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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where Cool Waters Flow

Where Cool Waters Flow is a book about canoe guiding culture around Grand Lake Stream, a town in northeastern Maine. First-person author Randy Spencer is interviewed here by Keith Shortall on Maine Public Broadcasting Network.



Grand Lake Stream is where the Grand Laker canoe was born. This is a large, square-stern, cedar-and-canvas canoe designed for use with a small outboard on the transom.
 I haven't yet read Where Cool Waters Flow, but it's on my reading list.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dugouts on Postage Stamps


Many nations have issued postage stamps featuring dugout canoes. There's a whole page of them here.

Hjortspring Boat an Expanded Dugout

Some time ago, comments to my post about the Oceanic "five-part canoe" led to further posts about the Bronze Age boat found in Denmark known as the Hjortspring or Als boat. Basing my posts mainly on Bjorn Landstrom's illustration and description, I stated that Hjortspring was not much like the 5-part dugout of Oceania. Some months later, reader Edwin added a comment to the contrary to my original post about the Oceanic canoe.


Having subsequently read Basil Greenhill's Archaeology of the Boat (discussed here), I found a good detailed illustration of Hjortspring's bow (shown above) which validates Edwin's comments. The bottom is indeed dugout-based, and the ends (labeled "stem piece" here) are quite like the crotch-pieces of Oceanic canoes in function (if you discount the unusual horn-like structures outboard of the crotches, that may be related to an earlier skin-boat ancestor). Where they differ is in the planks. In the Oceanic canoe, the first set of strakes equals the height of the crotches, and occasionally a wash-strake is added to raise the sides. In Hjortspring, the first and second planks together equal the height of the crotch-piece. As is often the case in the five-part canoe, Hjortspring was sewn together.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paddle Blog

I've lately been reading the blog Paddle Making (and other canoe stuff) by Murat. It makes good reading and great viewing.

Murat, a Toronto-based blogger, makes lovely paddles that sometimes transcend mere functionality and experiment with indigenous and/or historic designs and patterns, often interpreting those influences in modern and creative ways. What's different and refreshing is that many of these "art" paddles are not like the hokey, tacky paddles with paintings of wolves or trout on the blades. I've never seen anyone actually use one of those "illustrated" paddles, and if I did, I'd probably think the less of him. I mean, if you're out in the wilderness, why the hell do you need a picture of wildlife on your paddle? But if I saw someone using one of Murat's creations, I'd only admire it, the same way I might admire a nicely-made bark canoe actually being used.


Murat doesn't confine himself to his own paddles, or to paddles at all, in his blog. He recently did a series of posts on the restoration of an old canvas canoe-pack, and he discusses other topics of interest to canoeists of a traditional or historical bent.

I'm experimenting with a new Amazon Associates feature that makes it easy to insert product links into the body of a blog post. Feel free to comment if you think the Amazon link is intrusive, not a problem, or whatever. Thanks.

Finally, this new Amazon feature seems to have made Blogger's spellchecker disappear. Until I find it again, please forgive typos. Thansk!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sabani Sailing

Regarding my last post, reader Anton asked for more information on sailing sabanis -- specifically concerning the use of the multi-position mast step. The following illustration, again from Shiraishi's booklet (see previous post), shows how, by stepping the mast the aft-most position, the sail's center of effort moves forward, and vice-versa for the step's forward position.


As elsewhere in the booklet, the English text is rather deficient. I'll present it anyway, hoping that some reader can make better sense of it than I can:

How to mast or how to make sail differs according to the strength or direction of the wind.

The angle of a mast is adjustable by changing the position of HAIUSHIMI [i.e., mast step]. [Of course, the mast step doesn't move: it's the position of the mast in the step that changes.]

When the wind is not hard , the mast is set up vertically as shown in Fig. B and when the wind is hard, the mast is inclined towards the stern as shown in Fig. C, sometimes with the sail taken in a reef by one FUZAN's [i.e., batten's] length.

Since the way to mast SABANI is not complicated it can easily meet the change of the winds. Quartering (MASUBI) is easiest for SABANI to sail, with its sail open as shown in Fig. D.

Sailing with wind abeam or quatering (sic) is called USAGIBAI or USAGIBARASHI, then a skipper sits in the middle to draw the boat deep so as not to be driven sideways by the wind, as is shown in Fig. E.

Whew! Hard to make sense of that, aside from the interesting point about the skipper moving forward to try to increase the lateral plane when the wind's abeam. Considering that there's no built-in lateral plane (leeboard, keel, outrigger float, etc.), one wonders how well sabanis go to windward.

I also question the angling of the mast depending on the strength of the wind. I suspect that the real function of the multi-position mast step is to change the fore-and-aft location of the center of effort, as on a windsurfer, to aid in steering -- i.e., tilt the mast forward when heading downwind, and tilt the mast aft when heading upwind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sabanis - Canoes or "Boats"?

My last entry was a guest blog from Douglas Brooks, who is working on a sabani in Okinawa. He is maintaining his own blog of the project which makes good reading. Consider this post a complement to Douglas's blog.

The day after Douglas's guest post here, I discovered in my possession a booklet on sabanis which had been loaned to me by my colleague Ben Fuller, curator at Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine. SABANI Canoes of Okinawa, by Katsuhiko Shiraishi, appears to have been self-published (in 1985, I believe, but I can't find the data now). The text is in both Japanese and English, and although the English translation is, unfortunately, awful, the illustrations are very nice indeed. (The cover is shown below; all images in this post are from the same source.)

Whether the sabani is a "canoe" or not is debatable. On the pro side of the argument, it clearly evolved from a dugout canoe. The bottom is a massive cedar dugout, to which one side strake is added on each side (plus small partial strakes to raise the freeboard at the bow and stern. As Douglas Brooks noted, the strakes, too, bear a relationship to dugout practice, as they are not milled lumber, but hewed to shape.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to call anything a canoe that features such massive construction overall, and its shape is hardly canoe-like -- more banks-dory-like in its half-breadths, while the fish-form plan view is unique.
There is a very narrow triangular bow transom that might be considered a stem instead. The stern transom is very close to an equilateral triangle. All pieces are fastened together with dovetail keys, alternating on the inside and outside of the hull. Between each dovetail key is a bamboo nail driven at a very steep angle through one of the exposed plank surfaces so that it edge-nails the bottom to the strakes. (I can't tell if bamboo nails are used similarly at all other joints, or just the bottom-to-side joint.)

In the image below, the bow is on the left. The stern is considerably higher, to help the stern lift with following waves, according to Shiraishi.
Construction begins by fastening the ends of the strakes together, then forcing the strakes apart amidships, which produces a nice curved sheerline. Then the dugout bottom is carved to shape to sit on the bottom edges of the strakes -- as Douglas Brooks noted, this is opposite to the common procedure for producing an extended dugout, in which the dugout is produced first, as a base, and then strakes are added to build up the sides.
On the "it's a canoe" side of the argument, sabanis are paddled, not rowed, as shown below in the picture of a racing version of the boat, used at an annual festival in Okinawa. Note the unusual hand position on the gripless paddle: with the thumbs facing each other. Note also how the flat face of the paddle blade is not the power face.

Shiraishi repeatedly stresses that, due to its narrow beam, the sabani is a fairly unstable boat, prone to capsize especially under sail. (But very pretty under sail, as the image below shows.) It is, however, fairly easy to recover from a capsize. Due to their voluminous wood construction, the raised ends have considerable buoyancy, making the canoe unstable in an inverted position as well. The boatmen turn the boat broadside to a wave and then can easily flip the boat upright. Then they turn it again to face the waves and wait for the bow to lift on a wave while then apply downward pressure on the stern, thus allowing the water to sluice out over the transom. Climb in again, and off they go.

As an aid to turning the capsized boat upright, the mast is easily removed. Note how a pair of easily-removed wedges secures the mast through a square hole in the thwart. Note also the multi-position mast step, which allows the mast to be angled forward or back, depending on the point of sail.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Douglas Brooks on Sabanis

Douglas Brooks, an American boatbuilder and boat researcher who often works in Japan (and whom I've written about previously, especially here), is back there now, apprenticed to a builder of sabanis (about which I've also blogged before). Doug sent the following report:

I am in Iejima, Japan, a small island that is part of Okinawa, building an eight meter sabani, working with one of the last three builders of these indigenous fishing boats. This work is supported by the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, the Asian Cultural Council in New York and the Nippon Foundation in Tokyo. This is my fifth apprenticeship building Japanese boats.

I will keep my comments below very general as the point is to get the reader to go through
my blog, where you will find more detail on history, culture, construction techniques, etc.

The sabani is what we would call a semi-dugout type, and in that respect it shares a story with many similar types around the world. As the Okinawans deforested these islands the timber required to make dugout canoes became increasingly difficult to find, hence the move toward a plank-built boat that still retains some of the characteristics of the dugout. So the boat we are building has a four inch thick bottom that we have shaped from three timbers, joined together with butterfly keys and bamboo nails.

Bob made a very interesting observation that sabani are built upside down, with the side planking first, and then the dugout bottom dropped on top. This is opposite of any semi-dugout traditions that either of us know, which start with the hollowed bottom and then add the side planks. It's also odd given that throughout the rest of Japan it's absolute law that boats are built right side up. I will try to ask my teacher what he thinks of this.

Most of the techniques are familiar to me from my other work in Japan, but I wanted to study sabani in part because of the fastening techniques. I already have several blog posts up about the huundu, or dovetail keys, so I won't belabor that here. There will be more postings to come as we continue to use these fastenings to assemble the boat. I am certain that they are a holdover from the days of dugouts, and iron fastenings would have initially been very expensive. I am also finding that while we install them using only hand tools, it is not a slow process, so it all makes good sense, even today.

There are other dugout and semi-dugout traditions in Japan, particularly in the far north, where some still survive. In the mid-90's I met the last dugout builder of Akita Prefecture. He was still fishing every day in a dugout he built in 1965 and he had just built his last dugout as part of a documentary project. On the coast of Akita, Aomori and in Hokkaido you can still find semi-dugout boats in small fishing ports. The first photo shows fishermen out on a winter day in 1965 in their hatahatabune. ("Hatahata" are a small fish, "bune" means boat.) You can just make out the dovetails keys in the bottom, which in a boat this size is six to nine inches thick [Bob here: note too the interesting handles on the oars.]

The next photo is an isobune which means inshore boat. These are still fairly common on the Aomori coast. The bottom is a single timber hollowed out, with a stem, transom, single frame and plank sides added. My teacher in Aomori told me that during his apprenticeship most of his work involved hollowing bottoms of isobune (he quit after three years of this unpaid work).

Finally, we have a bekabune, or seaweed gathering boat, that I built in the Urayasu Museum with Mr. Nobuji Udagawa in 2001. It shows the standard Japanese construction method, firmly fixing the bottom of the boat to low blocks on the shop floor braced overhead, then building the boat right side up. Props are used in lieu of clamps to hold the planking in place for fastening. The planks are edge-nailed to each other using special tools and nails. More information about Japanese boat building can be found at my website. Feel free to contact me via the website or to leave comments on my blog, The Sabini Project.

Back to Bob now.

I recommend Douglas's blog -- good photos and good writing, with interesting observations on the apprentice system and other aspects of culture in Japan.

A few more items that Douglas noted in our correspondence:

  • The side planks of the sabani shown under construction in his blog are not standard milled lumber. "Don't let those side planks fool you, they are CARVED. We started with 2+" thick planks and hollowed about half of the volume out of them on the inside, leaving material for thwart risers and left full thickness at the stem and transom."
  • On the dugout-style bottom: "My teacher has specifically talked about the thick bottoms as giving these boats their stability. I have roughly calculated that the bottom alone (it's long and very narrow) represents between 40-50% of the weight of the entire boat."
  • And regarding my earlier post on sabanis, which stated that the helmsman sits in the front of the boat: "I suspect is a mistake made by the Japanese writer. It just doesn't make any sense at all. And I have yet to see a sabani or harebune with a helmsman forward. By the way, those festival boats are not strictly speaking sabani, at least not today. They are plank built and considered different from sabani among the old-timers."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Plywood "log boats"

Reader "Edwin" left a comment on my previous post about Tlingit log canoes that I thought worthwhile highlighting here, since many of us don't read comments. He draws our attention to Applegate Boatworks of Veneta, Oregon, which, along with the usual boatbuilding services on conventional western-style boats, also builds canoes that resemble the large cedar dugout canoes of the Pacific Northwest. The corker, however, is that he builds them out of plywood, using the "taped seam" (a.k.a. stitch and glue) method. (In reality, it's even stranger: the basic hull is plywood, while the ends are solid cedar, so they can be carved to replicate the shapes of the originals.)

They actually look pretty cool, and the stated purpose is to give people some of the experience of the native craft at reasonable cost and accessibility.

Thanks for the link, Edwin.

Edwin maintains Dark Ages Boats, which I've only just begun to look at but which looks very cool and has some bearing on what we call Indigenous Boats. I'll be spending more time there and may report back in the future.

(Photo from the Applegate website.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Great Tlingit Dugout Canoe

Here's a nice blog about a beautiful red cedar canoe in the Tlingit style, built as an educational project by a group of young First Nation people in the Yukon under the guidance of Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price.

Nice job, guys!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Where to Get Your Canoe Fixed or Built

This link might come in handy to some readers: The Wooden Canoe Builders’ Guild.

According to the website, "The Wooden Canoe Builders’ Guild was formed in 1997 to serve the collective needs and interests of builders and restorers of cedar canvas and woodstrip epoxy watercraft and to foster public interest in and knowledge of such watercraft." There's a good list of members, with their specialties listed, some worthwhile articles on canoe care and construction, and an impressive description of the construction standards that guild members must adhere to when building canoes.