The Deck

Once again I was thinking about those well cut planks of wood covering the deck of ancient voyaging canoes. At least this is what it seems to be when looking at some paintings, especially those by Herb Kane. I already stated in a prior comment that I strongly believe that the Polynesian people were capable to cut planks, or at least to have knowledge of species of wood that can be easily split with the help of wedges in order to make planks. Lets have a quick look at an ancient Hawaiian fishing canoe: there is the hull which is carved out of a tree log, than there are the two tops or manus, often carved out from the foot of the Ahakea tree, than we have the outriggers for which Hau was the ideal flexible wood ; for the ama or float wili wili was used for its buoyancy, but the canoe would not be seaworthy without the addition of rims or gunwales to the top of the hull, and see here, those are the only parts of the canoe that are actually planks of wood cut out from the Ahakea tree, which is a wood that splits very easily.

The Ahakea is a fairly short tree, reaching a maximum height of 30 to 35 feet. There is no doubt in my mind that the Polynesians, or for that matter all the people of Oceania not only had a profound knowledge of their environment but also knew how to use it to their advantage with the least of efforts. If in today’s world we equip ourselves with a multitude of tools to fashion a little bench or mount a shelve, it was nature which provided the necessary material to the Oceanic people to build canoes using only an adze, sennit, and their knowledge of the flora of their islands.

Now having said that, how could they fashion 80 to 90 feet long planks ? What species of wood could they have been using that splits easily along its grain ? Would there have been a tree of that size available on the Marquesas ? To my knowledge, the Albizia lebbeck was and still is the tallest tree available on those islands but not really suitable for the making of planks.

So my question is whether the deck of those long ocean going voyaging canoes were covered with 80 to 90 feet long planks, and if yes what kind of tree would they have been using for this? Could it be that the deck was made with another material, or by adding length of planks until all the beams were covered ? I truly can’t believe in the latter as it would have made any double hull canoe extremely dangerous to sail.