Mega-canoes Polynesian voyagers sailed the Pacific Ocean in canoes averaging 50-75 feet long. A Tongan double canoe could hold as many as 100. –worldhistory.org
You read it first in this week’s The Factory in Guide magazine.
Have you ever been out on a lake in a canoe and a speedboat passes by? It can get a little scary when the waves start coming and you get close to tipping over, especially if you don’t feel like getting soaked. Now imagine you were out at sea where the waves are much bigger and more constant. That would be terrifying, don’t you think?! With our little canoes, maybe it would be, but back in the 15th-13th centuries BC when humans were said to have first settled in the Oceanic Region, the Polynesian sailors weren’t too worried. Especially since their canoes were a lot bigger and specifically built for oceanic travel.
Because the Polynesian settlers didn’t have access to the modern metals that we do today, their canoes had to be made with other materials. They had to use what was available to them. That meant that their canoes were most often made out of tall tree trunks, possibly from the breadfruit tree, one of the “canoe plants” also known as ulu. Sap from this tree could also be used as caulking to help with waterproofing. The lashings used to help stabilize and secure the craft and its components would be made of twisted coconut husks or other braided sennit to form sturdy ropes.
Some of the historical Polynesian canoes are very different from the typical canoe design that we think of today. While there were designs for single-hulled canoes, they almost always had an outrigger attached to help with stability out on the rough waves. Other designs were for double-hulled canoes which could be built to be a lot bigger than its single-hulled counterparts. Some of the longest double-hulled canoes recorded were said to have been anywhere from 70 to 110 feet long and could hold up to 100 or more people. For reference, 70 feet would be about half the height of the Statue of Liberty without her pedestal. That’s a pretty big boat!
While these canoes did have paddles as their primary mode of power, sails were also used to propel them in the right direction. These sails were often made of woven pandanus leaves and secured to the booms (spars) and mast with lashings. A common design for these sails was known as the “Crab Claw,” a triangular shaped sail mounted on straight spars. It was said that these canoes could move quite quickly in the water, and were easily able to overtake Explorer James Cook’s ship, the HMS Endeavor. (Cook, A Journal of the Proceedings…)
Made for oceanic travel, these canoes were constructed to endure the harsh wind and waves of tropical storms. These vessels were used for a variety of reasons: fishing, transportation of passengers and cargo, exploration of neighboring islands, recreational endeavors, and sometimes even war.
This reminds me of another boat that had to endure rough, stormy waters. God had Noah build a big ark out of cypress wood, a very strong and durable material that would be able to withstand the crashing waves. He also had Noah cover the ark with pitch inside and out to keep it waterproof. God protected Noah and his family from the flood and all the animals on board as well. To read about the story of Noah, check out Genesis chapters 6-9.
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