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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Philippine Bangkas - More Design and Construction Details

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Philippine Bangka Outrigger and Boom Variations

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bonito Fishing Boats in Maldives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Shade Fishing from Catamarans in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fishing Boats of Orchid Island’s Tao People

Boats of Tao (Yami) people, Orchid Island
Tao tatara boats, with and without culturally significant decorations. (source) Click any image to enlarge.
Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu, is about 45 miles due east of the southernmost point of Taiwan. Only 7.5 miles long, it is home to a culture best known as the Yami, although the people themselves prefer the name Tao, which means simply “people” in their language. Numbering about 4,000, the Tao, a Malayo-Polynesian people, make up about two thirds of the island’s population, the remainder being Han Chinese from Taiwan.

Although Lanyu is now part of the Republic of China, there was little cultural contact with Taiwan until the second half of the twentieth century, leaving Tao society relatively intact and among the least affected by outside influences of all Southeast Asian cultures. The people continue to speak their own language and are culturally more akin to the inhabitants of Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines, about 100 miles across the Bashi Channel. They are the only of Taiwan’s remaining aboriginal peoples with a maritime culture.

Lanyu is mountainous, of volcanic origin. Much of it is covered by tropical rainforest, parts of which are untouched. “Coral reefs are distributed around the island and the warm Japan Current also flows by, attracting vast schools of fish.” (source)

Flying fish play a central role in the culture of the Tao, their migrations determining the Tao’s annual cycle of ritual and economic activities. The boats used to fish for flying fish are “a central cultural emblem,” and so distinctive as to have become the island’s best-known cultural artifact and image for tourism.

The Tao’s boats range from the 1- and 2-man tatara, about 2.3m long, to the 10- and even 14-man chinedkulan, at 7.6m long. All are of similar form and construction, their most obvious distinguishing features being the extremely high extensions of the stem and sternposts that sweep up sharply but gracefully from the gunwales, and the elaborate carved-and-painted decoration of the hulls.

Tao boats show similarities to those of Batanes, to the mon of the Solomon Islands, and to those of Lamalera, on the island of Lembata in Indonesia. Chinedkulan are notably seaworthy, having formerly been used for voyages to Batanes (but apparently no longer so used). Tatara are said to be quite unstable and are used only in protected waters in calm conditions.

The Tatara and Chinedkulan Hulls

Structural cross-section of a Yami chinedkulan boat
Structural cross-section of a chinedkulan. "Botel Tobago" is another name for Lanyu or Orchid Island. Image source: R. H. Barnes (see bibliography)
Built on a keel with separate stem and sternpost, the hull is symmetrical fore-and-aft, V-bottomed, and chined. It is built shell-first, with frames that (at least, on the chinedkulan) do not reach to the topmost strake. Thwarts, too, span the second-to-top strakes, not the topmost ones. Making up for this, a strong shelf near the lower edge of the top strake provides a great deal of rigidity. The shelf is not attached to the plank as a separate component but, rather, is carved as an integral part of the planks of the top strakes. Each strake consists of three plank sections. The larger chinedkulan has four strakes, the tatara three.

Frame/plank lashed connection in a Tao tatara boat
Detail of lashed-lug construction between frame and planks in a Tao tatara. Source: R. H. Barnes
The smooth-planked (i.e., carvel) hull is of lashed-lug construction. When each plank is gotten out, “comb cleats” (pairs of lugs with a short gap between) are left on the inside surface. Holes are bored in the lugs. The U-shaped frames are placed in the gap between the cleats and tied in place with rattan lashings. But before this happens, the strakes are assembled to the keel and to one another by blind-pegging. The upper edge of each plank is drilled with numerous holes – from photos, it appears that they are spaced rather closely, perhaps 4” apart. Dowels are inserted in the holes, and the next plank, with corresponding holes, is forced down against the lower one. Joints are caulked with vegetable fiber.

Pegged plank fastening, Tao boat, Orchid Island
Blind pegged fastening of planks. Source: R. H. Barnes (see bibliography)
The planking has three sets of lugs: one set, amidships, holds the frames. The smaller boats have a single frame amidships. The larger ones have two frames, dividing the hull approximately in thirds lengthwise. The second set of lugs, appearing at one end only, is used to fasten a transverse bulkhead. The third set, appearing at both ends, holds lashings to pull the port and starboard planks in toward each other. It’s unclear how the hood ends are fastened to the endposts, or how the butt joints between the plank sections are fastened.

Tao Tatara boat of Lanyu
Tatara with single frame amidships. Also shown are shelf near the bottom of the sheerstrake and a transverse bulkhead at right. Source: R.H. Barnes
The backbone consists of three pieces – the V-shaped keel and two endposts – joined in a stepped joint (and presumably pegged).

The boats are rowed with oars that pivot against a kind of tholepin structure that consists of two or three posts arranged with their bottoms splayed fore-and-aft and their tops, which rise high above the gunwale, lashed together with many wraps of heavy rope. The bottom ends appear to penetrate the shelf that runs near the lower edge of the topmost strake, and perhaps are held in place by lugs in the planking below the shelf.

Thole structures, sheerstrake shelf, steering oar yoke and thwarts (deckbeams) are all visible. Source: R.H. Barnes 
Tao (Yami) Boat Construction Procedures

To begin construction, trees are felled with an ax, and planks are shaped with an adze, each trunk yielding a single plank or backbone section. The center of the trunk becomes a plank’s outer surface. The endposts, in order to avoid grain run-out in the rapidly curved transition from the horizontal to the vertical, are gotten out from the base of a tree with buttress roots, in the manner of grown knees in Western boatbuilding.

Much of the construction of Tao boats is regulated by ritual. All of the major parts of the boat must be cut from live trees, there being a prohibition against the use of dead wood. According to Barnes, “(T)imber should be felled, worked into rough shape and carried back to the village on the same day. The bow and stern pieces require some twenty men taking turns to carry them across the island.” A ceremony and celebration, with feasting, greet the men on their return to the village.

Having brought the major pieces back to the village, the boat is finished in a special boatbuilding shed, using axes, adzes, chisels, gouges, and borers or a brace and bit to produce the holes for the planking dowels.

Construction takes two or three years. When it is complete, a boat may be painted rather simply – usually with white topsides inside and out and a red bottom – and put into use. It is more common, however, to apply elaborate conventional decorations in traditional red, white and black painted and carved patterns that represent human figures, waves, and bow oculi in the form of the sun. Borders made of multiple bands of repeating triangles of the three colors outline the sheer, cutwaters at bow and stern, and waterline. The tops of the endposts are decorated with chicken feathers.

Hull decorations on fishing boat of Orchid Island
Traditional decorations includes (from left to right) the sun-like oculus, human figures, and ocean waves. (source)
The Tao, according to a Taiwanese government website, “consider a boat as a man’s body. Boat-building is a sacred mission and a part of life. Owning a boat means owning the ocean and the sky and having valor. For the Tao, boat-building is the manifestation of divinity and beauty.” Carrying such heavy social/psychological meaning, only boats that will be subjected to an expensive, elaborate launching ritual may be decorated in the traditional manner.

One step of this ritual consists of covering the boat in taro roots which, after flying fish, is the most important staple of the Tao diet. Given the large amount of taro required, land clearing and planting may begin three or four years prior to the start of building the boat. After the boat is covered in tubers, they are removed to become part of a celebratory feast (which also includes roast pig, shared with the community but also slaughtered as a sacrifice) in which the whole village partakes. Women wear special clothing for several days before the ceremony. In the climax to the ritual, men, wearing the loincloths that they also wear when fishing, circle the boat several times to guard it from evil spirits, then lift it above their heads and throw it into the air several times.

Boat launching ceremony, Lanyu
Tossing a newly-built chinedkulan into the air: part of the traditional launching ceremony on Lanyu. (source)
Boat Use on Lanyu (Orchid Island)
“Surrounded by sea, the Tao society is a typical maritime one. Their annual schedule corresponds to the flying fish season. The Tao people designed a calendar according to habitual behaviors of marine life and the movements of ocean currents, which includes restrictions and taboos regulating the fishing area, timing and methods.” (source)

The Tao celebrate flying fish season with a festival consisting of 13 distinct rituals. Flying fish are caught from March through June, but “shoulder seasons” at both ends make the period from February to October the most important part of the Tao’s year economically and culturally. Almost all activities during this longer period relate to catching, preparing, distributing and storing the fish for use throughout the year. Flying fish may not be caught outside of the official flying fish season, although other kinds of fishing, especially for crabs, octopus, and shellfish, occur at other times.

To catch flying fish, the Tao boatmen work in concert with free divers. The larger boats are rowed with one man per oar and steered with a steering oar. Nets as long as 8 meters are spread into a U-shaped wall attached to the bottom, their tops 2m to 4m below the water surface. Divers, numbering between 25 and 40 and remarkable for their lung capacity, spread out some distance from the net in a half-circle that can be up to 300m wide. Using large, whisk-like beaters that they sweep through the water and hit against the bottom, they drive schools of fish toward and into the net. They then gather the ends of the net together, and it is lifted into the boat.

“After each drive, the fish are taken to shore, removed from the net and scaled. For scaling the Yami use stone chips. After the fish are cleaned, they are put back into the boat, the net is loaded into the boat as well, and the group performs one or two more drives. On a lucky day the catch may total over a thousand fish, but such days are rare. Usually a good catch brings in five or six hundred fish.”

The catch is processed communally and distributed by a formula that takes account of who owns the boat, the net, and who participated in that particular drive.

R.H. Barnes, "Yami Boats and Boat Building in a Wider Perspective," in Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean, David Parkin and Ruth Barnes, eds.Routledge, 2002
"Tao: Introduction to the Ethnic Group," in Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peopleshttp://www.dmtip.gov.tw/Eng/Tao.htm
"A Minority Within a Minority: Cultural Survival on Taiwan's Orchid Island," in Cultural Survival Quarterlyhttps://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/minority-within-minority-cultural-survival-taiwans-orchid
Jerome F. Keating, "The Driving Forces and Scope of the Mapping of Taiwan," in Mediascapehttp://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Winter2012_Taiwan.html
"Orchid Island (Lanyu)" in Taiwan: The Heart of Asiahttp://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0002123&id=650
"Offshore Islands: Penghu; Kinmen National Park; Matsu; Green Island (Lyudao); Orchid Island (Lanyu)" in Taiwan: Heart of Asiahttp://go2taiwan.net/monthly_selection.php?sqno=7
"Yami People" in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yami_people
Dezso Benedek, The Songs of the Ancestors: A Comparative Study of Bashic Folklorehttp://asian-lp.uga.edu/jpn_html/yami/
Katherine Kuang, "Yami Creation Myths": http://www.laits.utexas.edu/doherty/plan2/kuang.html

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Vattai of Tamil Nadu

Examples of traditional frame-first boat construction in Asian cultures are rare. Throughout the Far East, Middle East and east Africa, shell-first construction of planked boats is the norm, where it is used for everything from sampans and junks to dhows. One of the few exceptions is the vattai, an open, sail-powered, flush-planked (carvel) fishing boat common in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India’s southeast.

A vattai in Tamil Nadu
A vattai in Tamil Nadu. Source: Blue (click any image to enlarge)
The vattai is described by Lucy Blue in “The Historical Context of the Construction of the Vattai Fishing Boat and Related Frame-First Vessels of Tamil Nadu and Beyond,” published in Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean (David Parkin and Ruth Barnes, editors; Routledge, 2016). The information and images in this post are from that article.

To quote Dr. Blue:
"Vattai, are flat-bottomed, have a box-like transverse section and are near wall-sided over much of their length. They range in size from around 13.72m long, with a beam of 2.13m and a depth of 1.37m, to the smallest vessels of c. 5.18m x 1.07m x 0.76m. However, irrespective of their size, they are all similar in shape with very high bows, and two or three masts each with a settee-lateen sail, a balance board, and, uniquely on this coast, leeboards."
The design process is of much interest. A single mould form or template is used to lay out most of the frames on a scrieve board, the form being flipped to draw the port and starboard half-breadths. (Forms for different boats differ from one another, apparently, only in the radius of the curve that joins their two straight, right-angled legs.) Since the boat’s cross-section (half-breadth shape) is constant across its entire midbody, a single shape drawn on the scrieve board suffices to define most of the frames, and this follows the exact shape of the form laid square to the edges of the scrieve board.

Use of mould form and scrieve board to design a vattai boat
Use of the mould form and scrieve board (A) to create the shapes of the "equal" frames for the midbody (B,C,D), and the progressively narrower frames toward the ends (E, F, G). 
Fore and aft of the “equal” frames that constitute the midbody, each of the next three progressively narrower frames at the bow has an identical counterpart in the stern. These frames that define the ends are derived from the same mould form according to a formula that defines how far in from the scrieve board’s upper edge and how far up along the diagonal the form is placed. By rotating and raising the form, different frame shapes may be drawn to create the narrowing and flare of the hull’s ends. The final three frames in the very bow and stern, however, are not drawn or gotten out at this time.

In the boat recorded by Blue, there were 15 “equal” frames for the midbody plus 12 “unequal” ones, evenly divided between the bow and stern. The midsection always consists of an odd number of frames – the central master frame, and equal numbers of identical frames fore and aft of it. The design can be readily made longer by the addition of more equal frames in the midbody with no changes to the ends, and made wider starting with a wider scrieve board but using the same mould form. Rules of thumb establish ratios between length, breadth, depth, and frame spacing, so the builder’s discretion to make changes is limited mainly to his choice of the mould form and number of frames.

Vattai construction drawing
Vattai construction drawing
Frames are built up from floor timbers and futtocks, which are assembled with “a complex dovetail joint” that “extends right through the turn of the bilge.” The vattai has no backbone, so apparently the frames are set up on the straight, flat bottom planking, which must be laid down first. Stem and sternpost are butted with a lap joint against the ends of the central bottom plank. The article states variously that the shapes of the very ends are determined by battens (ribbands) or by laid planking between the midbody frames and the end posts. Whichever is truly the case, these define the shapes of the three final pairs of half-frames at each end. Only in these final three sets of frames do the shapes of the vattai’s bow and stern differ. They are installed without floors, their lower ends overlapping fore-and-aft where they land on top of, or are notched onto, the stem and sternpost. (This detail can’t be determined from the drawing.)

I have been unable to find any other photos, descriptions or even references to the vattai through Google searches and would welcome additional input. There is much else I’d like to know, including:
  • whether the planks have a caulking bevel, and the materials (if any) used for caulking
  • the design process for the end profiles (i.e., whether the stem and sternpost shapes are determined by template or drawn by eye.) 
  • details of the rig and leeboards
  • details of usage: crew size, responsibilities, sailing procedures and performance

I would also much like to see additional photos. Google image searches for terms like “fishing boat Tamil Nadu” yield a number of stock photos of open fishing boats that do not appear much like the vattai (the distinctive bow shape is an easily-noticed identifying characteristic), and nothing else even close. Please communicate in the comments if you can add to the discussion.