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Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Double Canoe from the Tuamotu Islands

In 1846, the British Admiralty dispatched HMS Grampus, 50 guns, under command of Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN, to the Society Islands. The French had just named Tahiti a protectorate, to the chagrin of the British (who might earlier have taken the islands for themselves had they been so motivated) and the violent opposition of the Tahitians. Martin's brief was to observe the French activities (i.e., spy) , and if possible throw a wrench in the works of the nascent protectorate through diplomacy with the Tahitian chiefs, while avoiding anything that the French would construe as overtly unfriendly action.

During his year on station, Martin kept a personal journal in which he made numerous watercolor paintings and sketches, and recorded occasional notes, about native watercraft. 

The only native craft he described in detail in the journal was a double canoe visiting from the Pomatoo Islands (now known as the Tuamotus), some 250 miles to the east of Tahiti. Here are his drawings and his description in full. (The original spelling is unchanged.)
Tuamotu double canoe, by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN.
Tuamotu double canoe, by Capt. Henry Byam Martin, RN. (Click to enlarge.)
February 22nd, 1847 
Gardner (A.B.) died of dysentery. I heard today sundry evidences of lurking discontent among the people, but it is too late they are subdued -- for the present at least. 
I walked to Taonoa to see a remarkable double canoe from the Pomatoo islands. It is in fact 2 canoes joined together. Each is about 50 feet long by 5 broad. There is not a nail in them. The logs of which they are constructed are sewn together with bark -- and the joinings are close & neat. The upper works or gunwales are of matting. She is schooner rigged with her masts stepped on the thwarts or connecting boards and I am told these craft stand a great deal of bad weather. Thirty eight persons crossed in her from Pomotoo -- about 250 miles. They seem to be families who have come to see what is to be seen and picked up. The women & children are hideous -- they have thrown up some huts round their canoe, which is hauled up high & dry. 
These people had with them a curious bat or vampire, which I would have bought if he had stunk a little less. The head, in size form & colour much resembled a ferret's. Each foot had 5 claws -- its wings were of great spread & each had at its extremity a claw or hook. I believe this animal is called the flying fox.
Tuamoto double canoe, plan view.
Even aside from its sewn construction, the canoe is remarkable. Most double canoes have their hulls separated by cross-beams, but this one has the hulls right up against each other. Separated hulls impose great stresses on the cross-beams and on the attachments between the cross-beams and the hulls. These stresses are minimized by placing the hulls next to one another, but I suspect this merely substitutes one engineering problem for another. In this configuration, the hulls themselves, and their sewn fastenings, would be subject to great stress as they press against each other. Since it is unlikely that the hulls had internal frames,  it's hard to fathom how these large sewn hulls did not crush one another as the boat worked in a seaway. Evidently, they did not.

On first glance, the larger drawing appears to show the canoe's bow, with graceful double beakheads. But as I pondered the huge, strangely-shaped bowsprit, I realized that we're looking at the stern, and the "bowsprit" is actually a steering oar. On closer examination, the "beakheads" are supporting a cambered wooden deck.

The platform running the whole length of the outside of the starboard hull looks like a fine place to relax when sailing in good conditions. It's supported by numerous timbers which presumably go right through the hull, although they are not shown in Martin's simple plan view. The hulls appear to be covered with draped woven matting (probably of pandanus leaves) which serves for weather protection, in place of a permanent house structure.

Martin says the boat was schooner rigged, and this appears so much the case that it's a little baffling. At that time, Tahitians were adopting elements of Western rigs piecemeal to their canoes (of which, more in a future post), and it's surprising that the even more remotely-situated Tuamotans would be using a schooner rig that any contemporary New Englander would have recognized. In any case, the foremast appears to be shorter than the mainmast, but this may be a trick of perspective and the two might be equal in height. The foremast appears to have a gaff, and the mainmast a horizontal boom.

The baskets and other items hanging from the rigging were probably for food storage, to keep them away from vermin and surreptitious snitching by unauthorized crew.

Images and quotation from: The Polynesian Journal of Captain Henry Byam Martin, R.N. In command of H.M.S. Grampus -- 50 guns, at Hawaii and on station in Tahiti and the Society Islands, 1846-1847.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Paddling Light's Canoe & Kayak Plans: What Price Free?

I've been following Bryan Hansel on Twitter for some time, but just recently did I learn about his free canoe and kayak plans. In this recent post on his blog Paddling Light, he discusses the impact upon his personal finances of giving plans away, and asks readers for advice and opinions: should he continue offering the plans for free? convert to a fully-paid model? shut down the project? His request for feedback seems thoroughly sincere, and not as if he's looking for confirmation of an already-made decision.

As for the plans themselves: he has taken historical plans from a number of sources -- museum publications and books, most notably Adney & Chapelle's Bark Canoes& Skin Boats of North America -- and redrawn and digitized them. Most are appropriate for strip-building, while others would lend themselves more readily to plywood panel (e.g., stitch-and-glue) construction. The plans include classic types that would make wonderful, logical build-it-yourself projects, including a Passamaquoddy ocean canoe and a southwest Greenland kayak, but there are also some types that would draw uncomprehending stares at your local boat ramp: for example, a Beothuk canoe or a King Island kayak. I don't mock these latter designs in the slightest: I love the idea of building such unfamiliar boat types, but one must acknowledge that they are miles out of the ordinary for most paddlers.

Coast Salish canoe lines by Bryan Hansell
Coast Salish canoe 3D by Bryan Hansell
Lines plans and 3D rendering of a Coast Salish canoe, from Paddling Light.
What Hansell offers for free varies from study plans to full-size lines drawings, but he also asks for donations, and has voluntary fees on a sliding scale based on the user's self-reported financial comfort. For full CAD files, he does expect fair payment for the considerable effort that he has put into creating the files. (Hansell also offers his own sea kayak designs for a fixed, reasonable fee.) The plans do not include construction details: these are primarily lines drawings. As such, they assume a good understanding of boat construction methods and a fair amount of insight and creativity to translate into actual finished boats.

I value what Hansell is doing, and I have conflicting advice for readers who are interested in his plans. First: since there's a possibility that the plans could be withdrawn or might no longer be offered free, you might want to do your downloads now. Second: if you download, pay or donate what you can to enable him to continue the project. And Third: whether you download or not, take a look at what Hansell is offering and give him the feedback he seeks concerning whether and how he should continue to offer the plans.

My own advice to Hansell is: continue offering a limited number of plans for free, and put fixed prices on all the others.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Japanese Boats of the Edo Period

On a recent visit to the new Harvard Art Museum, I came across two lovely 6-panel painted folding screens from Japan's Edo period (also called the Tokugawa Period,1603 to 1868) containing images of Japanese small craft.

Japanese Edo screen showing Portuguese trading ship
A Portuguese ship arriving in a Japanese port. Western ships obviously being unfamiliar to the artist, it is not depicted with much verisimilitude. (Click any image to enlarge.)
detail of Japanese Edo screen showing small boat
Detail of the above image, showing a small boat of Japanese appearance ferrying the captain ashore, along with some cargo or gifts. The boat's size is difficult to interpret, given the varying scales of its passengers. The boat is sculled from the stern by a single sculler, but again this might be artistic license. 
Portuguese ship on Japanese Edo screen exhibit card at Harvard Art Museum
The exhibit card for the above images, which show only the left of two folding screens mentioned (the right-hand screen not being of interest to this blog).
Japanese Edo screen showing landscape with small boat
A landscape with a small boat in the foreground (third panel from the left). According to the exhibit card, it "tells the story of the Chinese calligrapher and poet Wang Ziyou (also known as Wang Huishi, 338?-386), who sets out in a small boat to visit his friend Dai Andao on a wintry night. Just as he reaches his destination, however, his inspiration fades, and he returns home alone without completing his visit."
Dai Andao, who had baked a cake, was miffed. "That Wang Ziyou is so goddamned existential," he muttered.
detail of Japanese Edo screen showing small boat
Detail of the above image. The figure in the stern (on the left) appears to be sculling, although his posture makes this ambiguous. It is also unclear if Wang Ziyou is the reclining figure in the bow, or if he is under the canopy and the figure in the bow is performing some other function.
Japanese Edo screen landscape exhibit card at Harvard Art Museum
The exhibit card for the two images above. The screen shown here is the left of the two referenced, the right one not being relevant.