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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #4: Paddles and Paddling

Just as Belizean dugout canoes exhibit great variety in their design and construction, so too do they vary in their means of propulsion. In our brief visit to Hopkins and Monkey River Town (in the country's Stann Creek and Toledo districts, respectively) in December, we saw dugout canoes propelled by paddle and outboard engine, equipped for sailing, and shipped aboard a smack for transport to distant fishing grounds. Paddle was the most common method of propulsion for the boats we saw on the beaches, and it's the one we'll examine in this post. 

We only saw canoe actually being paddled, on the Monkey River. We did not take a full series of consecutive photos to document the paddling method, but we've reconstructed the sequence here as best we could from nonsequential shots of one paddler over the course of a couple minutes.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
We'll begin with the paddler switching from the right to the left side. Both hands are near the midpoint of the shaft.
The boat was rather decrepit. The added strakes above the dugout base were no longer fastened together at the ends but instead, were separated and splayed apart. (Click any image to enlarge.)  
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
The catch of the stroke.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
Near the completion of the power stroke.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
At the end of the power stroke, the upper arm is nearly straight. 
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
The paddler uses a different method shifting from left to right than he used from right to left. Here he has changed hands so that the left hand now holds the end grip while the right swings the blade in a wide curve overhead.
The beautifully shaped dihedral paddle blade is long and narrow, with a rounded end and painted a contrasting color from the shaft. There is no shoulder on the blade's upper end -- it transitions seamlessly into the rather short shaft.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
And the stroke is repeated on the right side.
We did not notice if the paddler consistently used these two different methods when switching sides. The difference in methods might have been purely casual, and not evidence of a conscious technique.

The outboard launch in which we took a tour on the Monkey River was equipped with a canoe paddle for backup propulsion. It was not as nicely formed (nor in as good condition) as the one we saw in use above, but it was not without a couple of nice features.
canoe paddle, Belize
Unlike the dihedral shape of the other paddle's blade, this one is flat on both sides. It has rather awkward-looking square shoulders, nothing like the seamless shaft-to-blade transition evident in the other one.
canoe paddle, Belize
The shaft, however, does have a nice profile shape at its lower end, where it narrows slightly before meeting the blade. It also tapers gradually toward the upper end, where it's topped with a simple triangular grip. 
canoe paddle grip, Belize
The shaft has a lozenge-shaped cross-section over most of its length, but a little below the grip is has a nice transition to a rectangular cross-section, which thins steadily toward the end of the grip. 
Our final post in this series on Belizean dugout canoes will look at some of their uses, as well as means of propulsion other than paddle.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #3: Construction Details

The dugout canoes of Belize are just as diverse in their construction details as they are in hull form -- a subject we addressed in the previous post in this series. 

Leo Lewis, dugout canoe builder of Hopkins, Belize
Leo Lewis, dugout canoe builder of Hopkins, Belize (click any image to enlarge)
Although we did not observe the construction process, we did learn from Leo Lewis, one of the last remaining builders, and his brother and assistant, Francis, that in recent years chainsaws were used for rough shaping, followed by an adze for finish shaping. When they were younger (they appear to be in their late seventies or perhaps eighties), and before they had access to a chainsaw, Leo and Francis used an adze for all shaping.

Although Belize was "settled" by Europeans as a logging station for mahogany, Leo did all his building in yemeri, another common Central American hardwood. (Two similar species are present: Vochysia guatemalensis and V. hondurensis.) According to a leaflet from the US Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, "Heights up to 160 feet and diameters of 3 to 4 feet are frequently attained. The boles are straight and clear." The wood is typically straight-grained but occasionally has an interlocked grain. Although it works easily, it is very subject to rot when in contact with the ground, and it is readily attacked by marine borers. (More on yemeri here.)

Many years ago, Leo would harvest trees 2.5 to 3 feet in diameter within a mile or so of Hopkins, right on the coastal plain, but more recently, he had to travel to the nearby mountains for trunks of suitable size. He used yemeri for the hull, the added strakes, and for frames and floors on the canoes that had them. (Most of the dugouts we observed had no internal strength members other than thwarts.) He says using the same wood ensures that everything will swell and shrink at the same rate, although this reasoning seems questionable, since the grain in frames and floors is at right angles to the grain in the hull and strakes, and one would not expect it to move to move equally in both directions.

After the hull was hollowed, it was filled with sea water to soften, then sticks were inserted to spread or expand it to the desired width. Frames and floors were then inserted and the spreader sticks removed. Although I neglected to clarify the matter, it seems probable that strakes were added after the hull was spread but before frames were installed. The fastenings that I observed were nails, driven from the inside, through the frames and into the hull or strakes. When required by their length, the nails were clenched over so that their points re-entered the wood.

Let's look at some construction details.

Belizean dugout canoe with internal framing
A Leo Lewis dugout canoe with five pairs of partial frames and two floors -- an uncommon amount of framing for a Belizean dugout.
We found great variety in the attachment of thwarts, and this single boat exhibits three different methods. The one in the foreground is held solidly in place, sitting on risers nailed to pairs of vertical cleats on each side and held down from above by wooden brackets, also nailed to the cleats. The midships thwart is loose, held in place only by friction. The one in the background is only partially secured by brackets on top, which are nailed directly into the hull or the strakes. It does not rest on cleats or risers.
Belize dugout canoe with internal frames
Where there framing in the prior image provided transverse strength, the short partial frames in this dugout serve only to support the strakes. There are no floor timbers.
Dugout canoe, Belize
The majority of dugouts in Hopkins have no internal framing, and the thwarts -- if they are nailed in place -- provide the only transverse support.
Belize dugout stem and deck details
The false stem curves all the way to the bottom, its end butting against the end of the false keel. Note also the deck, which is plywood.
Belizean canoe sternpost and deck details
In contrast, the false sternpost on another canoe runs straight from top to bottom, while the false keel butts against its forward surface. The canoe's deck is solid lumber.
Belize dugout canoe with removable foredeck
A few canoes had large, removable plywood decks that seemed to fit directly behind the small, permanently installed bow deck. This might have provided a bit of protection against boarding waves, or might have served as a fish-processing platform. This canoe has an unusual number of thwarts in closely-spaced pairs, the reason for which is unknown. The next-to-last thwart shows yet another method of support: it sits on a horizontal cleat nailed into the hull or strakes, with no capturing bracket above.
Belizean dugout canoe with wide strake
Few of the dugout canoes in Hopkins have wide strakes like this derelict one.
Belize dugout canoe strakes detail
More common were two or, as shown here, three narrow strakes, topped by a gunwale cap, all of them edge-nailed.
Belize dugout canoe construction details
This was the only canoe we saw sheathed with fiberglass, which covered it inside and out. We found this boat in Monkey River Town, in the Toledo District. All other canoes shown here were in Hopkins, Stann Creek District.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #2: Designs

Individual examples of even the simplest of types of watercraft can vary substantially from one another even when they are built within a limited geographic area for use in similar conditions. We discussed this recently in reference to coracles in the British Isles, and we found it to be equally true concerning dugout canoes in Belize. (See our previous post on our Belizean dugout "field work.")

Although many of Belizean dugouts we observed were in poor condition, they were all well designed and well crafted, revealing a sophisticated understanding of hull form and how it influences boat performance. Differences in hull form is the topic of this photo essay.

All the canoes below were photographed in the village of Hopkins, in the Stann Creek district, except one, which was found in Monkey River Town, in the Toledo district. The two are less than 40 miles apart as the crow flies.

First, we'll take a look at the forward sections.

Belize dugout canoe design details
This hull is narrow relative to its depth, with a nearly V-shaped bottom. As in many of the dugouts we saw, two strakes have been added to the dugout base to raise the sides. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Belize dugout canoe design details
Round-bottomed with fuller bilges.
Belize dugout canoe design details
Much broader relative to depth, with a somewhat V'd bottom and slacker bilges.
Now we'll compare entries:
Belize dugout canoe design details
Very lengthy, very hollow entry waterlines, from the bottom all the way to the deck.

Belize dugout canoe design details
Shorter entry and considerably less hollow: at the deck, the waterlines are nearly straight. 
Belize dugout canoe design details
Hollow entry from bottom to top, with very gentle waterlines and no appreciable shoulder.
Belize dugout canoe design details
Much shorter entry: i.e., the bow here does not narrow down to a stem-like extension as in the previous canoe. This is the Monkey River canoe.

Belize dugout canoe design details
Fairly straight waterlines near the top, angling back to shoulders set well back. Not very sleek, but there's a lot of buoyancy and carrying capacity in the bow.
Belize dugout canoe design details
Now a look at different stem profiles. This one transitions from has a slightly sharp transition from the keep to the stem, which curves almost to vertical at the top. 
Belize dugout canoe design details
The boat in the background has a soft transition between the bottom and stem, which is straight and angled for a good amount of overhand. The one in the foreground also has a soft bottom-to-stem transition, but the stem is curved, with less overhang. 
Sterns also exhibit a great range of shapes, with the presence of transom sterns and canoe sterns making the most significant difference.

Belize dugout canoe design details
Most of the canoes have a sharp transition between the bottom and the sternpost. In this case, the sternpost is nearly vertical, and the waterlines are quite hollow from bottom to top, but the sternpost is not extended far from the hull's shoulders.
Belize dugout canoe design details
Another sharp bottom-to-straight sternpost transition, but this one is angled more for greater overhang. The waterlines are much less hollow than the one above, and nearly straight near the top. The homemade gudgeons identify this as a sailing canoe. 
Belize dugout canoe design details
Only outboard-powered dugouts has transom sterns. The few we saw were all vertical, and they were all added to an open-backed hull, not carved integrally with the rest of the hull. The bottom sections on this one are a sharp V. This hull is also notable for its long, straight, parallel waterlines with little hull shaping amidships.  
Belize dugout canoe design details
This transom stern, in contrast, are hollow. It's a rather tall but nicely shaped wineglass stern.
Belize dugout canoe design details
In contrast to the dugout with the mounted outboard, this much shorter paddling dugout is much shapelier at the gunwale waterlines, being significantly convex nearly from stem to stern.
In our next installment in this series on Belizean dugouts, we'll look at construction details.