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 (click any image to enlarge)|
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.
|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.|
|The majority of dugouts in Hopkins have no internal framing, and the thwarts -- if they are nailed in place -- provide the only transverse support.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Few of the dugout canoes in Hopkins have wide strakes like this derelict one.|
|More common were two or, as shown here, three narrow strakes, topped by a gunwale cap, all of them edge-nailed.|
|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.|