About CANOES OF OCEANIA by Haddon & Hornell

There is no doubt that “Canoes of Oceania” by A.C. Haddon and James Hornell, Volume I, II and III is the authoritative source on canoes having sailed across all islands of the Pacific Ocean , from Hawaii down to New-Zealand and from the Philippines to Easter Island.  The various canoes from Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia are described in minute details sometimes difficult to understand or visualize.

I really love to go into “Canoes of Oceania” in order to get an overall picture of the vessel in question.

But once I decide which canoe to replicate in a scale down version, the 2 volumes written by Jean Neyret in 1976  entitled PIROGUES OCEANIENNES provide a trove of extremely easy to understand descriptions and drawings about the hundreds of different type of canoes ever built across Oceania.

Whereby the writing by Haddon & Hornell is very academic, at least this is how I feel it to be,  the one by Jean Neyret is easy to read and nearly every construction detail is illustrated with  numerous drawings.

But it just occurred to me that not everybody is fluent in French because obviously PIROGUES OCEANIENNES is written in French and was never translated into English.  Say no more !

The 2 volumes by Jean Neyret are illustrated in the books section.

About Austronesian canoes

For the last few days I was reading the work “WANGKA The Austronesian Canoe Origins” written by Edwin Doran, Jr., with a foreword by Ben R, Finney.  While going over the pages I came across a line drawing of a typical Sulu Archipelago double outrigger.  The Sulu Archipelago is a chain of islands in the Southwestern Philippines that forms the northern limit of the Celebes Sea and which is predominantly Muslim.

For most Filipino a canoe, regardless of its type, is just a “banca”. But the Sulu double outriggers are of the type vinta nardi rigged with spritsails of exceptional beauty.  Further study of this particular type of vessel led me to discover, online, copies of 18th Century drawings of more than 280 different type of canoes, whether single or double outriggers, dugouts or double canoes distributed all along the South East Asia, from Taiwan to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, East Timor, the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia, Brunei, Java, Bali, Singapore, Orchid Island. That multitude of canoes and the familiar sight of their outriggers and floats, not mentioning common words used by the Tao of Orchid Island and Maori in New Zealand,  cannot but live you with the undeniable impression that the Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian have all their origin in South East Asia.

Sulu Canoe

Sulu Canoe

Over the last 20 years I did build up a large collection of books, archival papers and photos about Oceanic and Austronesian canoes but little did I expect to be able to add another 280 drawings . I cannot wait to replicate some of them, in particular the Sulu type canoe.

About Writing

Have not been writing much in the last 2 years and this for 2 reasons.

When you have been working hard the whole day, I mean physically, the mind , at the end of the day, is just not geared to sit down and write stuff, although I would want to talk about my work, the more so since I like what I am doing.

My day starts at 5.00 am. Checking emails, do paper work, do garden and yard work for about 2 hours starting sunrise, and after that work on some canoe models until 5.00 PM. The garden work is good physical exercise, I really love it. Some, who may watch me carving or sanding a larger canoe hull will say that this looks very physical as well, that it is hard work. But it is a different kind of physical activity, monotonous, standing or sitting at the same place for hours , the arm going back and forth, the fingers holding the carving tools or clenching sandpaper. After a few minutes of this I always need a brief stoppage. At the end of the day, the shoulders are hurting, the fingers are somewhat stiff , the mind and body ready to relax.

Another reason is a kind of incertitude regarding my written English, I always feel not being very good at it, making grammatical errors that will make me look silly. But isn’t it that what we have to say is more important than some stupid grammatical errors? Suffice is to say that English is not my mother tongue. I speak and write fluent French and German which is more than  what most people can do, so I hope I will be forgiven to sometimes fracture grammatical rules.

Honoliuliu Trail

A day up the Honoliuliu trail  along the Waianae mountains with my brother-in-law Ralph Morelli, computer science professor at Trinity College, CT, and author of Java, Java, Java, Object-Orientated Problem solving, and Duane B. former researcher, Dept. of Tropical Plant and  Soil science, University of Hawaii at Manoa and myself.

Honoliuliu Trail

Honoliuliu Trail

The most common trees along that trail are species of Eucalyptus, a lot of Silky Oak, also called Lacewood, and curiously enough a few Bunya Bunya trees, a conifer species closely allied to pines, redwoods and other primitive trees. Queensland, Australia, is the tree native land.  Once prized in Hawaii, its wood was used for ships masts and spars.

Asmat Mask

I do not believe in gambling or in the stock market…well maybe yes if I would have money to burn. But I truly believe that there are treasures out there for one to scoop up, provided one is knowledgeable in the field in question, and keeps his eyes and ears wide open.

In my time studying the canoes of Oceania I also gain knowledge about the culture and traditions of the people building those vessels.

So when visiting an antique shop on Oahu a few days ago my eyes were immediately attracted by a dark stained wooden mask lying on a chair. I took the mask in my hands and realized immediately that this is an old mask, and not a contemporary sculpted one.

Old Asmat Ceremonial Mask, Papua New Guinea

Old Asmat Ceremonial Mask, Papua New Guinea

I asked how much? Well, I’ll give it to you for $20.00 said the shop keeper. I handed her the money.

I knew of course that the mask in question is an old Sepic ceremonial mask dating to 1930-40, and therefore extremely valuable. The Asmat tribe is notorious for head-hunting, residing in West-Papua (Irian Jaya).

The Asmat people are considered the best wood carver of the stone age, creating intricately carved canoes, including model canoes that they offer to their ancestors. Important collections of Asmat Art are located at the Ethnographic Museum of Heidelberg, Basel and Neufchatel.


It happens frequently, when surfing online about canoes, amongst others Hawaiian voyaging, surfing or racing canoes, that I come across websites using the picture of one of my earlier Hokule’a model as an attention getter. 

Some companies or webmasters asked permission to publish that picture on their site, others did not.

This scale model of the Hokule’a is one of my creations and it belongs to a private collection .

I am not aware that it is for sale at any art galleries on the islands of Hawaii.     

Back on the “block”

Was it writers block or busy doing other things? I believe it’s a bit of both. Anyway I am back on the block after a sabbatical lasting a few months. I really like this word “sabbatical” as it translates with “Forshungsurlaub” in German, which really means a vacation of studies and research! Well, this is exactly what I have been up to ever since bailing out the water from my flooded workshop.

Never short of work been commissioned to build model canoes of Oceania, I also spent much time and effort building up my photo albums on Flickr and Picasa. Most recent photos do illustrate 2 very beautiful surfing canoes and a Samoan one man fishing canoe been auctioned at Niketown in Waikiki.

The Hawaiian canoes were quite old, carved out of Koa tree logs.

Need a workout?

If living in Hawaii is a dream for many, dealing with flash floods and landslides is not what most people think about our islands.

It all happened very fast, just a few days ago on December 11th at 5.30 AM.

The heavens opened up to torrential rain causing extensive flash flooding and a landslide just on top of my property.  Within minutes a river of mud, rocks and other detritus run into my sloppy backyard and towards my front gate. I did not realize that the mud and branches will get stuck at the gate and therefore stop the proper flow of the mud and water. The water level rose so fast that in no time it runs into my workshop, flooding machinery, lumber, templates etc.

Towards 10.00 PM the rain stopped and it is only than that the extend of the damage caused by the flash flood became apparent to me. My yard was filled with 2 feet of mud.

My pick-up truck was stuck in the mud, so was another car, my drive-way was busted and the roots of a gigantic Albizia tree were laid bare.

First thing first, I immediately started to pump out the one foot of water that had flooded my workshop and installed fans and heaters to dry some motors . But clearing the mud and rocks will take days. I guess that at the rate of 2 hours a day this will be a good and cost free workout. Want to join ?

Flooded table saw, planer etc.

Flooded table saw, planer etc.

Sail away

What happen with my 28″ Hawaiian double hull voyaging canoe you may ask ? 

Well I had to make a new sail and finished the rigging by August.. A few days later the canoe was sold and sailing, or rather shipped, to a collector on the mainland. And here I am again, thinking about a more efficient, more hydrodynamic racing canoe..

Days 3 to 12

Ten days have gone by since writing my last post. The building of the 28 inch double hull canoe I had designed a few days ago was finished yesterday August 2nd with the rigging being the remaining task to be done.

I was near to mount the sail today would it not have been for a moment of inattention.

Indeed I had spend several hours crafting the sail when, within a fraction of a second everything went to waste. In wanting to clean the sail I somehow lifted one corner of it to fast and it broke. That was the end of that. I will have to make a new sail tomorrow.

Otherwise I am very satisfied with the canoe. I used highly figured Koa for the bow and stern tops as well as for the stacked up rims.

Day 3

The entire day I was occupied in finishing a Solomon Island war canoe, the famous “Tomako” used to go hunting for ‘heads”. But this model has been commissioned to serve as a gift to be offered to a famous author about Pacific history and culture. I am posting here a picture of the prow ornaments of the canoe but further details can be seen in my Hawaiiancanoes Flickr album. I have a special liking for the Solomon Islands canoes.

Indeed I find them to be some of the most gracious canoes ever built in the South Pacific. Ingeniously plank built, rather than carved, the prow and stern of those war canoes are exceptionally tall and beautifully decorated with shells and feathers, as well as with the famous nguzu-nguzu figure. Another type of canoe very similar to the Tomako, and plank built as well, is the Filipino banca (boat) from Lake Taal.

If their hull shape and impressive prow and stern looks very much alike the Tomaka, they differ however in that the Tomako has no beams and floats whereby the Filipino banca is invariably equipped with a set of 2 double outriggers, sometimes 3 for the larger bancas. And again, there is a further type of canoe whose hull shape and construction is remarkably similar to the two previous ones, and this is the Perahu katir from Java.

After spending most of the day on the Tomako model, I hurried to draw the lines for the 2 hulls of the voyaging canoe as viewed from top. Without that set of line drawings I would not be able to calculate the height of the beams nor have a proper idea regarding the shape and width of the beams.

My double hull sailing canoe

Its one of those days again when I get impatient to make something different, and it does not really matter whether it is a Hawaiian or any other type of canoe or ship, but simply one that is not alike the canoe models I made in the last few months and which invites to be imaginative and creative to build it.

This process mostly starts in the middle of the night. I wake up and pictures start forming in my mind. I see the lines of the boat or canoe, I can visualize its beauty. I go through the mental process of building or carving the model, piece by piece, step by step but fully aware that things are easier done in one’s imagination than in reality. And it’s with this in mind that I try to foresee the difficulties in wanting to build this or that model and figure out solutions to resolve them.

The entire visualization process will stay fresh in my mind for days and I put some of those mental pictures onto paper today by drawing the lines of that Hawaiian sailing canoe that kept me awake for a couple of hours in the middle of last night.

Hawaiian Canoes on Flickr

I will never forget this very sunny day of May 13th 1995, en route from Mililani to Honolulu to visit the various Pacific Rim canoes that were meeting on Oahu and mooring on Pier 36, also called The Keehi canoe lagoon.

It was an exciting day as I was very conscious that such a gathering of various type voyaging canoes in one single place may not happen that soon again, maybe for the duration of an entire generation.

I felt that there was a unique occasion to take photos of all those canoes, in particular to take pictures of the construction, lashing and rigging of each one of them so that when the time comes that a next generation or group of people wants to build the same type of canoes, they will not again have to figure out how those vessels were built and assembled. Indeed, some of those proud canoes will end up bowing their prow on a sandy beach and slowly go to waste in the burning sun of the Pacific. All that will be left is some photographic documentation of their construction and ensuing epic voyages across and beyond the Polynesian Triangle.

I remember meeting Ben Finney at the Pier, in my eyes the real hero of that fascinating story called “HOKULE’A”. Ben Finney’s book “Hokule’a, the way to Tahiti” was the inspiration for my very first scale model of the double hulled voyaging canoe. Ben explained to me the origin and signification of the prow ornaments on the Te’Aurere canoe while I was taking pictures of it. Crew members of the Hawai’iloa invited me on deck and let me take pictures and measurements, while others, on the Makali’I took down the mast.

I shot 6 rolls of film negatives that day and when I came home placed them all into a box with the intention to have it developed within a few days. Days became months and month’s years. Some 13 years later I finally had those negatives developed and their photos are now on Flickr for everybody to see and study.

Writer's block

A famous author said that having a writer’s block is either when one is thinking to much of himself or when having nothing to say about oneself!

My reason for not writing here, lately, had more to do with what was happening on the political front of our country. You see, having to make a living during day time, I could not wait to sit in front of the TV at the end of each day to listen to what all those political pundits and so called experts had to say about some politicians and other political pundits and experts. Actually I have to admit I let myself be indoctrinated, brain washed, lied to, made to hope, to curse, clap my hands, stand up and cheer, and so, no wonder I very quickly ended up with a total writer’s block, feels like a kind of a hangover by the way, unable to even write a check to cover the gas bill...

The party is half way over…and the big mesmerizing speeches are already part of history. Its time to resume my work and write my own humble little stories.

Day four and sail away..

Of course I always feel great satisfaction once I put the last touch on a model, but I am also very critical of my work. Maybe not noticeable to the layman, but I am unhappy with the width of the masts. They are not exactly to scale. Also, some of the rigging is not sufficiently stretched. To much pull on one side and it will hang loose on the other side, so I start to tighten the loose cordage only to loosen up the opposite rigging. The rigging is a real pain on such a small model and it takes hours and a ton of patience to do it. I sometimes wonder how I can do this nitty gritty stuff with my “carpenter” type hands.

Tomorrow the model will be crated, together with its base and showcase, and shipped to Maui.

Day 3

After my third day of working on this model, the deck and the mast steps were placed and I started to mount the railings. When ever it may enhance the beauty of a model, I like to use different type of exotic and indigenous color coordinated species of wood to build my canoes. So for example on this small Hokulea the deck is made out of curly Koa and curly Primavera, Noni for the railings and Macadamia for the big water guard, Tamarind for the manus.

Bart's saw mill

Once upon a time there was a beautiful, although unkept , nursery right behind the white fence you see in the enclosed picture. Actually there was no fence those days, alongside H2 freeway, only those Koa Formosa trees. Various species of palm trees and some indigenous plants used to grow in this nursery. Wild boars loved to roam and forage in it, not for palm tree roots or seeds, but for the many passion fruits that grew around the vinery. Behind the houses that are there now used to be Bart P. sawmill and I vividly remember the many logs of Eucalyptus Robusta Bart used to store and mill at this place. The sawmill has gone and so the passion fruits. The boars made space for the people to move in but they are not gone, I can still spot them, sometimes 6 to 8 at a time, foraging for fallen mango fruits.

Connecting the hulls

Day 2 of making the small 12″ Hokulea model. Certainly the most tricky and time consuming step in building this small model is connecting the 2 carved hulls with their wimsy small beams at their precise intervalles. Honestly I hate to do it. One would need kids hands, everything is so small and pieces tend to fly away at the slightest interference. But once all this is done, its time to place the gunnels and the hull to hull spreaders. After that its plain sailing so to speak although I still need to assemble or place more than 100 little components to call it Hokulea, and each little individual component needs to be cut, shaped, sanded and lacquered before it can be place on the model.