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.


  1. Paddle shapes are interesting. I wish somebody would do serious research into both the physics practical ergonomics of the various shapes as well as the ethnic "signalling" factors that might sometimes be involved (so such a book would probably need at least two authors I guess). There are some very general articles on the subject of paddle styles available on www, but thee are from the practical standpoint of a new canoe buyer wondering about paddles -- not satisfying for the boating nerd.

    1. Graeme Warren has done something similar in his book;

    2. Thanks Rob. I need to get my hands on that book: "100 Canoe Paddle Designs" by Graham Warren.