boar or is boar another name for something nautical?

I emailed these folks with this thread to see if they might know.
posted by jwells at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2006

Ok, I did some more digging. The picture that Danelope links to is called "rusty, lost boar". After doing some digging, I think that device might be a very early "canal boar".

A canal boar is used to move barges from one canal to another. The boat is floated onto the boar (probably several of them), and then the boar is pulled out of the water. This lets the barge switch canals. Galway is, apparently, full of canals, so this would make quite a bit of sense.

So, ultimately, if this was indeed the explanation, I think jwell was first to figure it out.

I haven't found any good pictures, but I'll keep looking.
posted by Malor at 7:41 AM on April 19, 2006

Having seen Danelope's alternative image... I'm imagining something being pulled down to the water's edge, maybe by horse. A transporter for nets? Any sandeel fishing around there? That box could contain [something] which needs to be transported to the water's edge occasionally.

(I find it hard to believe it's for getting a boat out of the water - for that you need a cradle of some kind to spread the load. That thing looks like it would push straight through a hull).
posted by Leon at 7:46 AM on April 19, 2006

Still nothing on Google... the couple of pictures I've found are of much more modern design, nothing at all like that little guy. Maybe the harbour folks will know more.

I think that one is made out of metal so that it will sink. I suspect they probably used four to six per barge, and put them on track underwater. They'd use the chain to attach either to the boar in front, or to the horse team. The barges would have had some kind of metal rail along the bottom that fit into the slot on top. So they would have pulled the front boars out of the water just a little, get a good bite of the rail in the slot, and then pull steadily with the horses. It would have lifted the whole barge fairly smoothly up out of the water.

This is TOTAL guesswork, by the way. I don't know that ANY of this is true. But it seems plausible.
posted by Malor at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2006

Leon: barges are flat. If they had metal rails along the bottom on either side, it wouldn't make much difference in the water, but would let them be lifted by a team of these boars.

That would also explain the complex design; they need to be heavy enough to sink, light enough that horses can move them, but still strong enough to hold up a lot of weight.
posted by Malor at 7:53 AM on April 19, 2006

Malor: Ok, I'm sold. I'd still like to know what's in the box, though.
posted by Leon at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2006

Why would they be that shape? Surely it would be more practical for it to be a flat platform? I do think it is used to take something in or out of the water. The fact that it shaped like an upside down bulbous boat maybe supports this.

Another thought - it could be used in the production of (weird) boats, a frame for shaping and bending wood?
posted by fire&wings at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2006

Wouldn't the shape be helpfully aquadynamic when you are pulling it out of the water with the barge balanced on it and its bretheren? That might explain the shape, I suppose.

By the way this is a truly excellent AskMe.
posted by The Bellman at 7:59 AM on April 19, 2006

Well, it's a fairly streamlined design, so that they wouldn't add too much drag in the water. Moving a flat block underwater is hard, and moving six would add a substantial load above and beyond the weight of the barge. The later. motorized canal boars are pretty boxy, but if this was an early, horse-pulled one, they'd have needed to make them as streamlined as possible.

I don't think it would work as a frame... if you look at Danelope's image, there's that ridge along the top, which would make it hard to wrap wood around it. I suppose the front might work, but then what's the big bulbous area for?

I am completely clueless about the box. The padlock on it is new... maybe it's just used for cleaning supplies?
posted by Malor at 8:09 AM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: Man... some fantastic ideas flying around in here. I hadn't even thought of emailing the Harbour company, who *must* know what it is.
posted by antifuse at 8:15 AM on April 19, 2006

Do you have any more pictures from different angles or with more size perspective?

My guess is it is a device used in ship building to shape wood by lowering it into the sea until it holds the shape of the frame, but that's just my guess.

Another guess is that it is a counterweight released to roll down into the water when a ship is moved out of dry dock. The shape would slip through the water more quickly as it rolled down a track into the water. Again, a guess.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:18 AM on April 19, 2006

posted by Raybun at 8:23 AM on April 19, 2006

Could it be for dredging channels? Weight would be an advantage in that so the iron construction would make sense
posted by phearlez at 9:07 AM on April 19, 2006

I'm going to second a vote for a dredge bucket. Perhaps those aren't wheels on the bottom, but pulleys on the top for hauling the dredge back in? Maybe its an iron oyster dredge; Galway does have a yearly oyster festival...
posted by valkyrie at 12:24 PM on April 19, 2006

A dredge seems to fit the bill. The iron strips would allow water to drain, but keep mud in. The wheels could be simply for rolling it around while on deck.

There is also lots of interesting hits when googling Galway and dredge or Gaillimh and dredge.

I can't believe I've been obsessing about what this thing was all day long.
posted by JigSawMan at 12:39 PM on April 19, 2006

You aren't alone jigsaw!

You are right, phearlez and valkyrie! Looks like it could be some sort of clamshell dredge bucket!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:11 PM on April 19, 2006

The Bellman writes "Wouldn't the shape be helpfully aquadynamic when you are pulling it out of the water with the barge balanced on it and its bretheren? That might explain the shape, I suppose."

The trouble making something like this, out of steel, compared to say a braced tripod would have to make that advantage huge. Riggers like nice straight lines for bracing because compression doesn't buckle a straight member.
posted by Mitheral at 1:54 PM on April 19, 2006

I'm 90% sure that is an oyster dredge.
posted by fshgrl at 7:41 PM on April 19, 2006

I'm leaning towards a dredge too. But I'll be damned if I can find anything definitive about that display in the Claddagh. It's been driving me nuts all days.

Excellent post, antifuse. :)
posted by bim at 7:55 PM on April 19, 2006

Response by poster: Hrmm... I'm not sure what I think of the Oyster dredge - if it was, wouldn't you want it to be symmetrical? And why have the chain attachment at one end?

But I'm glad this has fascinated so many people... Hopefully we can figure out what it is! :)
posted by antifuse at 1:04 AM on April 20, 2006

Anyone ever figure out what this was?
posted by Malor at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2006

Response by poster: I posted it on my blog, and also to the Galway Flickr Group, and nobody seems to have any idea... You'd think SOMEBODY must know!
posted by antifuse at 2:49 AM on April 26, 2006

Well, I'll keep checking back. I'm very curious!
posted by Malor at 6:12 PM on April 27, 2006

Still checking. :)
posted by Malor at 3:11 PM on May 3, 2006

Still checking!
posted by Malor at 3:24 PM on May 14, 2006

It's going to be very frustrating if I die without ever knowing what that was. :-)
posted by Malor at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2006

I'm still curious as well, thanks for the updates.
posted by JigSawMan at 11:13 AM on May 31, 2006

I continue to check every once in awhile. I think the thread will close soon, though. :(
posted by Malor at 6:05 AM on June 23, 2006

Still out here, for a bit longer...
posted by Malor at 10:53 AM on July 6, 2006

I think this will close in another week or so... but I'm still watching!
posted by Malor at 9:04 AM on July 12, 2006

Still out here!
posted by Malor at 5:22 AM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Sadly, still no luck! Grrr!
posted by antifuse at 3:12 AM on August 18, 2006

Wow, thread's still open. Maybe if I poke my nose in once a month or so.... you never tried calling those folks upthread?
posted by Malor at 1:05 AM on September 6, 2006

It has been just ages, but I'm still interested in finding out what that dumb thing is. :)
posted by Malor at 10:10 AM on October 21, 2006

I continue to lurk. :)
posted by Malor at 7:37 PM on November 27, 2006

Hmm, wonder if this thread will stay open a year? :)
posted by Malor at 3:51 AM on December 30, 2006

Wow, this thread turns 1 year old in less than a week, and I'm still upset that I don't know what thing is.
posted by Malor at 10:11 PM on April 1, 2007

what that thing is. sigh.
posted by Malor at 10:12 PM on April 1, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, I can't believe this is almost a year old! And sadly, I still have no idea what the hell it is.
posted by antifuse at 8:47 AM on April 5, 2007

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