Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Solomon Islands Canoe at the Vatican

On a trip to Italy this month, we visited the Vatican Museums, eager to see masterpieces like the Laocoon group and the Apollo Belvedere. Upon entering, however, the first thing we saw was this plank-built canoe, an eye-catching introduction to an extensive temporary exhibit of boat models and paddles from around the world.

Stern view of a Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
Stern view of a Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Bow of the Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
Bow of the Solomon Islands mon canoe at the Vatican.
The Vatican's stated purpose for the exhibit is to represent of the diversity and interconnectedness of world cultures. The curators were far more interested in communicating that ecumenical message than in the details of the items on display, for we saw nothing to identify the boat or paddles on exhibit, and the models were accompanied by only scanty information. Nevertheless, we'll concentrate on the exhibit's sole full-size boat in this post, and move on to the paddles and models in subsequent posts.

We believe the canoe is from the Solomon Islands. Haddon and Hornell (in Canoes of Oceania, Vol. 2) identify four types of plank-built monohull canoes in the Solomons. Those with continuous washstrakes like the one here were called mon and were characteristic of the central Solomons, including Bougainville, New Georgia, and Choiseul. 

In contrast, canoes called lisi, with discontinuous washstrakes both fore and aft, were characteristic of the southern part of the chain (including Guadalcanal, Malaita and San Cristoval) and of the tiny island of Buka, at the chain's northernmost end. With the exception of its discontinuous washstrakes, the following image of a Buka canoe observed in 1753 by Labillardiere is very much like the canoe in the Vatican. (See also our post on a Solomon Islands canoe at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which we now recognize as a lisi.) 

Solomon Islands "lisi" canoe from Labillardiere (1800)
"Buka Island Canoe (Solomon Islands)" from Labillardiere (1800), Atlas pour servir a la relation du voyage de la recherche de la Perouse.
(Source: University of Cambridge)
Frame and plank lashings, Solomon Islands canoe
Bent (?) frames amidships, with decorative carving at the upper ends, are lashed to cleats on the planks' interior surface. Also in view is the seat riser.
The exhibit canoe is built of long parallel planks with no keel. Each plank is gotten out with cleats left standing proud on its interior surface near the lower edges, one cleat per rib. These cleats are lashed to ribs with vegetable fiber and caulked with resin made from the "putty nut" (Parinarium laurinum).

Carved frame/thwart units in a Solomon Islands canoe
Carved frame/thwart units near the bow.
Most of the ribs are roughly round in section and appear to be bent to shape, their top ends being carved with faces that are decorated with eyes of shell inlay. The two forward-most frames and accompanying thwarts are carved from single pieces of wood, and painted, carved decorative elements appear within that perimeter. Continuous thwart risers are lashed to the ribs and run nearly the whole length of the boat, supporting multiple seats for paddlers and passengers.

Bow detail of Solomon Islands canoe
Bow detail showing a carving of a horned beast (or demon?) at the waterline, extensive shell inlay, and cowry shells lashed to the forward surface of the stem well above the waterline.
The most distinctive feature of the canoe is its tall, elaborately decorated prow and stern. The outboard surfaces of these features are inlaid with thousands of pieces of carved shell in circle and cross patterns, and the decks feature diamond-pattern shell inlays. A grotesque painted and carved animal head (a goat? a demon?) sits right at the waterline on the cutwater with its horns on either side of the stem. Cowry shells are lashed to the fronts of both the stem and sternpost high above the waterline. The stem is capped with a painted carving of two parrot-like birds facing one another over a bulb-topped post that might represent fruit on a tree. The sternpost also features a painted carving at the top of an obscure geometric design.

Stem-head decoration of Solomon Islands canoe
Carved stem-head decoration

Canoes of the Solomon Islands by R.J.A.W. Lever.
"Canoes of the Solomon Islands," from The Maori Canoe by Elsdon Best
Canoes of Oceania, Vol. II: The Canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea, by A.C. Haddon and James Hornell

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Buckminster Fuller's Model Boat Collection, Part 2

In this post we look at the remainder of Buckminster Fuller's model boat collection that was recently donated to Penobscot Marine Museum. See our previous post for the first half of the collection.

Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Chinese junk. Lightweight wood, possibly bamboo. This model has enough detail so that it might be possible to associate it with a specific type, even though some of the features are overly simplified (e.g., the capstan) and others appear to be out of scale. The rigging and the house, however, have received a good amount of care and seem to reflect accurate observation of a real vessel type. The masthead devices, if accurate, may help in identification. 

Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
With the hull's extreme tumblehome, the vessel is clearly a bulk carrier, and the scale of the house indicates it's a fairly large one. I believe the deck planks, laid athwartships, would lift off on the real ship to facilitate loading and unloading. Three heavy wales at the waterline strengthen the hull and serve as fenders. The three-masted, fully-battened balanced lug rig is supplemented by one long sweep on each side, which I believe makes this a vessel intended for river/inland use.

Deckhouse detail of Chinese junk model for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Deck beams extend through the sides of the house. Housetops are made of woven material, probably meant to represent bamboo or palm leaf matting.

Stern detail of Deckhouse detail of model Chinese junk for inland use at Penobscot Marine Museum
Details of mizzenmast, deckhouse, transom and the large balanced rudder of complex construction. 

Foremast device on Chinese junk model
Masthead device on foremast

Mainmast device on Chinese junk model
Masthead device on mainmast (mizzen is similar).

Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff
Although there are many differences between the present model and this image of a Ma-Yang-Tzu junk from Ships of China by Valentin A. Sokoloff (not the least being the single mast of the Ma-Yang-Tzu versus the three-masted rig on the model), there are a number of similarities that indicate a possible relationship, including: heavy round cross-beams at deck level; sweeps on both sides; the capstan well aft of the bow; a barrel-backed deckhouse with a raised barrel-back coachroof; a tall athwartship "horse" (located over the deckhouse, forward of the coachroof on this vessel); red-topped pins sticking up from the transom; and a balanced rudder with an acute angle at its lower aft corner.
The Ma-Yang-Tzu is a river vessel, and the heavy cross-beams reinforce it and provide points of attachment for the tow line for upstream travel. The pins on the transom are for storing spare towlines.

Model Chinese seagoing junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
Chinese seagoing junk. With its deep rocker and high gunwales, this model represents a seagoing junk. Much of the rigging is in disarray but otherwise the model is in good condition. Although some details are out of proportion (for example, the weight of the sail battens and of the rail around the aft deck), there may be enough accurate observation here to facilitate identification with a real ship type.  The color scheme on the sides, the design on the transom, the colorful pole-mounted device on the aft deck, and the shape of the oculus are especially promising in this regard.
The vessel is a three-masted rig with fully battened lugsails that have a distinctly ovoid shape. The foremast has a forward lean; the mainmast is approximately vertical; and the mizzenmast rakes aft. 

Stern detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
Stern details, including painted transom design, unbalanced rudder, and heavy wales at the waterline.  

Deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
There is a capstan aft of the foremast and a tall windlass at the aft end of the main deck, probably used for raising sails. Two tall “horses,” (please advise concerning the correct term in the Comments) one each aft of fore and main masts, appear to be tying-off points for running rigging. There are deck hatches fore and aft of the mainmast. 

After deck detail of model Chinese seagoing junk
"Horse" aft of mainmast;, windlass; crossbeams beneath the aft deck extend through the sides of the hull. Is the pole-mounted device on the aft deck a lantern or a symbol identifying the vessel's port of call or purpose? 

Model of small Chinese junk at Penobscot Marine Museum
Small junk, China. This model, somewhat less detailed than the previous one, represents a smaller, simpler vessel. It has a single deck with lower gunwales and what might be termed a schooner junk rig, with two masts, the forward one shorter and raked sharply forward. The mainmast has a slight forward rake. Both masts are set with fully battened lugsails. The foresail has a straight, vertical luff and a moderate amount of roach to the leech. I believe the mainsail is similar. As on the previous model, the rigging is in disarray.
There is a capstan just aft of the foremast, and a windlass just aft of that. Also as on the previous model, there are deck hatches immediately forward and aft of the mainmast.

Bow detail of model of small Chinese junk
Bow detail. The bow transom is painted red. Atop it is a heavy beam tying the gunwales together and extending beyond them: perhaps fishing nets would be drawn over it?

Deck structures on model of small Chinese junk
One bow-backed deck shelter is covered with fabric, and a framework is present for a second shelter to be erected should the need arise. This makes me think this vessel is occupied by a family who would use it for small-scale commercial fishing and/or trading.

Stern details on model of small Chinese junk
The rudder is unbalanced; the tiller is missing from the top of the rudder post. A crossbeam at the top of the stern transom is smaller in diameter than the one at the bow and does not extend beyond the vessel's sides.
I do not know the purpose of the horizontal beams on both sides of the vessel extending past the stern transom on this and the previous junk and on the raft that follows. They don't appear to serve as davits. If you know their purpose, please explain in the Comments. 

Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
Bamboo Raft, Taiwan. This very touristy model, essentially a nicknack, was built of shell or horn and represents a seagoing bamboo raft of a type once used for fishing. It is believed that Micronesia was settled by people using vessels like this prior to the development of the outrigger canoe.

Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft at Penobscot Marine Museum
Heavy crossbeams at the bow and stern are etched with zigzag patterns to represent lashings to the craft’s main longitudinal members, which would have been bamboo stalks. The mast rests on a heavy step that serves as another crossbeam amidships. On the foredeck is a representation of a basket of elaborate shape, probably for keeping the day’s catch. The item on the aft deck might represent a basket-built dinghy, a deckhouse, or possibly a net. Oars are tied to tholepins on both gunwale rails. Whether they are for propulsion or steering is unclear.

Sail detail on Taiwanese model seagoing bamboo raft
A fully battened balanced Chinese lugsail is represented, but the model is entirely without rigging. The sail is inscribed “Taiwan” in English. Translations of the Chinese characters and explanations of the other symbols on the sail are welcomed in the Comments.

Model Thai market boat at Penobscot Marine Museum
Thai Market Boat. The model represents a Thai market boat of the type used in the famous Bangkok floating market. Market gardeners bring their produce to the market in these boats and sell directly from them. The model shows the construction of this boat type fairly accurately. It is a plank-built boat of sampan construction, with wide planks laid on deep frames. An important function of the frames is to support the tall washstrakes. Boats like this are often built of teak, and the model may be as well.
Most photos of the Bangkok market show paddles being used for propulsion, but the model has a long oar or sweep that pivots on a waist-high post and that would be rowed in a standing, forward-facing position. Perhaps the oar is used for efficiency in open water, then removed in the close confines of the market, where a paddle then comes into play.
A teak Thai market boat very much like this model was restored by the Small Open Boats shop in Port Republic, Maryland.

Bow detail on model Thai market boat
The long overhanging square bow allows for easy boarding and loading/unloading over the bow onto a wharf or other walkway, and the metal strips would protect it, especially if that walkway were of stone or concrete. Given the crowded conditions in the floating markets, over-the-bow loading a more efficient use of limited wharf space than tying up side-to.

Floorboards, frames on model Thai market boat
All the decks and floorboards of the model are loose and removable, notched to fit over the deep frames.

Rudder, tiller on model Thai market boat
The boat is steered by an underhung transom rudder of elegant shape. We speculate that when the oar is in use, the oarsman or -woman might operate the beautifully-curved tiller with one foot.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Buckminster Fuller's Model Boat Collection, Part 1

Buckminster Fuller is normally associated with technological modernism, but it seems he had a penchant for preindustrial technology too. His granddaughter recently donated Fuller's collection of boat models to Penobscot Marine Museum, the bulk of it representing boats "outside the Western tradition," as we put it.

Collections Manager Cipperly Good kindly granted us access to the collection, which the museum received with almost no accompanying documentation. Being brand new to the museum, it has not yet been carefully studied, so most of the vessels represented have yet to be identified. Of the roughly 15 models in the collection, one is American (an early 20th century powerboat hull) and three are European (20th century Greek and Danish vessels). The rest represent preindustrial types: seven are from Asia, two from Oceania, one appears to be from Africa, and one is a mystery even at the continental level.

Most of the models appear to have been built for the tourist trade and, as such, may not be detailed or accurate enough to associate with real, specific vessel types. Some of them are fanciful, intended more as an artistic expression than an accurate representation.

Here we present our photos the non-Western types that are not from China. (We'll look at the Chinese models in our next post.) Our identifications of types and provenances are largely speculative. As we learn more, we'll update the captions. Please help us identify the models by writing to us in the Comments. As always, click any image to enlarge.

Model of a double hull voyaging canoe from Bora Bora
Double-hull voyaging canoe. An identification tag found inside the deckhouse (the roof lifts off in the manner of a trinket box) reads "Bora-Bora. Given to R.B.F - 1966 by native chief" (Richard was Fuller's first name.) The hulls are carved from solid, dense hardwood. The horsehead figureheads and all other features are glued on. The proper location of the spar on the table in the foreground is unknown. Many of the glued parts are coming loose but the model is otherwise in good condition.

Model of a double hull voyaging canoe from Bora Bora, stern view
A rudder under the aft deck is steered by a massive rudder post with tillers extending from both sides. The tillers would be far too short to steer the real vessel. Horses, of course, were unknown in the Society Islands before European contact, and we doubt that they were ever used as figureheads in Bora Bora even after they were known. 

Model of a Samoan single-outrigger paddling canoe
Samoan outrigger paddling canoe. ("Samoa" appears as part of the carved decoration on the starboard bow.) The hull is solid hardwood. The maker used the heartwood/sapwood division of his workpiece to advantage in creating a two-toned hull, with the lower half darker than the upper. Incised carving in the lower half was accentuated by rubbing in some light-colored material.

Model of a Samoan single-outrigger paddling canoe
Although it was made for the tourist trade, the model strives toward accuracy in some details. The outrigger extends further forward than it does aft, beginning just short of the waterline at the cutwater, but ending just past the aft outrigger struts. The complex configuration of the struts appears to be accurate. Crudely carved paddles with pointed, leaf-shaped blades are lashed to the tops of all three outrigger booms.

canoe model, Southeast Asian
Canoe, probably Southeast Asia. The hull and the long bow and stern decks are carved from a single piece of lightweight wood, but the model may represent a dugout or a boat with stitched or metal-fastened planks. Deck extensions or seats located just inboard of and slightly lower than the decks were added separately, as were three sitting thwarts. All of these added pieces rest on a ridge carved on the hull's inner surface.

UPDATE: This information provided by Mick Allen:
(This model) is an abstraction of sampans from Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia or from that connected section of the Mekong river. These boats range in size from about 12 ft [4 m.] to about 25 ft [8m]. Each end is smoothly carved from one log piece with stepped insets for each level of planking of the main body. The keel connecting the two carved ends is also deeply shaped following the a curved cross section. The minimum number of planks each side of the keel is 3 with 1 washstrake plank increasing to 4 or 5 with 2 washstrake planks. Most planking is carvel on frames, decks are planked parallel to the gunwales. Washstrakes stop either short of both ends or one end only with the other end resolving to the carved ‘stems.’ Most examples seem to be more curvaceous in plan that the model, but the inset carving on the model does not seem to be present on the common examples that I’ve seen, however they are painted in varying colours: blue for the exterior, reds and oranges for the upper stem facets and the rest left uncoloured. Whatever the case, these sampans are supremely elegant. 
We thank Mick for the input and agree with his identification. In fact, we blogged about the paddle-propelled boats of Tonle Sap here and here, and several of them are indeed clearly of the type that the model depicts.

Southeast Asian canoe model, decorative details
Most upper surfaces are decorated with incised carvings of geometric and floral designs. The two long-shafted paddles have bulbous end-grips and blunt leaf-shape blades. From the shape of the raised bow and stern and the style of the decorations, we believe this represents a Cambodian, Thai, or Vietnamese type.

Model of a Southeast Asian (?) water taxi (?)
A small passenger vessel, possibly a water taxi. We believe to be from Southeast Asia. The hardwood hull seems to represent a plank-built hull with a flat central bottom part and fore and aft bottom pieces that rise from it at angles. The thwart-seats and coach roof are carved with a geometric, possibly floral, design. The low main passenger seat (for two?) and the "floor" in front of it are upholstered with fabric. A pair of paddles or oars with heart-shaped blades are held in sockets directly behind the house. Two empty sockets in the thwart aft of them may have held another set at one time.

Our guess is that the vessel operators would have stood on the aft deck. The gunwales rise to two points adjacent to the cabin and are reminiscent of the arrangement of tholepins on a Thames skiff, but we believe this is a superficial similarity only. In a real vessel of this type, the coach roof would probably have been lighter in relation to the rest of the boat -- probably of matting or cloth.

Model dugout canoe, African?
A dugout (?) canoe. The men appear to be wearing fezzes and have negroid features. We assume this model is African. Alternately, the boat's shallow shape is reminiscent of some bark canoes of Australian Aborigines, but then the "fezzes" would have to be interpreted as a hairstyle instead.

UPDATE: Mick Allen also identified this one as a carving from Kenya. He found a listing on Amazon of a nearly identical model here. It's so close that it appears to have been made by the same artist. Thanks again, Mick.

Model dugout canoe, African?
The model builder was not trying to achieve a literal depiction of a canoe and its passengers. The hull is extremely shallow and hollowed only slightly. Aside from their heads and faces, the passengers are represented mainly as flowing shapes that merge smoothly into the bottom of the boat; they have no hands, and their feet and arms are only vaguely suggested. A paddle is suggested in the form of a heavy shaft that extends to the left of the bow paddler, although it has no blade at its end and does not extend beyond the gunwale. Lozenge-shaped objects at the bow and stern may represent cargo.

wooden model boat propelled by a kneeling paddler
Boat propelled by a kneeling paddler. The blade of the long-shafted paddle is broken off. We have no guesses about the provenance of the model or the type of boat it refers to.

wooden model boat propelled by a kneeling paddler
The exaggerated rise of the bow does not reflect any real boat's design and is the model maker's artistic vision in a piece that is intended only as a decorative item. The sides and top surface of the hull are decorated with vine-and-leaf carving. Although crudely formed, the human figure's posture does a nice job depicting the vigorous, muscular, yet graceful movement of paddling.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Very Early Maori Canoe

A sizable component of a large canoe found in New Zealand gives clues to the type of boats used to settle the islands, which probably occurred sometime between 1050 and 1250 CE. Found at Anewaka, on the northwest coast of South Island, the artifact has been dated to around 1400. Given the slowness with which technology changes in traditional societies, it seems probable that the boat it came from was similar to those used by the islands' first colonizers.
Canoe fragment recovered at Anewaka, New Zealand
Canoe fragment recovered at Anewaka, New Zealand (click any image to enlarge)
More than 6m long and 85cm wide at its widest point, the part was a piece of what must have been a large composite canoe. For convenience, we'll call it a plank, though it was carved "in the round," following the shape of the tree trunk from which it came, and it is therefore somewhat closer to dugout technology than to plank-on-frame boatbuilding. (The proper term for this kind of component is ile.) The boat was, however, by no means a dugout. The part represents less than one quarter of one hull which may have been from a single-outrigger canoe but was more likely half of a double canoe.

Stitching holes exist around the entire perimeter of the plank, and pounded tree bark that was used to caulk these holes was recovered from some of them. Carved ribs and a longitudinal stringer on the inner surface of the plank show sophisticated carpentry and structural design. The stringer has notches and lashing holes along its whole length which were obviously used to locate and lash other parts of the boat's structure, but the exact nature of those other parts and the connections between them is unknown.

Partial hull reconstruction of Anekawa canoe
Partial hull reconstruction through duplication and mirror-imaging of the single recovered plank 
The authors of a paper on the find suggest that the part would have had a mirror-image to itself opposite, plus a similar pair of parts extending the hull at least a comparable distance from its butt end. To avoid having the mirror-image parts meet along the hull's "keel" line, where lashings would have been exposed to rapid wear when grounding the boat (an arrangement that, the authors state, is unknown ethnographically), it is necessary to accept another part between them -- call it a keel plank if you will. Although the two ends of the hull need not have been identical, it seems fair to assume that they were of similar length. There is nothing to preclude more sections between the two end pieces, for a much longer hull.

Carving of a sea turtle on the Anewaka canoe plank
Carving of a sea turtle on the canoe plank
A sea turtle appears carved in relief on the outer surface of the plank. If one assumes that it is depicted swimming forward, then the plank must be from the after part of the hull. Sea turtles are not important in the iconography of the New Zealand Maori, so its carving here is thought to be a lingering transmission from pre-colonization Maori culture, which arrived in New Zealand by way of the Society Islands.

Proposed reconstruction of the Anewaka canoe as a double-hulled voyaging canoe
Proposed reconstruction of the Anewaka canoe as a double-hulled voyaging canoe with a single oceanic sprit rig
Relying on internal and ethnographic evidence and historical records, the authors created a reconstruction showing a double-hulled sailing canoe with dissimilar ends, a house aft of amidships, and a steering oar. The single sail is an inverted triangle held by two spars: known as an oceanic sprit rig, this is a tacking rig.

A Tahitian tipaerua, drawn by John Webber
A Tahitian tipaerua, drawn by John Webber
As the authors note, the Tahitian tipaerua has a similar hull configuration, though the sailing rig depicted by John Webber on James Cook's third voyage to the Pacific was different. The authors suggest that the Anewaka canoe and the tipaerua had a common ancestor.

Thanks for Yoram Meroz for alerting us to this item.

With the exception of the final image, all images are from An early sophisticated East Polynesian voyaging canoe discovered on New Zealand's coast by Dilys A Johns, Geoffrey J. Irwin, and Yun K. Sung.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Harvey Golden's Magnificent Kayak Surveys


My usual approach to using reading material for this blog is to take some interesting (to me) facts that I read concerning some kind of boat, or some culture's use of boats, and condense, paraphrase, or synthesize the source into an article, hopefully for the benefit or entertainment of my readers. Sometimes I rely entirely on a single source; at others, I'll do a little more digging into the subject and put together what amounts to an essay on the subject.

This time, the books themselves are the subject, because Harvey Golden's Kayaks of Alaska (2015) and Kayaks of Greenland: The History and Development of the Greenlandic Hunting Kayak, 1600-2000 (2006) are huge, valuable, awesomely impressive, and worthy of an article about themselves. When I opened the mailing package that contained them, I was, without exaggeration, awestruck by the enormous quantity of sheer fact they contain and the clarity of its presentation. Having lived with them for a few months now, my opinion has not diminished a bit.

Golden is an independent researcher in the field of museum studies. He has examined and surveyed almost every historically significant kayak held in museum collections and many private collections in Europe and North America, taking off lines, photographing and sketching the most minute and intricate details, and delving into the collections' documentation and the historical, popular, and academic writings of others. When personally surveying an artifact, no detail seems to escape his notice. If a deck line had once been present on a kayak but was later removed, perhaps 200 years ago, Golden is certain to have detected it by the presence of a tiny nub of a thong cut off close to the deck. 

Kayaks of Alaska and Kayaks of Greenland divide the boats surveyed by geographic and cultural ranges, each associated with different boat types. In the Greenland book, Golden creates a typology of eight types, although the distinctions between the types are sometimes difficult to see. Certainly, the kayaks of Greenland are more similar to one another than the kayaks of Alaska, where the differences between nine regional types Golden describes are in some cases really dramatic. Hereafter, we'll focus on the more recent Kayaks of Alaska. Kayaks of Greenland is similar in most respects.

A kayak from Point Barrow, from Kayaks of Alaska
A kayak from Point Barrow, from Kayaks of Alaska (Click any image to enlarge.)
Kayaks of Alaska begins with a short chapter of history. This is followed by nine chapters on the kayaks of different regions -- said regions defined by cultural borders and the distinct types of kayaks used within them (e.g., Unangan, Central Yup'ik, Southern Inupiaq, etc.). These nine sections, therefore, constitute a typology of Alaskan kayaks, one which Golden has developed as an expansion on the thinking of kayak scholars before him.

Lines of a North Alaska kayak in the Burke Museum, Seattle, from Kayaks of Alaska
Lines of a North Alaska kayak in the Burke Museum, Seattle, from Kayaks of Alaska
Each chapter on a kayak type begins with a more detailed history of the kayaks themselves and of the history and scholarship concerning those kayaks, illustrated with drawings and photographs from historical and academic sources as well as Golden's own illustrations. The type is clearly and exhaustively defined and variations are discussed. This is followed by a series of plates of lines and construction drawings of several artefactual kayaks of the type, the plates being followed by a section containing detailed descriptions of each one. These descriptions discuss the artifact's provenance, its condition, and construction and decorative details; compare and contrast it to others of the same type; and in some cases discuss the construction of recent replicas and their performance. (Golden has built several, which he maintains in his own museum, the Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum in Portland, OR.)

Construction plan of a North Alaska Kayak at the Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, from Kayaks of Alaska
Construction plan of a North Alaska Kayak at the Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, from Kayaks of Alaska
Golden produces his lines drawings by hand, and they are admirably clean and detailed. In several instances where the kayak has been damaged by accident or deformed by inadequate support over the years, he reproduces the lines "as surveyed," and beside them shows lines for a likely "as-built" reconstruction based on the scantlings of the boat and on the form of other kayaks of the same type. In cases where good lines drawings were already made by others, he reproduces these instead. 
Interior construction details of an Alaskan kayak, from Kayaks of Alaska
Interior construction details of an Alaskan kayak, from Kayaks of Alaska
In addition to standard waterline, sheer plan, and section lines, several of the kayaks are presented in a three-quarters view that gives one an excellent feel for the shape that standard views sometimes fail to impart. He also includes sketches of numerous construction and decorative details, deck fittings, and deck equipment associated with the boat in question.

Kayak builders, from Kayaks of Alaska
Kayak builders, from Kayaks of Alaska
Chapters on kayak construction, equipment, and paddles follow the chapters on kayak types. The chapter on construction is not a "how-to," however: it will tell you little or nothing about how to select lumber, cut a mortise, or steam-bend a rib. Rather, it addresses the construction details that are common to many or all of the boats, right down to details such as knots and lashing patterns for the joints between longitudinal and transverse structural members. (Deviations from common construction methods are covered in minute detail in the descriptions of the individual artifacts that follow the plates in each "type" chapter.) If you want to build one of the boats in this book and lack knowledge of skin-on-frame construction methods, I recommend The Aleutian Kayak by Wolfgang Brinck and Building the Greenland Kayak by Christopher Cunningham (neither of which, I believe, are in print). For would-be builders who do possess building skills, Kayaks of Alaska and Kayaks of Greenland contain the necessary lines and construction details, but not tables of offsets, from which accurate reproductions can be built. (Golden provides instructions for lifting offsets from the plans on his website.)

A charming bonus in Kayaks of Alaska is a section of color plates containing reproductions of Golden's hand-drawn depictions of colored decorative details on many of the kayaks and paddles. Aside from this, all illustrations in both books are in black and white.

These are big, heavy books, each 8.5" x 11" and over 500 pages. As self-published projects, they are extraordinary for the quality of their production, but this is almost trivial compared to the quality and value of their contents. They are not books that many will sit down and read cover-to-cover, for the descriptions of thousands of details on dozens of kayaks do not make for an engaging narrative. But one can dip into them at any point and learn something about kayak history or about a particular design, and as reference sources, they are incomparable in their clear and comprehensive coverage of their subjects.

In the immense contribution they make to the study of indigenous watercraft, Golden's books stand as equals to Adney and Chapelle's The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America and Haddon and Hornell's Canoes of OceaniaKayaks of Alaska and Kayaks of Greenland are magnificent achievements. 

* * *
Visit Harvey Golden's website to purchase Kayaks of Alaska and Kayaks of Greenland. IndigenousBoats.com has no business affiliation with Harvey Golden, and we make no commissions on sales of his books.