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The Maori Canoe

Canoes of the Ladrones

Canoes of the Ladrones

The swift proa or canoes of the Ladrones were described by Dampier as seen by him in 1686:—

The natives are very ingenious beyond any people in making Boats, or Proes, as they are called in the East Indies, and therein they take delight. These are built sharp at both ends; the bottom is of one piece, made like the bottom of a little Canoa [canoe], very neatly dug, and left of a good substance. This bottom part is instead of a keel. It is about twenty-six or twenty-eight foot long; the under part of this keel is made round, but inclining to a wedge and smooth, and the upper part is almost flat, having a very gentle hollow, and is about a foot broad. From hence both sides of the Boat are carried up to about five foot high with narrow plank, not above four or five inches broad, and each end of the Boat turns up round, very prettily. But what is very singular, one side of the Boat is made perpendicular, like a Wall, while the other side is rounding, made as other Vessels are, with a pretty full belly. Just in the middle it is about four or five foot broad aloft, or more, according to the length of the Boat. The Mast stands exactly in the middle with a long Yard that peeps up and down like a Mizen-yard. One end of it reacheth down to the end or head of the Boat, where it is placed in a notch that is made there purposely to receive it and keep it fast. The other end hangs over the stern. To this yard the sail is fastened. At the foot of the sail there is another small yard, to keep the sail out square, and to roll up the sail on when it blows hard: for it serves instead of a reef to take up the sail to what degree they please, according to the strength of the Wind. Along the belly-side of the Boat, parallel with it, at about six or seven foot distance, lies another small Boat, or Canoa, being a Log of very light Wood, almost as long as the great Boat, but not so wide, being not above a foot and an half wide at the upper part, and very sharp like a wedge at each end. And there are two Bamboos of about eight or ten foot long, and as big as one's Leg, placed over the great Boats side, one near each end of it, and reaching about six or seven foot from the side of the Boat, by the help of which the little Boat is made firm and contiguous to the other…. The use of them is to keep the great Boat upright from oversetting, because the Wind being in a manner constantly East, and the Range of these Islands, where their business lies to and fro, being mostly North and South, they turn the flat side of the Boat against the Wind upon which they sail, and the belly-side, consequently, with its little Boat, is upon the Lee, and the Vessel page 374having a Head at each end, so as to sail with either of them foremost, indifferently, they need not tack, or go about, as all our Vessels do, but each end of the Boat serves either for head or stern as they please. When they ply to windward, and are minded to go about, he that steers bears away a little from the Wind, by which means the stern comes to the Wind, which is now become the head, only by shifting the end of the yard. This Boat is steered with a broad Paddle instead of a Rudder.

I have been the more particular in describing these Boats, because I do believe they sail the best of any Boats in the World. I did here for my own satisfaction try the swiftness of one of them; sailing by our Log, we had twelve knots on our reel, and she run it all out before the half-minute glass was half out; which, if it had been no more, is after the rate of twelve mile an hour; but I do believe she would have run twenty-four mile an hour.

The native Indians are not less dexterous in managing than in building these Boats. By reports, they will go from hence to another of the Ladrones Islands, about thirty leagues off, and there do their business, and return again in less than twelve hours. I was told that one of these Boats was sent Express to Manila, which is above 400 leagues [about 480 leagues, says Burney], and performed the Voyage in four days' time.

There are of these Proes, or Boats, used in many places of the East Indies, but with a Belly, and a little Boat on each side.

According to the above writer, these Ladrone craft had their sides built up with a series of narrow planks, and not with one wide one. The practice of reducing sail in a high wind here described does not seem to have been known in Polynesia, where, as in New Zealand, a sail of the ra kautu type could only be used in its entirety. "They turn the flat side of the boat against the wind" seems to be a reversal of the usual mode, and is possibly an error. These are said to be the swiftest sailing-craft in the world.

In the account of Magellan's sojourn at the Ladrones in 1521 occurs the following remarks on canoes seen there: "Their canoes had lateen sails (in shape resembling a shoulder of mutton) and each had an outrigger—i.e., a light boom or pole running in the water parallel to the canoe—with which it is connected, and preserved in its parallel position by transverse small poles securely fastened to each. The outrigger, by its weight and buoyancy, keeps steady the canoe, which, being a vessel of light and narrow construction, would, without such support, be in constant danger of oversetting. The canoes of these islanders were built alike at both ends, which enabled them to go with either foremost; and they sailed with great swiftness. They were variously and fancifully painted, and the largest that came off would not carry more than ten men."

Canoes of Guam illustrated in D'Urville's Voyage show an outrigger very nearly as long as the canoe, with which it is directly connected by means of two curved booms.