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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #5: Propulsion and Use

In the previous installment in this series on Belizean dugout canoes, we looked at what appeared to be the most common form of propulsion -- the paddle. Here we'll look at other methods.
Belizean sailing dugout canoe
Belizean sailing dugout canoe. The double-ended hull shows a sharp transition between the sternpost and the bottom, almost forming a skeg. The unshipped rudder sits in the stern sheets; its steering yoke is visible. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Although we saw a couple canoes equipped for sail, we saw none that were rigged and ready to go, so the images provide unfortunately spotty documentation. 

In discussions with canoe builders Leo and Francis Lewis, we learned that the typical rig uses a triangular jib and triangular (i.e., Marconi) main. On examining photos of canoes with mast steps, we see no evidence of a forestay on any of them, so we're not certain that a jib is actually in use. However, almost all of the canoes we saw had a small foredeck with a hole bored in it for a painter, which was sometimes present, sometimes not. There is a possibility that the painter might serve as a forestay when needed. If the jib is set flying, then its tack might conceivably to tied to the painter, but this seems even less likely.


Belizean sailing dugout canoe
The same boat shown above, displaying its stowed sailing rig. There are four poles, one of which must be the mast and one the boom. A third might conceivably be a kind of removable bowsprit to which the jib's tack is made fast. The fourth could be for poling, for ramming into the bottom to anchor the boat while fishing in shallows, or it might be a gaff or a sprit. The sail is nylon sailcloth, probably cut down and repurposed from the discarded sail of a cruising sailboat. Note also the auxiliary paddle stowed forward.
Belizean sailing dugout canoe
The same boat, with a closer look at the spars, sail and paddle (the latter of which appears to be a cross between the two paddle types shown in the previous post). There are no chainplates or other provision for securing the lower ends of shrouds: the "mast partners" formed by the forward thwart (see below) evidently serve as the mast's only lateral support.
Belizean sailing dugout canoe - pintles
The stern of the same boat, showing one horn of the rudder yoke (upper left), which is steered with lines leading forward. The pintles are simply bent straps of light galvanized steel nailed into the sternpost and hood ends of the planks. They do not look very durable, and probably allow the pintles to move around quite a bit.
Belizean dugout canoe - mast step
A different canoe from the one above, showing the mast step and forward thwart with a hole for the mast.
Many of the canoes we saw had a mast steps and a mast hole in the forward thwart but no pintles or other evidence of sailing gear. If they are sailed, they are probably steered with a paddle. Another possibility is that some canoes are equipped with mast step but are never further equipped for sailing and never so used.

None of the sailing dugouts we saw had any kind of lateral plane: no keel or false keel, no centerboard well or evidence of leeboards. Leo Lewis told us that these were not necessary for sailing even on a beam reach, and that the boats were sailed for fishing alongshore or out to the cays and reefs. With their generally rounded bottoms, leeway must be significant.
Belizean dugout canoe with outboard engine
Several of the dugouts we saw in Hopkins had transom sterns to hold small outboard engines. Tohatsu was the brand of choice.
Belizean dugout canoe with fishing gear
The fisherman's gear includes (from stern working forward): a bleach-bottle bailer; a crude, home-made stock anchor; a long, slender pole; nets; and floats. In the bow is an unidentified device that appears to have several long tines made of rebar.  
Belizean fishing smack with 5 dugout canoes aboard
In the town of Independence, we saw this sloop-rigged smack loaded with five dugout canoes on deck. The larger boat will carry the smaller ones out to fishing grounds, where they will be dropped over the side to fish. 
Belizean fishing smack with 5 dugout canoes aboard
Another view of the smack's load of dugout canoes.
Belizean fishing smack with 5 dugout canoes aboard
Still another view, giving a more complete view of the smack's rig. It appears to have a short gaff, which has sagged below the very long boom. A third, dark-colored spar of unknown use (a whisker pole? a prop for the gaff's end?) is also visible just above the boom.
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This concludes the series on Belizean dugout canoes. Previous posts in the series are:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #4: Paddles and Paddling

Just as Belizean dugout canoes exhibit great variety in their design and construction, so too do they vary in their means of propulsion. In our brief visit to Hopkins and Monkey River Town (in the country's Stann Creek and Toledo districts, respectively) in December, we saw dugout canoes propelled by paddle and outboard engine, equipped for sailing, and shipped aboard a smack for transport to distant fishing grounds. Paddle was the most common method of propulsion for the boats we saw on the beaches, and it's the one we'll examine in this post. 

We only saw canoe actually being paddled, on the Monkey River. We did not take a full series of consecutive photos to document the paddling method, but we've reconstructed the sequence here as best we could from nonsequential shots of one paddler over the course of a couple minutes.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
We'll begin with the paddler switching from the right to the left side. Both hands are near the midpoint of the shaft.
The boat was rather decrepit. The added strakes above the dugout base were no longer fastened together at the ends but instead, were separated and splayed apart. (Click any image to enlarge.)  
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
The catch of the stroke.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
Near the completion of the power stroke.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
At the end of the power stroke, the upper arm is nearly straight. 
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
The paddler uses a different method shifting from left to right than he used from right to left. Here he has changed hands so that the left hand now holds the end grip while the right swings the blade in a wide curve overhead.
The beautifully shaped dihedral paddle blade is long and narrow, with a rounded end and painted a contrasting color from the shaft. There is no shoulder on the blade's upper end -- it transitions seamlessly into the rather short shaft.
old man paddling a dugout canoe in Belize
And the stroke is repeated on the right side.
We did not notice if the paddler consistently used these two different methods when switching sides. The difference in methods might have been purely casual, and not evidence of a conscious technique.

The outboard launch in which we took a tour on the Monkey River was equipped with a canoe paddle for backup propulsion. It was not as nicely formed (nor in as good condition) as the one we saw in use above, but it was not without a couple of nice features.
canoe paddle, Belize
Unlike the dihedral shape of the other paddle's blade, this one is flat on both sides. It has rather awkward-looking square shoulders, nothing like the seamless shaft-to-blade transition evident in the other one.
canoe paddle, Belize
The shaft, however, does have a nice profile shape at its lower end, where it narrows slightly before meeting the blade. It also tapers gradually toward the upper end, where it's topped with a simple triangular grip. 
canoe paddle grip, Belize
The shaft has a lozenge-shaped cross-section over most of its length, but a little below the grip is has a nice transition to a rectangular cross-section, which thins steadily toward the end of the grip. 
Our final post in this series on Belizean dugout canoes will look at some of their uses, as well as means of propulsion other than paddle.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Belizean Dugouts #3: Construction Details

The dugout canoes of Belize are just as diverse in their construction details as they are in hull form -- a subject we addressed in the previous post in this series. 

Leo Lewis, dugout canoe builder of Hopkins, Belize
Leo Lewis, dugout canoe builder of Hopkins, Belize (click any image to enlarge)
Although we did not observe the construction process, we did learn from Leo Lewis, one of the last remaining builders, and his brother and assistant, Francis, that in recent years chainsaws were used for rough shaping, followed by an adze for finish shaping. When they were younger (they appear to be in their late seventies or perhaps eighties), and before they had access to a chainsaw, Leo and Francis used an adze for all shaping.

Although Belize was "settled" by Europeans as a logging station for mahogany, Leo did all his building in yemeri, another common Central American hardwood. (Two similar species are present: Vochysia guatemalensis and V. hondurensis.) According to a leaflet from the US Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, "Heights up to 160 feet and diameters of 3 to 4 feet are frequently attained. The boles are straight and clear." The wood is typically straight-grained but occasionally has an interlocked grain. Although it works easily, it is very subject to rot when in contact with the ground, and it is readily attacked by marine borers. (More on yemeri here.)

Many years ago, Leo would harvest trees 2.5 to 3 feet in diameter within a mile or so of Hopkins, right on the coastal plain, but more recently, he had to travel to the nearby mountains for trunks of suitable size. He used yemeri for the hull, the added strakes, and for frames and floors on the canoes that had them. (Most of the dugouts we observed had no internal strength members other than thwarts.) He says using the same wood ensures that everything will swell and shrink at the same rate, although this reasoning seems questionable, since the grain in frames and floors is at right angles to the grain in the hull and strakes, and one would not expect it to move to move equally in both directions.

After the hull was hollowed, it was filled with sea water to soften, then sticks were inserted to spread or expand it to the desired width. Frames and floors were then inserted and the spreader sticks removed. Although I neglected to clarify the matter, it seems probable that strakes were added after the hull was spread but before frames were installed. The fastenings that I observed were nails, driven from the inside, through the frames and into the hull or strakes. When required by their length, the nails were clenched over so that their points re-entered the wood.

Let's look at some construction details.

Belizean dugout canoe with internal framing
A Leo Lewis dugout canoe with five pairs of partial frames and two floors -- an uncommon amount of framing for a Belizean dugout.
We found great variety in the attachment of thwarts, and this single boat exhibits three different methods. The one in the foreground is held solidly in place, sitting on risers nailed to pairs of vertical cleats on each side and held down from above by wooden brackets, also nailed to the cleats. The midships thwart is loose, held in place only by friction. The one in the background is only partially secured by brackets on top, which are nailed directly into the hull or the strakes. It does not rest on cleats or risers.
Belize dugout canoe with internal frames
Where there framing in the prior image provided transverse strength, the short partial frames in this dugout serve only to support the strakes. There are no floor timbers.
Dugout canoe, Belize
The majority of dugouts in Hopkins have no internal framing, and the thwarts -- if they are nailed in place -- provide the only transverse support.
Belize dugout stem and deck details
The false stem curves all the way to the bottom, its end butting against the end of the false keel. Note also the deck, which is plywood.
Belizean canoe sternpost and deck details
In contrast, the false sternpost on another canoe runs straight from top to bottom, while the false keel butts against its forward surface. The canoe's deck is solid lumber.
Belize dugout canoe with removable foredeck
A few canoes had large, removable plywood decks that seemed to fit directly behind the small, permanently installed bow deck. This might have provided a bit of protection against boarding waves, or might have served as a fish-processing platform. This canoe has an unusual number of thwarts in closely-spaced pairs, the reason for which is unknown. The next-to-last thwart shows yet another method of support: it sits on a horizontal cleat nailed into the hull or strakes, with no capturing bracket above.
Belizean dugout canoe with wide strake
Few of the dugout canoes in Hopkins have wide strakes like this derelict one.
Belize dugout canoe strakes detail
More common were two or, as shown here, three narrow strakes, topped by a gunwale cap, all of them edge-nailed.
Belize dugout canoe construction details
This was the only canoe we saw sheathed with fiberglass, which covered it inside and out. We found this boat in Monkey River Town, in the Toledo District. All other canoes shown here were in Hopkins, Stann Creek District.