: rafts, canoes and boats, 1981
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.
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.
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
a southern route from Java to Australia with islands in
between (longest gap c
The tool kit of the earliest Australians consisted
of scrapers and simple percussion and bone tools (Clark,
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
Thus Tasmanian water transport at first contact may give an
indication of that used by the earliest immigrants to the
In late prehistoric times boats from New Guinea and
the Celebes visited northern Australia. However, the
Australian aborigines never adopted agricultureand, 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 ????
thick sheet of bark of the red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)
and the open ends blocked with
Lashed bark boats were used in the
rivers and creeks of New South Wales and south-eastern
A thin bark sheet of Eucalyptus
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
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).
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
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 10ft
in length were joined together by hardwood pegs or lashings
to make a trapezoidal form double
raft. The kalumwas
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
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.
Page 67 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
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
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
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
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
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
Page 68 (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
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 greatantiquity 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
The majority were of (unspecified) logs, but some were of
bamboo (Fiji, New Hebrides, Bismark Archipelago-all in
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
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
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). Logboats
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
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.
felled by stone axes and head burned off. 2.
side of log levelled to intended sheerline and required
outline sketched on it. 3.
hollowed using fire and adze; boat shaped externally at bow
and stern. 4.
log was of insufficient length, other logs were hollowed and
joined end to end by sewing with roots or fibre
more complex joints. Similarly, where height at ends was
insufficient, bow and stern pieces were added. 5.
logs were split, using fire and hardwood wedges; the
resultant planks were finished with an adze. 6.
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
Where there was more than one plank per strake, they were
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.
by longitudinal laths. Hull and seams were payed with
resin (Best, 1925, 38-9, 71-2, 217, 228).
certain boats ribs were inserted and lashed to cleats left
proud of the planking or direct to the planking (Hornell,
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,
5-6) may indicate that similar ones were used at
anearlier date in Oceania but were
not documented by Europeans. The Solomon Islands mon, similar
to the Moluccan orembaibut
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),
Melanesia - Santa Cruz (1595),
Caledonia (1773), Fiji (1827). Micronesia-
[Ilustration]Plate 47 Drawing of
a paired boat seen by LeMaire and Schouten off Tafahi,
Tonga, in 1616.
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
(1595), Tonga (1643), Easter Island (1722), Tahiti (1767),
New Zealand (1769), Hawaii (1777), Samoa (1786), Austral
(1791). MelanesiaSanta Cruz (1793), Admiralty
(1798), Fiji (1827), MicronesiaLadrones (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 (1936-1938).
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, prauor
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
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,
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
Dumont d'Urville (1835,
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.
Greenhill (1971, 124)
figures a 20th century Pakistan ekdar
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
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.
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
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
Following Haddon and Hornell (1938,
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
An agreed analytical nomenclature for non-European sails is
urgently needed: in its absence the conventional
terrninology is used in Table 2. 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
Nevertheless tentative conclusions may be drawn from Table
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.
outrigger boats with lateen sails were 'shunted': the
outrigger might be used to leeward (fide
Dampier and Crozet), probably
counteracted by balance board.
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
Hornell, 1936, figs. 2, 21a, 86, 130, 189, 190, 192, 193- Hornell,
Table 2. (not
Page 74 America
America was populated across the Bering Strait,
possibly via a land bridge at a time of low sea level
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 ad. 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 datedc bc/ad has
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
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
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,
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
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,
50. Drawing by Admiral Paris of a 19th century sealskin
raft in Valparaiso, Chile.
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
Early 17th century drawing by Spilbergen of a sailing log
raft with guares in
Paita harbour, Peru.
From de Bry, 1619, plate xii.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 umiakandkayak(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 baidaraand
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 umiakframework
and the extension of the top stringers beyond the ends to
form handles. Details of the early 18th
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,
A logboat of white oak from Lake Eyrie has been dated by
radiocarbon to c1600 be (Art& Archaeology
Technical Abstracts, 15.2,
1978, 75), and four of pine from Florida have dates in the
4th to 14th centuries ad
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
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
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,
The best documented logboats seem to be those of British
Columbia (variants are known as salish, chinook, haida, nootka). These
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)
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,
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,
In 1675 de Vea transported dismantled dalcas
across the Isthmus of Of qui
and reassembled them; this probably
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
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
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
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
McGrail, Sean: The Ship
[series] Rafts, Boats
and Ships From Prehistoric Times to
the Medieval Era National
Maritime Museum London, 1981.