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Friday, April 10, 2015

Sewn Canoes of the Society Islands

Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, was stationed in Tahiti in 1846-47, observing the French takeover of the island. Our most recent post looked at the dugout canoes of Tahiti that he observed, while the previous one examined a large sewn double canoe from the Tuamoto Islands that he saw in Tahiti This post will focus on native stitched boats that Martin illustrated in the Society Islands, of which Tahiti is one.

sewn canoe, Society Islands
Titled "Cleopatra's barge: a free translation, Utaroa, 27th October, 1846." Utaroa is a community on Raiatea, one of the Societies, where Martin visited Pomare, the queen of Tahiti who had self-exiled herself while attempting to reestablish her position and authority in the face of the French takeover. Although Martin doesn't explicitly identify this image with Pomare, I believe the sketch's title is an ironic reference to her. The stout, seated, cigar-smoking figure in blue beneath the palm-leaf sunshade matches his description of her essential characteristics. (Click any image to enlarge.)
The previous image is from the cover of a published version of Martin's journal, while this one is from the book's interior. The color and detail are better here, but unfortunately the page gutter obscures the middle of the image. Between the two, one can make out the following: 
  • Stitched upper strakes, attached to (probably) a dugout base. The stitches are discontinuous.
  • There appears to be a square transom. The long, probably flat "bowsprit" extension is in keeping with the design of Tahitian dugout canoes. 
  • Two paddlers in the bow provide propulsion, while one aft, apparently female, steers. It is remarkable that there are only two power-paddlers for such a large and heavily-burdened boat, and also that they are seated on the bow's overhang, not further aft where the hull's buoyancy would provide greater support.
  • The paddles have large, rounded blades and probably no grip at the top of the shaft. 
  • The curved, mostly-horizontal boom is a mystery, for there is no outrigger on the visible port side, and no indication of a second outrigger boom aft of it that might support the aft end of an outrigger float on the starboard side either.
Capt. Martin relates the following tale concerning canoes and royalty on Raiatea:
"Mr. Barff [a Christian missionary on the island] told me with reference to the ceremonies at Opoa point -- that formerly the Kings & Queens of Raiatea were inaugurated there. On those occasions the new sovereign landed from a canoe of state, which was hauled up the beach on the bodies of 6 victims -- one from each island. Hence it became a cant term to send for a roller -- which meant a mauvais sujet [lit: "bad subject," i.e., troublemaker] that the chief wished to dispose of." 
Although this sounds like a fantasy conjured by the prejudice of European cultural imperialism, many of the earliest European visitors to Tahiti -- those who visited before the onslaught of Christian missionaries -- observed and confirmed that human sacrifice was indeed practiced, and that those sacrificed for ritual purposes were typically -- and conveniently -- those very individuals who had made themselves inconvenient to the society.

sewn canoe, Society Islands
It is unclear at which of the Society Islands Martin observed this fascinating boat. It appears to be entirely of stitched planks: at least, the extreme rise of the stern would be difficult to form from a straight tree trunk, although carving it dugout-style from a curved tree is not out of the question. In any case, there are at least two courses of strakes, and the stitches appear to be continuous. The shield-shaped, square transom is unusual and eye-catching. Other features:
  • The spritsail rig is probably indigenous, but the square topsail may be an adoption of a Western type. There is a sheet to the upper end of the sprit.
  • The topsail has both both upper and lower yards. The whole topsail rig is mounted on a topmast that is lashed to a lower mast and overlaps it by a few feet. 
  • One can just make out an outrigger boom to port. 
  • The spar sticking out to starboard serves to anchor the lower ends of three shrouds, which all meet the mast at the same point, just above the spritsail's head. Presumably there are similar shrouds to the forward outrigger boom to port. Since there are no lines holding the starboard spar down, the man sitting on it may serve more as a mast support than as a hiking counterweight against heeling. One assumes that on the opposite tack, the man would scramble to the forward outrigger boom before the helmsman allows the sails to take any pressure of wind.
  • The attachment of the plank bowsprit to the uppermost strake is unclear and one wonders how it could be fastened securely with no visible supporting lines or brackets.
  • Steering is with a single paddle held surprisingly far forward from the transom (but fairly close to the aft end of the waterline, given the long stern overhang).  
Images and quotation from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.
Also: Early Tahiti As The Explorers Saw It, 1767-1797, Edwin N. Ferdon

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Capt. Martin's Tahitian Dugouts

While stationed in Tahiti in 1846-47, Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, made several sketches and paintings of local watercraft. Here are all of the dugout canoes which show any useful detail as reproduced in his journal. (See the previous post for a more background and Martin's illustration of a double canoe from Tuomoto.)

Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The dugout canoe in this family portrait appears to have no outrigger, but it does have an interesting bowsprit-like platform, apparently curved from the same log as the hull. The sheer is very flat. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Line fishing from an outrigger paddled canoe. The sheer is quite flat, except for a bit of rise at the bow. The bow itself rises out of the water. The outrigger booms are strongly curved, unlike the booms in most of the images below.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
A lovely beach scene with Tahitians fishing with a seine and a canoe pulled up on the shore.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Detail of the above painting, magnified as much as resolution allows.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The forward boom of this outrigger canoe is connected to the outrigger float by struts, while the after boom curves downward to connect to the float directly. The extension of the bow appears to be an addition, not carved from the trunk of the hull.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Another scene in which seine fishing from shore is aided by canoes to bring the net out. Because of the man standing in the water, it's hard to tell if the "bowsprit" belongs to the boat in the foreground or the one behind it. The quadrilateral sail is supported by a mast, boom, and sprit. As in the previous image, the sterns are upturned sharply. 
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
Detail of the previous image. The bowsprit seems quite thin, and it has no supporting rigging, but is apparently strong enough to support the child's weight without sagging. 
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
This quicker, looser watercolor sketch shows the same features as the previous few images (upturned stern, plumb bow, "bowsprit," quadrilateral sail with three spars, and outrigger float connected directly to the boom in the rear, and with struts in the front), but adds another detail: multiple shrouds supporting the mast. All of them attach at the same point on the mast. To port, the lower ends attach to the forward outrigger boom at regular intervals. To starboard, they attach to a boom that serves both as an attachment point for the shrouds, and for hiking out (as seen in the next image).
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The top boat in this image is very similar to the previous image and may be just a slightly refined version, except that a crewman is clearly seen hiking out on the starboard boom. The arrangement of struts connecting the float to the forward port boom is clear: four struts in two pairs of inverted V's. The bottom boat seems to have elements of Western boat design.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
The hulls of the canoes in the background are similar to the preceding ones, but the sailing rig hoists a squaresail: this was probably an adoption of a Western type.
Tahitian dugout canoe by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN
A paddled dugout canoe with a nicely carved cutwater and fine shaping and finishing all over the hull. Its shape is rather different from the paddled dugout shown at the top of this post. The paddle has a teardrop-shaped blade and no end-grip on the shaft. 
Images from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Double Canoe from the Tuamotu Islands

In 1846, the British Admiralty dispatched HMS Grampus, 50 guns, under command of Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, to the Society Islands. The French had just named Tahiti a protectorate, to the chagrin of the British (who might earlier have taken the islands for themselves had they been so motivated) and the violent opposition of the Tahitians. Martin's brief was to observe the French activities (i.e., spy) , and if possible throw a wrench in the works of the nascent protectorate through diplomacy with the Tahitian chiefs, while avoiding anything that the French would construe as overtly unfriendly action.

During his year on station, Martin kept a personal journal in which he made numerous watercolor paintings and sketches, and recorded occasional notes, about native watercraft. 

The only native craft he described in detail in the journal was a double canoe visiting from the Pomatoo Islands (now known as the Tuamotus), some 250 miles to the east of Tahiti. Here are his drawings and his description in full. (The original spelling is unchanged.)
Tuamotu double canoe, by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN.
Tuamotu double canoe, by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN. (Click to enlarge.)
February 22nd, 1847 
Gardner (A.B.) died of dysentery. I heard today sundry evidences of lurking discontent among the people, but it is too late they are subdued -- for the present at least. 
I walked to Taonoa to see a remarkable double canoe from the Pomatoo islands. It is in fact 2 canoes joined together. Each is about 50 feet long by 5 broad. There is not a nail in them. The logs of which they are constructed are sewn together with bark -- and the joinings are close & neat. The upper works or gunwales are of matting. She is schooner rigged with her masts stepped on the thwarts or connecting boards and I am told these craft stand a great deal of bad weather. Thirty eight persons crossed in her from Pomotoo -- about 250 miles. They seem to be families who have come to see what is to be seen and picked up. The women & children are hideous -- they have thrown up some huts round their canoe, which is hauled up high & dry. 
These people had with them a curious bat or vampire, which I would have bought if he had stunk a little less. The head, in size form & colour much resembled a ferret's. Each foot had 5 claws -- its wings were of great spread & each had at its extremity a claw or hook. I believe this animal is called the flying fox.
Tuamoto double canoe, plan view.
Even aside from its sewn construction, the canoe is remarkable. Most double canoes have their hulls separated by cross-beams, but this one has the hulls right up against each other. Separated hulls impose great stresses on the cross-beams and on the attachments between the cross-beams and the hulls. These stresses are minimized by placing the hulls next to one another, but I suspect this merely substitutes one engineering problem for another. In this configuration, the hulls themselves, and their sewn fastenings, would be subject to great stress as they press against each other. Since it is unlikely that the hulls had internal frames,  it's hard to fathom how these large sewn hulls did not crush one another as the boat worked in a seaway. Evidently, they did not.

On first glance, the larger drawing appears to show the canoe's bow, with graceful double beakheads. But as I pondered the huge, strangely-shaped bowsprit, I realized that we're looking at the stern, and the "bowsprit" is actually a steering oar. On closer examination, the "beakheads" are supporting a cambered wooden deck.

The platform running the whole length of the outside of the starboard hull looks like a fine place to relax when sailing in good conditions. It's supported by numerous timbers which presumably go right through the hull, although they are not shown in Martin's simple plan view. The hulls appear to be covered with draped woven matting (probably of pandanus leaves) which serves for weather protection, in place of a permanent house structure.

Martin says the boat was schooner rigged, and this appears so much the case that it's a little baffling. At that time, Tahitians were adopting elements of Western rigs piecemeal to their canoes (of which, more in a future post), and it's surprising that the even more remotely-situated Tuamotans would be using a schooner rig that any contemporary New Englander would have recognized. In any case, the foremast appears to be shorter than the mainmast, but this may be a trick of perspective and the two might be equal in height. The foremast appears to have a gaff, and the mainmast a horizontal boom.

The baskets and other items hanging from the rigging were probably for food storage, to keep them away from vermin and surreptitious snitching by unauthorized crew.

Images and quotation from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.