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    In this post we look at the remainder of Buckminster Fuller's model boat collection that was recently donated to Penobscot Marine Museum. See our previous post for the first half of the collection.

    Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Chinese junk. Lightweight wood, possibly bamboo. This model has enough detail so that it might be possible to associate it with a specific type, even though some of the features are overly simplified (e.g., the capstan) and others appear to be out of scale. The rigging and the house, however, have received a good amount of care and seem to reflect accurate observation of a real vessel type. The masthead devices, if accurate, may help in identification. 

    Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
    With the hull's extreme tumblehome, the vessel is clearly a bulk carrier, and the scale of the house indicates it's a fairly large one. I believe the deck planks, laid athwartships, would lift off on the real ship to facilitate loading and unloading. Three heavy wales at the waterline strengthen the hull and serve as fenders. The three-masted, fully-battened balanced lug rig is supplemented by one long sweep on each side, which I believe makes this a vessel intended for river/inland use.

    Deckhouse detail of Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Deck beams extend through the sides of the house. Housetops are made of woven material, probably meant to represent bamboo or palm leaf matting.

    Stern detail of Deckhouse detail of model Chinese junk for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Details of mizzenmast, deckhouse, transom and the large balanced rudder of complex construction. 

    Foremast device on Chinese junk model
    Masthead device on foremast

    Mainmast device on Chinese junk model
    Masthead device on mainmast (mizzen is similar).

    Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff
    Although there are many differences between the present model and this image of a Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff (not the least being the single mast of the Ma-Yang-Tzu versus the three-masted rig on the model), there are a number of similarities that indicate a possible relationship, including: heavy round cross-beams at deck level; sweeps on both sides; the capstan well aft of the bow; a barrel-backed deckhouse with a raised barrel-back coachroof; a tall athwartship "horse" (located over the deckhouse, forward of the coachroof on this vessel); red-topped pins sticking up from the transom; and a balanced rudder with an acute angle at its lower aft corner.
    The Ma-Yang-Tzu is a river vessel, and the heavy cross-beams reinforce it and provide points of attachment for the tow line for upstream travel. The pins on the transom are for storing spare towlines.

    Model Chinese seagoing junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Chinese seagoing junk. With its deep rocker and high gunwales, this model represents a seagoing junk. Much of the rigging is in disarray but otherwise the model is in good condition. Although some details are out of proportion (for example, the weight of the sail battens and of the rail around the aft deck), there may be enough accurate observation here to facilitate identification with a real ship type.  The color scheme on the sides, the design on the transom, the colorful pole-mounted device on the aft deck, and the shape of the oculus are especially promising in this regard.
    The vessel is a three-masted rig with fully battened lugsails that have a distinctly ovoid shape. The foremast has a forward lean; the mainmast is approximately vertical; and the mizzenmast rakes aft. 

    Stern detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
    Stern details, including painted transom design, unbalanced rudder, and heavy wales at the waterline.  

    Deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
    There is a capstan aft of the foremast and a tall windlass at the aft end of the main deck, probably used for raising sails. Two tall “horses,” (please advise concerning the correct term in the Comments) one each aft of fore and main masts, appear to be tying-off points for running rigging. There are deck hatches fore and aft of the mainmast. 

    After deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
    "Horse" aft of mainmast;, windlass; crossbeams beneath the aft deck extend through the sides of the hull. Is the pole-mounted device on the aft deck a lantern or a symbol identifying the vessel's port of call or purpose? 

    Model of small Chinese junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Small junk, China. This model, somewhat less detailed than the previous one, represents a smaller, simpler vessel. It has a single deck with lower gunwales and what might be termed a schooner junk rig, with two masts, the forward one shorter and raked sharply forward. The mainmast has a slight forward rake. Both masts are set with fully battened lugsails. The foresail has a straight, vertical luff and a moderate amount of roach to the leech. I believe the mainsail is similar. As on the previous model, the rigging is in disarray.
    There is a capstan just aft of the foremast, and a windlass just aft of that. Also as on the previous model, there are deck hatches immediately forward and aft of the mainmast.

    Bow detail of model of small Chinese junk
    Bow detail. The bow transom is painted red. Atop it is a heavy beam tying the gunwales together and extending beyond them: perhaps fishing nets would be drawn over it?

    Deck structures on model of small Chinese junk
    One bow-backed deck shelter is covered with fabric, and a framework is present for a second shelter to be erected should the need arise. This makes me think this vessel is occupied by a family who would use it for small-scale commercial fishing and/or trading.

    Stern details on model of small Chinese junk
    The rudder is unbalanced; the tiller is missing from the top of the rudder post. A crossbeam at the top of the stern transom is smaller in diameter than the one at the bow and does not extend beyond the vessel's sides.
    I do not know the purpose of the horizontal beams on both sides of the vessel extending past the stern transom on this and the previous junk and on the raft that follows. They don't appear to serve as davits. If you know their purpose, please explain in the Comments. 

    Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Bamboo Raft, Taiwan. This very touristy model, essentially a nicknack, was built of shell or horn and represents a seagoing bamboo raft of a type once used for fishing. It is believed that Micronesia was settled by people using vessels like this prior to the development of the outrigger canoe.

    Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Heavy crossbeams at the bow and stern are etched with zigzag patterns to represent lashings to the craft’s main longitudinal members, which would have been bamboo stalks. The mast rests on a heavy step that serves as another crossbeam amidships. On the foredeck is a representation of a basket of elaborate shape, probably for keeping the day’s catch. The item on the aft deck might represent a basket-built dinghy, a deckhouse, or possibly a net. Oars are tied to tholepins on both gunwale rails. Whether they are for propulsion or steering is unclear.

    Sail detail on Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft
    A fully battened balanced Chinese lugsail is represented, but the model is entirely without rigging. The sail is inscribed “Taiwan” in English. Translations of the Chinese characters and explanations of the other symbols on the sail are welcomed in the Comments.

    Model Thai market boat at Penobscot Marine Museum
    Thai Market Boat. The model represents a Thai market boat of the type used in the famous Bangkok floating market. Market gardeners bring their produce to the market in these boats and sell directly from them. The model shows the construction of this boat type fairly accurately. It is a plank-built boat of sampan construction, with wide planks laid on deep frames. An important function of the frames is to support the tall washstrakes. Boats like this are often built of teak, and the model may be as well.
    Most photos of the Bangkok market show paddles being used for propulsion, but the model has a long oar or sweep that pivots on a waist-high post and that would be rowed in a standing, forward-facing position. Perhaps the oar is used for efficiency in open water, then removed in the close confines of the market, where a paddle then comes into play.
    A teak Thai market boat very much like this model was restored by the Small Open Boats shop in Port Republic, Maryland.

    Bow detail on model Thai market boat
    The long overhanging square bow allows for easy boarding and loading/unloading over the bow onto a wharf or other walkway, and the metal strips would protect it, especially if that walkway were of stone or concrete. Given the crowded conditions in the floating markets, over-the-bow loading a more efficient use of limited wharf space than tying up side-to.

    Floorboards, frames on model Thai market boat
    All the decks and floorboards of the model are loose and removable, notched to fit over the deep frames.

    Rudder, tiller on model Thai market boat
    The boat is steered by an underhung transom rudder of elegant shape. We speculate that when the oar is in use, the oarsman or -woman might operate the beautifully-curved tiller with one foot.

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    On a trip to Italy this month, we visited the Vatican Museums, eager to see masterpieces like the Laocoon group and the Apollo Belvedere. Upon entering, however, the first thing we saw was this plank-built canoe, an eye-catching introduction to an extensive temporary exhibit of boat models and paddles from around the world.

    Stern view of a Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
    Stern view of a Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    Bow of the Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
    Bow of the Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
    The Vatican's stated purpose for the exhibit is to represent of the diversity and interconnectedness of world cultures. The curators were far more interested in communicating that ecumenical message than in the details of the items on display, for we saw nothing to identify the boat or paddles on exhibit, and the models were accompanied by only scanty information. Nevertheless, we'll concentrate on the exhibit's sole full-size boat in this post, and move on to the paddles and models in subsequent posts.

    We believe the canoe is from the Solomon Islands. Haddon and Hornell (in Canoes of Oceania, Vol. 2) identify four types of plank-built monohull canoes in the Solomons. Those with continuous washstrakes like the one here were called mon and were characteristic of the central Solomons, including Bougainville, New Georgia, and Choiseul. 

    In contrast, canoes called lisi, with discontinuous washstrakes both fore and aft, were characteristic of the southern part of the chain (including Guadalcanal, Malaita and San Cristoval) and of the tiny island of Buka, at the chain's northernmost end. With the exception of its discontinuous washstrakes, the following image of a Buka canoe observed in 1753 by Labillardiere is very much like the canoe in the Vatican.

    Solomon Islands "lisi" canoe from Labillardiere (1800)
    "Buka Island Canoe (Solomon Islands)" from Labillardiere (1800), Atlas pour servir a la relation du voyage de la recherche de la Perouse.
    (Source: University of Cambridge)
    Frame and plank lashings, Solomon Islands canoe
    Bent (?) frames amidships, with decorative carving at the upper ends, are lashed to cleats on the planks' interior surface. Also in view is the seat riser.
    The exhibit canoe is built of long parallel planks with no keel. Each plank is gotten out with cleats left standing proud on its interior surface near the lower edges, one cleat per rib. These cleats are lashed to ribs with vegetable fiber and caulked with resin made from the "putty nut" (Parinarium laurinum).

    Carved frame/thwart units in a Solomon Islands canoe
    Carved frame/thwart units near the bow.
    Most of the ribs are roughly round in section and appear to be bent to shape, their top ends being carved with faces that are decorated with eyes of shell inlay. The two forward-most frames and accompanying thwarts are carved from single pieces of wood, and painted, carved decorative elements appear within that perimeter. Continuous thwart risers are lashed to the ribs and run nearly the whole length of the boat, supporting multiple seats for paddlers and passengers.

    Bow detail of Solomon Islands canoe
    Bow detail showing a carving of a horned beast (or demon?) at the waterline, extensive shell inlay, and cowry shells lashed to the forward surface of the stem well above the waterline.
    The most distinctive feature of the canoe is its tall, elaborately decorated prow and stern. The outboard surfaces of these features are inlaid with thousands of pieces of carved shell in circle and cross patterns, and the decks feature diamond-pattern shell inlays. A grotesque painted and carved animal head (a goat? a demon?) sits right at the waterline on the cutwater with its horns on either side of the stem. Cowry shells are lashed to the fronts of both the stem and sternpost high above the waterline. The stem is capped with a painted carving of two parrot-like birds facing one another over a bulb-topped post that might represent fruit on a tree. The sternpost also features a painted carving at the top of an obscure geometric design.

    Stem-head decoration of Solomon Islands canoe
    Carved stem-head decoration

    Canoes of the Solomon Islands by R.J.A.W. Lever.
    "Canoes of the Solomon Islands," from The Maori Canoe by Elsdon Best
    Canoes of Oceania, Vol. II: The Canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea, by A.C. Haddon and James Hornell

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    In a current temporary exhibit at the Vatican Museums, dozens of models of watercraft from numerous nations and cultures are presented to represent the diversity and interconnectedness of humanity. (See our previous post on this exhibit.) The models are displayed in glass cases (hence the poor quality of the photos that follow) with little explanatory material. 

    We present our photos with the scanty information from the exhibit cards in quotation marks, and our own brief observations in parentheses. We invite readers to contribute additional information about any boat in the Comments. Only models representing craft from "outside the Western tradition" are included here. More images of other models from the exhibit will follow in a subsequent post. As always, click any image to enlarge.
    "Japan: Sailing boat" (looks like it would be highly capable in surf)
    "Indonesia: Sailing boat with outrigger" -- (actually two outriggers. Although the rig is set as a square sail, it appears to be hung asymmetrically on the mast and can probably be canted to form a kind of lugsail.)
    "Philippines: Sailing boat with outrigger" -- (again, two outriggers. This is a banca, with a Western-style sailing rig.)
    "Sri Lanka: Boat with fisherman" (We wonder if the model attempts to represent any real type of boat, or if it is purely fanciful, its shape dictated by the material available to the modeler. What's surprising and touching about this model is the paddler, who is modeled with a great deal of humanity.)
    "India: Pirogue with rowers" (paddlers, actually)
    "China: Boat for recreation" (and by that, we mean eating, drinking and sex.)
    (background) "India: Pirogue with rowers" (again, paddlers in fact)
    "Thailand: Royal boat" (identical exhibit cards for both models)
    "China: Sea Junk" (The truncated bow and minimal rig are fascinating aspects of this model, which is certainly not meant to be an accurate representation.)
    "Southeast Asia: River boat" (a sampan)
    "China: Sea Junk with three masts"
    "China: River boat"
    "China: Dragon boat for racing"
    (Nationality not identified)
    Back row:
    Left: "Raft for fishing with cormorants"
    Center: "Houseboat with passenger and boatmen" (Error in labeling, as this open craft is clearly not a houseboat. The Italian label identifies it as a sampan with a passenger and a boatman)
    Right: (label illegible in photo)

    Front row: 
    Left: "Houseboat with coxswain"
    Center: "Houseboat with passenger and boatmen" (Error in labeling, as this open craft is clearly not a houseboat. The Italian label identifies it as a sampan with a passenger and a boatman)
    Right: "Houseboat with fisherman"
    "Samoa: Seven paddle canoe" (Noticeable similarities to a Samoan canoe in our post about Buckminster Fuller's model collection)

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    This is the final post about a current exhibit of boat models and canoe paddles at the Vatican Museums. Previous posts about this exhibit cover the other models representing boats from outside the Western tradition, and one full-size canoe from the Solomon Islands. As noted in the previous posts, exhibit signage was sparse. We reproduce the English text of the exhibit cards in quotation marks. Our own comments appear in parentheses. As always, click any image to enlarge.

    model: "Tahiti: Catamaran"
    "Tahiti: Catamaran" (The two hulls are essentially the same but with their ends reversed. The boat should perform the same in either direction when it shunts.)
    model Maori war canoe
    "Aotearoa New Zealand: Maori boat" (A monohull war canoe. See our earlier post on boats like this.)
    model 3-hull catamaran, New Guinea
    "Papua New Guinea: Three hull catamaran" (beautiful double crab-claw rig)
    model 3-hull catamaran, New Guinea
    (Same model as above, showing the hull configuration.)
    model New Guinea outrigger paddling canoe
    "Papua New Guinea: Boat with outrigger" (The main hull is a dugout with high washstrakes stitched in place)
    model Solomon Islands monohull canoe
    "Solomon (Islands): Canoe with bird shaped bow" (Somewhat similar to the full-size canoe that serves as the exhibit's centerpiece.)
    "Fiji: Sailing boat" (Twin-hull canoe with oceanic lateen sail)
    "Fiji: Sailing boat" (Twin-hull canoe with oceanic lateen sail)
    "Fiji: Sailing boat" (Twin-hull canoe with oceanic lateen sail)
    (Same model as previous. The port hull is much smaller and shorter than the starboard, but it is nonetheless a true hull, not an outrigger float.)
    model Alakaluf Canoe, Chile
    "Chile; Alakaluf Canoe" (This looks much like the Yamana/Yaghan canoe we've written about previously.)
    model kayak-form canoe
    "Alaska: Canoe" (Adney called this a "kayak-form canoe.")
    model Yaghan (Yamana) canoe
    "Chile: Yaghan (Yamana) canoe" (Images created by Europeans show greatly different forms of Yaghan or Yamana canoes. See the Alakaluf canoe two images above.)
    model bark canoe with full decks
    "Canada: Canoe" (...and a rather fanciful one at that! We're not aware of any bark canoes built with full decks and a round cockpit coaming. The modeler seems to be combining aspects of the open bark canoe with the skin-on-frame kayaks of Alaska.)
    model Caraja river boat, Brazil
    "Brazil: Caraja river boat" (The cargo of what appears to represent a dugout canoe is probably tortoises or sea turtles. At the right is a pregnant woman; at the left, a baby.)
    models, Alaska and Canada bark canoes
    background: "Canada: Canoe"
    foreground: "Alaska: Bark canoe"
    model twin-hull raft from Bolivia
    "Bolivia: Mosetenes raft" (A double-hull raft. Perhaps it is built to be separated, so that it can be used as two smaller craft.)
    model reed boat, Lake Titicaca
    "Peru - Bolivia: Ayamara boat"(A reed boat of the type used on Lake Titicaca.)
    bark canoe models, USA
    background: "Rocky Mountains: Canoe"
    foreground: "USA: Canoe"
    (Both are birchbark types.)
    model canoes, Madagascar
    background: "Madagascar: Dugout canoe"
    middle-right: "Madagascar: Dugout canoe"
    left: "...West Coast" (presumably Africa; we failed to capture the full label text)
    front-right: "Madagascar: Dugout canoe"
    model coracle, Mozambique
    "Mozambique: Raft" (We'd call this a coracle, not a raft, since it relies on the enclosure of space for buoyancy. The model is made from a single piece of bent bark. If the full-size boat is built the same way, it must be quite small, or else it requires an enormously wide tree.)
    model outrigger sailing canoe, Africa east coast
    "Africa - East Coast: Sailing boat with outrigger" (The main hull is extraordinarily narrow and highly rockered. This must be a thrilling boat to sail.)
    models Congo dugout canoes
    background: "Congo: Canoe with rower" (a paddler, in fact)
    foreground: "Congo: Canoe"
    model boats, Nigeria
    background: "Nigeria: Boat with two rowers" (paddlers)
    middle: "Nigeria: Boat with passengers"
    front: "Nigeria: Boat with passengers"
    (All three represent dugouts with an aft platform carved as an integral part of the hull for the stern paddler/helmsman. Locating the paddle force so far aft of the submerged part of the hull lends a great deal of power for turning and correcting strokes, making these boats highly maneuverable.) 
    model Yoruba dugout canoes, Nigeria
    "Nigeria: Yoruba boats: H.E. Mons, Carlo Maria Viganò" (These were the only models in the exhibit credited to whom we assume was the donor or lender.)
    canoe paddle display, Vatican Museums
    A nice selection of canoe paddles were exhibited at the end of each of the spiral levels of the hall, unfortunately with no exhibit cards or other identification. (This photo by Cate Monroe)
    canoe paddle display, Vatican Museums
    A closer look at the paddles on the middle level.

    (All images by the blogger except as noted.)

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    yathra dhoni beached
    The large vessel is a yathra dhoni. Its outrigger allows it to sit upright on the beach without temporary supports (from Devendra, "The Lost Ships of Lanka.") (Click any image to enlarge)
    Seagoing ships with outriggers are a rarity. If one defines “ships” as “(floating mobile nautical) structures which constituted significant elements in the economies of the societies which built and operated them” (Basil Greenhill, in The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats into Ships), then a few of the larger traditional single-outrigger canoes of Oceania would qualify, but based on their size, burthen, and the fact that they are “canoes,” most modern observers would still call them “boats” without hesitation. Some motorized bancas of the Philippines might be (just) large enough to be thought ship-like by some, but no one of these double-outrigger vessels would qualify on the grounds of economic significance.

    The yathra dhoni of Sri Lanka and the Coromandel Coast on India, then, may be the only traditional outrigger vessel that was undeniably a “ship.” Large and burthensome enough so as not to be mistaken for a boat, and used as a cargo carrier on both coastal and short oceanic voyages, the single-outrigger yathra dhoni (also spelled yatra dhoni, and also known as the maha-oruwa or maha oru, meaning “big outrigger canoe”) was in use for centuries – possibly thousands of years – and remained in common use into the early twentieth century.

    Admiral Paris's drawing of a yathra dhoni
    Admiral Paris's drawing of a yathra dhoni (from Essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra-européens ou Collection des navires et pirogues construits par les habitants de l'Asie, de la Malaisie, du Grand Océan et de l'Amérique dessinés et mesurés pendant les voyages autour du monde de "l'Astrolabe", "la Favorite" et "l'Artémise")
    Outrigger ships in Sri Lanka were noted by Strabo (65 BCE-19 CE) and Pliny (23-79 CE), and if these were not yathra dhonies per se, they were probably their direct ancestors. A temple carving in Borobudur, Java, dated to the 8th to 10th century CE, shows “the arrival of Aryan emigrants to the Indonesian Islands” (Vitharana) in an outrigger vessel with features similar to the yathra. (The original Aryans, however, were from the area that is now northern India, not Coromandel or Sri Lanka.) Near the end of their history, yathras were known to be trading as far as the Moluccas, so their earlier use transporting Aryans or their neighbors to Java (which, like the Moluccas, is in Indonesia, but closer to India) seems credible.

    Most yathras were 50 to 60 feet LOA with a main hull beam of 12 to 15 feet. The largest were 100 feet long with a 20 foot hull beam. Vitharana states that they were 10 to 15 feet in height, although it is unclear what points of measurement are implied. Cargoes ranged from 25 to 75 tonnes, with 50 being typical. The main hull was double-ended, with slack bilges, full midsections, and a slightly hollow entry.

    Vosmer's drawing of Dodanduva yathra dhoni model
    Tom Vosmer's profile drawing of the Dodanduva yathra dhoni model (from Devendra, "The Lost Ships of Lanka)
    The outrigger varied in length, from about a third (Paris) to well over two-thirds (Vosmer’s drawing of a highly detailed model built in the former yathra center of Dodanduva, Sri Lanka, that is widely accepted for its authority) the length of the main hull. It was always mounted on the port side, fastened directly to substantial, downward-curving booms that extended right through the main hull at the level of the deck beams. (One simplified model exists with the outrigger to starboard, but this model lacks a rudder and may represent a different vessel type, or the difference may be due to imprecision on the modeler’s part.) Guys leading diagonally from the main hull to the outer ends of the outrigger booms helped stabilize the outrigger float fore-and-aft.

    Dodanduva model of a yathra dhoni
    The Dodanduva model of a yathra dhoni (from Green) 
    The yathra’s rudder followed the curve of the sternpost. The rudder on the Dodanduva model is enormous and wide, but other reliable sources show rudders of more graceful shape and conventional proportions. From this, it appears that rudders were fitted in a range of sizes and styles. Vitharana refers to a “secondary rudder to act as a leeboard … in the region of the main mast touching the water on the starboard side,” but in no models or drawings that I know of does such a feature appear. A leeboard would appear to be unnecessary, since the hull was built on a keel that provided significant lateral plane to resist leeway. Some models and drawings also show a “gripe” at the bow and a skeg at the stern (upon which the rudder’s lower end was hung), both of which added to the lateral plane and directional stability.

    Hornell's sketch of a yathra dhoni
    Hornell's sketch of a yathra dhoni
    The common rig was a ketch with square headed, loose-footed cloth lugsails and a jib on a bowsprit, said by Green to be “a rig common to the region of the Indian subcontinent.” Some smaller yathras may have had a single mast. Hornell’s sketch of the ketch version shows a second headsail inside the first one, apparently set flying, with its tack led to the port bulwark or possibly to the foredeck. Admiral Paris’s drawing shows a whisker pole holding out the luff of the mainsail. Standing rigging included shrouds, fore- and backstays, and a stay between the mastheads. According to Green, “The arrangement of the halyards was such that they prevent the mizzen yard from passing around the forward side of the mast. It must therefore be concluded that the mizzen sail on the yatra was never tacked, but went aback against the mast when occasionally on a starboard tack.”

    Two bulkheads divided the hull into three sections: small bow and stern compartments, the use of which I have not found described, and a large cargo hold between them. Much of the deck was covered by a light, removable deckhouse roofed with split bamboo, leaving only narrow walkways along the sides for the crew to move fore and aft. Sliding cargo hatches were offset to starboard, and a simple cargo handling crane was located to port. In order for this to come in use, lighters – probably small dugout canoes – must have come alongside the main hull between the outrigger booms. But because the vessel would sit upright on a beach, supported by the outrigger, it may be that loading and unloading was often done on land. One assumes that the deckhouse roof was removed before cargo was handled.

    The hull of the yathra was of a carvel construction using an unusual combination of stitched and nailed fastening. The planks, a minimum of 2” thick, were stitched to each other with coir rope and nailed to the frames with iron nails and roves. Accounts differ on whether the stitching holes penetrated straight through to the inner surface of the planks or exited on the plank edges. In any case, it is clear that the stitching served only to hold the planks against each other and not to the frames. Details on the order of construction are lacking, but one presumes that the planks were stitched first to make them tight, and nailed second. Joints were caulked with coconut husks and leaves inserted before the stitches were drawn tight.

    yathra dhoni construction drawings
    Vosmer's construction drawings of the Dodanduva yathra dhoni model (from Devendra, "Pre-Modern Sri Lankan Ships")
    Stem and sternpost were fastened to the keel with hooked scarfs held with locking wedges. The frames and deck beams were few in number and widely spaced but of heavy scantlings, providing sufficient overall strength. Deck beams extended through the planking on both sides. Green says the frames were continuous from sheer to sheer, but given their scantlings and the hull’s shape, this seems impossible. Perhaps his information, which is not footnoted, stems from observation of a model which used continuous frames for expediency.

    Tom Vosmer took careful measurements of the Dodanduva model, fed the details into a hydrostatics program, and found that the main hull, even without the outrigger, was “reasonably stable.” The outrigger, of course, significantly increased the vessel’s righting moment (by a factor of 100). It also increased drag, and therefore, the ship’s powering requirements. The rig, therefore, could have been smaller and simpler if the (still seaworthy) hull did not have an outrigger attached.

    Yathra dhoni at anchor in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka
    Yathra dhoni at anchor in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka, 1913 (from Devendra, "The Lost Ships of Lanka") 
    Yathras were mainly short- and medium-haul cargo vessels, serving ports large and small throughout Sri Lanka and the Coromandel Coast and making regular voyages to the Maldives (550 miles from Colombo, Sri Lanka), although they also sailed at least occasionally to the Moluccas (3,600 miles). Typical cargoes included textiles, rice, salt, fish and fish products, tea, and tiles. A large one carried a crew of 18.

    The outrigger was always kept to windward except, perhaps, in the most benign conditions – an unusual and highly limiting practice for a tacking single-outrigger vessel. Working within these limits required coastal voyages to make use of the daily reversal of land and sea breezes: the vessel sailed only during the part of day when the prevailing breeze allowed the outrigger to be kept to windward. On longer voyages, the monsoon breeze dictated direction. This would have meant just a single round trip from Sri Lanka to the Maldives in any given year, whereas a vessel that could sail with either side to windward would be able to make several round trip voyages of that distance each year.

    Most accounts tell of the yathra succumbing to competition from steamships around the turn of the twentieth century. Vitharana claims that 40 of them were still serving Dodanduva in the 1930s, but all other accounts tell of the last one being built there to some fanfare in 1930; that is was wrecked on its first voyage in the Maldives; and that that was the end of the tradition.

    Somasiri Devendra, "Pre-Modern Sri Lankan Ships" in Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean, David Parkin gand Ruth Barnes, editors. Routledge, 2002
    Devendra, "The Lost Ships of Lanka," from Maritime Heritage of Lanka: Ancient ports and harbours. National Heritage Trust Sri Lanka, 2013
    Devendra,"The Mansion of the Sea," The Island Online - Saturday Magazine
    Jeremy Green, "The archaeological contribute to the knowledge of the extra-European shipbuilding at the time of the Medieval and Modern Iberian-Atlantic tradition" Proceedings: International Symposium on Archaeology of Medieval and Modern Ships of Iberian-Atlantic Tradition
    James Hornell, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 1946
    The National Trust of Sri Lanka, "The Annapoorani and The Amugoda Oruwa: The Forgotten Ships of Lanka" on Facebook
    Corioli Souter, "Travellers and Traders in the Indian Ocean World Curatorial Audio Guide," WAM Audio Tours, Western Austrian Museum
    Vini Vitharana, "The ORU & the YATRA" Nautical Archaeological Society, 1992, republished 2012

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    We haven't had time for a post lately, so to keep the pump primed, we'll bring this recent news item to your attention, courtesy of The Courier.

    The Carpow boat, a 3,000-year-old logboat excavated in 2006 from the River Tay in Scotland, was recently moved to a permanent home at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The 9.25-meter-long boat was recovered in generally very good condition, and it includes the transom board that closed in the stern. It is the second oldest logboat discovered in Scotland. Sadly, much of the bow is missing, but it is still one of the best-preserved Bronze Age logboats in Britain. This short video summarizes the excavation.

    This next video shows the boat after conservation. The transom board is not in place, but you can clearly see the bosses that held it there, which were left standing on the inner surface of the boat when the trunk was carved out.

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    In the last week or so, two bundle boats from Oman came to my attention. First, a reader sent me a link to this travel article in Daily Kos, containing this photo:
    Mangrove root bundle boat, Oman
    Caption from original article: "This old, traditional, fishing boat is made from “barasti”, the aerial roots of the mangrove.  I took this shot on the beach near Sohar, the third largest city in the country located near the UAE border." (Click any image to enlarge.)
    This brought to mind the following photo of a shasha, another Omani bundle boat, from Tim Severin’s The Sinbad Voyage, which I reproduced in a post several years ago. But unlike the boat in the Daily Kos photo, this one was made from palm fronds.
    palm frond bundle boat, Oman
    A shasha -- an Omani bundle boat made of palm fronds (Source: The Sinbad Voyage)
    The very next day, an image of another Omani bundle boat, also apparently made of palm fronds, appeared in my Facebook feed. I found it surprising that, even in the present day and within the confines of a rather small country, two methods of bundle boat construction, based on different materials, remain in use.
    palm frond bundle boats, Oman
    Original caption: "These are fishing boats in Oman. They are filled with polystyrene and paddled out to sea. At night the catch is landed and the village builds bonfires to cook supper. Which is fish." (Posted by Jonathan Savill to the Facebook page Church of the Double-Bladed Paddle)

    Bundle boats are not really boats: they are boat-shaped rafts that derive their buoyancy from the materials of their construction, which are themselves buoyant. In contrast, true boats achieve buoyancy enclosing air within a watertight shell (or, to phrase it another way, by excluding water from a watertight shell).

    In most cases, bundle boats are made from soft, flexible materials like grass, rushes, reeds, or leaves, large amounts of which are wrapped with cordage into long bundles – generally pointed at both ends – and then tied to other bundles into a boat shape – i.e., pointed at the bow (and often, at the stern), and usually with something approximating either raised gunwales, also composed of bundles, or a cockpit formed by leaving a cavity in or between bundles.

    Sticks, roots or branches may also be used for construction. In most cases, these are tied into bundles in a manner similar to that used for soft, flexible materials, but in others, they are arranged and lashed side-by-side and not truly bundled. This method reduces the craft’s buoyancy and freeboard, also reducing its payload and leaving the boatman’s bottom constantly wet, but it also reduces its weight and makes it easier to dry, probably prolonging its life.

    ambatch bundle canoe, Upper Nile
    A canoe-like bundle boat used on the Upper Nile by the Dinka and Shulluk people. In this example, ambatch branches are tied into bundles, then the bundles are tied to each other into a boat shape. Indigenous to parts of Africa, ambatch is a  large shrub or small tree with a lightweight wood. (Source: Hornell)
    ambatch bundle boat, Angola
    An ambatch canoe on Lobito Bay, Angola. In this example, the branches are not truly bundled, but are lashed side-by-side into a boat shape. This photo and the one above it are from Hornell's 1946 work, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution. I don't know if such craft are still in use.
    Absent gunwales or a cockpit, a bundle-built craft would no “inside,” and lacking this characteristic, it would be a stretch to to call it boat-like. But that’s hardly a firm definition. Some models of papyrus bundle craft from ancient Egypt lack “insides” but are so boat-like in shape that it is hard to deny them the name bundle boat. (The models do have very low bundle-built toe-rails, however, which approximate the function of gunwales in a minimal way.)
    Egyptian reed fishing boat model
    Ancient Egyptian papyrus-bundle canoes pulling a trawl between them. (Source: Hornell)
    Somewhat similar reed “boats” remain in use on Lake Titicaca, although they have substantial bundle gunwales, and thus a definite “inside.” What most distinguishes these craft from Egypt and Lake Titicaca from the Omani, Upper Nile and Lobito Bay types shown above, however, is the large volume of the bundles in comparison to the load, placing the boatman and his cargo well above the water and giving fair promise of keeping himself and his cargo dry.
    Reed balsa boat, Lake Titicacas
    A fishing balsa made of totora reeds, on Lake Titicaca (Source: Hornell)
    The bundle boat was an technological dead end in the sense that it apparently never evolved anywhere into a true boat. Although stick-built bundle boats appear superficially to be a step in that direction, they are still solidly rafts in concept.

    But technological evolution is not the sole measure of past or present validity. The fact that bundle boats remain in use in more than one culture in the 21st century testifies to their practicality and the soundness of the concept. 

    Basil Greenhill, Archaeology of the Boat
    Paul Johnstone (Ed., Sean McGrail), The Sea-Craft of Prehistory
    James Hornell, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution
    (and as noted in text)

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  • 04/07/17--07:13: The Vattai of Tamil Nadu
  • Examples of traditional frame-first boat construction in Asian cultures are rare. Throughout the Far East, Middle East and east Africa, shell-first construction of planked boats is the norm, where it is used for everything from sampans and junks to dhows. One of the few exceptions is the vattai, an open, sail-powered, flush-planked (carvel) fishing boat common in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India’s southeast.

    A vattai in Tamil Nadu
    A vattai in Tamil Nadu. Source: Blue (click any image to enlarge)
    The vattai is described by Lucy Blue in “The Historical Context of the Construction of the Vattai Fishing Boat and Related Frame-First Vessels of Tamil Nadu and Beyond,” published in Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean(David Parkin and Ruth Barnes, editors; Routledge, 2016). The information and images in this post are from that article.

    To quote Dr. Blue:

    "Vattai, are flat-bottomed, have a box-like transverse section and are near wall-sided over much of their length. They range in size from around 13.72m long, with a beam of 2.13m and a depth of 1.37m, to the smallest vessels of c. 5.18m x 1.07m x 0.76m. However, irrespective of their size, they are all similar in shape with very high bows, and two or three masts each with a settee-lateen sail, a balance board, and, uniquely on this coast, leeboards."
    The design process is of much interest. A single mould form or template is used to lay out most of the frames on a scrieve board, the form being flipped to draw the port and starboard half-breadths. (Forms for different boats differ from one another, apparently, only in the radius of the curve that joins their two straight, right-angled legs.) Since the boat’s cross-section (half-breadth shape) is constant across its entire midbody, a single shape drawn on the scrieve board suffices to define most of the frames, and this follows the exact shape of the form laid square to the edges of the scrieve board.

    Use of mould form and scrieve board to design a vattai boat
    Use of the mould form and scrieve board (A) to create the shapes of the "equal" frames for the midbody (B,C,D), and the progressively narrower frames toward the ends (E, F, G). 
    Fore and aft of the “equal” frames that constitute the midbody, each of the next three progressively narrower frames at the bow has an identical counterpart in the stern. These frames that define the ends are derived from the same mould form according to a formula that defines how far in from the scrieve board’s upper edge and how far up along the diagonal the form is placed. By rotating and raising the form, different frame shapes may be drawn to create the narrowing and flare of the hull’s ends. The final three frames in the very bow and stern, however, are not drawn or gotten out at this time.

    In the boat recorded by Blue, there were 15 “equal” frames for the midbody plus 12 “unequal” ones, evenly divided between the bow and stern. The midsection always consists of an odd number of frames – the central master frame, and equal numbers of identical frames fore and aft of it. The design can be readily made longer by the addition of more equal frames in the midbody with no changes to the ends, and made wider starting with a wider scrieve board but using the same mould form. Rules of thumb establish ratios between length, breadth, depth, and frame spacing, so the builder’s discretion to make changes is limited mainly to his choice of the mould form and number of frames.

    Vattai construction drawing
    Vattai construction drawing
    Frames are built up from floor timbers and futtocks, which are assembled with “a complex dovetail joint” that “extends right through the turn of the bilge.” The vattai has no backbone, so apparently the frames are set up on the straight, flat bottom planking, which must be laid down first. Stem and sternpost are butted with a lap joint against the ends of the central bottom plank. The article states variously that the shapes of the very ends are determined by battens (ribbands) or by laid planking between the midbody frames and the end posts. Whichever is truly the case, these define the shapes of the three final pairs of half-frames at each end. Only in these final three sets of frames do the shapes of the vattai’s bow and stern differ. They are installed without floors, their lower ends overlapping fore-and-aft where they land on top of, or are notched onto, the stem and sternpost. (This detail can’t be determined from the drawing.)

    I have been unable to find any other photos, descriptions or even references to the vattai through Google searches and would welcome additional input. There is much else I’d like to know, including:

    • whether the planks have a caulking bevel, and the materials (if any) used for caulking
    • the design process for the end profiles (i.e., whether the stem and sternpost shapes are determined by template or drawn by eye.) 
    • details of the rig and leeboards
    • details of usage: crew size, responsibilities, sailing procedures and performance

    I would also much like to see additional photos. Google image searches for terms like “fishing boat Tamil Nadu” yield a number of stock photos of open fishing boats that do not appear much like the vattai (the distinctive bow shape is an easily-noticed identifying characteristic), and nothing else even close. Please communicate in the comments if you can add to the discussion.

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    Boats of Tao (Yami) people, Orchid Island
    Tao tatara boats, with and without culturally significant decorations. (source) Click any image to enlarge.
    Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu, is about 45 miles due east of the southernmost point of Taiwan. Only 7.5 miles long, it is home to a culture best known as the Yami, although the people themselves prefer the name Tao, which means simply “people” in their language. Numbering about 4,000, the Tao, a Malayo-Polynesian people, make up about two thirds of the island’s population, the remainder being Han Chinese from Taiwan.

    Although Lanyu is now part of the Republic of China, there was little cultural contact with Taiwan until the second half of the twentieth century, leaving Tao society relatively intact and among the least affected by outside influences of all Southeast Asian cultures. The people continue to speak their own language and are culturally more akin to the inhabitants of Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines, about 100 miles across the Bashi Channel. They are the only of Taiwan’s remaining aboriginal peoples with a maritime culture.

    Lanyu is mountainous, of volcanic origin. Much of it is covered by tropical rainforest, parts of which are untouched. “Coral reefs are distributed around the island and the warm Japan Current also flows by, attracting vast schools of fish.” (source)

    Flying fish play a central role in the culture of the Tao, their migrations determining the Tao’s annual cycle of ritual and economic activities. The boats used to fish for flying fish are “a central cultural emblem,” and so distinctive as to have become the island’s best-known cultural artifact and image for tourism.

    The Tao’s boats range from the 1- and 2-man tatara, about 2.3m long, to the 10- and even 14-man chinedkulan, at 7.6m long. All are of similar form and construction, their most obvious distinguishing features being the extremely high extensions of the stem and sternposts that sweep up sharply but gracefully from the gunwales, and the elaborate carved-and-painted decoration of the hulls.

    Tao boats show similarities to those of Batanes, to the mon of the Solomon Islands, and to those of Lamalera, on the island of Lembata in Indonesia. Chinedkulan are notably seaworthy, having formerly been used for voyages to Batanes (but apparently no longer so used). Tatara are said to be quite unstable and are used only in protected waters in calm conditions.

    The Tatara and Chinedkulan Hulls

    Structural cross-section of a Yami chinedkulan boat
    Structural cross-section of a chinedkulan. "Botel Tobago" is another name for Lanyu or Orchid Island. Image source: R. H. Barnes (see bibliography)
    Built on a keel with separate stem and sternpost, the hull is symmetrical fore-and-aft, V-bottomed, and chined. It is built shell-first, with frames that (at least, on the chinedkulan) do not reach to the topmost strake. Thwarts, too, span the second-to-top strakes, not the topmost ones. Making up for this, a strong shelf near the lower edge of the top strake provides a great deal of rigidity. The shelf is not attached to the plank as a separate component but, rather, is carved as an integral part of the planks of the top strakes. Each strake consists of three plank sections. The larger chinedkulan has four strakes, the tatara three.

    Frame/plank lashed connection in a Tao tatara boat
    Detail of lashed-lug construction between frame and planks in a Tao tatara. Source: R. H. Barnes
    The smooth-planked (i.e., carvel) hull is of lashed-lug construction. When each plank is gotten out, “comb cleats” (pairs of lugs with a short gap between) are left on the inside surface. Holes are bored in the lugs. The U-shaped frames are placed in the gap between the cleats and tied in place with rattan lashings. But before this happens, the strakes are assembled to the keel and to one another by blind-pegging. The upper edge of each plank is drilled with numerous holes – from photos, it appears that they are spaced rather closely, perhaps 4” apart. Dowels are inserted in the holes, and the next plank, with corresponding holes, is forced down against the lower one. Joints are caulked with vegetable fiber.

    Pegged plank fastening, Tao boat, Orchid Island
    Blind pegged fastening of planks. Source: R. H. Barnes (see bibliography)
    The planking has three sets of lugs: one set, amidships, holds the frames. The smaller boats have a single frame amidships. The larger ones have two frames, dividing the hull approximately in thirds lengthwise. The second set of lugs, appearing at one end only, is used to fasten a transverse bulkhead. The third set, appearing at both ends, holds lashings to pull the port and starboard planks in toward each other. It’s unclear how the hood ends are fastened to the endposts, or how the butt joints between the plank sections are fastened.

    Tao Tatara boat of Lanyu
    Tatara with single frame amidships. Also shown are shelf near the bottom of the sheerstrake and a transverse bulkhead at right. Source: R.H. Barnes
    The backbone consists of three pieces – the V-shaped keel and two endposts – joined in a stepped joint (and presumably pegged).

    The boats are rowed with oars that pivot against a kind of tholepin structure that consists of two or three posts arranged with their bottoms splayed fore-and-aft and their tops, which rise high above the gunwale, lashed together with many wraps of heavy rope. The bottom ends appear to penetrate the shelf that runs near the lower edge of the topmost strake, and perhaps are held in place by lugs in the planking below the shelf.

    Thole structures, sheerstrake shelf, steering oar yoke and thwarts (deckbeams) are all visible. Source: R.H. Barnes 
    Tao (Yami) Boat Construction Procedures

    To begin construction, trees are felled with an ax, and planks are shaped with an adze, each trunk yielding a single plank or backbone section. The center of the trunk becomes a plank’s outer surface. The endposts, in order to avoid grain run-out in the rapidly curved transition from the horizontal to the vertical, are gotten out from the base of a tree with buttress roots, in the manner of grown knees in Western boatbuilding.

    Much of the construction of Tao boats is regulated by ritual. All of the major parts of the boat must be cut from live trees, there being a prohibition against the use of dead wood. According to Barnes, “(T)imber should be felled, worked into rough shape and carried back to the village on the same day. The bow and stern pieces require some twenty men taking turns to carry them across the island.” A ceremony and celebration, with feasting, greet the men on their return to the village.

    Having brought the major pieces back to the village, the boat is finished in a special boatbuilding shed, using axes, adzes, chisels, gouges, and borers or a brace and bit to produce the holes for the planking dowels.

    Construction takes two or three years. When it is complete, a boat may be painted rather simply – usually with white topsides inside and out and a red bottom – and put into use. It is more common, however, to apply elaborate conventional decorations in traditional red, white and black painted and carved patterns that represent human figures, waves, and bow oculi in the form of the sun. Borders made of multiple bands of repeating triangles of the three colors outline the sheer, cutwaters at bow and stern, and waterline. The tops of the endposts are decorated with chicken feathers.

    Hull decorations on fishing boat of Orchid Island
    Traditional decorations includes (from left to right) the sun-like oculus, human figures, and ocean waves. (source)
    The Tao, according to a Taiwanese government website, “consider a boat as a man’s body. Boat-building is a sacred mission and a part of life. Owning a boat means owning the ocean and the sky and having valor. For the Tao, boat-building is the manifestation of divinity and beauty.” Carrying such heavy social/psychological meaning, only boats that will be subjected to an expensive, elaborate launching ritual may be decorated in the traditional manner.

    One step of this ritual consists of covering the boat in taro roots which, after flying fish, is the most important staple of the Tao diet. Given the large amount of taro required, land clearing and planting may begin three or four years prior to the start of building the boat. After the boat is covered in tubers, they are removed to become part of a celebratory feast (which also includes roast pig, shared with the community but also slaughtered as a sacrifice) in which the whole village partakes. Women wear special clothing for several days before the ceremony. In the climax to the ritual, men, wearing the loincloths that they also wear when fishing, circle the boat several times to guard it from evil spirits, then lift it above their heads and throw it into the air several times.

    Boat launching ceremony, Lanyu
    Tossing a newly-built chinedkulan into the air: part of the traditional launching ceremony on Lanyu. (source)
    Boat Use on Lanyu (Orchid Island)
    “Surrounded by sea, the Tao society is a typical maritime one. Their annual schedule corresponds to the flying fish season. The Tao people designed a calendar according to habitual behaviors of marine life and the movements of ocean currents, which includes restrictions and taboos regulating the fishing area, timing and methods.” (source)

    The Tao celebrate flying fish season with a festival consisting of 13 distinct rituals. Flying fish are caught from March through June, but “shoulder seasons” at both ends make the period from February to October the most important part of the Tao’s year economically and culturally. Almost all activities during this longer period relate to catching, preparing, distributing and storing the fish for use throughout the year. Flying fish may not be caught outside of the official flying fish season, although other kinds of fishing, especially for crabs, octopus, and shellfish, occur at other times.

    To catch flying fish, the Tao boatmen work in concert with free divers. The larger boats are rowed with one man per oar and steered with a steering oar. Nets as long as 8 meters are spread into a U-shaped wall attached to the bottom, their tops 2m to 4m below the water surface. Divers, numbering between 25 and 40 and remarkable for their lung capacity, spread out some distance from the net in a half-circle that can be up to 300m wide. Using large, whisk-like beaters that they sweep through the water and hit against the bottom, they drive schools of fish toward and into the net. They then gather the ends of the net together, and it is lifted into the boat.

    “After each drive, the fish are taken to shore, removed from the net and scaled. For scaling the Yami use stone chips. After the fish are cleaned, they are put back into the boat, the net is loaded into the boat as well, and the group performs one or two more drives. On a lucky day the catch may total over a thousand fish, but such days are rare. Usually a good catch brings in five or six hundred fish.”

    The catch is processed communally and distributed by a formula that takes account of who owns the boat, the net, and who participated in that particular drive.

    R.H. Barnes, "Yami Boats and Boat Building in a Wider Perspective," in Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean, David Parkin and Ruth Barnes, eds.Routledge, 2002
    "Tao: Introduction to the Ethnic Group," in Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples
    "A Minority Within a Minority: Cultural Survival on Taiwan's Orchid Island," in Cultural Survival Quarterly
    Jerome F. Keating, "The Driving Forces and Scope of the Mapping of Taiwan," in Mediascape
    "Orchid Island (Lanyu)" in Taiwan: The Heart of Asia
    "Offshore Islands: Penghu; Kinmen National Park; Matsu; Green Island (Lyudao); Orchid Island (Lanyu)" in Taiwan: Heart of Asia
    "Yami People" in Wikipedia:
    Dezso Benedek, The Songs of the Ancestors: A Comparative Study of Bashic Folklore
    Katherine Kuang, "Yami Creation Myths":

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    Catamarans, of the type used on the Coromandel Coast in India’s southeast and in Sri Lanka, close by across the Palk Strait, are subject to two kinds of misconceptions. The first is one of terminology. In its original meaning, kattu-maram (Tamil for “tied logs”) denoted a raft, not a vessel with two identical hulls, as the term is commonly understood. The erroneous transference of the term was probably made by an early European traveler who, being familiar with Indian catamarans, decided to call the twin-hulled boats he found in the Pacific by the same name, it probably seeming logical at the time to call any indigenous, non-European small craft by the same term. Henceforth, our use of the term will refer only to the raft.

    The second misconception concerns the nature of timber rafts, which are commonly conceived to be rectangular, flat, and capable only of drifting with the current rather than being directed according to the boatman’s wishes. Catamarans are, specifically, shaped rafts of wood or bamboo, and they behave more like true boats than like the flat, rectangular platform upon which Huck and Jim floated inexorably down the Mississippi.

    Model of a jangada
    Model of a jangada (source). Click any image to enlarge.
    In Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, James Hornell describes several varieties of catamaran on India’s east coast and in many other parts of the world. Such craft are still in use in some locales. We have written about the jangada, a Brazilian catamaran in current use, and one can easily find with a Google search contemporary images of catamarans of more than one type on Sri Lanka.

    three-log raft "boat catamaran" from Sri Lanka
    A three-log raft from Sri Lanka of the type called a "boat catamaran" by Hornell. (source)
    Hornell also distinguishes between catamarans that are more or less boat-like. In the Sri Lankan type that he calls “boat catamarans,” the central of three logs extends below the outer two, forming a keel, while the upper surfaces of the outer ones are considerably higher than that of the central one, forming an inside space that could be termed a hold or cockpit. In contrast to this, he describes the “flying fish” catamaran of Coromandel, which is the main subject of this installment. While it lacks a keel, it has enough of a depression in its upper surface to have an identifiable “inside,” and it is considerably more shapely and boat-like than the common conception of a raft.

    Seven-log flying fish catamaran of the Coromandel Coast
    A seven-log flying fish catamaran of the Coromandel Coast

    In Fishing in Many Waters, Hornell describes in detail the flying fish type and its use, which he observed in the Tanjore district. Pursuing flying fish requires sailing to deep waters as far as 25 miles from shore with a crew of seven and staying out for as long as three days. As such, the deep sea catamaran is a substantial vessel, averaging 30 to 35 feet long. They are built of seven main logs of light wood, dressed on all sides and tapering from back to front and from bottom to top. Curved logs are selected, so that, when assembled, the main section of the raft is an isosceles trapezoid in plan view, and dished both longitudinally and transversely.

    The logs are lashed together with coir rope. At the forward end, says Hornell, “the completed craft becomes definitely wedge-shaped in plan after the addition of an elegant upturned prow of five pointed pieces cleverly jointed on to the forward ends of the seven main logs.” Another log is lashed atop the outermost log on the starboard side to serve as a working platform.

    rig details of a Coromandel Coast flying fish catamaran
    Coromandel flying fish catamaran, showing rig details

    The two-masted rig is refined, although it looks crude as a result of the materials from which it is made. Short masts fit into sockets on the whichever outside log happens to be to leeward, hoisting lateen or settee sails. The head of each cotton sail is lashed to a long yard with a short downward-curving extension at the forward/lower end. The foot of the sail is lashed to a boom that extends only as far forward as the mast. Between the mast and the end of the extension-piece of the yard is a foot-rope. The sail, however, does not extend all the way to the forward apex of the triangle. Its forward corner or tack is cut off short, so that the sail has a very short luff.

    There are forestays and backstays, and the halyards serve as shrouds on the upwind side. There is also a short strut lashed at its lower end to the windward hull log, and at its upper end to the mast, about three feet from the base. Hornell writes, “Even with these substitutes for shrouds there is always the danger of the masts and sails falling overboard should the craft be taken aback by a sudden change of wind; this, however, is of rare occurrence…so steady is the wind at the season when these craft are at sea.”

    As to control lines, “Each sail is provided with a sheet and a vang or guy made fast to the upper end of the yard.” The sail can be furled by rolling it up around the lower boom, and by moving the grommet from which the yard depends down from the masthead onto one of a series of notches provided for the purpose.

    To counter leeway, the raft has two large leeboards and a large-bladed steering oar, the attachments for none of which are described. Hornell gives the following dimensions for one raft of typical size:

    LOA: 33 feet

    beam at forward lashing: 4 feet

    beam at aft lashing: 7 feet

    forward yard: 29 feet

    after yard: 21 1/2 feet

    steering oar: 12 feet

    forward leeboard: 10 1/2 feet

    after leeboard: 9 feet

    draft (boards up): 1 foot

    The boat is equipped with paddles and oars for when the wind fails. Two dip nets, consisting of a rectangular piece of netting (measuring 5’6” x 4’9”) with its short sides tied to poles about 7’ long, are carried. The rest of the equipment is limited to spare rope, a jar of drinking water, a bundle of cooked rice, a scoop to throw water on the sails, and three large bundles of bushes or shrubs, the last of which are key to the curious method of fishing practiced.

    The raft is sailed into deep waters until a shoal of flying fish is sighted. The raft is brought into their vicinity, turned with its starboard side to windward, and the entire rig is dropped. The bundles of shrubs are then thrown over the accessory log on the windward side. Each bundle is attached to a rope of a different length: 300 ft.; 180 ft.; and 60 ft. The bundles act like sea anchors, and with the raft’s shallow draft, it quickly drifts downwind of them. (A block of wood tied to each bundle acts like a float, but it’s unclear from Hornell’s description to what purpose, for it’s clear that the bundles of shrubs sink to different depths determined by the length of rope to which they’re tied.)

    Flying fish are attracted to the bundles. After a large number of fish have gathered, one of the bundles is pulled in slowly and carefully. The fish follow until it is close to the raft, at which time the dip nets come into play. Each net is operated by two men, one per pole. The net is dipped into the water nearly vertically, then brought up under the fish and tipped back so that the fish fall into the boat – the whole proceeding being performed in silence so as not to disturb the fish who remain beside the shrub bundles. When that group of fish has been disposed of, the next bunch of shrubs is hauled in and the process repeated.

    According to Hornell, the attraction that the bundles hold for the fish is neither their shade nor the expectation that they harbor small prey upon which to feed. Rather, the fishing occurs during the flying fishes’ spawning season, and the bundles replicate the bunches of seaweed upon which they normally deposit and fertilize their eggs. 

    Large quantities of flying fish may be caught by this method over the course of two or three days. Fish that are not eaten fresh are sun-dried, but given the long distance that the rafts sail from shore, it often occurs that the catch may spoil before it reaches market.

    Also in Fishing in Many Waters, Hornell describes a second method of “shade fishing” from catamarans done off the Coromandel coast near Madras. Although he does not describe the catamarans, they are different from those described above, and from the illustration appear to consist of only four logs and to be manned by just two men. Nor does Hornell identify the fish thus captured. Four catamarans must cooperate to employ the madi valai, what Hornell calls (but does not translate as) a “handkerchief net.”

    shade fishing with four catamarans off Madras
    Shade fishing with the madi valai net and four catamarans off of Madras

    A long length of coir rope is made up with many strips of palm leaf between the strands, making a bushy appearance. (We presume the rope appears far bushier in practice than in the illustration.) One end is tied to a stone anchor or heavy bunch of turf; the other to a piece of light wood as a float. Anchor rope is dropped in “several fathoms of water” in an area where current is prevalent, and allowed to remain until fish collect in its shade.

    A large rectangular net is suspended at its corners by four ropes, the upper ends of which are held by a man in each catamaran. Moving against the current, the four boats approach the suspended shade rope from downcurrent, with the forward edge of the net held low and the after edge high. When the men in the forward two catamarans feel the net contact the shade rope, they begin to pull it up as quickly as they can, gathering the fish that have collected in its shade.

    Although catamarans are still fished in Sri Lanka, I do not know if either of these methods from the Coromandel Coast are still in use.

    Except where stated otherwise, information and images are from:
    James Hornell, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1946
    James Hornell, Fishing in Many Waters, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1950

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    In Fishing in Many Waters, James Hornell describes the practice of bonito fishing in the Maldives, including a description of the boats used. Although he doesn’t name the boat type, it can be termed a dhoni. (Somewhat like dhow, dhoni is a generic term that doesn’t indicate a single type of boat. According to Wikipedia, it means simply “small boat” in Tamil and related languages, while thoni is the equivalent term in Malayalam. We’ve written previously about the very different yathra dhoni of Sri Lanka.)

    Drawing: a bonito dhoni of the Maldives (Source: James Hornell)
    A bonito dhoni of the Maldives (click any image to enlarge)
    Probably no longer in use, the Maldivian bonito boats that Hornell observed were “built (especially) for the fishery, long, beamy, graceful craft, fine of line and shallow draft as befits vessels that have their home in coral-infested lagoons of little depth.” He further describes them as stoutly built, mostly open boats with short decks fore and aft and six or seven transverse bulkheads. The aft deck, from which the fishing was conducted, was “shaped like the extended wings of a butterfly” and extended over the sides of the hull. Hornell noted the distinctive “snakelike” stemhead, which rose high above the gunwales, curving gently aft and then slightly forward near the very top “not unlike that of an old Viking ship which, indeed, the boat as a whole closely resembles.” (This latter is an exaggeration. While the stemhead does indeed call to mind a Viking ship, the differences between the two types of craft are far more dramatic and substantial than the purely superficial similarity between them. Hornell, infinitely more than I, understood this well.)

    The two compartments fore and aft of the mast each had four to six plugged holes in the bottom, which, when the plugs are removed, allowed them to serve as livewells for bait. These livewells were managed in a curious manner, described below.

    A single mast was held in a tabernacle and could be dropped into a crutch aft. The mast supported a tall, narrow squaresail of woven matting and a boomless gaff mainsail of cotton. Although the drawing shows no shrouds, it appears that the squaresail’s halyard may have served as a combination backstay/shroud. The drawing seems to show a light spar extending upward and forward from the base of the mast, but Hornell did not explain its use. (Perhaps it served as a kind of whisker pole for the squaresail?)

    traditional Maldivian dhoni, model (Photo: Badr Naseem)
    This model of a traditional Maldivian dhoni shows the transverse bulkheads and butterly-shaped aft deck of the bonito boat, but not its S-curved stemhead, recurved sternpost, or two-sail rig. (Photo: Badr Naseem. Source.)
    Although somewhat similar dhonis, with transverse bulkheads and the aft platform extending over the sides, remain in use in the Maldives, none of the recent photos we’ve found show the old style bonito boat’s distinctive double-curved stemhead, recurved sternpost, or mixed squaresail/gaff rig. Lateen rigs are the norm in existing boats (or at least, those that are not motorized), and the stemheads curve sharply aft, with no hint of reverse curve.

    Before bonito could be caught, the same boats were used to catch baitfish. A square net was fastened to long poles and lowered to the bottom of a lagoon. Ground bait (bait for the baitfish) was dropped over the net. When the baitfish came to feed, the net was raised. Presumably this was repeated many times before sufficient bait for a bonito fishing trip could be accumulated. The live bait was kept in a huge basket in the lagoon until it was time to go fishing in earnest.

    The baitfish were then transferred into the dhoni’s livewells and the plugs were removed. According to Hornell:
    “(T)he holes being unplugged, continuous streams of water spout inwards. This inrush would speedily swamp the boat were it not that two men are set to work to keep pace by bailing, with the inrush. By means of perforations at suitable and varying heights in the intervening bulkhead the inflowing water is conducted to the after compartment where the two bailers are located. In this way the water in the wells is constantly renewed and thereby maintained in a fit condition to keep alive the stock of little fishes for use as bait.”
    In addition to two bailers, the crew consisted of several anglers with fishing poles, a helmsman, four “splashers,” and three or four boys to tend the squaresail. The poles were about six feet long with a line of about six feet fixed fast to the end. Barbless hooks of bright steel at the end of the lines were shaped to resemble baitfish.

    Photo: a bonito dhoni of the Maldives (Source: James Hornell)
    Bonito fishing in process. Note the heavy splashing around the aft deck.
    Upon approaching a shoal of bonito, one of the bailers would stop bailing and begin throwing baitfish into the water while the splashers would use long-handled scoops to vigorously splash water all around the boat. Per Hornell:
    “This is a measure of economy; the bonito have to be gulled into the belief that a large shoal of small fish are about and without the splashing the amount of live bait thrown out would be insufficient to carry through the deception successfully.”
    But successful the ruse was. The anglers, crowded upon the stern platform, would drop their unbaited, lure-like hooks in the water and yank bonito from it directly into the hold. The barbless hooks could be disengaged merely by slacking the tension on the line for the briefest moment before they were returned to the water with scarcely a pause.

    In an active shoal, a man might average one catch per minute, and a boat might catch a full load of 600 to 1,000 fish in two or three hours. The boat owner received 21 percent of the catch as his share, the rest being apportioned amongst the crew. That which was not eaten fresh was cured for later use or for trade by a combination of boiling, smoking, and sun-drying.

    Except where otherwise noted, information and images are from:
    James Hornell, Fishing in Many Waters, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1950

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    The bangka -- also known as banca and paraw -- is a double-outrigger boat ubiquitous in the Philippines. According to one online dictionary of Tagalog (an Austronesian language, one of the more commonly spoken languages of the Philippines), the word bangka simply means "boat," and this appears to be accurate and logical, given the great diversity in bangka configurations.

    Indeed, there seem to be only two or three common features of bangkas: their main hulls are always narrow; they are always double-ended; and they almost always have two outriggers. Their differences, however, are manifold, including variations in materials, construction methods, most aspects of hull shape, houses, internal arrangements, overall size, propulsion, decoration, and usage. They're sometimes called the "Jeeps of the sea" because they are supposed to be able to do everything, but they do everything not necessarily because they are versatile, per se, but because there's a different style of bangka for nearly every possible application. 

    We've written about bangkas several times already, but an offer of photos from reader Michael Williams of Flatwolf Photography has given us a good reason to look at them yet again. What strikes us most about the current batch of images is the variation in the configuration of outrigger booms. As always, click any image to enlarge.

    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    We'll begin with this image of a medium-size power bangka as a kind of baseline for comparison. The outrigger float -- a single bamboo pole of large diameter -- angles fairly steeply up toward the bow. To achieve this, forward boom slopes down quite gently, while the aft boom takes an abrupt turn downward. One finds these two boom configurations in different combinations on different bangkas.
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    Three booms with progressively steep ends to accommodate the sloping floats. The booms are stout and rectangular in section. Round poles lashed atop them do not seem to add much, if any, strength.

    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    The boom in this small paddling bangka is fastened with lashings to a cleat that spans between two frames about halfway between the gunwales and the bottom of the interior. The frames themselves extend above the gunwales, providing stops that prevent the boom-and-float assembly from shifting forward or aft.
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    The booms to the right and left of the image are straight across the middle, while the boom in the middle is bent down somewhat amidship, for a bit of a gull-wing configuration. The booms appear to be built up of three sections, the joints visible where the horizontal section transitions to a downward curve toward the float. The joints are probably simple scarf joints, lashed with cordage and covered with some kind of sealant or adhesive. 
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    These light, obviously very flexible booms in this nicely finished, small power bangka appear to be in one piece, although they might be scarfed together as in the previous photo but finished more carefully. The booms are placed outboard of the extended frame tops. In comparison, the booms on the boat in the third photo were placed inboard the extended frame tops.
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    The five booms on this large passenger bangka are complex structures. Amidships, each appears to be an open-topped, box-section girder from which a tapered, rectangular-section beam protrudes outboard with a slight downward slope. Lashed on top of these are several bamboo poles, lashed together and extending further outboard. One pole in this bundle extends even further outboard and curves downward to contact the float, which is itself a few bamboo poles of small diameter, providing probably only modest buoyancy. In the main, the booms appear to be quite rigid, although the lightness of the final outboard section may impart some flexibility.
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    A single-outrigger bangka. This appears to be by design, and not a partially disassembled boat. The float is a carved piece of timber, not a bamboo pole as in most other examples. The amount of flexibility in the construction appears to be minimal.
    Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
    The outriggers on this small paddling bangka tilt downward toward the bow. We can't think of a good reason for this unusual design feature.

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    In our previous post, we looked at details of outrigger design and construction in the Filipino outrigger boats known as bangkas. Here we'll look at other design and construction details in additional images from Michael Williams of Flatwolf Photography, to whom we express our thanks. (Click any image to enlarge.)

    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    Bangkas were originally built as dugout canoes, then as extended dugouts (i.e., with strakes added atop the dugout base to increase freeboard). As shown in this bangka undergoing repairs, plywood construction is now more common. The bottom remains a heavy plank -- perhaps a bare artifact of the original dugout concept. A roughly-hewn stem is scarfed onto the bottom, but perhaps it will be fined up before the missing side planking is replaced. Straight frames support the sides. Not visible here, but shown in the previous post (3rd image from top): there are no frames across the bottom; the side frames merely butt against the top of the bottom plank.
    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    Some larger bangkas have a sharply flaring top strake. This would widen the top of the hull for more interior room, deflect spray, and increase buoyancy if the bow plunges in rough seas.
    The outrigger booms show both similarities and differences from that on another large commercial passenger bangka shown in the previous post (6th from top). The forward boom consists of an open-top box beam making up about half of the boom's total length. Inside the box are five bamboo poles, two above three, all of which extend beyond the box. The bottom three poles extend farther than the top two and connect directly to the outrigger float. The next boom back lacks the box beam, and has the poles supported across their middle lengths by what might be a flat plank or possibly additional shorter poles.
    It's unclear if the nicely shaped outrigger float is a solid carved timber or -- what we think more likely -- a hollow plywood or composite construction.
    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    The flaring top strakes on this this bangka dive boat extend into a long, overhanging bow that supports a flat platform.
    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    A bangka of similar size to the one above lacks the flaring top strake, and its long, extended bow is narrow and not intended for use as a platform.
    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    This small bangka has an elegantly vertical sternpost.
    Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
    In contrast, these small power bangkas have steeply sloped sternposts.
    The running gear is of notably light weight and entirely exposed, requiring great care when operating in shallow water and when hauling the boat onto the beach. The rudder post is secured outboard to starboard and is turned by a short tiller connected to a push-pull rod, allowing the helmsman to sit forward of the engine box.

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    Flying proas of the Caroline Islands, from Admiral Paris
    Flying proas of the Caroline Islands, from Adm. Paris. (click any image to enlarge)
    In 1983 and 1984, Steve Thomas, who would later host the television series This Old House, lived intermittently on the tiny atoll of Satawal in the central Caroline Islands, an experience he documented in the book The Last Navigator: A Young Man, An Ancient Mariner, The Secrets of the Sea. While there, he lived with and studied under Mau Piailug, a master of the traditional Micronesian art and science of navigation, who had previously gained notoriety as the navigator on the early voyages of Hokule’a (which, as a Polynesian double canoe, was quite a different craft from the single-outrigger canoes of Micronesia to which he was accustomed).

    proa from Satawal (From The Last Navigator, by Steve Thomas)
    A proa from Satawal (From the cover of The Last Navigator, by Steve Thomas)
    The Last Navigator is a good book, an engaging, sensitively-written memoir of a young man attempting to learn about and fit into a very different society – in this case, one whose traditional, preindustrial culture was under extreme pressure from the forces of modernization and Westernization. While it contained what I suspect might be some valuable ethnographic observations and a good general description of traditional Micronesian methods of navigation (for a detailed explanation, see We, The Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific, by David Lewis), it is scanty on information about the boats of Satawal and their construction.

    Micronesia was home to a great number of outrigger canoe types – so great that James Hornell, in TheCanoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia, devoted many pages documenting separately those of the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Gilberts, the Marianas, and certain other of the region’s smaller groups and individual islands. Even within the central Carolines, there was too much variation between islands for it to be practical to document every differentiating detail, necessitating some generalization of a “western and central Caroline” type. Since I came to the subject of the central Carolines canoe by way of The Last Navigator, this post focuses, to the extent possible, on boats most like those that appear on Satawal, and relies on Hornell’s generalizations for a more encompassing view.

    Flying proa or popo of the Caroline Islands, after Paris
    Flying proa or popo of the Caroline Islands. (From Hornell, after Paris) 
    The ocean-voyaging canoes of Satawal are “flying proas” of a type which, according to Hornell, were called popos. Like almost all single-outrigger craft of the Pacific, they always sail with the outrigger to windward, using the outrigger float for stability in light or no air and as a counterbalance – supplemented by crew weight – against the force of higher winds. As such, popos are shunting craft, with identical ends that alternately serve as the bow and stern as the boat changes direction relative to the wind.

    canoes of western and central Carolines and Marshall Islands (Kubary)
    Notable differences in canoe design existed between the main island groups of Micronesia, as shown in this comparison of proas from the western and central Carolines (left) and the Marshall Islands (right). (Kubary)
    Among the most distinctive characteristic of the popo are:
    • a narrow, deep hull with identical ends but lateral asymmetry, in which the windward side is much less curved than the leeward. In fact, on some boats, the windward side of the hull is nearly a flat plane.
    • hull construction of stitched planks on a dugout base
    • a platform extending from the hull on the lee side, opposite the outrigger
    • an oceanic lateen rig, consisting of a single triangular sprit sail hung from a mast stepped exactly amidships that pivots fore-and-aft with each shunt, allowing the sail’s direction and its center of effort to shift ends (not, however, without some complex evolutions on the part of the crew)
    When Thomas lived on Satawal, Piailug was in the process of building a popo 33’ feet long and 8’ high from the keel to the “eyes” at the ends. This was the largest canoe built there in living memory, most others being around 26’ or 27’ long. According to Hornell, the canoes present in the central Carolines early in the twentieth century were smaller than those of the nineteenth, so lengths in the mid-thirty-foot range and, judging from Paris's drawings, even longer, may have been common in the past.

    Hull Form and Construction

    End, plan and construction views of the Caroline proa
    End, plan and section views of the Caroline proa (Hornell, after Paris)
    On Yap, in the western Carolines, and a few other islands were large trees were available,
    ...all but the upper part of the sides and the two curved heads are hewn from a single log. In atolls where no large timber is available the dugout portion shrinks to a wedge-shaped piece channeled longitudinally on the upper side so as to give two everted edges upon which the garboard strakes are sewn.... Usually the shapes and sizes of the strake planks are irregular, suitable wood being too precious in atolls to permit either of long running lengths or of adzing opposite edges parallel. So the hull in these islands is a mass of patchwork, all, however, fitted together with remarkable accuracy. (Hornell)

    West/Central Carolines proa plan and construction views
    Paris's plan and construction views on which Hornell's illustrations are based. (We could find only this poor quality image. Please contact us if you can provide a better.)
    According to Thomas, the hull timber was breadfruit or “a mahoganylike tree called rugger...” from which the keel was hewn and the planks were split. Thomas describes how a chainsaw was used to fell the tree for the keel of Piailug’s new boat. The chainsaw was a fairly unfamiliar tool on Satawal at the time, and few of the men knew how to use it. After the “blade-like legs” of the breadfruit were cut through and the tree was felled, limbed, and cut to its desired length, the log for the keel was 6’ in diameter and 30’ long. With the chainsaw, a couple of operators performed the process in one morning “what usually took six men more than a day” to perform with axes.

    Thomas does not describe how planks were split or otherwise gotten out, but it is clear that adzes were used to shape all the timbers. The hull has two end pieces cut from solid timber, each of which attaches at an end of the keel and extends upward as a cutwater and stem “and ends throughout the western and central Carolines in a peculiar and most characteristic fork” (Hornell).

    No plans or standard measuring devices are used in shaping the hull, the builders working instead by eye and by a series of proportions or ratios between various of the boat’s features. (For example: height of the mast equals length of the hull; length of the outrigger is one half the length of the hull. Thomas.) Regarding the pronounced asymmetry of the hull, Hornell explains that is counteracts the asymmetrical resistance imposed by the single outrigger, allowing the boat to travel straight with minimal steering input when the float is in the water.

    Planks are added to the keel to build up the hull’s freeboard with, as Hornell says, “little or no need to fit strengthening frames and this is not the custom in the Carolines.... Adequate stiffness is obtained when necessary by the insertion of solid bulkheads or partitions beneath the transverse supports of the lee platform.” Stiffness is increased further with heavy thwarts and gunwales.

    Thomas stated that Piailug, in building his new boat, lashed the planks together temporarily, but Thomas did not explain why. Perhaps it was not enough to ensure that each individual plank fitted properly against its neighbors but that, instead, the entire hull had to be test-assembled to ensure good fits. The wood of the cross-beams (i.e., thwarts) that Piailug wished to install was too tough to be worked with an adze, so the pieces were buried in moist sand for a period to soften them.

    Planks are stitched to the keel and to each other with discontinuous stitches of coconut-fiber rope (i.e., coir), made, in Thomas’s account, by the island’s old men, hand-rolling the coconut fibers against their thighs. Planks were caulked with a compound of dehydrated breadfruit sap applied to strips of coconut husk. According to Thomas, this caulking gradually dries out and loses its efficacy, requiring the boats to be disassembled and rebuilt “every two years or so.”

    During one of these rebuilding episodes on Satawal on a boat named Suntory (after a brand of Japanese whiskey), the builder in charge decided to lighten the boat to make it faster. After disassembly, all the planks were therefore adzed down to make them thinner. Thomas did not describe whether this process improved the boat’s performance or affected its strength or water-tightness.

    Thomas agrees with Hornell in saying that the outer surface of the hull was finished very smooth, although the process of sanding or otherwise smoothing the planks it is not described by either. (Throughout much of the Pacific, shark skin was used as sandpaper for this purpose.) Hulls were traditionally painted in patterns of red, black, and white.

    Outrigger and Lee Platform

    According to Hornell, the two main outrigger booms, which are fairly straight, “pierce both washstrakes of the hull in large canoes and (extend) a few inches outboard on the lee side.” (In Hornell's version of Admiral Paris’s drawing, however, it is unclear if the booms are entirely surrounded by the washstrake or if, possibly, they are notched full-depth into its top surface). In the popo’s most characteristic form, the outrigger booms also serve as the main support for a large triangular platform which carries crew and cargo. Poles extend diagonally from the windward gunwale at points near both ends of the hull to the main booms near their outboard ends, and the resulting isosceles triangle is covered by planks or light poles.

    A second rectangular platform extending from the hull’s leeward size further increases the boat’s cargo capacity. This platform is supported by another pair of heavy timbers that cross the hull. These timbers are angled sharply upward toward their outboard end, allowing the platform to remain dry with the boat at a significant angle of heel. Sometimes the surface of the platform is built directly on these sloping supports; on other cases, another, lighter framework is built over this main structure and decked over, creating a surface that is horizontal when the boat is on an even keel.

    Enclosures of basketwork, which may be round, oval, or rectangular, often appear on one or both platforms. These are used primarily to protect cargo, but it appears they occasionally serve as shelters for passengers or off-duty crew.

    Connection between the outrigger booms and the float
    Connection between the outrigger booms and the float. In the image on the left, the inner two crutches have been omitted for clarity. (Hornell)
    The outrigger float, canoe-shaped in plan, hexagonal in section, and about half the length of the hull, is hewn from a solid baulk. It is connected to each boom by a pair of short crutches, the forks of which straddle the booms from below. The lower ends of these crutches are pointed and driven several inches into the upper facets of the float. Between each pair of crutch forks is a yoke which rests across the top surfaces of both booms and extends several inches beyond them. Holes are bored horizontally through the angled top surfaces of the float, and ropes are routed through these holes, over the ends of the yoke, and in a complex path around the crutches to hold the float securely to the booms, with the crutches in compression between them. Additional, lighter-weight braces are lashed to the undersides of the booms, further connecting them to each other and to the crutches, and from one pair of crutches to the other. The entire outrigger structure is thus highly complex and highly engineered for strength and flexibility.

    Sail Rig and Steering

    Caroline proas
    Caroline proas (Paris)
    The defining characteristic of all true proas is the oceanic lateen or oceanic sprit sail hung from a pivoting mast stepped amidships. (I find the term “crab-claw” used often inappropriately, preferring to apply it only to sails whose leech is deeply concave and therefore somewhat reminiscent of the shape of a claw. This is not the case in the canoes of the central Carolines.) In combination with a double-ended hull, this permits the boat to be shunted, and sailed with either end forward. Sails were traditionally hand-woven from fibers stripped from the leaves of the pandanus or screw pine, but commercially manufactured cloth has apparently been in common use for some time.

    Hornell takes pains to define the nomenclature of the sail’s spars, calling the one at the luff (the upper/forward edge) a yard, and the one at the foot a boom. He describes the rigging as follows:
    A shroud runs from near the masthead to the yoke [i.e., the short, stout timber connecting the outrigger booms at their outer ends], to which it is secured after passing through a hole bored through its center. There is also a fore-and-aft running stay made fast respectively to the endmost thwart at each end of the hull.
    (T)he sail is hoisted by a peak halyard attached far out on the yard and rove through a sheave hole in the masthead; the heel of the yard rests against a sail step set on a short thwart right in the bows, to which the tack is made fast.

    There is no shroud or other line serving as such to leeward in this description, and in Thomas’s account of a voyage from Satawal to a nearby atoll, the rig was nearly lost once when the sail was backwinded, due to this lack of support on that side of the boat. No leeward shroud is shown in the diagram or cover photo of Thomas’s book, but in Paris’s diagram and one of his drawings (fifth and first images in this post), a shroud is visible leading from the masthead to the lee platform. Perhaps the practice varied on different islands even within the central Carolines.

    Main features of a Satawal proa
    Main features of a Satawal proa (from Thomas)
    In the past, popos were generally steered by means of a quarter rudder with a tiller that extended laterally from its aft edge near the top. The rudder was not hung from the hull, but instead held by the helmsman’s foot against a wooden pin that projected from the hull. A rope from the top of the blade to the hull, visible in Paris's diagram (image #3), prevented loss of the rudder and perhaps provided some stability to it but apparently did little to hold it in its proper working position for, according to Hornell, “The steersman’s duty is the heaviest aboard and on a journey he has to be relieved frequently.” It rough seas when the rudder could not be controlled, it was lifted from the water, and several men with regular paddles would steer. In Thomas’s account, however, steering was always by means of a single steering paddle, and no rudder appears in his description or in the book’s diagram.

    Canoe Houses

    Caroline sailing canoes are built and kept in a canoe house. On Satawal, in Thomas’s account, each of the island’s eight clans owned a canoe and kept it in its own house. All the houses were on the same beach, near the main (only?) channel through the island’s surrounding reef, with the house belonging to the clan of the island’s chief directly opposite and closest to the channel. The canoe houses serve as social centers for the men, who typically gather there to talk and drink even when work is not under way on a canoe.

    Experienced men of middle age do most of the work on the canoes, assisted and observed by younger ones -- or, in Thomas's account, those few younger ones who could be induced to take an interest any longer. Older men typically observe the work and offer suggestions but restrict their hands-on contribution to the making of rope.

    Primary Sources:

    Hornell, James, The Canoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia, B.P. Bishop Museum, 1936, in Canoes of Oceania (with A.C. Haddon), B.P Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1975

    Kubary, J.S., Ethnographiphische Beiträge zur Kenntniss des Karolinen-Achipel, Leiden, 1889-95

    Pâris, François-Edmond, Essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra-européens ou Collection des navires et pirogues construits par les habitants de l'Asie, de la Malaisie, du Grand Océan et de l'Amérique dessinés et mesurés pendant les voyages autour du monde de "l'Astrolabe", "la Favorite" et "l'Artémise")

    Thomas, Steve, The Last Navigator: A Young Man, An Ancient Mariner, The Secrets of the Sea, International Marine, Camden, ME (no date). Originally published by Henry Holt, 1987

    Additional sources, useful websites and pages: and

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    On a recent visit to Ecuador, we did not have an opportunity to observe any boats in the field, but we did manage to visit several museums in Quito and Cuenca that had items of interest on exhibit. These included sculptures of dugout canoes and canoeists, and boat-related artifacts, from a number of precolumbian societies, as well as a couple of contemporary canoes, related implements, and a few models. We'll organize them in more than one blog post according the museums in which they appear.

    First up: a contemporary dugout canoe of the Shuar people of Ecuadorian Amazonia, i.e., el Oriente, in the Museo Amazonico in Quito:

    Shuar dugout canoe, side view
    The canoe was perhaps 16 feet long but, with its (presumed) bow partially hidden behind other display items, it was not possible to get a good full-length photo. Maximum beam is probably 14" to 16". The bottom has a flat run (no rocker). The charming museum guide is included for scale. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    Shuar dugout canoe, view from stern
    A view of the stern shows: rather straight sides and a flat bottom meeting at a hard chine; a sharp, angular transition where the bottom begins to rise toward the end; and a large overhanging stern platform where the paddler might sit.In the foreground is a scale model of a fish trap. Although an explanation was absent, I believe it is installed on a river bed with the left (higher) end facing downstream. Fish enter over the (submerged) lower end and find themselves aground on the upward-sloping poles, being prevented by the current from backing out before the fishermen can gather them. (This is speculation. Reader input is solicited.)
    Shuar dugout canoe, interior stern view
    Top view from the stern. From bottom of image: the stern platform; the flat, angular transition between the platform and the interior bottom, which is flat; nicely thinned sides, somewhat bulged outward amidships.
    Shuar dugout canoe, interior bow view
    The bow is pointed in plan view, rounded in section view and curving smoothly into the flat bottom. The interior appears to have been treated against rot and insect infestation by charring. Adze marks are visible.
    Shuar dugout canoe, bow profile
    Exterior side view of the bow shows a somewhat sharp, angular transition between the bottom and cutwater -- a surprising element, given the bow's appearance when viewed from above. Tool marks are visible on the exterior surface, showing capable adze or ax work but no attempt at smoothing through abrasive methods.
    paddles for Shuar dugout canoe
    The accompanying paddles are carved entire. They feature extremely large, heavy blades, short shafts, and triangular grips. The triangle of the grip of the paddle on the left departs from the shaft more abruptly than the one on the right and has a more distinct concave curve on its top edge. On both, the shaft extends somewhat into the blade and tapers gradually to the flat surface.

    Shuar fishing gear
    Fishing gear associated with the canoe:
    a. The weighted net is little more than a foot in height; it is presumably stretched across a shallow, narrow stream or a constrained section of a wider one; an alternate explanation is that it might be stretched between two canoes and trawled.
    b. Two fish traps: the lower one is roughly 3 feet long. With their very small openings, it's unclear how they work. (Perhaps bait is placed in the narrow end and a fish, after entering the trap to obtain the bait, is unable to back out?) Reader input is solicited.
    c. The metal shaft might be part of a lance or harpoon. No explanatory material appeared.

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    Continuing our series on boats and related artifacts that we observed recently at museums in Ecuador, we'll look now at a examples from a very fine exhibit of the country's diverse cultures at the Museo Pumapungo in the lovely city of Cuenca. (For the first post in this series, see this article about an Amazonian logboat.)

    The first item, the canoe that follows, was built by cholo pescadores -- literally "mixed-race fishermen" -- on the Pacific coast. Like many Ecuadorians, cholo are of mixed Indian and Spanish descent. The more common term for that genetic mixture in Ecuador and elsewhere in Latin America is mestaje (i.e., mestizo, literally meaning "miscegenation," but used in a nonperjorative sense to mean simply "mixed race"), but the cholo pescadores are considered a distinct culture. What follows is my sadly unfluent translation of the exhibit card, the only information provided about the boat and related items:
    Cholo Pescador  
    They are so called because of mixed Indian/Spanish ancestry and their primary economic activity. They live at the seashore in small towns or compounds.


    Fishing in canoes and bongos*, using cast nets, trammel nets and other devices, is done at night or at dawn, as a group, and they return at noon. They tend to be organized in cooperatives and are abandoning traditional techniques and boats.  
    The mangrove is an important part of the coastal ecosystem; However, in the places where the fisherman lived traditionally, shrimp farms and loggingare now causing major alterations in the life of the inhabitants and in the natural balance.  
    The cholo pescador's language is Spanish, with unique modalities and tones. It has a rich poetic and narrative oral tradition. (The culture's) main festivals are those of the Virgin of Monserrate, María Auxiliadora, San Jacinto and St. Peter the Fisherman.

    *The meaning of "bongo" as a type of watercraft is unknown. Reader input is requested.

    Ecuadorian cholo pescador plank canoe
    Th cholo canoe on display is small, probably 12 feet long or less. It is plank-built, with a flat bottom that rises at both ends, hard chines, and nearly vertical sides. Given its small size, we conclude the boat is used by a single fisherman in protected waters, possibly amidst the local mangrove swamps that cover much of the coast. The presumed stern is to the right. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador plank canoe
    There are no frames or floor timbers. A single sitting thwart (beneath the religious statue) is the only interior structure. A ringbolt (not visible here, but shown below) near the end at the left of the photo presumably designates the bow. The associated fishing net seems to have a drawstring at the bottom. We believe this is a cast net with a purse-type closure.
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador plank canoe - stern transom
    Both ends have small, shaped transoms well above the waterline at the ends of the upward-rising flat bottom. The garboard plank is rabbeted into the sides of the transom. There appear to be at least four strakes of varying height per side. The planks are quite thick and the boat is probably too heavy to be carried by one man. We could not make out the method of fastening, but suspect the planks are edge-nailed to one another. Several sheet metal patches have been fastened with nails on the exterior to repair damage, and painted over. 
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador plank canoe - bow detail
    Ring bolt fastened through the bottom at the presumed bow to secure the painter.
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador plank canoe - stern plan view
    Plan view of the stern shows that the bottom is made of three strakes, the center one being the widest. The rising ends of the bottom are separate pieces from the central bottom plank, and they are hollowed, dugout-style. This is an interesting, rarely-seen stage of boat development, representing a small step between the extended dugout and the purely plank-built craft.
    Also apparent is the substantial shaping of the side planks. (The bow is similar.) Given their thickness, we presume the planks are hewn to the desired curves near the ends rather than bent to shape. The builders may find it easier to build the canoe with a transom than with stemposts and sharp ends, but the substantial hollow of the planking curve just inboard of the transom appears to have no functional explanation, and is probably aesthetic, or perhaps a design holdover from earlier dugout construction. It is somewhat reminiscent of the extended platforms at the ends of many dugout canoes from Ecuador and elsewhere.
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador boat model
    This model is also part of the cholo pescador section of the same exhibit. It depicts a larger, more seaworthy, double-ended type with sharp ends, probably used by the same people in more open waters along the coast. It shows two sets of internal, sawn frames, two heavy thwarts, and seats at both ends. It is unclear whether it represents a large extended dugout or a boat that is entirely plank-built. The boat would accommodate a larger crew than the small canoe shown above and be capable of taking significantly larger catches. 
    Ecuadorian cholo pescador fishing implements
    Fishermen's tools. Top: net needles. Bottom: harpoon heads

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    The Inca are certainly the best-known pre-European culture of Ecuador, but they were hardly the only one. In fact, they were latecomers on the scene, invading from Peru less than one hundred years before Francisco Pizzaro arrived from Spain to destroy their civilization. Prior to the Inca's arrival, the land that is present-day Ecuador had been occupied by a succession of regional cultures, several of which used small watercraft.

    Dugout canoes played an important enough role in some Ecuadorian cultures to have warranted frequent representation in ceramic miniatures. Although we don't know the purpose of these sculptures, it's probable that they had ritual significance, as is the case with almost all art from almost all ancient societies. In spite of their pleasing aesthetics, it is unlikely that they were made for purely decorative purposes.

    With the exception of the anchor, the following photos were taken through glass exhibit cases. The first three boats (six photos), the paddlers without canoes, and the anchor are at the Museo Antropologico y de Arte Contemporaneo in Guayaquil. The last canoe miniature (three photos) is at the Archaeological Museum of the University of Cuenca. Click any image to enlarge.

    Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers
    Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers. ("Existing in the late formative period the Chorrera culture lived in the Andes and Coastal Regions of Ecuador between 1000 and 300 BC." [Wikipedia]). The canoe has overhangs at both ends upon which the paddlers squat.
    Chorrera dugout canoe with two paddlers
    With its full-width bow and stern platforms, the canoe is nearly rectangular in plan view. The deep interior may simply represent a real canoe's hold, or the sculture might have been used as a vessel for food or other ritual offerings. Both paddles are held to the same side of the canoe. 
    Chorrera canoe paddler miniature
    The squatting bowman holds a paddle with a long blade that taperes into the shaft and a square bottom end. There is no end grip on the shaft. The paddler wears decorative ear plugs and a helmet of some kind.
    Tolita canoeist and canoe miniature
    Tolita canoeist and canoe. More crudely fashioned or "schematic" than the previous one, this canoe nonetheless shows small bow or stern platforms. Although the canoeist lacks a paddle, he is otherwise well-equipped. The Tolita lived on the northern coast of Ecuador from 500BCE to 500CE. 
    Tolita canoe miniature
    An elaborate Tolita canoe with several notable features, including:
    • a bow platform
    • structures that appear as side decks fastened to the outside of the hull from about midships to the stern
    • an arched shelter amidships
    • a coaming or seat backs aft of the shelter

    The seat backs, and possibly the shelter, indicate the boat was used for transportation of people, although carrying cargo in addition cannot be ruled out. These features also appear to indicate a boat for a user of high status, perhaps a merchant who could afford to sit back and relax while others worked the boat.
    The "side decks" are a curiosity Did men stand on them to paddle or pole the boat, leaving more room in the hull for passengers and/or cargo? If men stood on both of them simultaneously, the boat would have adequate balance. But if one paddler were to step or fall off, the boat might become highly unstable. Perhaps, instead of decks, they represent sponsons to increase the boat's stability and buoyancy, or simply planks that would provide momentary resistance if the boat were to heel suddenly.
    Tolita canoe miniature
    This angle shows a clearer view of the seat backs or coaming.
    Tolita canoe paddlers miniatures
    Two Tolita canoe paddlers. I speculate that in this and the following image, the missing canoes were made of wood, which disintegrated prior to the recovery of the ceramics. Unlike the Chorrera paddles, these have lanceolate blades. The paddlers squat, holding their paddles in a more realistic fashion than the Chorrera paddler, with their top hand nearer the end of the shaft (which, like the Chorrera example, lacks an end-grip). The paddlers appear to be wearing skirts and helmets.
    Tolita canoe paddlers miniatures
    Three more Tolita paddlers. The middle and rear figures sit with their bodies facing front and their legs extended. The front figure is in a more dynamic pose: his torso is twisted to his "on" paddling side and his onside leg is crossed over his offside leg. All three figures wear helmets but, unlike the previous example, their legs are bare. 
    Miniatures of Tolita canoes and paddlers
    Another angle showing the two groups of paddlers (and, behind them, the covered boat [left], two pieces of spondylus shell [right], which were used as currency and for decorative work, and the rude canoeist). 
    Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
    Tolita canoeists in a dugout canoe. The canoe, which is broken crosswise amidships, has bow and stern platforms and a nearly rectangular plan view. The paddlers' disc-shaped headgear with side flaps is similar to that worn by the aft-most paddler in the group of three above. Their legs are bare, and the bow paddler's legs are crossed.
    Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
    The same item as above. Though simply rendered, the figures have the realistic energy of paddlers concentrating at their work, straining to push forward. 
    Tolita canoe and canoeists miniature
    Aft view of the same item, showing the canoe's broad stern platform, slab-shaped sides, and rounded bottom.
    Stone anchor from the Manteño civilization
    Stone anchor from the Manteño civilization, which dominated Ecuador's central coast from 850CE to 1600CE. The Manteño used large sailing rafts of balsa logs to conduct intensive trade along the coast of Ecuador and as far north as Central America. This anchor, however, appears much too small to have been used on an oceanic raft and was probably used with a smaller watercraft. (American currency is for scale. Rope is not original). 

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    We've written before about woven or basket boats in Vietnam (see, for example, this post highlighting a canoe-form craft, and this one about coracles), but the one in the image below, from James Hornell's Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, so struck us by its graceful form that we thought it was worth sharing.
    Basket boat, Vietnam, from Hornell
    Woven boat of the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam. From Hornell, Water Transport. (click to enlarge)
    The boat is common on the Gulf of Tonkin. We'll quote Hornell's comments in almost their entirety:
    This is a light, graceful craft made of inch-wide strips of split bamboo, closely woven into stiff matting, a material of great strength, resiliency and resistance to strain. 
    In plan it is of an elongated ovate form, the wider end being the stern. Both extremities are spoon-shaped like the fore end of a Norwegian praam [sic] and are rounded in horizontal outline. A gentle sheer toward each end carries stem and stern above the level of the midships gunwale, the stem rising the higher. The bent-up sides of the bamboo body are embraced around their margin by several broad bands of split bamboo on each side and bound together into a stout cylinder with rattan strips to form a stout, continuous gunwale. Four or five strong bamboos stretch from gunwale to gunwale to prevent spreading; they are secured partly by lashing and partly by pegging into the gunwales. Along each side above the gunwales and over the ends of the cross beam, a slender bamboo pole is lashed to form a top rail. 
    On the floor two long bamboos, spaced some distance apart, serve as inner stringers. One of the thwart beams, usually the second from the stern, is supported below by two short stanchions fixed at the lower ends into a stout bamboo bar, fitted athwart the bottom. Before launching, the interstices in the matting forming the skin of the hull are daubed with a caulking mixture of cow dung and coconut oil [citation omitted], periodically renewed. Strips of split bamboo matting are fitted over the floor to serve as dunnage and so keep cargo and passengers dry against moderate leaking. 
    Although very light and easily carried by one man, they are able to carry several passengers together with a quantity of baggage. 
    The dimensions of one measured by Nishimura [citation omitted] were as follows: length, 12 feet 7 inches; width, 5 feet; depth, 26 inches: usually they run smaller -- about 6 feet by 4 feet, by about 10 inches deep. 
    Nishimura states that this type of craft is very common in Tongking, where almost all families living near rivers and streams keep one or two.
    A couple observations on the above:

    1. It seems unlikely that the caulking mixture was applied only to the "interstices in the matting." It is almost certainly spread over the entire outer surface of the hull. Road tar and roofing tar have largely replaced cow dung and coconut oil for waterproofing.

    2. The purpose of the top rail is not explained. They may serve as the top elements of girders that stiffen the boat longitudinally, with the thwarts or cross-beams serving to create a vertical gap between them and the gunwales. But read on.

    The image below, from Ken Foster's Boats & Rice blog, shows what appears to be the same kind of boat in current use on Halong (or Ha Long) Bay, near Hai Phong on the Gulf of Tonkin. This boat has a more elaborate and substantial framework around the perimeter than the light top rails in Hornell's image, but the curve of the bow (?) rising above the transverse end-piece of the perimeter framework seems to identify the boat as the same basic type. Along with strengthening the structure further, the fore-and-aft elements of the rectangular perimeter frame serve to anchor the tholepins. This might have been another unexplained purpose of the top rails in Hornell's image.
    Woven boat, Halong Bay, from Boats & Rice blog
    Woven boat, Halong Bay, from Boats & Rice

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    After Ken Preston saw my previous post about Vietnamese basket boats, which included one of his photos from his website Boats and Rice, he contacted me about another interesting and beautiful Vietnamese boat he was privileged to sail on recently.
    Sailing fishing boat, Quang Yen, Vietnam. Photo Ken Preston.
    Newly launched traditional fishing boat, Quang Yen, Vietnam. Photo: Ken Preston. Rights reserved/used by permission. (Click to enlarge.)
    This type of sailing fishing boat from northern Vietnam went out of use some decades ago with the proliferation of engines. Ken hesitates to call this boat a "replica," because it was built authentic to tradition in every respect by an 11th-generation boatbuilder who worked on them many years ago (and who continues to do business building more contemporary wooden fishing boats). It simply IS one of the type, albeit separated by many years from the rest. 

    The video shows the boat getting under way and looking quite lovely sailing up- and down-wind. The video was shot by one of Mr. Chan's sons; Ken edited it and added the explanatory text.

    The (apparently unnamed) boat was built in the boatyard of Mr. Le Duc Chan of Quang Yen, a short distance upstream of Halong Bay. It was commissioned by Dr. Nguyen Viet, an archaeologist with an interest in Vietnam's maritime heritage. Dr. Viet caused the construction of the boat to be scrupulously recorded in still images and video, with the assistance of a naval architect who also documented the boat and its construction for legal purposes.

    The boat is of a type that would have been owned (and lived on?) by a family and used for commercial fishing. Dr. Viet's version is true to the original, lacking modern accommodations belowdecks. It is 34.6' LOD, 27.3' at the waterline, with a maximum beam of 11.7', a board-up draft of just 18", and a daggerboard-down draft of 5.4'. It is junk-schooner rigged, and according to Ken's lengthy, colorful blog post, it can be easily handled by a crew of two: one at the helm and mainsheet, another at the foresail. Ken describes its sailing behavior as extremely well-mannered, getting under way, answering the helm, coming about, dropping sail, and docking reliably and with a total lack of fuss.

    Ken's article about the boat will appear in the May issue of WoodenBoat magazine. He also has a book about Vietnamese fishing boats, with some 500 photos plus text, coming out soon from Women's Publishing House of Ho Chi Minh City. An English-language edition will appear this summer, to be followed by a Vietnamese translation. Neither appears on the publisher's website at the time of this writing.

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  • 05/04/18--06:53: The Boats of Iraq's Madan

  • Madan canoe
    The Madan, or Marsh Arabs of Iraq, depended heavily upon their boats, including canoes like this one under construction. Note the heavy, closely-spaced, roughly-formed frames, inner planking at the tops of the frames, and heavy thwarts. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    Wilfred Thesiger was an upper-class Englishman, born the son of a diplomat in Addis Ababa in 1910 and educated in England at the best schools. After conducting expeditions and serving in the diplomatic service himself in Africa, he served with distinction in the Second World War then became a wanderer in Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, immersing himself in traditional, tribal cultures and writing about them – and perhaps gathering intelligence on the side.

    In the early and mid 1950s, he spent many months living and traveling in the marshy lands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq. In his book about these travels, The Marsh Arabs, he explains that he found peace of mind living in undeveloped areas in general, and the less Europeanized and regimented, the better:
    “(H)aving seen Iraqui Kurdistan I had no desire to go back. Travel was too restricted, rather like stalking in a Highland deer forest . . . . Admittedly the Marshes, for which I was now bound, covered a smaller area than Iraqi Kurdistan, but they were a world complete in itself, not a fragment of a larger world to the rest of which I was denied access.”
    Thesiger was no anthropologist – The Marsh Arabs is a mixture of travelogue and memoir – but he was sensitive to culture and a keen and appreciative observer. Naturally, he saw, used, and reported on the Marsh Arabs' use of boats. Although every aspect of the lives of the Arabs who lived in the Iraqi marshes was regulated by their watery environment, we will concentrate on his observations directly related to their watercraft.

    Madan house built of reeds
    A Madan house, built of reeds and covered with mats, on a kibasha, or artificial island, also made of reeds and rushes. Buffalo were a mainstay for many of the Madan.
    For context: The Marsh Arabs, or Madan, are Shia Moslems. (Northern Iraqis are Sunni.) Dotted with thousands of lakes and lagoons and cut through with innumerable permanent and seasonal waterways, large parts of the marshes dry out in summer and inundate after the rains begin further north. Many of the Madan’s homes and villages are built on tiny man-made islands, although a few areas of slightly higher elevation allow the construction of more permanent, conventional structures and small communities. Some of the Madan did not live in settled villages, but led completely nomadic lives.

    A mudhif, or Madan meeting house
    A mudhif, or Madan meeting house, where the public business and pleasure of the community was conducted. Thesiger was entertained in many of these, which also served as guest houses. They too were built entirely of reeds.
    Although I write about the culture indiscriminately in the past and present tenses, much of the marsh life Thesiger described is now past, destroyed in part by Sadam Hussein’s campaign against the Madan, which saw the swamps largely drained and destroyed. Some restoration efforts, however, are succeeding in bringing back parts of the habitat and with it, the culture.

    Boat Types

    A balam with a load of reeds
    A balam with a load of reeds.
    With communities and individual homes sited on tiny, often temporary artificial islands, watercraft were used by everyone for every purpose, and small, plank-built one- and two-man canoes were ubiquitous. Larger boats were also common. Those used for the large-scale gathering of reeds and other commercial carriage were called balam, which were typically 30’ to 36’ long.

    The graceful bow of a Madan tarada
    A tarada, with its incomparably graceful bow.
    Taradas, which were indistinguishable from balams except for one detail, could only be owned by sheiks. Thesiger describes one of the first he saw:
    “She was a beautiful craft that could carry as many as twelve people. Thirty-six feet long but only three and half feet at her widest beam, she was carvel-built, flat-bottomed and covered outside with a smooth coating of bitumen over the wooden planks. The front swept forwards and upwards in a perfect curve to form a long, thin, tapering stem; the stern too rose in a graceful sweep. Two feet of the stern and of the bows were decked; there was a thwart a third of the way forward, and a strengthening beam across the boat two thirds of the way forward. Movable boards covered the floor. The top part of the ribs was planked along the inside and studded with five rows of flat, round nail-heads two inches across. These decorative nails were the distinguishing mark of a tarada . . . .”
    Madan zaima, a reed bundle boat
    In spite of its reed-bundle construction, the zaima was a true boat, with a hull that displaced water by virtue of its water-tight shell, not because of the buoyancy of its materials.
    Because the marshes are treeless, wood is expensive and even a small plank-built boat was beyond the means of some. Giant qasab reeds (Phragmites communis), however, were ubiquitous, and they were used to build bundle boats called zaima. Typically 10’ long and 2.5’ in beam, they were coated on the outside with bitumen to waterproof them and extend their life. Even so, they would last only a year, because, unlike on plank-built boats, the bitumen coating on a zaima could not be renewed. Even during Thesiger’s visits, the zaima was falling out of use due to a preference for wooden canoes among even the poor.

    Madan child with rudimentary reed raft
    A young child's rudimentary reed raft.

    Madan child with bundle boat
    This older child's reed raft is a bundle boat, floating by virtue of the reeds themselves. But with its rising bow, it mimics the form of the plank canoes of his elders. 
    Thesiger mentions two more boat types in passing. Children would build rafts of rushes and paddle around on them. And two-masted boats, apparently much larger than balam, were used to trade large volumes of goods downstream with Basra.

    Soon after he had bought himself a balam for 10 pounds sterling to use in traveling about the marshes, Thesiger received from his sheik-patron the extraordinary gift of a top-notch tarada, 36’ long, which he used henceforth. He hired local youth as as crew and kept them with him for extended periods. To increase their loyalty, he did not pay them or treat them like employees. He was, in fact, more generous to them than would have been reasonable on a salary basis, but the arrangement allowed them to assert that they accompanied him as a matter of choice, respect, and friendship rather than a financial transaction.

    Thesiger's tarada in choppy water.
    Thesiger's tarada in choppy water.
    As the only individual who was not a sheik to own a tarada– and an Englishman to boot – Thesiger was a notable individual in the marshes. The highly esteemed boatbuilder who made his tarada also made him paddles uniquely painted red. The boat and its crew were easily recognized for its distinctive paddles.

    Boat Construction

    Madan balam or large workboat
    Balams and taradas feature a multiplicity of relatively light, closely-spaced frames and heavy thwarts, with floorboards and end decks. They lack the inner planking at the tops of the frames that was typical of the canoes in the Iraq marshes.
    No suitable wood was available in southern Iraq and every bit – even for items as small as paddles – had to be brought in from elsewhere. In boat construction, the preferred material for ribs was mulberry from Kurdistan. No mention is made of the type of wood used for planking, all of which was imported “from abroad.” The one key material that was obtained locally was bitumen, which was gathered from small pools where it naturally “bubbled out of the ground.” After being allowed to cool it was broken up into chunks for transport.

    Balam under repair
    A balam being recoated with bitumen.
    Boats had to be recoated annually, as the bitumen cracked off. Cracks could be temporarily sealed by heating the bitumen with a torch of reeds. But for proper annual maintenance, the entire coating would be removed with a chisel. Fresh, solid bitumen would be placed on a sheet of metal and melted over a fire, then spread onto the boat one quarter inch thick.  Bitumen spread 1/4 inch thick. Thesiger reports that the Madan believed that a coating applied in winter did not last long as a one applied in summer. This makes sense, as the boat’s planking would be warmer in summer, helping prevent the pitch from cooling too quickly to adhere properly.

    Many of the Madan raised buffalo, and some of them acquired such a taste for pitch that they would eat it off the boats if allowed. This habit was apparently restricted to certain communities – perhaps buffalo are just as regional in their tastes as humans – and where it occurred, boats would be moored away from the shore rather than pulled up where buffalo could get at them.

    interior details of Madan boat
    With a tool kit limited to an adze, a hand saw and a bow drill, workmanship on most boats was rough.

    Madan balam boat
    Nonetheless, Madan boats, especially the larger balams and taradas, were fine and graceful. (The stem appears to be badly cranked to port, however.)

    Most carpentry for boat construction and repairs was done with an adze. Thesiger offers this brief, sadly incomplete description:
    “We watched an old man start on a canoe. He outlined the bottom with transverse slats of wood, an inch or so apart, and then nailed a single long plank down the centre. While we drank tea he fashioned the ribs, selecting suitable pieces of wood from a pile beside him. He used an adze, and his only other tools, a small saw and a bow drill, lay on the mat beside him with a heap of nails.”
    Madan canoe under construction
    Early stage of canoe building, with the floors and central planks in place. The boat is being built upside-down at this stage.

    Of the zaima, however, he provides a more detailed description: 
    “First he made half a dozen tight bundles of five or six qasab reeds rather longer than the length of the proposed boat, and fastened them securely together side by side to form the keel, leaving eighteen inches free at both ends, which he bent upwards. He next bent five long reeds into the shape of a U, passed the middle among the loose ends of the keel, and laced them back to the keel itself. He repeated the process at either end alternately, until he had built up the sides and ends of the hull. This framework he stiffened by tying into it a number of ribs made from two or three willow wands. Bundles of a few reeds, fastened one below the other along the inside of the boat, covered the top half of the ribs and formed the inner planking. Finally, he wedged three stout sticks across the boat as thwarts and secured their ends in place with lumps of bitumen. The zaima was now ready to be coated outside with bitumen.”
    Propulsion and Travel

    Madan poling and paddling a canoe
    A canoe being poled from the stern and padded from the bow through vegetation.
    Boats were propelled by both pole and paddle as the situation required. Small fishing canoes would be punted with a fish spear, butt-end down. The spears were made of reeds, 12 feet long with five-pronged, barbed heads. Paddles were “shovel-shaped pieces of board nailed to lengths of bamboo” (actually reeds, not true bamboo). Those poles which were not fish spears were also simply straight sections of reed. Even such crude paddles were expensive to replace, and their owners would typically take them from their boats when they were ashore to protect them. Likewise with poles to which their owners had become accustomed. This was not to prevent theft, exactly. Rather, it was accepted practice that anyone could take any paddle or pole that wasn’t in its owner’s immediate possession.

    The method of poling balams and taradas was distinctive. In a boat with four men poling, two were in the bow and two in the stern. They poled in time, all of the same side of the boat, switching sides together as needed. In smaller boats with only two poling, the action was also coordinated on the same side. When carrying a full load of reeds, however, the crew of a balam would walk the boat along the gunwale rather than stand in place to pole. This would allow them to apply the full power of their legs to propulsion rather than relying entirely on their arms and upper bodies.

    Madan paddling canoes
    The solo paddler in the foreground canoe sits high in the stern. The tandem paddlers in the other boat are paddling on opposite sides.

    When paddling a balam, two men would sit in the stern on the deck, one in front of the other. One would sit on the forward thwart, and one would kneel in the bows.

    Passengers always sat in the bottom. The place of honor for a passenger was nearest the stern, leaning against the rear thwart. 

    Some passages through the reedbeds were kept open artificially by driving buffalo through when the water was low. Thereafter, regular boat traffic would keep them open. Even so, during the dry season many channels would dry up, requiring much dragging through mud or even completely restricting passage. Some areas of swamp were dammed to create water impoundments for grain growing during the dry season. These dams interfered with free movement of boats through formerly open channels, forcing users to negotiate narrow, rapid sluices both up- and down-current, or even to be dragged over the dams. With a loaded, 35-foot-long balam, this was a difficult chore.

    We'll continue with Thesiger's The Marsh Arabs in a future post, looking at how the Madan used their boats.

    Quotations and images from The Marsh Arabs, Wilfred Thesiger, Penguin Classics, 2008. Copyright 1959. Originally published by Longmans, Green, 1964. This author thanks the copyright holders. Should they object to this use, he asks that they contact him through the blog comments. Their wishes will be respected.

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  • 05/16/18--07:47: Madan Boat Use

  • In the prior post we examined the watercraft of the Madan or Marsh Arabs. Now we'll look at how the Madan used those boats -- particularly the plank-built ones. As in the last post, all the photos and essentially all the content are fromThe Marsh Arabsby Wilfred Thesiger.

    Almost all of the economic activities of the Madan depending upon their boats. The most important were raising buffaloes, fishing, wildfowling, reed cutting, mat-making, and smuggling. Others included raising sheep and goats and growing wheat, barley, and rice. Some entire communities specialized in boat building. 

    Madan boatman with reed mats ready for export
    Huge stacks of rolled mats at the extreme right and left of the image are ready for export downstream. (Click any image to magnify.)
    Mat-making relied upon the reeds and rushes that were ubiquitous in the marshes. Two passages from The Marsh Arabs are illustrative:
    “We passed . . . a large two masted boat loaded high with reed mats, being laboriously poled toward the Tigris. Later we passed a great raft made of dry reeds. Forty feet long and ten feet high, it was aground and temporarily abandoned. When the water-level rose, this stack of reeds would be floated downstream, perhaps as far as Basra, and there broken up and sold.”
    “The Nuafil [one of the many tribes Thesiger visited] kept some buffaloes, but their livelihood depended on the weaving of mats, which they exported in great numbers. Large sailing boats, like the one we had already seen, fetched the mats when the water was deep enough.”
    Although the Madan, as devout Moslems, do not eat pig, they frequently mounted hunting expeditions in which several boatloads of men would go after the wild pig that abounded in the marshes and played havoc with their crops. Some of the hunting may have been done for the pure sport of it, however.

    Madan boats on market day
    Boats congregating in great numbers on market days.
    Aside from economic uses, virtually every aspect of life in the marshes depended upon boats. All visits to other villages, for courting, weddings, funerals, the prosecution of feuds, visits by itinerant circumcisers, etc., were made by boat. As few of the reed islands or marsh dwellers had privies, the call of nature was often answered by hopping into a canoe, paddling a short way off, and squatting over the side. Drinking water, by the way, was drawn from the same source.

    Madan boat carrying a load of passengers
    Even with full load of passengers, there's still several inches of freeboard on this balam. Three men are paddling: one in the bow, and two (on opposite sides) in the stern.
    Thesiger described a scene in which a family was moving their settlement by boat:
    “Two boys in a canoe urged on half a dozen buffaloes, following behind a balam that was paddled by an elderly man and another boy, who made yodelling cries to encourage the swimming animals. A woman and three small children, one of them wearing nothing but a silver collar round his neck, shared the back of the boat with two buffalo calves, a kitten, and a lot of hens. The front was piled high with their belongings, including the dismantled framework of their house, reed mats, water jars, cooking pots, sacks of grain and a pile of quilts. A dog stood on top of all this between the wooden legs of a churn, and barked at us as we edged past.”
    As a social convention, it was customary for a man in boat to greet a man on shore first, rather than the reverse, and for boats traveling downstream to issue the first greeting to those traveling upstream. Perhaps the first of these traditions arose because a person traveling was more likely to have news for one at home than vice-versa, or that a stranger passing by one’s home was viewed as a potential threat, so it behooved  the boatman to be the first to express good intentions. As to the second tradition, perhaps those traveling downstream were assumed to be coming from home, while those traveling upstream were returning from market. News from home might have been valued more highly than news from the city. These are just speculations.

    Fishing methods

    Fishing, much of it done from boats, was the primary economic activity of many individuals and tribes in the marshes, and an important secondary one for others. Some fished on a subsistence basis, while others caught fish for market. The most common catch seems to have been different species of barbel, some of which are types of catfish, others being related to them. Several fishing methods were used, including spearing, netting, and poisoning. Also noodling – more on that in a bit.

    Among those who used nets, differing tribes favored different types of nets and different associated methods, including the use of cast nets from shore, setting a net across a flowing channel, wading with a scoop net, and setting seines either from boats or by wading. Another shore-based fishing method involved setting up a barrier of reeds in a shallow area of current to provide fish with a resting place. When fish bumped up against the reeds, their movement alerted men waiting on the shore with spears

    Fish poisoning was done in winter and early spring, before the water began to rise. Datura, a poison derived from a genus of plants of the same name, was purchased from local merchants, mixed with flour and chicken droppings or inserted into freshwater shrimps which were cast upon calm stretches of water. The fish ate the bait and the datura stupefied the fish, which floated to the surface where they could be easily collected. This was a more productive method of fishing than spearing.

    Noodling (a Southern United States term for catching catfish by hand) was also practiced, particularly for a large fish called gessan, which was probably a type of barbel. Gessanwould shelter beneath floating islands of reeds, where they were safe from spear and net. They were targeted by teams of two men in a canoe. One man stayed in the boat while the other dove beneath the island with a rope tied around his leg. The swimmer would grab the fish (probably by the gills, if Southern practice is an indication) and be pulled back out by the man in the canoe.

    Naturally, there was rivalry between different cultures and different tribes living in the marshes, and while this was probably based on simple “tribalism” (in the modern, nonanthropological sense), it manifested itself in a focus upon each others’ fishing habits. To quote Thesiger again:
    “Far out on the lake, Berbera were fishing from boats. We could hear the beating of tins, and the smack of poles on water as they drove the fish into their nets. The Madan had a profound contempt for the Berbera and, except that they would eat with them, despised them hardly less than the Sabeans who were at the very bottom of the social scale. Yet no tribesman ever suggested to me that the Berbera were of a different origin. The prejudice was solely against their occupation. At first sight this appeared to be illogical, since the Madan themselves caught fish. But the Berbers netted fish to make money, whereas the Madan speared fish for food.”
    This was changing however, and Madan were beginning to sell both fish and buffalo milk, which they previously had not done, instead keeping both commodities solely for their own use. Thus, when Thesiger visited, the Madan’s stated basis for their prejudice was in the process of shifting away from the occupation itself to the Berberas’ different method of fishing.

    Madan fishing with spears from boats
    Madan fishing with spears, their boats proceeding in line abreast to herd fish before them. One man paddles in the stern in each canoe. 

    Of all the fishing methods employed by the Madam, the greatest prestige was associated with spearing – at least among the tribes with which Thesiger spent the most time. “In spring, before the water rose, the Madan collected in parties of forty or fifty canoes. They swept up and down a lagoon, in line and some four or five yards apart, while the spearmen tried to impale the fish as they broke back under the canoes. In summer they speared fish at night by the light of reed torches.”

    During the height of fishing season, hundreds of boats might work a single lake at once. Merchants would set up buying stations on the shore, buying boatloads of fish, packing them in ice, and sending them by truck to Baghdad. (Fish were also salted.) There was fierce competition between groups employing spearing and netting methods, racing each other to the next favored spot and intentionally blocking each other’s access. Thesiger even described spearmen poaching a seine net already full of fish and in the process of being drawn in. This would seem to be strong evidence of the superiority of net fishing, but the spear-wielding Madan evidently didn’t see it that way.

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    Following a two-year closure caused by money problems and the need for extensive renovation, the National Museum of Ecuador at La Casa de Cultura in Quito reopened last Saturday. The essentially new museum is attractive, sophisticated, and free.

    In the current fashion of most museums, this one takes pains to tell stories. Artifacts are displayed in service of narratives constructed by the curators (and, one suspects, by the museum's board of directors and management). This means that one might not find an extensive display of items from a particular culture or artistic movement all in one place. Instead, one or a few such items might appear in a conceptually linear display with different types of items from different eras, movements, or cultures, in order to illustrate, for example, the evolution of a national identity, art movement, or economy, the widespread effects of colonialism, racism, or nationalism, or some other major theme. In terms of public education and opinion-shaping, this is probably a good approach, but for visitors interested in a particular, narrow subject, it can be disappointing or frustrating. Count me in the latter group, even while I acknowledge that the museum is a fine one and well worth a visit.

    I was there on opening day (ticket #36) and went searching for boat-related content. In this post we'll look at one notable item, a beautiful 20th century logboat (i.e., dugout canoe) of the Shuar people of Ecuador's Amazonian region, on loan from Museo Pumapungo in Cuenca, Ecuador. (We posted previously about another Shuar logboat of a different design on display in Quito.) As always, click any image to enlarge it.

    Shuar dugout canoe
    The Shuar logboat is about 17' LOA with a narrow beam of about 15.5". Type of wood was not identified. (Dimensions are either eyeballed or based on armspan and handspan measurements.)
    Shuar dugout canoe
    The sides are straight and parallel. The ends are virtually identical, leading to square-ended  extensions or platforms.

    Shuar dugout canoe
    The interior sections are rather square. Sides and bottom are flat and at very close to right angles. The sides are about 7/8" thick at the sheer. The bottom is roughly 1.5" - 1.75" thick.

    Shuar dugout canoe
    The platforms/extensions are fairly narrow, rising out of thickened "gunwales" near the ends. A slight ridge appears on the underside of the platform.

    Shuar dugout canoe end view
    The exterior of the hull shows rounded chines and a flat bottom. A single bent nail appears sticking out to the right of the end extension/platform. It does not appear to be robust enough to serve as a tying-off point. Might it be a guide for a fishing line?
    Shaur logboat detail
    Even while the sides and bottom retain a sharp angle between them, the interior hollowing tapers and rises to a sharp point, leaving a large amount of timber intact at the ends. This visually appealing feature probably helps the hull resist cracking.

    Shuar dugout canoe adze marks
    The boat was hollowed out using an adze, marks from which are clearly visible.

    Shuar dugout canoe decoration
    Applied decoration near one end does not appear to be paint. Perhaps it is derived from a plant resin (?).

    Shuar dugout canoe decoration
    Decoration near midships. Ax and/or adze marks can be seen on the exterior of the hull. 

    Shuar dugout canoe paddle
    The paddle is about 5'6" long, but the upper end of the shaft is missing, along with any end-grip that may have existed (unlikely). The shaft and blade are carved from the whole. The shaft is flat on its front and back surfaces, but the sides are rounded and the edges are relieved. The blade has wide shoulders and tapers toward a broadly rounded tip.  

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    Watercraft played central roles in the economic, social, and spiritual lives of Ecuador’s prehispanic coastal cultures. Referring to the period of the region’s first civilizations, from 2000 to 200 BCE, Karen Olsen Bruhns states that “Transportation on the coast was … almost entirely by boat, and canoe models are common in the art of the region.”

    Artifacts on display at the newly renovated National Museum of Ecuador in Quito demonstrate the importance of watercraft to Ecuador’s prehispanic populations and illustrate some of the ways in which they were used.

    Canoe paddlers, Tolita culture
    The ceramic canoe paddlers in this and the following image, from the Tolita culture (600 BCE to 400 CE) have been found in significant numbers (see previous post for similar figures of Tolita paddlers), testifying to the importance of the canoeist in daily life. (Click any image to enlarge.) 
    Canoe paddlers, Tolita culture
    The bulging cheeks show that the paddlers are chewing coca leaves. Since coca is not native to Ecuador’s coast, this suggests regular trade between the coast and the Andes or even the Amazon. And because the medicinal effects of coca at countering altitude sickness are irrelevant on the coast, it may indicate that even common people – not just shamans – used coca for its stimulant/hallucinogenic effects.
    Model of a Tolita canoeist with a stabilized logboat
    A Tolita paddler in his ceramic canoe. Unlike the previous paddlers, who sat with their legs spread, this one sits with his legs together. Behind him are the remains of a second paddler with his legs spread to clear the first one’s hips, while in the bow are the feet of an otherwise missing standing or squatting passenger or high-status individual. The modeling of the complete paddler is more sophisticated than in the previous photos.
    Model of a Tolita canoeist with a stabilized logboat
    The canoe has stabilizer boards attached to both sides, at or just above the waterline. In case of a sudden loss of balance, these boards would provide some resistance to further tipping  and give the paddlers a precious moment in which to apply bracing strokes to prevent a capsize.
    Jama Coaque figurine-drinking vessel
    The item, from the Jama Coaque culture (350 BCE – 1532 CE) is identified on the exhibit card as a “paddler attached to a vessel” (Remero adosado a recipiente). I question the identification and suggest that the figure represents a warrior, not a paddler, as the item he holds looks more like a spear than a paddle to my eyes, and I have not seen the kneeling posture in other prehispanic depictions of Ecuadorian canoeists. The figure’s attachment to a drinking vessel strongly suggests ritual usage, which is not surprising for a warrior figure, somewhat more so for that of a canoeist. If the figure does indeed represent a paddler, this places canoeists at a high level of social significance.

    Silver raft model from Bahia culture
    A model raft in silver from the Bahia culture (500 BCE to 650 CE), manned by two paddlers, a steersman, and an individual of high status.
    Silver raft model from Bahia culture
    The logs are lashed together with silver wire. The figures are severely flattened sagitally, meant to be viewed only frontally, regardless of their orientation on the raft.
    Silver raft model from Bahia culture
    The longer logs are outboard and shorter ones inboard, counter to common practice of Ecuador’s later Manteño culture (500-1532 CE) and of many other raft-building cultures around the world, in which longer logs tend to be placed closer to the centerline, giving the raft a pointed bow (and sometimes stern as well).
    Manteño tools for collecting Spondylus
    Tools used by the Manteño culture to collect thorny oysters (Spondylus). On the left is a weight used by divers to enable them to descend rapidly to the depth where spondylus are found. On the right is a chisel used to loosen the mollusks from the rocks to which they attach themselves. Spondylus was important to many of Ecuador’s prehispanic coastal cultures for its spiritual symbolism, for the production of jewelry and other ornaments, and as an item of exchange.

    Manteño collecting Spondylus
    A fish's-eye depiction of diving for spondylus from a three-log raft using tools like those in the previous photo.

    Not explicitly depicted by these artifacts are other activities for which prehispanic coastal Ecuadorians used watercraft, including: fishing for finfish, carrying produce and trade items, and traveling for social purposes and for war. According to Bruhns, “Canoes seem to have been the major means of transport in northern Ecuador, whereas the river rafts appear to have been much used in the huge, meandering rivers of the Guayas Basin [at the mouth of which is Guayaquil, modern Ecuador’s largest city], later being converted to coast-wise transport as well.”

    Source: Karen Olsen Bruhns quotations from Ancient South America, Cambridge University Press, 1994 (reprint 1999), pp.148-9

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    In June, I went searching for logboats along a portion of the drainage of the Rio Napo in el Oriente -- that part of Ecuador that lies to the east of the Andes Mountains. The Napo and all other rivers here drain ultimately into the Amazon.

    Kichwa canoe builder
    Fernando Vargas-Tapuy, Kichwa farmer and canoe builder, at the base of a chunchu tree. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    On my first day in the forest, accompanied by a guide/translator and a driver, I explored the Rio Jatunyaco, a tributary of the Napo. In the dispersed rural community of Ichu Urku, I met Fernando Vargas-Tapuy. Like almost everyone in this area, Fernando is Kichwa (i.e., Quichua). He lives with his wife and toddler daughter on a small farm where they grow cacao, maize, yuca, plantain, and guava, consuming 5-10% of it and selling the surplus in the nearby city of Tena. He also pans for gold in the Rio Yucho Pino (in spite of the "rio" in its name, this tributary of the Jatunyaco is really just a mountain stream), typically collecting 1.0 to 1.5 grams in a day of work. Fernando's farm has no electricity, but he does have mobile phone coverage. 

    Fernando told my guide that with the help of an uncle, he was building a dugout canoe nearby, and he was willing to take us there to see it. With Fernando leading, we walked through his farm, across muddy fields, then up a slick, narrow, steep path over a low mountain. Although the sun was overcast, the humidity was oppressive, and the 40- minute walk proved to be the hardest hike I have ever done. At one point, Fernando stopped to cut me a walking stick with his machete. This helped a great deal, especially when crossing and recrossing the rocky Rio Yucho Pino several times. 

    dugout canoe construction in Ecuador's Amazon
    Fernando at the canoe building site, high on the side of a steep hill.
    High on the mountain we came to the canoe building site. The canoe was being carved where the trunk had been felled, on a fairly steep slope. At first sight, it looked abandoned, for it was full of sodden wood chips and partially covered in fungus. In fact, it was being actively worked, but the environment is so moist, and fungus grows so rapidly there, that a pause of just a few days suffices to give rise to a substantial crop. 

    The canoe had been under construction since April and, working with his uncle, Fernando expected to finish it in June. It would not be moved, however, until the flow in the Rio Yucho Pino went down. Too steep to paddle, the Yucho Pino represents an impediment, not a canoe corridor, until it dries out. 

    When it does, Fernando will call for a minga -- a Kichwa tradition in which the people of a community work together in a system of shared obligations. Approximately a dozen men will help carry the boat down the mountain and to the river, a process that will take about two days. Fernando will provide food and or drink to his helpers, but no payment. What is expected is Fernando's participation the next time a neighbor calls a minga.

    Fernando plans to use the canoe to transport his produce to Tena and to bring his daughter to school when she is old enough. He says he will paddle it himself and not fit it with an outboard engine. With more than three people aboard or a heavy cargo, more than one paddler would be required. Based on observations of other canoeists nearby, I believe the canoe will also be poled as often as it is paddled, although I did not discuss this with Fernando. 

    dugout canoe construction in Ecuador's Amazon
    The canoe measures 7.50 meters LOA and 61cm beam. It is roughly 36 cm from the exterior bottom to the top of the gunwale and 25cm deep on the interior, but according to the builder, the bottom will be hollowed another 5cm or so, for a final interior depth of about 30cm and a bottom thickness of about 6cm. The sides are 27mm thick at the sheer. 
    dugout canoe, Ecuador, detail
    Fungus growth is apparent on the exterior. Rough exterior shaping was done with a chainsaw, tool marks of which are visible.
    stump from canoe tree, Ecuador
    Fernando called the tree from which the trunk was cut a chunchu, the wood of which he says is hard and durable.  He expects the canoe's lifespan to be four years. The stump was deeply lobed, not at all round. Its extreme measurements at the cut were 142cm x 86cm. (A blue pen was placed on the trunk for scale.)

    Chunchu tree, Ecuador's Amazon
    A chunchu tree on Fernando's farm -- not nearly as large in girth as the tree he and his uncle cut on the mountain for the canoe.
    leaves of Chunchu tree
    Leaves and branches of a chunchu.
    dugout canoe building in el Oriente, Ecuador
    After initial shaping with a chainsaw, the canoe is slab-sided with angular ends. The forefoot will be cut back later for an easier entry, and the square chines will be relieved for a round bottom. Fernando took a few swipes with his machete near the top of the bow to show that the red-colored wood was sound beneath the covering of fungus. 
    dugout canoe in el Oriente, Ecuador
    Another view of the rough-cut bow.
    dugout canoe stern in el Oriente, Ecuador
    A seat for the paddler is carved into the stern just forward of the aft platform. This feature is typical of the canoes on the upper Napo drainage.
    dugout canoe stern and builder in el Oriente, Ecuador
    A more complete view of the stern.
    dugout canoe detail, el Oriente, Ecuador
    From the cross-hatch marks in the bottom interior, it appears that gross material removal was performed with a chainsaw, although I did not confirm this with the builder. Later shaping was done with an axe and two-handed and one-hand adzes, marks of which are clearly visible on the sides.
    dugout canoe transom, el Oriente, Ecuador
    The end of the trunk split when the tree was felled. A cleat was nailed across the transom to prevent the split from spreading further. A large percentage of the dugouts I saw in this area were split at the stern, with heavy wire more typically used to prevent further splitting. 

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    While investigating logboats in the Rio Napo drainage in Ecuador in June, I observed six log rafts within a few kilometers of each other – and no others elsewhere in the same drainage. I do not know if this clustering of rafts was particular to a limited area or if further investigation would reveal more widespread usage.  

    According to my guide and one other informant – a woman on a raft with her children on the Rio Arajuno, a tributary of the Napo – the rafts serve four or five functions. When observed, the woman's raft was tied to the shore and she was using it as a stationary platform on which to do her family’s laundry, the river bank near her home being too steep and muddy to allow her to do it directly on the shore. She indicated that she also uses rafts to cross the river (the reason for which is unclear) and to deliver her farm’s produce downstream to the nearest road crossing, where it is picked up by a truck for transport and sale in the nearest market town. The downstream trip with produce is a one-way excursion, there being no practical method to bring the raft back upstream. At least some of the time, therefore, the raft itself may be sold for its logs at the end of the voyage. According to my guide, rafts are also built by some of the numerous "jungle lodges" in the area to give tourists the experience of rafting in the Amazon basin  quite a different experience, by the way, from the whitewater rafting that is popular in the foothills of the nearby Andes in inflatable rafts.

    All the rafts observed exhibited strong similarities in their basic construction. Their main logs were all bound together by two crossbeams locked in place by pegs driven obliquely into the tops of the main logs, and the crossbeams were lashed to the pegs. All had at least some of their main logs cut to a point in plan view at the (presumed) bow end for hydrodynamic efficiency. According to my guide, the main logs are typically balsa wood, although to my untutored view, they did not all appear to be of the same wood. I observed a push-pole on one of the rafts and presume this is the common method of propulsion, no paddles or other propulsive devices being seen. 

    Beyond these similarities, though, the rafts exhibited distinctive differences that seem to indicate that the technology, while useful and surely rooted in tradition, is not rigidly bound by it. For example: the rafts were built of 3, 4, 5 or 6 logs – quite a range of variation in just six examples; some of the rafts had additional crossbeams above the crossed locking pegs    others did not; some of the pegs and crossbeams were milled lumber    others were not; and the lashing materials varied widely. The photos and captions below explore these similarities and differences in designs and construction. 

    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The most archetypal of the six rafts has five logs, pointed at the bow end (left of photo) with two sets of cross-beams. (Click any image to enlarge.)
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    Each set of cross-beams consists of two beams, one atop the other, held in place and separated by pairs of pegs driven into the main logs in an X pattern. The beams and pegs are lashed together with what appear to be narrow palm leaves (possibly pandanus?).
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The upper crossbeam is lashed indirectly to the lower one, and not to the pegs. Its purpose may be to spread the upper legs of the X'd pegs, locking them into the main logs.

    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    Just forward of the forward crossbeam assembly is a pair of crossed pegs set in the top in the middle log. Their purpose is unknown: perhaps they were placed incorrectly and could not be easily removed.
    family on log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The informant doing laundry with her children on a six-log raft. Most of the logs are tapered in plan view at the front. The boy wearing red shorts is sitting on a bench whose legs extend between the logs. The bench is not fastened to the raft and probably does not represent a permanent part of its furniture. 
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    Lashing and peg arrangement of the forward cross-beam assembly. The lower crossbeam appears to be let into the upper surface of the outboard log.
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The cross-plank in front of the woman is nailed in to least one of the logs. It is unclear if the plank she is sitting on is fastened or loose. The lower aft crossbeam also appears to be let into the upper surface of the outboard main log. 
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    Unlike the previous rafts, the main logs on this 3-log raft are spaced away from each other, not adjacent. The outer logs are much larger in diameter than the central one and their bow ends are tapered both in plan view and from the bottom to the top for a true boat-bow shape. The smaller central log is only slightly tapered in plan view. 
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The front crossbeam is a single beam. On the port log, it is secured by a single peg placed aft of it.
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The aft crossbeam assembly consists of two crossbeams, the upper one being a piece of recycled milled lumber. The port (foreground) lashing is old fishnet. The starboard lashing is a piece of insulated electrical wire. There are no lashings at the middle log. Forward of this assembly (to the left) is a piece of milled lumber nailed into all three logs and serving as an additional crossbeam.
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    This four-log raft was found aground on a gravel bar in the middle of the Rio Napo, probably washed from its owner's shore front home by heavy rains a couple days previously. The logs are all adjacent, the outer ones being much larger in diameter than the inner ones and milled flat on their upper surfaces. The inner logs, however, extend somewhat further (but not equally so) than the outer ones. The ends of the outer logs are boat-shaped; the ends of the inner logs are square.
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    At the opposite end, however, one of the inner logs is tapered to a boat shape while the other remains square. Both outer logs have notches cut in the upper edges of their tapered sections, probably to hold ropes which are no longer in evidence. Perhaps the logs were previously used in another raft which was held together by lashing alone instead of the pegs-and-lashing method.
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    Next to one of the crossbeam assemblies are a pair of vertical rods that stick up more than half a meter from the upper surface of the outer logs. Their purpose is unknown. The crossbeam is a single piece of milled lumber
    log raft, Amazon Basin, Ecuador
    The other crossbeam, also a single piece of milled lumber (but of different dimensions) is lashed carelessly with old fishnet. One of the pairs of pegs in an outer log (left foreground) does not enclose the crossbeam, providing support to the notion that the outer logs previously belonged to a different raft.
    End view of the same raft shows that the smaller, inner logs are set lower than the larger outer ones.