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Monday, December 11, 2017

A Shuar Dugout from the Ecuadorian Amazon

On a recent visit to Ecuador, we did not have an opportunity to observe any boats in the field, but we did manage to visit several museums in Quito and Cuenca that had items of interest on exhibit. These included sculptures of dugout canoes and canoeists, and boat-related artifacts, from a number of precolumbian societies, as well as a couple of contemporary canoes, related implements, and a few models. We'll organize them in more than one blog post according the museums in which they appear.

First up: a contemporary dugout canoe of the Shuar people of Ecuadorian Amazonia, i.e., el Oriente, in the Museo Amazonico in Quito:

Shuar dugout canoe, side view
The canoe was perhaps 16 feet long but, with its (presumed) bow partially hidden behind other display items, it was not possible to get a good full-length photo. Maximum beam is probably 14" to 16". The bottom has a flat run (no rocker). The charming museum guide is included for scale. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Shuar dugout canoe, view from stern
A view of the stern shows: rather straight sides and a flat bottom meeting at a hard chine; a sharp, angular transition where the bottom begins to rise toward the end; and a large overhanging stern platform where the paddler might sit. 
In the foreground is a scale model of a fish trap. Although an explanation was absent, I believe it is installed on a river bed with the right (higher) end facing downstream. Fish enter over the (submerged) lower end and find themselves aground on the upward-sloping poles, being prevented by the current from backing out before the fishermen can gather them. (This is speculation. Reader input is solicited.)
Shuar dugout canoe, interior stern view
Top view from the stern. From bottom of image: the stern platform; the flat, angular transition between the platform and the interior bottom, which is flat; nicely thinned sides, somewhat bulged outward amidships.
Shuar dugout canoe, interior bow view
The bow is pointed in plan view, rounded in section view and curving smoothly into the flat bottom. The interior appears to have been treated against rot and insect infestation by charring. Adze marks are visible.
Shuar dugout canoe, bow profile
Exterior side view of the bow shows a somewhat sharp, angular transition between the bottom and cutwater -- a surprising element, given the bow's appearance when viewed from above. Tool marks are visible on the exterior surface, showing capable adze or ax work but no attempt at smoothing through abrasive methods.
paddles for Shuar dugout canoe
The accompanying paddles are carved entire. They feature extremely large, heavy blades, short shafts, and triangular grips. The triangle of the grip of the paddle on the left departs from the shaft more abruptly than the one on the right and has a more distinct concave curve on its top edge. On both, the shaft extends somewhat into the blade and tapers gradually to the flat surface.

Shuar fishing gear
Fishing gear associated with the canoe:
a. The weighted net is little more than a foot in height; it is presumably stretched across a shallow, narrow stream or a constrained section of a wider one; an alternate explanation is that it might be stretched between two canoes and trawled.
b. Two fish traps: the lower one is roughly 3 feet long. With their very small openings, it's unclear how they work. (Perhaps bait is placed in the narrow end and a fish, after entering the trap to obtain the bait, is unable to back out?) Reader input is solicited.
c. The metal shaft might be part of a lance or harpoon. No explanatory material appeared.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

“Popo” Outrigger Canoes of the Central Caroline Islands

Flying proas of the Caroline Islands, from Admiral Paris
Flying proas of the Caroline Islands, from Adm. Paris. (click any image to enlarge)
In 1983 and 1984, Steve Thomas, who would later host the television series This Old House, lived intermittently on the tiny atoll of Satawal in the central Caroline Islands, an experience he documented in the book The Last Navigator: A Young Man, An Ancient Mariner, The Secrets of the Sea. While there, he lived with and studied under Mau Piailug, a master of the traditional Micronesian art and science of navigation, who had previously gained notoriety as the navigator on the early voyages of Hokule’a (which, as a Polynesian double canoe, was quite a different craft from the single-outrigger canoes of Micronesia to which he was accustomed).

proa from Satawal (From The Last Navigator, by Steve Thomas)
A proa from Satawal (From the cover of The Last Navigator, by Steve Thomas)
The Last Navigator is a good book, an engaging, sensitively-written memoir of a young man attempting to learn about and fit into a very different society – in this case, one whose traditional, preindustrial culture was under extreme pressure from the forces of modernization and Westernization. While it contained what I suspect might be some valuable ethnographic observations and a good general description of traditional Micronesian methods of navigation (for a detailed explanation, see We, The Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific, by David Lewis), it is scanty on information about the boats of Satawal and their construction.

Micronesia was home to a great number of outrigger canoe types – so great that James Hornell, in The Canoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia, devoted many pages documenting separately those of the Carolines, the Marshalls, the Gilberts, the Marianas, and certain other of the region’s smaller groups and individual islands. Even within the central Carolines, there was too much variation between islands for it to be practical to document every differentiating detail, necessitating some generalization of a “western and central Caroline” type. Since I came to the subject of the central Carolines canoe by way of The Last Navigator, this post focuses, to the extent possible, on boats most like those that appear on Satawal, and relies on Hornell’s generalizations for a more encompassing view.

Flying proa or popo of the Caroline Islands, after Paris
Flying proa or popo of the Caroline Islands. (From Hornell, after Paris) 
The ocean-voyaging canoes of Satawal are “flying proas” of a type which, according to Hornell, were called popos. Like almost all single-outrigger craft of the Pacific, they always sail with the outrigger to windward, using the outrigger float for stability in light or no air and as a counterbalance – supplemented by crew weight – against the force of higher winds. As such, popos are shunting craft, with identical ends that alternately serve as the bow and stern as the boat changes direction relative to the wind.

canoes of western and central Carolines and Marshall Islands (Kubary)
Notable differences in canoe design existed between the main island groups of Micronesia, as shown in this comparison of proas from the western and central Carolines (left) and the Marshall Islands (right). (Kubary)
Among the most distinctive characteristic of the popo are:
  • a narrow, deep hull with identical ends but lateral asymmetry, in which the windward side is much less curved than the leeward. In fact, on some boats, the windward side of the hull is nearly a flat plane.
  • hull construction of stitched planks on a dugout base
  • a platform extending from the hull on the lee side, opposite the outrigger
  • an oceanic lateen rig, consisting of a single triangular sprit sail hung from a mast stepped exactly amidships that pivots fore-and-aft with each shunt, allowing the sail’s direction and its center of effort to shift ends (not, however, without some complex evolutions on the part of the crew)
When Thomas lived on Satawal, Piailug was in the process of building a popo 33’ feet long and 8’ high from the keel to the “eyes” at the ends. This was the largest canoe built there in living memory, most others being around 26’ or 27’ long. According to Hornell, the canoes present in the central Carolines early in the twentieth century were smaller than those of the nineteenth, so lengths in the mid-thirty-foot range and, judging from Paris's drawings, even longer, may have been common in the past.

Hull Form and Construction

End, plan and construction views of the Caroline proa
End, plan and section views of the Caroline proa (Hornell, after Paris)
On Yap, in the western Carolines, and a few other islands were large trees were available,
...all but the upper part of the sides and the two curved heads are hewn from a single log. In atolls where no large timber is available the dugout portion shrinks to a wedge-shaped piece channeled longitudinally on the upper side so as to give two everted edges upon which the garboard strakes are sewn.... Usually the shapes and sizes of the strake planks are irregular, suitable wood being too precious in atolls to permit either of long running lengths or of adzing opposite edges parallel. So the hull in these islands is a mass of patchwork, all, however, fitted together with remarkable accuracy. (Hornell)

West/Central Carolines proa plan and construction views
Paris's plan and construction views on which Hornell's illustrations are based. (We could find only this poor quality image. Please contact us if you can provide a better.)
According to Thomas, the hull timber was breadfruit or “a mahoganylike tree called rugger...” from which the keel was hewn and the planks were split. Thomas describes how a chainsaw was used to fell the tree for the keel of Piailug’s new boat. The chainsaw was a fairly unfamiliar tool on Satawal at the time, and few of the men knew how to use it. After the “blade-like legs” of the breadfruit were cut through and the tree was felled, limbed, and cut to its desired length, the log for the keel was 6’ in diameter and 30’ long. With the chainsaw, a couple of operators performed the process in one morning “what usually took six men more than a day” to perform with axes.

Thomas does not describe how planks were split or otherwise gotten out, but it is clear that adzes were used to shape all the timbers. The hull has two end pieces cut from solid timber, each of which attaches at an end of the keel and extends upward as a cutwater and stem “and ends throughout the western and central Carolines in a peculiar and most characteristic fork” (Hornell).

No plans or standard measuring devices are used in shaping the hull, the builders working instead by eye and by a series of proportions or ratios between various of the boat’s features. (For example: height of the mast equals length of the hull; length of the outrigger is one half the length of the hull. Thomas.) Regarding the pronounced asymmetry of the hull, Hornell explains that is counteracts the asymmetrical resistance imposed by the single outrigger, allowing the boat to travel straight with minimal steering input when the float is in the water.

Planks are added to the keel to build up the hull’s freeboard with, as Hornell says, “little or no need to fit strengthening frames and this is not the custom in the Carolines.... Adequate stiffness is obtained when necessary by the insertion of solid bulkheads or partitions beneath the transverse supports of the lee platform.” Stiffness is increased further with heavy thwarts and gunwales.

Thomas stated that Piailug, in building his new boat, lashed the planks together temporarily, but Thomas did not explain why. Perhaps it was not enough to ensure that each individual plank fitted properly against its neighbors but that, instead, the entire hull had to be test-assembled to ensure good fits. The wood of the cross-beams (i.e., thwarts) that Piailug wished to install was too tough to be worked with an adze, so the pieces were buried in moist sand for a period to soften them.

Planks are stitched to the keel and to each other with discontinuous stitches of coconut-fiber rope (i.e., coir), made, in Thomas’s account, by the island’s old men, hand-rolling the coconut fibers against their thighs. Planks were caulked with a compound of dehydrated breadfruit sap applied to strips of coconut husk. According to Thomas, this caulking gradually dries out and loses its efficacy, requiring the boats to be disassembled and rebuilt “every two years or so.”

During one of these rebuilding episodes on Satawal on a boat named Suntory (after a brand of Japanese whiskey), the builder in charge decided to lighten the boat to make it faster. After disassembly, all the planks were therefore adzed down to make them thinner. Thomas did not describe whether this process improved the boat’s performance or affected its strength or water-tightness.

Thomas agrees with Hornell in saying that the outer surface of the hull was finished very smooth, although the process of sanding or otherwise smoothing the planks it is not described by either. (Throughout much of the Pacific, shark skin was used as sandpaper for this purpose.) Hulls were traditionally painted in patterns of red, black, and white.

Outrigger and Lee Platform

According to Hornell, the two main outrigger booms, which are fairly straight, “pierce both washstrakes of the hull in large canoes and (extend) a few inches outboard on the lee side.” (In Hornell's version of Admiral Paris’s drawing, however, it is unclear if the booms are entirely surrounded by the washstrake or if, possibly, they are notched full-depth into its top surface). In the popo’s most characteristic form, the outrigger booms also serve as the main support for a large triangular platform which carries crew and cargo. Poles extend diagonally from the windward gunwale at points near both ends of the hull to the main booms near their outboard ends, and the resulting isosceles triangle is covered by planks or light poles.

A second rectangular platform extending from the hull’s leeward size further increases the boat’s cargo capacity. This platform is supported by another pair of heavy timbers that cross the hull. These timbers are angled sharply upward toward their outboard end, allowing the platform to remain dry with the boat at a significant angle of heel. Sometimes the surface of the platform is built directly on these sloping supports; on other cases, another, lighter framework is built over this main structure and decked over, creating a surface that is horizontal when the boat is on an even keel.

Enclosures of basketwork, which may be round, oval, or rectangular, often appear on one or both platforms. These are used primarily to protect cargo, but it appears they occasionally serve as shelters for passengers or off-duty crew.
Connection between the outrigger booms and the float
Connection between the outrigger booms and the float. In the image on the left, the inner two crutches have been omitted for clarity. (Hornell)
The outrigger float, canoe-shaped in plan, hexagonal in section, and about half the length of the hull, is hewn from a solid baulk. It is connected to each boom by a pair of short crutches, the forks of which straddle the booms from below. The lower ends of these crutches are pointed and driven several inches into the upper facets of the float. Between each pair of crutch forks is a yoke which rests across the top surfaces of both booms and extends several inches beyond them. Holes are bored horizontally through the angled top surfaces of the float, and ropes are routed through these holes, over the ends of the yoke, and in a complex path around the crutches to hold the float securely to the booms, with the crutches in compression between them. Additional, lighter-weight braces are lashed to the undersides of the booms, further connecting them to each other and to the crutches, and from one pair of crutches to the other. The entire outrigger structure is thus highly complex and highly engineered for strength and flexibility.

Sail Rig and Steering

Caroline proas
Caroline proas (Paris)
The defining characteristic of all true proas is the oceanic lateen or oceanic sprit sail hung from a pivoting mast stepped amidships. (I find the term “crab-claw” used often inappropriately, preferring to apply it only to sails whose leech is deeply concave and therefore somewhat reminiscent of the shape of a claw. This is not the case in the canoes of the central Carolines.) In combination with a double-ended hull, this permits the boat to be shunted, and sailed with either end forward. Sails were traditionally hand-woven from fibers stripped from the leaves of the pandanus or screw pine, but commercially manufactured cloth has apparently been in common use for some time.

Hornell takes pains to define the nomenclature of the sail’s spars, calling the one at the luff (the upper/forward edge) a yard, and the one at the foot a boom. He describes the rigging as follows:
A shroud runs from near the masthead to the yoke [i.e., the short, stout timber connecting the outrigger booms at their outer ends], to which it is secured after passing through a hole bored through its center. There is also a fore-and-aft running stay made fast respectively to the endmost thwart at each end of the hull.
(T)he sail is hoisted by a peak halyard attached far out on the yard and rove through a sheave hole in the masthead; the heel of the yard rests against a sail step set on a short thwart right in the bows, to which the tack is made fast.

There is no shroud or other line serving as such to leeward in this description, and in Thomas’s account of a voyage from Satawal to a nearby atoll, the rig was nearly lost once when the sail was backwinded, due to this lack of support on that side of the boat. No leeward shroud is shown in the diagram or cover photo of Thomas’s book, but in Paris’s diagram and one of his drawings (fifth and first images in this post), a shroud is visible leading from the masthead to the lee platform. Perhaps the practice varied on different islands even within the central Carolines.

Main features of a Satawal proa
Main features of a Satawal proa (from Thomas)
In the past, popos were generally steered by means of a quarter rudder with a tiller that extended laterally from its aft edge near the top. The rudder was not hung from the hull, but instead held by the helmsman’s foot against a wooden pin that projected from the hull. A rope from the top of the blade to the hull, visible in Paris's diagram (image #3), prevented loss of the rudder and perhaps provided some stability to it but apparently did little to hold it in its proper working position for, according to Hornell, “The steersman’s duty is the heaviest aboard and on a journey he has to be relieved frequently.” It rough seas when the rudder could not be controlled, it was lifted from the water, and several men with regular paddles would steer. In Thomas’s account, however, steering was always by means of a single steering paddle, and no rudder appears in his description or in the book’s diagram.

Canoe Houses

Caroline sailing canoes are built and kept in a canoe house. On Satawal, in Thomas’s account, each of the island’s eight clans owned a canoe and kept it in its own house. All the houses were on the same beach, near the main (only?) channel through the island’s surrounding reef, with the house belonging to the clan of the island’s chief directly opposite and closest to the channel. The canoe houses serve as social centers for the men, who typically gather there to talk and drink even when work is not under way on a canoe.

Experienced men of middle age do most of the work on the canoes, assisted and observed by younger ones -- or, in Thomas's account, those few younger ones who could be induced to take an interest any longer. Older men typically observe the work and offer suggestions but restrict their hands-on contribution to the making of rope.

Primary Sources:

Hornell, James, The Canoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia, B.P. Bishop Museum, 1936, in Canoes of Oceania (with A.C. Haddon), B.P Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1975

Kubary, J.S., Ethnographiphische Beiträge zur Kenntniss des Karolinen-Achipel, Leiden, 1889-95

Pâris, François-Edmond, Essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra-européens ou Collection des navires et pirogues construits par les habitants de l'Asie, de la Malaisie, du Grand Océan et de l'Amérique dessinés et mesurés pendant les voyages autour du monde de "l'Astrolabe", "la Favorite" et "l'Artémise")

Thomas, Steve, The Last Navigator: A Young Man, An Ancient Mariner, The Secrets of the Sea, International Marine, Camden, ME (no date). Originally published by Henry Holt, 1987

Additional sources, useful websites and pages:
http://starrigging.blogspot.com/ and http://starrigging.blogspot.com/2017/06/canoe-sketch.html

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Philippine Bangkas - More Design and Construction Details

In our previous post, we looked at details of outrigger design and construction in the Filipino outrigger boats known as bangkas. Here we'll look at other design and construction details in additional images from Michael Williams of Flatwolf Photography, to whom we express our thanks. (Click any image to enlarge.)

Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
Bangkas were originally built as dugout canoes, then as extended dugouts (i.e., with strakes added atop the dugout base to increase freeboard). As shown in this bangka undergoing repairs, plywood construction is now more common. The bottom remains a heavy plank -- perhaps a bare artifact of the original dugout concept. A roughly-hewn stem is scarfed onto the bottom, but perhaps it will be fined up before the missing side planking is replaced. Straight frames support the sides. Not visible here, but shown in the previous post (3rd image from top): there are no frames across the bottom; the side frames merely butt against the top of the bottom plank.
Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
Some larger bangkas have a sharply flaring top strake. This would widen the top of the hull for more interior room, deflect spray, and increase buoyancy if the bow plunges in rough seas.
The outrigger booms show both similarities and differences from that on another large commercial passenger bangka shown in the previous post (6th from top). The forward boom consists of an open-top box beam making up about half of the boom's total length. Inside the box are five bamboo poles, two above three, all of which extend beyond the box. The bottom three poles extend farther than the top two and connect directly to the outrigger float. The next boom back lacks the box beam, and has the poles supported across their middle lengths by what might be a flat plank or possibly additional shorter poles.
It's unclear if the nicely shaped outrigger float is a solid carved timber or -- what we think more likely -- a hollow plywood or composite construction.
Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
The flaring top strakes on this this bangka dive boat extend into a long, overhanging bow that supports a flat platform.
Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
A bangka of similar size to the one above lacks the flaring top strake, and its long, extended bow is narrow and not intended for use as a platform.
Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
This small bangka has an elegantly vertical sternpost.
Philippine bangka boat - Flatwolf Photographer
In contrast, these small power bangkas have steeply sloped sternposts.
The running gear is of notably light weight and entirely exposed, requiring great care when operating in shallow water and when hauling the boat onto the beach. The rudder post is secured outboard to starboard and is turned by a short tiller connected to a push-pull rod, allowing the helmsman to sit forward of the engine box.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Philippine Bangka Outrigger and Boom Variations

The bangka -- also known as banca and paraw -- is a double-outrigger boat ubiquitous in the Philippines. According to one online dictionary of Tagalog (an Austronesian language, one of the more commonly spoken languages of the Philippines), the word bangka simply means "boat," and this appears to be accurate and logical, given the great diversity in bangka configurations.

Indeed, there seem to be only two or three common features of bangkas: their main hulls are always narrow; they are always double-ended; and they almost always have two outriggers. Their differences, however, are manifold, including variations in materials, construction methods, most aspects of hull shape, houses, internal arrangements, overall size, propulsion, decoration, and usage. They're sometimes called the "Jeeps of the sea" because they are supposed to be able to do everything, but they do everything not necessarily because they are versatile, per se, but because there's a different style of bangka for nearly every possible application. 

We've written about bangkas several times already, but an offer of photos from reader Michael Williams of Flatwolf Photography has given us a good reason to look at them yet again. What strikes us most about the current batch of images is the variation in the configuration of outrigger booms. As always, click any image to enlarge.

Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
We'll begin with this image of a medium-size power bangka as a kind of baseline for comparison. The outrigger float -- a single bamboo pole of large diameter -- angles fairly steeply up toward the bow. To achieve this, forward boom slopes down quite gently, while the aft boom takes an abrupt turn downward. One finds these two boom configurations in different combinations on different bangkas.
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
Three booms with progressively steep ends to accommodate the sloping floats. The booms are stout and rectangular in section. Round poles lashed atop them do not seem to add much, if any, strength.

Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
The boom in this small paddling bangka is fastened with lashings to a cleat that spans between two frames about halfway between the gunwales and the bottom of the interior. The frames themselves extend above the gunwales, providing stops that prevent the boom-and-float assembly from shifting forward or aft.
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
The booms to the right and left of the image are straight across the middle, while the boom in the middle is bent down somewhat amidship, for a bit of a gull-wing configuration. The booms appear to be built up of three sections, the joints visible where the horizontal section transitions to a downward curve toward the float. The joints are probably simple scarf joints, lashed with cordage and covered with some kind of sealant or adhesive. 
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
These light, obviously very flexible booms in this nicely finished, small power bangka appear to be in one piece, although they might be scarfed together as in the previous photo but finished more carefully. The booms are placed outboard of the extended frame tops. In comparison, the booms on the boat in the third photo were placed inboard the extended frame tops.
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
The five booms on this large passenger bangka are complex structures. Amidships, each appears to be an open-topped, box-section girder from which a tapered, rectangular-section beam protrudes outboard with a slight downward slope. Lashed on top of these are several bamboo poles, lashed together and extending further outboard. One pole in this bundle extends even further outboard and curves downward to contact the float, which is itself a few bamboo poles of small diameter, providing probably only modest buoyancy. In the main, the booms appear to be quite rigid, although the lightness of the final outboard section may impart some flexibility.
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
A single-outrigger bangka. This appears to be by design, and not a partially disassembled boat. The float is a carved piece of timber, not a bamboo pole as in most other examples. The amount of flexibility in the construction appears to be minimal.
Philippine bangka boat - photo by Michael Williams
The outriggers on this small paddling bangka tilt downward toward the bow. We can't think of a good reason for this unusual design feature.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bonito Fishing Boats in Maldives

In Fishing in Many Waters, James Hornell describes the practice of bonito fishing in the Maldives, including a description of the boats used. Although he doesn’t name the boat type, it can be termed a dhoni. (Somewhat like dhow, dhoni is a generic term that doesn’t indicate a single type of boat. According to Wikipedia, it means simply “small boat” in Tamil and related languages, while thoni is the equivalent term in Malayalam. We’ve written previously about the very different yathra dhoni of Sri Lanka.)

Drawing: a bonito dhoni of the Maldives (Source: James Hornell)
A bonito dhoni of the Maldives (click any image to enlarge)
Probably no longer in use, the Maldivian bonito boats that Hornell observed were “built (especially) for the fishery, long, beamy, graceful craft, fine of line and shallow draft as befits vessels that have their home in coral-infested lagoons of little depth.” He further describes them as stoutly built, mostly open boats with short decks fore and aft and six or seven transverse bulkheads. The aft deck, from which the fishing was conducted, was “shaped like the extended wings of a butterfly” and extended over the sides of the hull. Hornell noted the distinctive “snakelike” stemhead, which rose high above the gunwales, curving gently aft and then slightly forward near the very top “not unlike that of an old Viking ship which, indeed, the boat as a whole closely resembles.” (This latter is an exaggeration. While the stemhead does indeed call to mind a Viking ship, the differences between the two types of craft are far more dramatic and substantial than the purely superficial similarity between them. Hornell, infinitely more than I, understood this well.)

The two compartments fore and aft of the mast each had four to six plugged holes in the bottom, which, when the plugs are removed, allowed them to serve as livewells for bait. These livewells were managed in a curious manner, described below.

A single mast was held in a tabernacle and could be dropped into a crutch aft. The mast supported a tall, narrow squaresail of woven matting and a boomless gaff mainsail of cotton. Although the drawing shows no shrouds, it appears that the squaresail’s halyard may have served as a combination backstay/shroud. The drawing seems to show a light spar extending upward and forward from the base of the mast, but Hornell did not explain its use. (Perhaps it served as a kind of whisker pole for the squaresail?)

traditional Maldivian dhoni, model (Photo: Badr Naseem)
This model of a traditional Maldivian dhoni shows the transverse bulkheads and butterly-shaped aft deck of the bonito boat, but not its S-curved stemhead, recurved sternpost, or two-sail rig. (Photo: Badr Naseem. Source.)
Although somewhat similar dhonis, with transverse bulkheads and the aft platform extending over the sides, remain in use in the Maldives, none of the recent photos we’ve found show the old style bonito boat’s distinctive double-curved stemhead, recurved sternpost, or mixed squaresail/gaff rig. Lateen rigs are the norm in existing boats (or at least, those that are not motorized), and the stemheads curve sharply aft, with no hint of reverse curve.

Before bonito could be caught, the same boats were used to catch baitfish. A square net was fastened to long poles and lowered to the bottom of a lagoon. Ground bait (bait for the baitfish) was dropped over the net. When the baitfish came to feed, the net was raised. Presumably this was repeated many times before sufficient bait for a bonito fishing trip could be accumulated. The live bait was kept in a huge basket in the lagoon until it was time to go fishing in earnest.

The baitfish were then transferred into the dhoni’s livewells and the plugs were removed. According to Hornell:
“(T)he holes being unplugged, continuous streams of water spout inwards. This inrush would speedily swamp the boat were it not that two men are set to work to keep pace by bailing, with the inrush. By means of perforations at suitable and varying heights in the intervening bulkhead the inflowing water is conducted to the after compartment where the two bailers are located. In this way the water in the wells is constantly renewed and thereby maintained in a fit condition to keep alive the stock of little fishes for use as bait.”
In addition to two bailers, the crew consisted of several anglers with fishing poles, a helmsman, four “splashers,” and three or four boys to tend the squaresail. The poles were about six feet long with a line of about six feet fixed fast to the end. Barbless hooks of bright steel at the end of the lines were shaped to resemble baitfish.

Photo: a bonito dhoni of the Maldives (Source: James Hornell)
Bonito fishing in process. Note the heavy splashing around the aft deck.
Upon approaching a shoal of bonito, one of the bailers would stop bailing and begin throwing baitfish into the water while the splashers would use long-handled scoops to vigorously splash water all around the boat. Per Hornell:
“This is a measure of economy; the bonito have to be gulled into the belief that a large shoal of small fish are about and without the splashing the amount of live bait thrown out would be insufficient to carry through the deception successfully.”
But successful the ruse was. The anglers, crowded upon the stern platform, would drop their unbaited, lure-like hooks in the water and yank bonito from it directly into the hold. The barbless hooks could be disengaged merely by slacking the tension on the line for the briefest moment before they were returned to the water with scarcely a pause.

In an active shoal, a man might average one catch per minute, and a boat might catch a full load of 600 to 1,000 fish in two or three hours. The boat owner received 21 percent of the catch as his share, the rest being apportioned amongst the crew. That which was not eaten fresh was cured for later use or for trade by a combination of boiling, smoking, and sun-drying.

Except where otherwise noted, information and images are from:
James Hornell, Fishing in Many Waters, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1950

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Shade Fishing from Catamarans in India

Catamarans, of the type used on the Coromandel Coast in India’s southeast and in Sri Lanka, close by across the Palk Strait, are subject to two kinds of misconceptions. The first is one of terminology. In its original meaning, kattu-maram (Tamil for “tied logs”) denoted a raft, not a vessel with two identical hulls, as the term is commonly understood. The erroneous transference of the term was probably made by an early European traveler who, being familiar with Indian catamarans, decided to call the twin-hulled boats he found in the Pacific by the same name, it probably seeming logical at the time to call any indigenous, non-European small craft by the same term. Henceforth, our use of the term will refer only to the raft.

The second misconception concerns the nature of timber rafts, which are commonly conceived to be rectangular, flat, and capable only of drifting with the current rather than being directed according to the boatman’s wishes. Catamarans are, specifically, shaped rafts of wood or bamboo, and they behave more like true boats than like the flat, rectangular platform upon which Huck and Jim floated inexorably down the Mississippi.

Model of a jangada
Model of a jangada (source). Click any image to enlarge.
In Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, James Hornell describes several varieties of catamaran on India’s east coast and in many other parts of the world. Such craft are still in use in some locales. We have written about the jangada, a Brazilian catamaran in current use, and one can easily find with a Google search contemporary images of catamarans of more than one type on Sri Lanka.

three-log raft "boat catamaran" from Sri Lanka
A three-log raft from Sri Lanka of the type called a "boat catamaran" by Hornell. (source)
Hornell also distinguishes between catamarans that are more or less boat-like. In the Sri Lankan type that he calls “boat catamarans,” the central of three logs extends below the outer two, forming a keel, while the upper surfaces of the outer ones are considerably higher than that of the central one, forming an inside space that could be termed a hold or cockpit. In contrast to this, he describes the “flying fish” catamaran of Coromandel, which is the main subject of this installment. While it lacks a keel, it has enough of a depression in its upper surface to have an identifiable “inside,” and it is considerably more shapely and boat-like than the common conception of a raft.

Seven-log flying fish catamaran of the Coromandel Coast
A seven-log flying fish catamaran of the Coromandel Coast

In Fishing in Many Waters, Hornell describes in detail the flying fish type and its use, which he observed in the Tanjore district. Pursuing flying fish requires sailing to deep waters as far as 25 miles from shore with a crew of seven and staying out for as long as three days. As such, the deep sea catamaran is a substantial vessel, averaging 30 to 35 feet long. They are built of seven main logs of light wood, dressed on all sides and tapering from back to front and from bottom to top. Curved logs are selected, so that, when assembled, the main section of the raft is an isosceles trapezoid in plan view, and dished both longitudinally and transversely.

The logs are lashed together with coir rope. At the forward end, says Hornell, “the completed craft becomes definitely wedge-shaped in plan after the addition of an elegant upturned prow of five pointed pieces cleverly jointed on to the forward ends of the seven main logs.” Another log is lashed atop the outermost log on the starboard side to serve as a working platform.

rig details of a Coromandel Coast flying fish catamaran
Coromandel flying fish catamaran, showing rig details

The two-masted rig is refined, although it looks crude as a result of the materials from which it is made. Short masts fit into sockets on the whichever outside log happens to be to leeward, hoisting lateen or settee sails. The head of each cotton sail is lashed to a long yard with a short downward-curving extension at the forward/lower end. The foot of the sail is lashed to a boom that extends only as far forward as the mast. Between the mast and the end of the extension-piece of the yard is a foot-rope. The sail, however, does not extend all the way to the forward apex of the triangle. Its forward corner or tack is cut off short, so that the sail has a very short luff.

There are forestays and backstays, and the halyards serve as shrouds on the upwind side. There is also a short strut lashed at its lower end to the windward hull log, and at its upper end to the mast, about three feet from the base. Hornell writes, “Even with these substitutes for shrouds there is always the danger of the masts and sails falling overboard should the craft be taken aback by a sudden change of wind; this, however, is of rare occurrence…so steady is the wind at the season when these craft are at sea.”

As to control lines, “Each sail is provided with a sheet and a vang or guy made fast to the upper end of the yard.” The sail can be furled by rolling it up around the lower boom, and by moving the grommet from which the yard depends down from the masthead onto one of a series of notches provided for the purpose.

To counter leeway, the raft has two large leeboards and a large-bladed steering oar, the attachments for none of which are described. Hornell gives the following dimensions for one raft of typical size:
LOA: 33 feet
beam at forward lashing: 4 feet
beam at aft lashing: 7 feet
forward yard: 29 feet
after yard: 21 1/2 feet
steering oar: 12 feet
forward leeboard: 10 1/2 feet
after leeboard: 9 feet
draft (boards up): 1 foot

The boat is equipped with paddles and oars for when the wind fails. Two dip nets, consisting of a rectangular piece of netting (measuring 5’6” x 4’9”) with its short sides tied to poles about 7’ long, are carried. The rest of the equipment is limited to spare rope, a jar of drinking water, a bundle of cooked rice, a scoop to throw water on the sails, and three large bundles of bushes or shrubs, the last of which are key to the curious method of fishing practiced.

The raft is sailed into deep waters until a shoal of flying fish is sighted. The raft is brought into their vicinity, turned with its starboard side to windward, and the entire rig is dropped. The bundles of shrubs are then thrown over the accessory log on the windward side. Each bundle is attached to a rope of a different length: 300 ft.; 180 ft.; and 60 ft. The bundles act like sea anchors, and with the raft’s shallow draft, it quickly drifts downwind of them. (A block of wood tied to each bundle acts like a float, but it’s unclear from Hornell’s description to what purpose, for it’s clear that the bundles of shrubs sink to different depths determined by the length of rope to which they’re tied.)

Flying fish are attracted to the bundles. After a large number of fish have gathered, one of the bundles is pulled in slowly and carefully. The fish follow until it is close to the raft, at which time the dip nets come into play. Each net is operated by two men, one per pole. The net is dipped into the water nearly vertically, then brought up under the fish and tipped back so that the fish fall into the boat – the whole proceeding being performed in silence so as not to disturb the fish who remain beside the shrub bundles. When that group of fish has been disposed of, the next bunch of shrubs is hauled in and the process repeated.

According to Hornell, the attraction that the bundles hold for the fish is neither their shade nor the expectation that they harbor small prey upon which to feed. Rather, the fishing occurs during the flying fishes’ spawning season, and the bundles replicate the bunches of seaweed upon which they normally deposit and fertilize their eggs. 

Large quantities of flying fish may be caught by this method over the course of two or three days. Fish that are not eaten fresh are sun-dried, but given the long distance that the rafts sail from shore, it often occurs that the catch may spoil before it reaches market.

Also in Fishing in Many Waters, Hornell describes a second method of “shade fishing” from catamarans done off the Coromandel coast near Madras. Although he does not describe the catamarans, they are different from those described above, and from the illustration appear to consist of only four logs and to be manned by just two men. Nor does Hornell identify the fish thus captured. Four catamarans must cooperate to employ the madi valai, what Hornell calls (but does not translate as) a “handkerchief net.”

shade fishing with four catamarans off Madras
Shade fishing with the madi valai net and four catamarans off of Madras

A long length of coir rope is made up with many strips of palm leaf between the strands, making a bushy appearance. (We presume the rope appears far bushier in practice than in the illustration.) One end is tied to a stone anchor or heavy bunch of turf; the other to a piece of light wood as a float. The anchor rope is dropped in “several fathoms of water” in an area where current is prevalent, and allowed to remain until fish collect in its shade.

A large rectangular net is suspended at its corners by four ropes, the upper ends of which are held by a man in each catamaran. Moving against the current, the four boats approach the suspended shade rope from downcurrent, with the forward edge of the net held low and the after edge high. When the men in the forward two catamarans feel the net contact the shade rope, they begin to pull it up as quickly as they can, gathering the fish that have collected in its shade.

Although catamarans are still fished in Sri Lanka, I do not know if either of these methods from the Coromandel Coast are still in use.

Except where stated otherwise, information and images are from:
James Hornell, Water Transport: Origins and Early Evolution, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1946
James Hornell, Fishing in Many Waters, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1950