Saturday, June 26, 2010

Australian Bark Craft, Canoes and Otherwise

A few weeks ago I presented material from Edwin Doran on the bark canoes of Australia. I can now elaborate on that a bit, based on images from Paul Johnstone's The Sea-Craft of Prehistory.

Doran's line drawing of an Australian canoe that was built by bunching and tying the ends of a half-tube of bark was obviously based on this fine early 19th-century engraving, from Lesueur and Petit's Atlas to Peron's "Voyage of Discovery." (I've transcribed the name of the source verbatim from Johnstone's caption, but unfortunately, there is no bibliography or footnote citation for this source.) In the engraving, one can see thwarts, and ties (probably bark) running across the boat, from shear to shear just above the thwarts, , but no gunwale members, ribs, or other structure. The Aboriginal people paddling in the background provide scale, showing that this was a small two-man canoe indeed. They are paddling with single-handed paddles, and they have a small fire going amidships. In the background, a man is carrying a similar boat above his head. From the abundance of ducks and other waterfowl in the image, one can safely speculate that the canoes were used for waterfowling, egg collecting, or both.

My earlier blog included Doran's description of the bark rafts of Tasmania, which stated that they were extremely temporary craft, becoming waterlogged in about six hours. Here's an image, from the same source as the above image, by way of Johnstone.

As Johnstone notes, these are similar in design to bundled-reed floats that were used widely in many cultures around the world, the Peruvian caballito pictured just a couple posts ago being an example. But given their short working life, Johnstone seems justified in calling them among the most primitive of craft. I have no information on what material was used to bind them together, nor on the type of bark used in the bundles.

Again, the two paddlers in the background show that this is a very small tandem craft, and it doesn't look particularly stable either. They carry poles, but apparently no paddles, and a pair of poles appear in the foreground as well. As any modern canoe poler can attest, however, poles can serve entirely adequately to propel a boat in deep water, as their projected area under water is often not much less than that of a paddle blade.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Headhunters' Dugout

My son came home from the library the other day with four books of Gary Larson cartoons. Of course I read them, seeking enlightening content for this blog and for no other reason. Lo, behold and eureka, I discovered that Larson was indeed a fan of dugout canoes.

Note the gracefully upturned prow, the refined flat sheer, and the very regular hull thickness along the gunwale, evidence of careful, sophisticated workmanship. It's also interesting to see the awkward way that that the paddlers hold the paddles, grasping the shaft several inches below what appears to be a very workable grip. It's regrettable that Larson did not identify the culture of these knuckleheadhunters.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Random Boats of Chile and Peru

I'm able to respond in part to a recent request for information on boats of Chile, Argentina and Tierra del Fuego, based on my current reading of The Sea-Craft of Prehistory by Paul Johnstone. Nothing in here about Argentina, for which I'm sorry, but here are some stray bits of information that I hope will be useful, and I'll throw in something about Peru to make up for it.

Log rafts have been used all around the world and were probably among the earliest of all boat forms in most cultures. An odd feature is the near-universal use of an odd number of logs: 3, 5, 7 or more, and the common use of longer logs in the middle of the group. It seems as though the earliest boat builders were already envisioning the rudimentary boat shape, with a pointed bow, as shown in this pre-Columbian raft model found near Arica, Chile.

The model appears to be lashed together which, one would assume, replicated the original. Slightly more sophisticated raft construction involves pegging the logs together, sometimes boring a whole straight through all the logs at both ends and forcing poles through the holes to produce a more rigid structure than is possible by mere binding.

Keeping with the raft theme, here is a vessel built of two inflated sealskin pontoons, held together by a light cane framework and platform. Note how the narrow "bow" is formed by drawing the two pontoons together at their forward ends, allowing the aft ends to splay apart. The illustration was made in the early 19th century in Valparaiso, Chile, but similar rafts were observed as early as 1587 on the west coast of South America from 10 to 35 south latitude.

The Yahgan people of Tierra del Fuego were the southernmost population in the world at the time of European contact. They were known as the Canoe Indians, and their bark canoes were attractive and sophisticated -- more so than the bark canoes of Australia, but perhaps not as refined as those of North America. (The bark canoes of the nearby Alacaluf people, living on the Strait of Magellan in Chile, were similar.) These were big canoes, typically 24 to 26 feet, and occasionally more than 30.

Bark for these canoes was stripped from the tree using only sharpened flint tools. The bottom piece was laid on the ground with stones under the bow and stern and left for a few days to impart rocker, then side pieces were sewn on with reed stitching, straw and mud being used as caulking in the seams. Numerous bent frames were inserted, and the top ends were lashed to heavy gunwales, which were heat-bent previous to installation. A light framework was installed about 6" above the bottom and covered over with sticks laid crosswise to serve as decks fore and aft, the center area being left undecked for cargo, access for bailing, or both. Although the description quoted in Johnstone doesn't mention it, several thwarts were also installed. One would assume that these were purely structural and were not used as seats.

These canoes were typically paddled by women. The Yahgans adopted a rudimentary squaresail after European contact, setting up a temporary pole and yard forward and using a section of sealskin, held down in the hands at the lower corners, for downwind work.

Johnstone believed that the reed bundle raft may be as early as, if not earlier than, the log raft -- possibly the earliest of all boat types. In Peru, the caballito ("little horse") is a two-bundle reed float used to this day for shore fishing, although I suspect that tourism is more responsible for its persistence than any real economics of fishing. The paddler typically kneels in the cockpit, aft, and it is said that their surfing capabilities are impressive.

(Final photo public domain by Allard Schmidt, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. All others from Johnstone. Click any photo to enlarge.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Indigenous Sails

It is with a mixture of chagrin and enthusiasm that I call attention to Indigenous Sails, a Dutch organization working to preserve indigenous sailing craft not as museum pieces, but as economically sustainable ways of life for their owners and builders. I'll quote their letter to me:

Indigenous Sails is the first project in the world focusing exclusively on exotic sailing ships as a category in itself.

While there are in the Western world hundreds of organisations that work for the survival of Western maritime traditions, there is no such thing in the developing world.

The underlying idea is that exotic wooden sailing ships can survive, and potentially thrive, when owners/builders will continue to be able to earn a living with them, possibly in new ways.

According to the organization's website, they are working initially to preserve the use of four vessel types: the Brazilian jangada, the Vietnamese junk, the Sri Lankan oruwa, and the Indonesian pinisi. Over time, they hope to add additional types to their list. The site describes where the boats may be found, their current rarity, and opportunities for actually going for a sail aboard one.
My chagrin? Only that the organization's name is so similar to that of this blog. The sincerest form of flattery? A usurper of search engine position and potential source of reader confusion? I wish them well in their mission, but wish they'd chosen a different name.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Surf Boats in India and Portugal

Reader António Fangueiro was kind enough to send photos of open, oared fishing boats which are launched through surf in Kerala, India.

For comparison, António also sent photos of a Portuguese type known as the arte xavega, also launched through surf:

Visible similarities include great amounts of sheer and rocker, substantial overhangs, high ends, and general suitability for the dangers of launching and landing through surf, although the xavega appears to have finer lines and to be more extreme in general. The final photo of the Portuguese boats seems to show a sailing rig being loaded aboard, while oddly-shaped oars appear to be the only form of propulsion for the Indian vessel. Of course, one would not expect to see Indian craft being launched by cattle as they are in Portugal. India's substantial manpower resources make up the difference. 

Thanks again to António for this interesting comparison.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hull Types Associated with Austronesian Rigs

The dugout canoes of Austronesia fall into four general configurations: the simple, single-hull dugout (about which little has been written), the single-outrigger canoe, the double-outrigger canoe (i.e., dugout canoe, with light outriggers on both sides), and the double canoe (i.e., two true approximately equal dugout hulls held a few feet apart by crosswise struts). 

A recent post discussed the general categories of rig types indigenous to Austronesia, and with further help from Wangka: Austronesian Canoe Origins, by Edwin Doran, Jr., we'll now see how the rig types and the hull types relate to one another. (All images here are from that source.)

The double spritsail, which some believe to have been the original Austronesian rig, was documented only in scattered locations in Indonesia (specifically, in Celebes and Sumatra), Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Madagascar, and on the Bab el Mandeb, the strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa.

Doran writes:
"I have come to believe that the presumed simplicity and primitiveness [of the double spritsail]are deceptive and that the sail represents an early but sophisticated attempt to devise a rig which will permit shunting. Without shifting the spars, the clew of the sail (after corner) becomes the tack (forward corner) on the other shunt, and a simple way of moving the center of effort of the sail has been developed. Micronesian crane sprit technique is more efficient once the sail is shifted, but requires a more cumbersome rig to achieve the same end."
Doran neglects to identify the hull type associated with the double sprit rig, but he does so for the remainder of the rig types.

The Oceanic sprit is associated with double canoes and tacking single outriggers, and appears in limited locations in Indonesia and the Philippines, and in New Zealand and parts of Polynesia, including Hawaii.

The crane sprit is used for most shunting single outriggers, mostly in Melanesia and Micronesia, but also in parts of Polynesia:

The boom-lug rig is used almost exclusively with double-outrigger canoes, whose domain is primarily Indonesia and Malaysia, with extensions into Melanesia and a couple of outliers in the Philippines and the Persian Gulf:

Doran uses these distribution maps to attempt to deduce the relative ages of the various rig types, their places of origin, and their role in the evolution of the other types -- i.e., which rig type and hull type came first, and how and where they evolved into the other types. I don't find his arguments strongly convincing, however, so I will refrain from describing them.