Source Documents
sean mcgrail : rafts, canoes and boats, 1981 

Sean McGrail : Rafts, Canoes and Boats, 1981.

McGrail, Sean:
The Ship [series]
Rafts, Boats and Ships
- From Prehistoric Times to the Medieval Era
National Maritime Museum, London, 1981.
This is one of a series of books, by various authors, published under the general title of The Ship by the Britain's National Maritime Museum.

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The aboriginal population of Australia is thought to have come from the islands to the south-east of Asia.
At periods of low sea level the Sunda shelf connected western Indonesia to mainland South-East Asia, and the Sahul shelf connected New Guinea and adjacent islands to Australia; nevertheless there was open water to be crossed (Clark, 1977, 454) as deep chan­nels existed in the region of the Wallace and the Weber lines (front endpaper).
Man entered the continent of Australia sometime before
40000BC (Mulvaney, 1975), and two possible routes have been suggested: a northern route from Borneo to New Guinea with a chain of islands between the two mainlands (longest gap c 80 km); and a southern route from Java to Australia with islands in between (longest gap c 100km).

The tool kit of the earliest Australians consisted of scrapers and simple percussion and bone tools (Clark, 1977, 324).
These were later supplemented by points and backed blades, possibly as a result of further immigration about 3000bc, but these supple­mentary tools have not been found in Tasmania, probably because of isolation by rising sea level before cio000bc (Clark, 1977, 463-5).
Tasmanian technology proved to be conservative and there was little, if any, subsequent contact with Australia until after the first European contact in the 17th/18th centuries ad.
Thus Tasmanian water transport at first contact may give an indication of that used by the earliest immigrants to the continent.

In late prehistoric times boats from New Guinea and the Celebes visited northern Australia. However, the Australian aborigines never adopted agriculture and, although logboats were probably introduced at this time, other aspects of technology do not seem to have been changed by these contacts with Neolithic societies (Shutler, 1975, 42-4).
Thus the range of watercraft used in mainland Australia at first Euro­pean contact may be representative of that used during the previous 5000 years.
Non-planked craft

Reed rafts 
Birdsell (1977, 135) quotes an early re­port from Tasmania of rafts of five bundles of rushes lashed together.
Their performance was similar to that of bark rafts.

Bark rafts and boats  
Hornell (1970, 182-6) has surveyed the evidence for early bark craft and his work may be supplemented by Birdsell's (1977) recent research.

Three types of bark craft were probably in use at first contact:
Bark rafts used by Tasmanians (not otherwise known).
They were made of bark from the tea-tree shrub or eucalyptus (E. obliqua).
Three tapering bundles were bound by grass ropes and lashed to­gether with upturned ends.
The two smaller bundles were lashed above and outboard of the bigger bundle thus forming a 'boat shape' (Roth, 1899, 155). These rafts could carry 7 to 8 people and were paddled or poled on rivers and out to coastal islands over dis­tances of about 16 km.
They had to be dried-out after 5-6 hours use (Plate 2).

Simple bark canoes ????

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thick sheet of bark of the red gum
(Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and the open ends blocked with clay.
Lashed bark boats
were used in the rivers and creeks of New South Wales and south-eastern Vic­toria.
A thin bark sheet of
Eucalyptus obliqua was heated over a fire until pliable; the ends were then pleated, bunched together and tied with bark cord and a supporting framework of saplings and pliant ribs inserted (Plate 45).
This was potentially a better boat than the open-ended type but it similarly became waterlogged after prolonged use.

Sewn bark boats
were used on the Queensland coast and the northern coast of Australia.
Built from one or more sheets of eucalyptus bark sewn together and caulked with gum, sheer was obtained at the pointed ends by sewing on extra bark strips.
These boats were known to be used for a 32 km passage in open water (Birdsell, 1977, 138).

Log rafts
Three types of log raft were used by the mainland Australians (Hornell, 1970;
71-2; Birdsell, 1977); there are no reports of their use in Tasmania.

River rafts
Mangrove saplings lashed together, often temporarily, were used in eastern Queensland.

single raft
On the southern portion of the Gulf of Carpentaria light mangrove saplings about 10 ft in length were joined together by hardwood pegs or lashings to make a trapezoidal form double raft.  
The kalum was used off shore and in the estuaries of Australia's north-west coast, and con­sisted of two single rafts, one of 7 poles partly over­lapping one of 9 poles with their narrow ends towards the centre.
They were used on crossings of over 16 km for island exploration.

Melanesian and Indonesian influence prior to first European contact is thought to have resulted in the introduction of logboats and sail to the north Australia coast.
Outrigger craft were seen by Cook off Cape York Peninsular during his first voyage (Best, 1925, 201).

Prehistoric use
The bark, reed and log rafts and the bark boats described above were all built with a simple per­cussion and bone toolkit.
They would have been adequate for Aboriginal inland travel and exploitation of the environment.
 In their recent form, however

Plate 45
Drawing of an early 19th century Australian lashed bark boat from Lesueur and Petit's Atlas to Peron's Voyage of Discovery.

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they are probably not suitable for a 80 km channel crossing: this is particularly applicable to the reed and bark rafts of the Tasmanians who are thought to be technologically similar to the first immigrants.
It may be, however, that technological reversion had occurred when, without the stimulus of a require­ment for sea voyages and in the possible absence of the optimum raw material, the art of building sub­stantial craft was lost.
Such a 'regression' occurred during the last few centuries before European con­tact, the so-called 'Adaptive Phase', when the num­ber and variety of stone tools evidently decreased in some parts of Australia (Shutler, 1975, 37).

Log rafts and reed rafts of advanced form but of simple technology can be used for sea voyages--see p.76 and Heyerdahl's replicas Kon Tiki and Ra.
The logs have to be relatively lightweight and both logs and reeds must be of a species which does not readily become waterlogged.
Bark boats have been known to make limited sea voyages (see p.78); bark rafts are unknown outside Tasmania.
To be other than a drift voyage, methods of propulsion and steering would need to be evolved.

Birdsell (1977, 143-4) has pointed out that bamboo is available along the hypothetical northern migration route, and this has been used for rafts in New Guinea and several Melanesian islands in recent times (Hornell, 1970, 70-4).
East of Java, on the southern route, where there is relatively low rainfall, there appears to be no bamboo (Birdsell, 1977, 144) but other raft timber grows in Indonesia.
Two eucalypts (deglupta and alba) grow today on at least portions of the two routes but their suitability for bark rafts or boats has not been demonstrated (Birdsell, 1977, 142-3), however boats, of an unknown species of bark, were used in Borneo in the 19th century (p.61).

The earliest inhabitants of Australia probably arrived by raft, but which type of raft is by no means clear .


The Neolithic forebears of the population of Melanesia (New Guinea and the islands north-east of Australia) had spread from South-East Asia to New Caledonia before 3000bc (Bellwood, 1978, 46).
The occupation of Micronesia (coral atolls north of Melanesia and east of the Philippines) is not so well-documented but dates so far obtained are in the mid-2nd millenium bc.
The generally accepted view about the settlement of Polynesia, which extends from Melanesia to Hawaii in the north, Easter Island in the east and New Zealand in the south, is that move­ment was from the Philippines and eastern Indonesia through Melanesia to reach Fiji during the 2nd millennium bc (Bellwood, 1978, 45-6; Shutler, 1975, 79); thence to occupy the 'many islands' from the west.
This is supported to a degree by the spread of radiocarbon dates, the latest ones being c4th century ad for Hawaii and Easter Island, and nth century ad for New Zealand (Clark, 1977, 488, table 31 and Shulter, 1975, 80).
Heyerdahl's minority view (1978, 146-7) is that there was a Neolithic movement from eastern Asia or the Philippines to the west coast of America, using the eastward flowing Kuroshiwo current.
Subsequently, currents flowing westwards from central and south America brought migrants to Samoa, and south-westerly flowing currents brought further migrants from Hawaii to central Polynesia.

Europeans came into contact with Oceania from the 16th century but as the islands are spread over a vast ocean some were not encountered until the 19th century (front endpaper).
Reports made at first con­tact are the main source of evidence for boats, to­gether with oral tradition.
Haddon and Hornell

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(1936-8) recorded details of the many boat types in use in the early 20th century, and collected together some of these first contact reports.

Non-planked craft

Reed rafts  
The New Zealand Maori are the only recent users of reed rafts in Oceania, although Heyerdahl (1972, 20) notes a tradition of their former use on Easter Island.
The Maori temporary rafts, mokihi, were made from bound bulrushes (raupo, Typha angustifolia) or flax (Phormium), and ranged in size from one-man sit-astride models to boat-shaped ones of 5 bundles (Best, 1925, 140, fig. 100).
They were used to cross rivers by paddling or poling.
 All reports indicate that the reed soon became water­logged.

Buoyed rafts  
The late-19th century Moriori of the Chatham Islands, south-east of New Zealand, had a wooden framework, boat-shaped raft with extra buoyancy from dry fernstems and rolls of flax stalks packed against the bottom and sides (Hornell, 1970, 38-9).
The larger rafts also had inflated bladders of bull kelp (rimu) and were used for inter-island jour­neys up to 12 miles.
Hornell recorded that they were propelled by oar, but this may have been after European influence.

Log rafts  
Log rafts were noticed at first contact in several places: Quiros, in Marquesas Island in 1595, probably referred to them (Hornell, 1970, 79); Cook saw them in New Zealand in 1773 (Best, 1925, 137); and Beachey in Mangareva Island in 1825 (Hornell, 1970, 77). These latter were seagoing and had a sail (Plate 4).

Hornell (1970, 75-9) concluded from the 20th century widely dispersed use of rafts and legends of their former use that there was considerable evidence in favour of the great
antiquity of raft navi­gation' in Polynesia.
This 20th century distribution includes: Marquesas and Mangareva in eastern Poly­nesia, Society Islands in the central region, and New Zealand in the south-west.
Rafts were also used from eastern New Guinea throughout Melanesia, but reports of Micronesian rafts have not been traced. Hornell (1970, 73-7) noted that in recent times rafts had apparently replaced logboats in New Zealand, New Ireland and in the Torres Island; and in Mangareva rafts had recently replaced paired log-boats.
Thus the 20th century distribution does not necessarily reflect ancient practice.

The rafts reported varied in constructional details with no obvious regional pattern.
Some were 'shaped', with a narrow forward end (Fiji); some were rectangular (New Hebrides); in some the ele­ments were lashed together directly (New Ireland) or with transverse timbers (Mangareva), or pinned with wooden pegs (Solomon Islands).
The majority were of (unspecified) logs, but some were of bamboo (Fiji, New Hebrides, Bismark Archipelago-all in Mela­nesia).
All were paddled but the rafts of Mangareva were also sailed; uniquely, rafts of the Society Islands are said to have been towed by kite (Hornell, 1970, 71-8).
Some rafts had side railings but most seem to have not; Fiji rafts sometimes had thatched huts.
Another unusual feature is that the Santa Cruz Island Melanesian raft recorded by Paris (1843, Plate 114) had an outrigger.
New Zealand rafts of the mid-i9th century (Best, 1925, 136, fig.97) were made of two sets of two-tiered softwood logs pinned to­gether, the sets being joined at 3 to 5 feet apart by three transverse poles.

In early 20th century eastern New Guinea, lakatoi, rafts made of five or more logboats lashed to transverse members which supported a platform of saplings on which huts were erected, were used for trading within a group of islands (Best, 1925, 260-1). Rudolph (1974, 199, fig-147) figures one with two

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Since European first contact.
Oceanic rafts have been known to undertake only short voyages; for example, the Mangarevans travelled up to 30 miles in a single voyage (Hornell, 1970, 77).

Basic un-extended logboats are scarcely noted in Oceanic accounts, but this may be because they were overlooked.
Thompson (Best, 1925, 260) recorded recent use on the rivers of New Guinea, where they were poled, and Best (1925, 5, 6, 22) claimed that simple logboats
(waka tiwa) were much used 'in former times' in calm New Zealand waters.


Planked craft
Although some early reports mention 'keels', it seems probable that, at first contact, the central longitudinal member of Oceanic planked boats was of logboat hull form.
See, for example, Banks' drawing of a pahi of the Society Islands (Greenhill, 1976, 28, fig. 1).
Thus they were to some degree 'extended logboats', the logboat base being less prominent in some than others.

There were differences in detail, but the following general building method seems to hold:
1.       Tree felled by stone axes and head burned off.
2.      Top side of log levelled to intended sheerline and required outline sketched on it.
3.      Log hollowed using fire and adze; boat shaped externally at bow and stern.
4.      When log was of insufficient length, other logs were hollowed and joined end to end by sewing with roots or fibre using    
         butted or more complex joints. Similarly, where height at ends was insufficient, bow and stern pieces were added.

5.      Other logs were split, using fire and hardwood wedges; the resultant planks were finished with an adze.
6.      Washstrakes fitted to obtain the height required.
They were sewn edge-to-edge, sometimes through holes in the planking, sometimes through projections from the planking, holes being made by pointed bones.
Where there was more than one plank per strake, they were butted.
Seams were filled with, for example, dried rushes, and were sometimes rein-

[Ilustration] Plate 46   An early 19th century Maori war canoe. After Best, 1925.

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forced by longitudinal laths.
Hull and seams were payed with resin (Best, 1925, 38-9, 71-2, 217, 228).
7.      In certain boats ribs were inserted and lashed to cleats left proud of the planking or direct to the planking (Hornell, 1970,

8.      Crossbeam/thwarts were fitted in the bigger boats.

Single boats  
Single boats without outriggers, were encountered in New Zealand, Tonga, Paumota, and the Austral, Society and Solomon Islands (Rienits, 1968, 43; Best, 1925, 10, 23, 35, 190, 257-8; Bellwood, 1978, fig. 12; Hornell, 1970, 209).
The reports and drawings are of the 'war canoe' type of boat with prominent vertical ends, especially the stern (Plate 46). Twentieth century New Zealand use of smaller and simpler boats
(waka tete) of the same basic construction, for coastal fishing (Best, 1925, 5-6) may indicate that similar ones were used at an earlier date in Oceania but were not documented by Europeans. The Solomon Islands mon, similar to the Moluccan orembai but with sewn washstrakes, is possibly a 20th century successor to this type of boat (Haddon and Hornell, 1938, 39-40).

 Paired boats  
Two single logboats were connected laterally by two or more transverse beams or poles lashed to each boat (Plate 47).
The units in the pair were separated by 2 to 8 feet and thus achieved an effective beam of 6 to 15 feet thereby increasing lateral stability (McGrail, 1978, 45-51).
A platform was built on top of the transverse beams and some­times a mast was stepped there.
Generally, the two hulls seem to have been roughly the same length, but differences in length up to 15 ft (20 per cent) have been noted in New Zealand, Fiji and neighbouring islands in recent times (Best, 1925, 13, 203, 205, 241; Haddon and Hornell, 1938, 42).

Paired boats were seen in great numbers by the first Europeans: Banks saw 'some hundreds' near East Cape, New Zealand in 1769; and Forster counted 159 paired 'war canoes' from 50ft to 90ft long and 70 smaller canoes, most of them paired ones, at Tahiti in 1774 during Cook's second voyage (Best, 1925, 23, 222-3).
By the time that Vancouver visited Tahiti in 1792 he saw no such boats and noted that land warfare had replaced fighting at sea (Best, 1925, 35).

Early reports (Best, 1925) of these boats were from:
Polynesia-  Tuamotu (1616), New Zealand (1642), Tonga (1643), Tahiti (1769), Hawaii (1777)3 Cook (1777), Samoa (1786), Austral (1791).
- Santa Cruz (1595), New Caledonia (1773), Fiji (1827).
Micronesia-   Carolines (1830).

[Ilustration] Plate 47 Drawing of a paired boat seen by LeMaire and Schouten off Tafahi, Tonga, in 1616.

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Boats with outriggers  
Except for the New Guinea region of Melanesia (Dumont d'Urville, 1835, Plate xxii) early reports of boats with double outriggers have not been traced, although Maori legend appears to describe their use (Best, 1925, 17); and there are references to their use in recent times in Nissan Islands, Samoa, Easter Island, New Guinea and the Louisiade Archipelago (Best, 1925, 17, 201, 260).

The single outrigger has been by far the most popular Oceanic form in recent times and there are early reports from all parts of the area (Best, 1925; Haddon and Hornell, 1936-8):
Polynesia   Marquesas (1595), Tonga (1643), Easter Island (1722), Tahiti (1767), New Zealand (1769), Hawaii (1777), Samoa (1786), Austral (1791). Melanesia   Santa Cruz (1793), Admiralty (1798), Fiji (1827), Micronesia   Ladrones (1521), Carolines (1530).

The smaller boats were paddled; others were sailed, steered by stern sweep.
Outrigger assemblages varying in size, shape and structure have been studied in some detail by Haddon and Hornell

Use of an outrigger is one of several ways of im­proving the lateral stability of a long, narrow logboat or logboat-based boat (McGrail, 1978, 51-5).
This is achieved by increasing the effective beam, in this case with only a slight increase in resistance to motion.
Thus, this is a design of high speed potential, and high speed under paddle or sail was in fact fre­quently commented on by early Europeans.

The double-ended sailing
proa, prau or proe was especially noted for speed in early Micronesian reports.
This craft had an asymmetric transverse section being rounded on one side and flat on the other, which was thought to reduce leeway.
In re­ports dated between 1521 and 1841, the outrigger was noted to be on the rounded side of the boat; however there is not such unanimity about the mode
of operation.
Magellan (1521), Anson (1742) and Morrell (1830) claimed that the outrigger was kept to windward, whilst Dampier (1686) and Crozet (1772) said to leeward (Best, 1925; Haddon and Hornell, 1936).
Dampier and Morrell also describe how the boat was 'shunted' to change tack.
'Shunting' is only necessary in single outrigger craft when it is used to ensure that the outrigger remains to windward: in double-ended boats with the mast amidships the tack of the sail is moved from the bow to the stern, which then becomes the bow.
However, from the 17th and 18th century evidence cited above it seems that Marianas and Carolines boats could be used with the outrigger either to windward or to leeward, and this is indeed what is shown on an illustration (Plate 48) of Dutch ships and Ladrones (Marianas) craft pub­lished by de Bry
(1619, vol.11, Plate xv).
Two hun­dred years later, Paris
(1843, Plate 107) figured two Carolines boats, one with the outrigger to windward and one with it to leeward (Plate 49): the latter condition is potentially unstable and to counteract this a balance board is being used on the windward side.
Dumont d'Urville
(1835, Plate lix) also illus­trated the use of balance boards in the Carolines in 1827.
Single outrigger craft with balance boards were seen in the Society Islands during Cook's visit in
1767 (Best, 1925, 218), and the technique has been reported from 19th century Samoa, New Guinea and the Solomons (Lane-Fox, 1875, 430) where the single outrigger craft have definite bow and stern and there­fore cannot 'shunt' but must tack, thus alternately bringing the outrigger to leeward.
(1971, 124) figures a 20th century Pakistan ekdar hora with single outrigger to leeward, opposed by a balance board, a configuration in which the boat can be sailed closer to the wind than with outrigger to wind­ward (1971, 157): this may explain similar use in the Micronesian boats.

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[Ilustrations] Plate 48. An early 17th century drawing of Dutch ships and local craft off the Ladrones Islands (Marianas).
From de Bry, 1619, plate xv
Plate 49. Single outrigger craft with balance boards in the caroline Islands, drawn by Admiral Paris.

Regional traditions  
The three regions of Oceania are defined principally on geographical grounds, but also partly for racial and cultural reasons. Doran
(1973, 42, fig. 30) has argued for comparable groupings of certain nautical traits: the form of hull, the sail, and tacking procedures.
An analysis of first contact re­ports could reveal the state before European in­fluence, but some of these accounts give insufficient detail and some illustrations appear 'to have been worked up at home' (Haddon and Hornell,
1938, 18) and thus may be inaccurate.
The analysis has there­fore been extended to the time of Admiral Paris' work in the early
19th century, balancing the risk of European influence against gains in accuracy and depth of reports.

Following Haddon and Hornell (1938, 45-54) Oceanic sails are today conventionally classified as 'sprit' (Plate 46), 'lateen' (Plate 47) or 'rectangular', although they differ in form, rigging and use from European sails with these names.
An agreed analyti­cal nomenclature for non-European sails is urgently needed: in its absence the conventional terrninology is used in Table

Where a craft is sighted is not necessarily her region of origin, and the later reports in this small sample may be unrepresentative of 'first contact'.
Neverthe­less tentative conclusions may be drawn from Table
2 about the pre-European state:
-   Single boats, paired boats, single out­rigger boats, and a log raft were sailed in this region.
Lateen sails were used in eastern Polynesia with one case in New Zealand and one in Mangareva; sprits were used in northern, central and southern Poly­nesia.
Although tacking predominated, 'shunting'
(fide Cook) was undertaken around Tonga.

  Single outrigger boats with lateen sails were 'shunted': the outrigger might be used to lee­ward (fide Dampier and Crozet), probably counter­acted by balance board.

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???? and paired boats had lateen or canted rectangular sails.
Except for the 'shunting' of paired Fijian boats operations are insufficiently documented.

Table 2. Hull form, sail, and tacking procedures in Oceania up to the early 19th century

Sources : Best, 1925, 27-8, 182, 217-18, 227, 232-3, 236, 239-40, 246-9, 254, 261-2, 264-5.
Dumont d'Urville, 1835, plates v, xxn, lix.
Rudolph, 1974, 40, 91, 111-12.
Rienits, 1968, 43, 99.

Haddon and Hornell, 1936, figs. 2, 21a, 86, 130, 189, 190, 192, 193-
Hornell, 1970, 77.
Paris, 1843, plates 106-19.
Table 2. (not reproduced)

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America was populated across the Bering Strait, possibly via a land bridge at a time of low sea level (back endpaper).
Present evidence indicates that from
C30000BC (Clark, 1977, 353) Man spread southwards to reach Chile by the mid-ioth millen­nium bc and the southern tip of South America by the mid-9th millennium.
Although much of the territory between the Seward Peninsular in Alaska and Tierra del Fuego in the south could have been occupied on foot, this movement would have been greatly facilitated by water transport.
The Vikings made a brief appearance on the north-east coast in the 11th century
ad and other early contacts have been claimed for the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Irish (Morison, 1971, 3-31) and from the Canary Islands (Heyerdahl, 1978, 96-123).
It is generally held, how­ever, that (apart from local movements across the Bering Strait) there was no significant contact with other cultures until the European voyages of explora­tion in the late 15th and early 16th centuries

There is some evidence about the water transport in use before the 16th century, but most information comes from European accounts written at first con­tact or soon afterwards.
The societies the Europeans encountered were at varying stages of technological development, but all were theoretically capable of building the complete array of water transport, and with the exception of the specialised bark bundle rafts and reed boats, all were found in use some­where in the two continents.

Non-planked craft
Reed rafts  
Pottery models from pre-Inca Peru of the early centuries ad are thought to represent reed craft (Clark, 1977, 444; Edwards, 1965, 1).
Support for this interpretation comes from excavations by Spahni near the mouth of the River Loa in northern Chile, where a small reed boat model dated
c bc/ad has been found (Johnstone, 1980, 14, fig.2.9).

Reed rafts were first sighted by Europeans during Pizarro's voyage of 1531 off the Peruvian coast (Edwards, 1965, 1). Subsequently Acosta found them in use off Callao, Peru, in 1590 and described how they were dismantled and drained after use. De la Vega, who saw them being used for river ferries and for sea fishing, stated that they were made of two reed bundles tapering from the stern to a raised and pointed bow.
In 1653 Cobo described similar ones propelled by pole or paddle and also some which were double-ended; sometimes two large ones were joined together to make a raft capable of carrying horses and cattle.

Reed bundle craft were also in use off the coast of northern Chile in 1553, and in the inland waters of 17th century Argentina and 18th century Bolivia (Edwards, 1965, 8-13).
In this century they have been used inland in Ecuador, Peru and Brazil and in the coastal waters of Peru (Plate 1), Chile and Brazil.
Edwards (1965, 4,
11, 102) who surveyed the craft still in use, believes that the general design and construction has not changed from early post-

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Conquest times, except for the introduction of manu­factured twine instead of hand-twisted cord to bind the bundles.There is insufficient evidence at present to determine whether or not sail was used on these craft before the Conquest, although the Lake Titicaca rafts now have a rectangular reed-matting sail on a bipod mast. #

Further north, early Spanish chroniclers recorded reed rafts on Mexican inland waters and some were in use there in recent times (Thompson, 1949, 74).
They were also noted in the early 19th century along the Pacific coast of North America from Mexico to British Columbia, and inland in the Great Basin of western USA and on the rivers and lakes of Cali­fornia (Hornell, 1970, 44-6).
Earlier use in these regions, whilst probable, cannot yet be demonstrated.

Thus, apart from their recent use in eastern Brazil, the distribution is, and has been, principally west coast.
European observers from the 16th to the 20th centuries agree that these rafts could be operated through surf on open coasts in conditions which would have been hazardous to planked boats.

Buoyed rafts  
Light cane platforms on top of two inflated sealskin floats were used by fishermen off the surf-beaten shores of Peru and Chile at first Euro­pean contact.
They were noted by da Leon in 1553, Acosta in 1590 (Edwards, 1965, 17) and Cavendish in 1587 (Hornell, 1970, 32), and Paris (1843) saw one in Valparaiso in 1834 (Plate 50).
In the early 18th century Frexier described how the skins were joined by inserting toggles in holes pierced through the overlap, and then lashed with seal intestines: the floats were inflated through a quille.
In the early 20th century Latcham noted the floats were water­proofed with a mixture of clay, grease and oil (Hornell, 1970, 33)-.
At first contact they were pro­pelled by paddle but by the 18th century they had a sail (Edwards, 1965, 18).

Gourds (calabazas = dried fruit) netted together were given a light wooden platform and used as ferries in northern Peru where they were seen and used by members of Pizarro's expedition in the 1530s (Edwards, 1965, 59-60), being propelled by swim­mers. Hornell (1970, 38-9) has noted that similar rafts were recently used in Mexico and Central America.
Thompson (1949, 73) has suggested that the rafts depicted on a gold disc from the early site of Chichen Itza were buoyed by gourds, thus taking their use back 1000 years or so, although Edwards (1965, 92) has pointed out this must have been out­side the Chichen Itza region, which has no rivers or lakes on which such a craft could have been used.

Log rafts  
Log rafts, with and without sail, are well documented in South American first contact reports and in the early chronicles (Edwards, 1965, 61).
Simple rafts made of logs lashed or pinned together and propelled by paddle and pole were used exten­sively on the rivers of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru,

[Ilustration] Plate 50. Drawing by Admiral Paris of a 19th century sealskin raft in Valparaiso, Chile.

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Chile, Mexico and Panama as ferries and for fishing.
Some were shaped, that is the central log was longer than the others, and some tapered in breadth to­wards the bow.
Raised platforms were built on some rafts for goods or important passengers, and occa­sionally they had straw huts.

Large seagoing rafts with two masts, cotton sails and hemp rigging were seen by men of Pizarro's 1531 voyage to Peru, and Edwards (1965, 67-9) has demonstrated that their sails were probably tri­angular rather than square as previous commentators had believed.
On the other hand, Heyerdahl (1978, 199) has drawn attention to a model raft with a square reed sail excavated from a grave at Arica, Chile and dated to the early centuries ad.
If it was not already in use, the square sail on a bipod mast was probably adopted after the conquest as it appears to be shown on Benzoni's drawing of 1572.

Seagoing rafts could carry large loads on long voyages.
The first seen by the Spaniards was said to

[Ilustration] Plate 51.  Early 17th century drawing by Spilbergen of a sailing log raft with guares in Paita harbour, Peru.
From de Bry, 1619, plate xii.

have space sufficient for 30 large casks (30 toneles), and Dampier recorded in the late-17th century that rafts sailed from Lima to Panama (over 1500 miles) carrying 60-70 tuns of goods (Edwards, 1965, 72, 105).
Spilbergen's 1619 drawing (Plate 51) of a raft with triangular sails in Paita harbour, Peru shows the use of adjustable boards projecting down be­tween the logs to alter course and vary the sailing balance as well as to reduce leeway.
This technique was first documented by the Spanish navigator Juan in the 1730s (Edwards, 1965, 73-4): up to six of these guares could be in use, variable in position and in depth of immersion; if one near the bow was immersed more deeply the raft would luff-up (turn towards the wind); raising one near the stern would have a similar effect.
Objects of hardwood which are probably guares have been excavated from coastal grave sites in Peru.
They have an aerofoil cross-section and a hand grip at one end (Heyerdahl, 1978, 102, 197, 205-10); and the earliest has been dated to C300BC.
Admiral Paris (1843) shows guares on his drawing of a sailing raft from Guayaquil, Ecuador (Johnstone, 1980, 224, fig. 16.5) and they have been used in the present century (Edwards, 1965, plate 20).

Log rafts were seen in use on the eastern side of South America by the early Portuguese, but the use of sail was not mentioned (Edwards, 1965, 97).
However, the jangada a small raft with a triangular sail and guares is used today by fishermen off the Brazilian coast.
Its details appear to have been docu­mented only from the early 19th century and pre-Conquest use cannot be demonstrated.

Further north, de Ulloa saw log rafts off the coast of Lower California in 1540 (Best, 1925, 142); and Johnstone (1980, 232-3) has drawn attention to two pre-Columbian gold model rafts from Colombia.
Waugh (1919, 32) has noted the recent use of rafts by Canadian Indians, and Suder (1930, 85) noted their use in the Caribbean earlier this century.

Page 77

Bark boats  
North American bark boats (Plate 52) were first mentioned by Cartier in 1535 and in 1603 both Champlain and Weymouth commented on the speed and the fine workmanship of canoes seen near Quebec and on the coast of Maine (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 7).
Subsequently bark canoes of varied form were found in use in an area extending almost across the Continent from c6o°N to 45 °N in the west and 35°N in the east (Hornell, 1970, 186; Waugh, 1919, 24, 29).
In the south-east of this area elm, buttonwood and basswood bark were used; on the west coast pine and spruce.
But the main area of use coincided with the distribution of the canoe birch (Betula papyrifera) which had the most suitable bark for canoe building (Waugh, 1919, 23).

Baron de la Hontan wrote in 1684 the earliest surviving account of how these boats were built (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 8-10). By this date there had been over a century of French influence in this area of eastern Canada and the effect of this on in­digenous canoe-building is problematic.
Certainly the French took to the canoe as the most suitable boat for the vast areas of inland waterways, and had a canoe-building factory near Montreal by the middle of the 18th century (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 13).
Adney and Chapelle (1964, 8-10) believe that the longest birch canoes encountered by Euro­peans in the early years were only c 30ft in length,
and they consider that the large 'war canoes' of the later period were stimulated, if not actually first built, by the French.

The largest boats de la Hontan noted were about 33ft x 5ft x 2ft, made from birch bark c 1/2 in thick with an inner lining of cedar sheeting, an inserted framework of light cedar stringers, many ribs and eight or nine cross members.
They were propelled by pole or paddle, the crew kneeling, sitting or standing as appropriate.
Sails of blanket, bark, skin or even a bush are known to have been used on occasions by north American Indians (Waugh, 1919, 30) in recent times, but Adney and Chapelle (1964, 10) think aboriginal use is unlikely.

Adney recorded the methods used to build bark canoes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in several regions of North America (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 4), and found two principal tech­niques.
In the first, a bark sheet-extended in length and breadth when necessary by other pieces sewn to it with flexible black spruce roots (Waugh, 1919, 26)-was shaped on the ground around the assembled top stringers.
Appropriate gores were cut and the bark skin fashioned to give the required sheerline.
The stringers were then lifted to sheer level and the top edge of the bark sewn to them.
The formation of the stringers, which were a pattern for the plan of the boat, and the shaping of the bark skin may formerly

Page 78

done by eye, but in the early 20th century stick (boat-ells) were marked with the measurements of the stringer plan and certain heights of the sheerline  (Adney and chapelle, 1974, 37).
Ribs were then forced into position to tension the bark skin, which was elastic when green, and a few light cross timbers were fitted at sheer level.
The finished canoe was waterproofed with a paying of
spruce gum.

When flared sides were required a building 'frame', shorter and less broad than the sheer plan, determined the form of the bottom of the boat.
Generally this 'frame' was dismantled and removed from the boat so that it could be used as a pattern for others, although in some Alaskan boats it became part of the internal structure (Adney and Chapelle,

The North American birch bark therefore seems to have been built by a form of shell technique, but in recent times measurement aids have been used to obtain the required shape, rather than 'by eye'.

The differences of form seen in boats of different tribes are probably due to differences of use and operating environment (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 12, 27).
For example, the pointed extension of the lower ends of the Salish bark boats of southern British Columbia are said to be specially adapted to the fast-flowing rivers of the western seaboard (Waugh, 1919, 24).
Beothuk canoes of Newfoundland with their sharp V-shaped bottom are said to have been used for open sea voyages to offshore islands and from Newfoundland to Labrador (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 98); otherwise bark canoes were inland craft.

In South America bark boats were noticed by the first Spaniards to visit southern Chile in 1553 (Edwards, 1965, 21).
The Alacalufs and the Yahgans of the far south sewed sheets of bark together with baleen, with laths holding a caulking of straw or
??? aae from three Dane sneers. ???
After these sheets had been stitched together to form the hull, ribs, stringers, a bark lining and occasional light cross timbers were inserted and lashed with dried reeds. Edwards (1965, 23) considers that, apart from Cor­doba's report of a sealskin sail, unknown before the late 17th century, this account is probably very similar to the aboriginal design.

In the early 20th century simple, single-piece bark canoes were used in Guiana and on the Amazon in Brazil.
A slight sheer kept the open ends clear of the water, and cross members gave the bark shell some transverse support (Hornell, 1970, 183-6; Brindley, 1924).

Skin boats  
A simple form of skin boat, the pelota, is known to have been used in Colombia, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile from at least the 18th century.
Often it had no inserted framework, reliance being placed on the stiffness of an untanned, dried ox-skin to maintain the roughly quadrangular shape (Hornell, 1970, 150).
When a light internal frame­work was added it was lashed to the skin by thongs.
Such boats are not mentioned in the early Spanish chronicles and the absence of cattle and horses from pre-Columbian South America may indicate that this is not an aboriginal form of water transport.
Hornell (1970, 153-4) has argued, however, that in earlier times, skins of the native guanaco may have been sewn together to produce a covering of sufficient size for a boat.
Thompson (1949, 74) mentions a tradition in eastern Mexico of the former use of plaited withies waterproofed with clay-possibly a form of skin boat, but its date is unclear.

The 'bull boat' (Plate 7) of the Plains Indians of North America had a simple framewok of willow

Page 79

rods and withies, lashed together with rawhide, which was covered by one or two buffalo hides (Hornell, 1970, 148-9).
Other skin boats used by North Ameri­can Indians were built in a bark canoe sequence, that is using the top stringers as a mould, and then forcing ribs into the skin hull (Adney and Chapelle, 1964, 219-20).

The best known skin boats of America are the Eskimo umiak and kayak (Plate 53) seen to be in use at first European contact (Hornell, 1970, 155) around the coast of Alaska, the northern coast and islands of Canada, and Labrador and Greenland. \
These are similar to the
baidara and the baidarka of the Bering Strait and eastern Siberia (see p.27).
These two types exemplify the evolution of craft well adapted to a specific environment and function.
The building method described by Billings in 1802 (see p.27) is very similar to that used this century for Russian and Canadian boats (Hornell, 1970, 156-9).
Twentieth century details not mentioned by Billings are the fastening of stem and sternposts to the keel­son when building the
umiak framework and the extension of the top stringers beyond the ends to form handles.

Details of the early 18th century kayaks are known from one recovered off the Scottish coast and now in Marischal College, Aberdeen.
It is similar in shape to recent ones, and has a light framework of wood and willow branches covered by skin except for the round opening for the crew (Hornell, 1970, 164).

A logboat of white oak from Lake Eyrie has been dated by radiocarbon to
c 1600 be (Art & Archaeology Technical Abstracts, 15.2, 1978, 75), and four of pine from Florida have dates in the 4th to 14th centuries ad (um-1449, 1450, 1451, 1625).

Logboats were noticed at first European contact but were seldom recorded in sufficient detail to indi­cate whether they were simple logboats or had been extended by the addition of washstrakes, or whether their stability had been increased by expansion or by the use of stabilisers.
In 1492 Columbus encountered West Indian logboats that could carry 70 or 80 men, and one he saw on his second voyage measured 96ft
x 8 ft (Johnstone, 1980, 234).
Ecuadorian river logboats with sail were seen during Pizarro's 1531 voyage, but details were not recorded (Edwards,
1965, 35).

[Illustration] Plate 53.  Measured drawing of an 18th century kayak from north eastern Canada.
Length 21 ft 6 in, breadth 2 ft 2| in. After original drawing in National Maritime Museum

Page 80

Thompson (1949, 71-2) has noted several early reports of logboats with sail in the West Indies, Mexico, Panama and Honduras. Logboats were also reported from the western coast of Colombia, Florida and Virginia in the 16th century (Edwards, 1965, 36-7; Durham, 1955, 34; Johnstone, 1980, 235—53 Quinn, 1973, 6; Thompson, 1949, 69).
The best documented logboats seem to be those of British Columbia (variants are known as
salish, chinook, haida, nootka). These were noted by Cook and drawn by Weber in 1778 (Rienits, 1968, 140), and noted by Meares in 1788-9 and Vancouver in 1792.
Recent descriptions by Waugh (1919), Longstaff (1930) and Durham (1955) indicate that there were only minor changes between the 18th and 20th centuries.

In the 19th century logboats were seen by Paris (1843) in Valparaiso, Chile and Calloa, Peru.
They were recently used by the Iroquois, from south of Lake Ontario, the Yakutat Indians of S.W. Alaska and in Guiana, the Upper Amazon and Argentinian Patagonia, Michigan, Wisconsin, on the lower Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and generally in eastern USA.
It might seem therefore that logboats were used in parts of prehistoric America other than in those regions where they were noted by early Europeans.
However, it is known that the Spaniards introduced logboats to Peru and Chile (Edwards, 1965, 108) and there may be other undocumented post-European introductions giving rise to the 19th and 20th century distribution.

There are several early accounts of how logboats were built, some more detailed than others (Edwards, 1965, 3> 7> 104; Quinn, 1973, 6; Waugh, 1919, 32): generally they are variations of a standard method (McGrail, 1978, 28-36).
There are no early accounts of expansion but the practice is known from recent times in Guiana, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, British Columbia, and south-west Alaska (McGrail,
19783, 38-9).

Boats of sewn planks

At the time of first European contact boats with sewn planks were in use in two widely separated places on the western seaboard of America, off southern Chile and southern California.
In Chile, between the Gulf of Coronados (north of the island of Chiloe) and the Gulf of Penas (south of the Chonos archipelago), a three-plank, sewn
dalca was seen by members of de Ulloa's 1553 expedition and used by a Spanish expedition of 1558 (Edwards, 1965, 25).
In 1560 de Gongora Marmolejo recorded that these boats were some 30-40 ft
x 3 ft and that the planking was fastened by thin cords with the seams made water­tight by crushed bark held in position by longitudinal split canes.
Quoting early 17th century accounts, Lothrop (1932, 244-5) states that wedges were used to split larch
(Fitzroya patagonica), cypress (Libo-cedrus tetragona) or beech (Nothofagus betuloides) logs into planks which were then finished with stone and shell tools.
The sewing fibre was prepared from bamboo
(Chusquea coleu), and the material in the seams was inner bark of the maqui (Aristolelia maqui), leaves of the tiaca (Caldeluvia paniculata) or rolls of grass.
Later descriptions indicate that their general form was similar to the bark boats used further south, but they were somewhat broader at the ends with the bottom plank curving upwards to form long over­hangs obtained by softening the planking with fire and water and bending it against stakes driven into the ground (Edwards, 1965, 103; Lothrop, 1932, 244,
245, fig-6).
The only internal structure appears to have been sticks used as thwarts, floor timbers not being added until the late-18th century. As later Spaniards had to modify them to take oars it may be assumed that previously they were paddled, the crew being nine to eleven men (Lothrop, 1932, 245).
In 1675 de Vea transported dismantled
dalcas across the Isthmus of Of qui and reassembled them; this probably

Page 81

reflects aboriginal usage (Edwards, 1965, 26).
In the region of the Santa Barbara Channel near Los Angeles in southern California, the Chumash Indians used a sewn plank boat, the tomolo (Heizer, 1966).
The earliest report is from Cabrillo's expedi­tion of 1542, and from this and subsequent accounts up to that of Vancouver in 1793, Heizer has deduced the form and construction of these boats.
It should be noted however that Kroeber (1925, 812) con­sidered that the tomolo might be a logboat with added washstrakes rather than a true planked boat.
Heizer (1966, 28-9) concluded that the planking was split from driftwood logs of cedar, pine and redwood using whalebone wedges.
The bottom plank was c 12-14ft x 8 in x 1/2 in, whilst the remainder were much smaller, and they were fastened together and to the stem and stern posts by fibre or sinew cords with a caulking of bitumen: subsequently the entire hull was payed with bitumen.
The only in­ternal structure was a single thwart amidships.
The boats were generally double-ended with sheer at the ends and they were 3 to 4 ft broad with lengths from 12 to 26 ft.
Tomolo were propelled by double-bladed paddles and used in the relatively sheltered waters protected by the islands of Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa and San Miguel.
This topography and the local source of bitumen may not only have stimulated the evolution of the tomolo but also limited its distri­bution.

The documentation of the tomolo is unsatisfactory, in particular, some of the features attributed to it may have been acquired from Europeans.
Nevertheless, the use of sewn planks in the Santa Barbara region at first European contact seems to be authentic, but possibly for extended logboats rather than fully planked boats.

McGrail, Sean:
The Ship [series]
Rafts, Boats and Ships
From Prehistoric Times to the Medieval Era
National Maritime Museum
London, 1981.


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Geoff Cater (2014) : Sean McGrail : Rafts, Canoes and Boats, 1981.