Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Chilean Dalca

Some months ago we looked at the three-piece bark canoes of the Yahgan and Alacaluf people of southern Chile. Prior to European contact, these boats were prevalent all across the Strait of Magellan and several hundred miles up the west coast of Chile, to about the Taitao Peninsula. For another 200 miles or so north of that point, the common pre-conquest boat was the dalca.

In terms of design and even construction, the dalca was quite similar to its southern bark-built cousin, consisting of three planks. A "keel" plank, wide amidships and tapered equally toward the ends to points, was bent to impart a great deal of rocker, particularly toward the ends, so that the bottom curved up to form stem- and sternposts, after a fashion. Side planks were sewn on, with their ends curving inward sharply so that their ends met the outboard edges of the endposts. The sides leaned slightly outward at the top.

I believe the indigenous people of the Chilean coast had no metals pre-conquest, and hence no saws. The boards, therefore, must have been gotten out by splitting with wedges.

Reports differ on the caulking material used to seal the seams, with mentions of various materials including crushed herbs and clay or mud, a tree- or other plant-based resin, and moss. Likewise, the material for the stitches was variously reported as being of bark fibers, baleen, split cane or some unnamed cordage.  There are mentions of floor timbers and thwarts. Other than the fact that the thwarts were narrow and structural, apparently not intended as comfortable seats, I've come across no other descriptions of these members, nor their numbers in the boats that existed at the time of European contact.

One of the earliest reports cited a length of 30-40 feet and a beam of 3 feet, which seems far too narrow. Even if three feet is taken as the width of the bottom and one assumes a width at the gunwale as 5 feet amidships, this would have been rather narrow boat at 30 feet LOA, and an outrageously narrow one at 40 feet LOA. I think it probable that at least one, if not both, of the dimensions in that early report were in error.

Propulsion was originally by paddle. One early observer saw the use of a rudimentary sailing rig, consisting of a single mast and yard to which a leather square sail was lashed. The clews (bottom corners) of the sail were held in the mariners' hands. According to Clinton R. Edwards in Aboriginal Watercraft on the Pacific Coast of South America, this was probably an adoption made soon after first contact; Edwards believes no sails were used pre-contact.

Early Europeans in the area often used dalcas for local travel, even commissioning their construction in large numbers, but making provisions for the use of oars instead of paddles. In some cases, they were disassembled for long portages and reassembled at the end of the carry. This was easily done, given their simple stitched or sewn construction.

Soon after European contact began, the dalca began to displace the bark canoe to its south, probably because access to metal tools made the more durable wooden boat that much more attractive and accessible to the Yahgan and Alacaluf people. Dalcas remained in use into the early 20th century, when they were displaced by small craft of European design.

The photo, of a dalca reconstruction at the the Museum of the Dalca in Chiloe, Chile, differs somewhat from the descriptions in Edwards, and may reflect post-contact modifications of an unknown (to me) date. The bottom board does not narrow to points at the ends, and the strakes or side boards butt against the inboard surface of the bottom board – not against its outboard edges. There is a batten on the outside, and possibly on the inside, of the main construction seam, held in place by the bottom-to-sides lashings. There are no floor timbers or frames, but there are seven thwarts, round and still not used as seats, lashed to the upper surface of the strakes.

(Photo is Creative Commons via Wikipedia. Most information is from Edwards, cited above.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Preserving a Bronze Age Logboat Proves Difficult

See here for an article on Old Salt Blog about continuing efforts to preserve the Hasholme Boat, a big Bronze Age logboat (i.e., dugout) found decades ago on the Humber River in England.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

China's Forgotten Fleet: Voyages of Zheng He

In 2008, the National Geographic Museum presented an exhibit titled "China's Forgotten Fleet: The Voyages of Zheng He." To quote from National Geo's Flickr site:
Nearly a century before Columbus arrived in the Americas, a massive Chinese armada commanded by Admiral Zheng He set sail on the first of seven epic voyages spanning three decades. Objects from the National Museum in China, such as a bronze bell commissioned by Zheng He and copies of maps created on his voyages, as well as ship models from the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, help tell the story of these little known journeys and cultural exchanges. Travel in the fleet’s path to five ports – Malacca, Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India, the Arabian Peninsula, and Malindi in East Africa.
Here's the link to the Flickr site, which includes photos of some of the exhibit's impressive ship models. Thanks to Heather Hernandez at Maritime Compass blog for this one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet More Boats from Cambodia's Tonle Sap

Here's the final batch of photos from the floating villages of the Tonle Sap, Cambodia, taken by my friend John Meader on a recent trip. (See the previous three or four posts for more on the same subject.) Since I've already done small boats and large boats, I guess this post (for lack of any other coherent idea) will concentrate on "medium" boats. Click any image to enlarge.

A small commercial carrier. Gas and other fuels are often sold by the bottle-full in Cambodia, so these plastic jerry-cans might represent "storage tanks" for a small gas station, on their way to be filled. The square bow allows goods to be loaded and unloaded right over the bow onto crowded docks where it's not feasible to tie up alongside.

Interesting planking and sternpost details.

I believe this is someone's home. It appears to have a small outrigger on a short strut. Could this be a huge dugout?

A small variety store. Note the bamboo sponsons at the waterline.

If you don't like your neighbors in Chon Khneas, just tie your home to the family boat and drag it somewhere else. I don't know if these larger houseboats typically have engines, but the hull looks like it was originally intended for actual transportation, not just domicile.

Home. I can't tell how the hulls are built or even what material they are.

Happy and proud. Woof!
Once again, thanks to John Meader of Northern Stars Planetarium, providing educational astronomy programming to schools in Maine.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

More Small Boats of Tonle Sap, Cambodia

I'm continuing to show photos by John Meader of boats of the Tonle Sap in Cambodia. (See the three previous posts for more on the same subject.) Today we'll look mostly at small motorized boats. The hulls appear to be virtually identical to the paddled vessels of the same size. As always, click any image to enlarge.

I like the decorated sternpost on this small powerboat.

While mom holds the baby, her young son steers the family powerboat with an oar over the stern.

Like most other female bow paddlers, this one half-sits, half squats on the foredeck as the boat approaches a floating store. 

It's common to see people wearing facemasks against the air pollution and generally noxious odors on this waterway that, unfortunately, is used as a sewer as well.

These little boats move out right smartly and seem to get at least partly up on plane.

Note the boat in the left background. The (automotive?) engine is mounted on the after deck, and it's swung 180 degrees from its operating position, so that the prop shaft extends over the hull. This is probably just to save space on the crowded waterway. When the boat will be put into use, the user will simply swivel the engine and prop shaft 180 degrees on its pivot so that the shaft extends over the stern. 

A non-motorized boat. Note the position of the paddle grip of the aft paddler. This appears very awkward to me as a North American canoeist, but as these people literally live on the water, I have to assume they know something I don't about efficient paddling. The bow-down trim is also something that I'd normally try to avoid.

A gam.
In spite of their lack of finish, these are very pretty boats when seen in profile.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Video of Tonle Sap Boats

Reader Chuck Z. Vespucci posted this video link in the comments section of the previous post about the floating villages of Tonle Sap, Cambodia, and it's so worthwhile that I want to make sure more readers see it.

Footage about boats appears right at the start, and at around the 3:55 mark.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Boats of the Tonle Sap, Cambodia

Yesterday's post introduced paddlecraft of Chon Khneas, the floating villages on the Tonle Sap in Cambodia. I'll continue with more of John Meader's photos, this time looking at some larger vessels. As in my last post, readers are urged to comment on photos where they can add something to our understanding of these interesting and unfamiliar boats. And as always, all photos may be clicked to enlarge.

Tour boats make up a large percentage of this fleet, among which are also a variety of other vessels: houseboats, grocers, and other small retail vendors.

A fairly typical tour boat. Some are larger, some are a little spiffier. Note the interesting cross-piece at the top of the stem. This feature appears in some of the following photos as well.

Spartan interior of the tour boat in the previous picture.

A double-decker tour boat.

This might be another tour boat, but it appears to lack seating. Other ideas?

A long-tail outdrive. There's a rudder behind the prop steered by ropes, and the whole assembly can also be steered left and right for directed thrust, and lifted out of the water, as shown. I believe these rely on automotive universal joints, and they're probably powered by auto engines as well.

This barge-like hull has a long-tailed outdrive like the one shown in the previous photo.

Even as some of these large, barge-like hulls are retired to moulder away on the river bank... ones are under construction nearby.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paddled Boats of Chon Khneas, Cambodia

My friend John Meader, a fine photographer and canoeing partner (high praise!) took a trip to Cambodia and Hong Kong recently and came back with many excellent photos, which he's kindly given me permission to use. They were taken during a boat tour of the "floating village" of Chon Khneas, which is populated by Vietnamese expats. I'll be posting these in several batches with little comment, since I know no more about the boats than what I can observe in the photos. I'll focus on man-powered, paddled boats in this post, and move on to other subjects in the future. Feel free to comment if you can add to our understanding. Click on any photo for an enlarged view.

Fairly typical of the paddled boats in Chon Khneas. Note the washstrakes which, with the bulkhead at their forward and aft ends, create a cargo hold with higher freeboard than that permitted by the hull itself. Steering from the front is common, although as a canoeist, I can't explain how it's done. Paddles with long, narrow blades seem to be universal -- no oars or yulohs. The women are wearing cloths over their faces, to protect themselves from the badly polluted air.
Close-up of the bow of the same boat. Note the leaf-shaped stem, one of two common bow shapes.


Where the bow man in the previous photo sat cross-legged, women all seem to either kneel or squat when in the bow.

Here's the other common bow shape: a flat, narrow transom, in contrast to the leaf-shaped stem shown above.
I'm not sure if she's paddling this boat or just steering it. There's a bit of a bow wave, and there appears to be a small engine just aft of amidships - you can just make out what appears to be a fuel tank. But if she's under power, then she's steering from the bow and is quite far away from the engine controls.

The paddles have no end grip.

More fishermen.

A market boat.
By the way: John Meader runs Northern Stars Planetarium, bringing educational, portable planetarium shows to schools throughout Maine.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sailing Cargo Rafts of Ecuador and Peru

Early European explorers and exploiters on the western coast of South America reported that native people were making lengthy sea voyages, conducting trade between Lima, Peru, and Guayaquil, Ecuador, (over 700 statute miles as the crow flies), and as far as Panama (almost 800 miles further) on a regular basis. And they were doing it with rafts of balsa wood.

("Balsa" was the common South American term for raft, the term also being applied to rafts of reed and of hollow gourds. Balsa wood, it appears, was so named because it was "raft wood.")

The "hulls" of these ocean-going rafts were substantial. They always consisted of an odd number of logs, and often had some degree of taper. Sometimes it was just the central log that extended forward of all the others; at other times, each log was shorter than the one inboard of it, so that the entire bow had a stepped wedge shape. In some cases, the stern was step-wedge shaped as well.

Above the hull's main logs were several cross-pieces of diameter roughly equal to the main logs, the whole being lashed together with rope. Then above the cross-pieces, there was plank decking and often a house of two or even three decks. In the lowest compartment would be stored anchor rocks and water containers. The second level was crew quarters. The top level was for cargo that needed to be kept dry. The height of the decks in the house was only about four feet. The whole hull structure weighed so much that, laden, the main logs would often "float" two or three feet beneath the surface.

a. Balsa raft recorded by Admiral Paris, 1841. Length about 30 meters; beam 8-10 meters. Note tapered hull shape, multiple daggerboards, deckhouse, and squaresail on bipod mast. Click this or any image for a larger view.
The illustration above was made in 1841 -- some centuries after first contact – but it gives a good idea of the structure. Its length was 30 meters; beam was 8-10 meters. Although the raft in this illustration has nine logs, rafts with "20 or 30 great Trees of about 20, 30, or 40 foot long" that could carry cargoes of 60-70 tons were reported in the 1680s.

At one time, anthropologists and historians disputed whether aboriginal South Americans had sails on their rafts prior to European contact, but this question seems to have been pretty soundly answered, as sailing rafts were recorded by Europeans within just a few years of first contact, and it seems highly unlikely that sails would have been adopted so quickly. Furthermore, the method of steering was one unknown to Europeans at that time, and if the sail had been adopted from them, it seems certain that the rudder would have been as well.

Instead of a rudder, South American sailing rafts were steered by multiple daggerboards (incorrectly called either "centerboards" or "leeboards" in my sources). There were typically three or more; aft, athwart of the mast, and forward. By selectively raising or lowering the boards fully or partially between the hull logs, the underwater center of resistance could be changed.

Assuming that the sail's center of effort remained fixed, one would turn upwind by lowering the forward boards and raising the aft ones. This would allow the stern of the raft to blow downwind, while the deployed boards forward would allow the bow to resist doing so, leaving the bow pointing more into the wind than the stern. To turn downwind, one would raise the forward boards and lower the aft ones.

Once it was settled in the Indians' favor that they did indeed have sails, the next question in dispute was the nature of the sail: square or triangular. Both had been noted (not always unambiguously) by Europeans within a couple hundred years of first contact, but it appears that the triangular sail was the aboriginal design, and that this was displaced by the square sail fairly soon after European contact. Although variations were noted, the aboriginal rig seems to have been comparable the Oceanic sprit rigs of the Pacific – which can lead to all sorts of unprofitable arguments (which I'll avoid) about the diffusion of technology eastward or westward across the Pacific.

The later square sail was typically set on a pair of shears, or a bipod mast, as shown. With the triangular sail probably being the more weatherly one, the reason for the switch to the square sail is a mystery. Eventually, the squaresail and bipod mast were replaced by the handier and more weatherly European-style lugsail hoisted on a single mast. But even with the adoption of the European-style sails, daggerboard steering remained the norm.
b. An image from 1619, showing crew manipulating three daggerboards; two masts with triangular sails, anchor stones on foredeck. Note the curved masts are two-part, and the sails have no boom or lower sprit.

c. Guayaquil raft in 1748; much smaller than Admiral Paris's raft. Details of the rig include the shears or bipod mast, backstays, what may be a forestay, and a bowsprit-like spar that serves as a bowline.
Many early European observers were impressed and surprised by the speed and weatherliness of these apparently primitive craft – qualities that no doubt contributed to their continued use into the modern age. The last cargo raft recorded on South America's Pacific coast was seen in the Gulf of Guayaquil in 1925.

(Sources: The Sea-Craft of Prehistory, Paul Johnstone; Aboriginal Watercraft on the Pacific Coast of South America, Clinton R. Edwards)
(Images: a. from Johnstone; b, c. from Edwards)