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March 02, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Lashing the booms to the float

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood
Part 3: Roughing out the hull
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
Part 5: Stitch and glue
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms
Part 8: Cordage

Part 9: Lashing the booms to the hull

 

1LashedcanoeThe hull, booms, and outrigger lashed together. I have added bamboo platforms on either side, for sitting out. At this stage, I was using commercial nylon rope for all the lashing.

Lashing the outrigger (ama or float) to the booms (‘iako) has a great deal of variations depending on the style of canoe. So much so, in fact, that when the authors of Canoes of Oceania began their study, the goal was to understanding just this facet of outrigger canoe design.

2 Hawaiian canoe at the museum
The nice, curved ‘iako of a Hawaiian canoe are typically made from hao. This canoe was built for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

For the Hawaiian canoe, the booms are curved downward to meet the ama near the water level. A peg is driven through each boom into the float, and then lashed. As you can see below, it’s pretty simple, using figure-eight lashing over and around the peg, then choking it and tying it off.

Carolinian-style canoes, on the other hand, have a complicated lashing system using Y-shaped sticks stuck into the float. The ama is much shorter, and the system of booms more complex, allowing the canoe to hold a platform for transporting goods. 

Lashing types
Lashing the 'iako to the ama. Upper left: A peg fixed into the ama allows for tight, secure lashing that won't slip. Upper right: Lashing on a Carolinian canoe, with the complex of pieces and holes through the ama itself. Lower: A Palauan canoe at the Etpison Museum in Koror shows a similar, elegant method for attaching the outrigger.

The canoe I am building, Wharram’s Melanesia design, uses a third method found around the Pacific, including in . . . Melanesia. It involves four sticks for each boom, bored into the outrigger at different angles and lashed to the ends of the booms. That the sticks are at different angles is supposed to provide the tension that keeps them from popping out. Variations on this method can be found all over the Pacific.

4 Fijian canoe at the Bishop
A Fijian canoe at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, showing a method similar to Wharram's.

I started out using commercial nylon rope, as seen in these photos, but then decided I wanted my canoe to look as traditional as possible. At the same time, I want it to be safe and functional. And I don’t have access to a lot of coconut sennit. So I used manila rope from the hardware store, which is the next best choice. Compared to the synthetic ropes used on today’s sailboats, manila rope is rough, less durable, and far less strong, but like sennit, it tends to swell up a bit when wet. I used it for lashing the booms to the outrigger, but not for lashing the booms to the hull. For that last part, I used a thinner synthetic rope that is strong, light, and easy to tie and untie. Wharram’s plans for this canoe didn’t include holes big enough for a larger, natural-fiber rope, so I needed something smaller, yet strong. 

Now the outrigger is a different story. The end of each boom sits in the top of two pairs of Xs formed by the crossed sticks. Then you lash over the top of each X and it holds the boom down. As I mentioned, the tension caused by the different angles of the four sticks is supposed to make them all stay put. Well, there I was out on the Chesapeake Bay in high winds when I noticed some of them had come out! If the entire outrigger fell off, I was done for. The hull will not stay upright without it. So I headed quickly back to shore, and reconsidered.

5 Xs
Left: I keep these Xs lashed together, even when they are not on the canoe. Saves one step in the whole lashing process. Right: The Xs, showing how they are at different angles. Here they are loosely lashed for demonstration purposes.

I thought about those Carolinian canoes in Micronesia, where the much smaller outrigger was attached by “sticks” (Y-shaped), but there were also holes that went through the outrigger itself to tie it securely to the booms. Not around and under the outrigger, because that would add drag. So I drilled holes through my own outrigger and lashed through those in addition to the lashing on the sticks. Now that I have ropes going through the outrigger and up and around each of the three booms, I feel oh-so-much more confident! That ama is on snug and tight. It has never since shown any sign of coming loose. A bit more work, but I think it looks pretty neat too!

6 Xs lashed through the outrigger
Note the rope going through the outrigger float itself, then up over the top of the boom. These pull the two tight together, so that even if the sticks of the Xs come loose, they will not come out.

Now you see lots and lots of lashing at the tops of the Xs (above right). This is because I had a handful of spare sections of manila rope left over from my first attempt at rigging this boat, and decided to use them for the lashing. They were significantly longer than needed, but I hate to cut ropes (or can’t be bothered to re-whip them) so I decided to make these decorative in their lashing. A bit over-the-top, but what the heck? Perhaps next summer I will reconsider. In another post, I will tell a story of how sturdy my new system proved to be.

Whipping rope? You’ve probably experienced the problem with any twisted rope—or even string—that when you cut it, the ends start to unravel. To stop this, you can “whip” the rope.

7 How to whip rope
Cut rope wants to untwist. “Whipping” the end with waxed thread stops this from happening.

This is an easy technique that I learned by chance on YouTube one day. Using two to three feet of waxed thread (you can buy waxed “whipping thread” at boating supply stores), you make a half loop and lay it against the end of the rope, the top of the loop away from the cut rope end and the tail of the loop extended a few inches beyond the cut end of the rope.

8 Whipping a cord
I have laid a loop of thread about an inch and a half along the rope. I will wrap for about an inch, leaving a nice big loop to stick the end of the thread through. I'm wrapping as tightly as possible and trying to keep it even. I’ve finished wrapping, and am about to stick the end of the thread through the loop. With one end of the thread through the loop, I pull the other end, bringing the loop (and the end of the thread) down tight behind all the wraps. Cut off the excess and you’re done!

Then, starting at the cut end of the rope (some people say the loop should be towards the cut end instead, but whatever), you wrap this thread tightly around, working your way towards the loop. When you have maybe a good inch wrapped like this, you put the thread through the loop and pull it tight. Then you grab the tail of the loop and pull the loop (and with it, the other end of the thread) through, under the coils you just wrapped. Voila! Cut off the excess threads, and your rope is whipped! For this project, I had to whip a lot of ends of ropes and got pretty efficient at it. It really doesn’t take long at all.

Next installment? Making and rigging the sail. 

Douglas Herman, NMAI


Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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