I was excited and apprehensive about smoking the Tortuga. Its such a nice pipe I almost didn’t want to “spoil” it! But a pipe is for smoking so I put thoughts of scorching the rim and burning the bowl to one side and unpacked the tobacco I ordered from Black Swan to break this pipe in.
I would be using a 50/50 blend of Gawith Hoggarths Kendal Black Cavendish and McConnell Oriental Turkish Blend. These are classed as blending tobacco’s, but can be enjoyed on their own, particularly the slow burning Black Cavendish. The Turkish burns hotter and quicker so combining the two should make for a long lasting pleasurable smoke. Both arrived in what I would call perfect smoking condition, in as much as there was no need to air dry either before blending.
Of course we all have our own ideas about breaking in pipes – my thinking was the additional moisture and sugar content in the Black Cavendish would be gently squeezed out by the faster burning Turkish. Basically, layering up oils, tar and ash to form an even cake on the bare briar walls. Cake helps with flavour and also protects the wood from burn holes which can happen because of imperfections in the chamber or bad packing practice whereby hot spots are produced in the chamber.
I’ve always been a fan of cake. Some pipe smokers aren’t and regularly ream their bowls clean. There is no right or wrong way – its a personal thing – whatever suits you is right.
If you are an “enthusiastic” puffer or regularly smoke outside it makes sense to build and maintain a mil or two of cake insulation.
Its often said to use a thin coat of honey on bare wood to help speed up the process, but I’ve personally never done so. Saliva and ash is the only thing I use!
Half bowls to start with too. Heel cake (right down there in the bowl where the draft hole meets the bottom), is important early on. This requires smoking the tobacco right down to the base. Smoking slowly and thoughtfully to avoid the dreaded tongue bite.
This would also be the first time I had used a filtered pipe. I was looking forward to that. Distant memories reminded me of nasty liquids making their way up the mouthpiece and gurgling. The Savinelli balsa wood filter system was designed to overcome this type of thing. The unique triangular shape allows air to pass through the bore while absorbing moisture and a fair degree of nicotine too. The result: clean, dry flavour. They simply push in and pull out – nothing complex. The pipe comes fitted with one as standard so you can test it straight out of the box.
The time had come. I carefully packed the bowl, a little more than half way to accommodate tobacco expansion on first match light. Tamping down the initial toasting, I relit and tamped to get a firm ash (so it resembles the end of a lit cigar). For a brand new, never before smoked pipe, this was a revelation. Cool, dry and satisfying. I was truly surprised at just how good this was – the pipe and tobacco combination was heavenly, mild and flavourful without being overpowering – just what I wanted.
The 6mm filters do a very good job of soaking up moisture even with a fairly impatient smoking style. I tried not to rush the initial bowl and sat the pipe down for rest periods. 40 minutes or so later the chamber was finished. With a match stick I carefully rotated the ashes and tipped them into a waiting ashtray.
What a result!
It took two or three half bowls to completely line the bottom of the bowl with starter cake. A method I use to help absorb excess bowl moisture (mainly in the chamber well) is to save the fine white ash from the ashtray and return it to the chamber, rotating the pipe by hand to actively line it before knocking out and blowing through to finish the process.
Savinelli recommends changing the filters every 3-4 smokes and I tend to agree. Any longer and the balsa becomes saturated to a point where it cannot absorb any more moisture/impurities and the pipe will gurgle and taste a bit off. Of course filters are optional if you prefer it without, that’ll work. I read somewhere (probably a pipe forum) that its best to remove the filters and dry them between smokes. I tried that, but not noticed any difference to be honest.
I’m not really a one for significant rest periods between smokes. A couple of bowls a day with good chamber maintenance (my ashes regimen) and regular pipe cleaning is working well for me. I put this down to the dry smoking filter system. I’m pretty sure if the pipe got soggy from over smoking it’d need a day of two to calm down, but right now its absolutely fine.
Two weeks on and a well developed cake later (courtesy of some sweet aromatics), I’m very pleased with the Savinelli Tortuga 305. Over the winter months I’ll smoke this little beauty indoors, but come spring, it’ll get a proper airing outside (and in the shed). That’s when the ash cap will come in handy. Pop the lid on, into the pocket with no fear of ashes and tobacco debris falling out.
This has been a great purchase. Hmmm… I think my next pipe might just be another Savinelli… the #920 is one I have my eye on right now! Having said that the Peterson 306/11FB sitter is right up there too… oh, decisions, decisions!