Its a long time I have not done a 12 inch scale model of the Hokulea and I feel a bit anxious to get on with it. But like always when dealing with a new model or one that I have not done for a while, I need to dig out plans or have new ones made, dig out templates, scale down sizes, check the lines, select the woods I will be using etc, basically spend an entire day getting stuff together and than finally, the following day, a small model of the Hokulea is in the making starting with 2 small pieces of Koa.
The Kiawe tree.
Kiawe trees are descended from a single tree planted in 1828 at a corner of a church in Honolulu. By 1840, thanks to the seeds collected from that first tree, progeny of the tree had become the principal shade trees of Honolulu and were already spreading to dry, leeward plains of all islands.
In Hawaii, Kiawe is most common on leeward costal areas but it some locations, however, it can be found at 900 feet elevation.
Kiawe, for most Hawaiian, is synonymous with barbecue chicken, ono grilled food, as it is mostly used as fuel. Its wood is dark brown, extremely dense, with a beautiful polish.
If there are many Kiawe trees along the leeward side of Oahu, there is only one, to my knowledge, along Kamehameha highway all the way from Haleiwa down to Pear Harbor, and it’s a 20 foot high tree located near the bridge crossing Waikalaloa stream near Waikalani Drive. I can’t explain why, but I feel much attached to that tree and would hate it if ever somebody would cut it. Somehow that tree symbolizes the urbanization of central Oahu and he stays there like the last stand before the backhoe and front end loaders move in.
Move in they did, but not to build houses, rather to build berms along that stretch of the road. And like a bird that shall not fly away, they cut the nicest branches of that sole kiawe tree for it not to hang over the highway. Some other rather interesting trees grow around that area, namely some Pomelo trees bearing extremely beautifully shaped and colorful fruits as well as many coffee trees.
Every Frenchman would immediately visualize a multitude of pictures associated with those 3 words; la vie d’artiste.
Lets see; Monet in his black robe… the sunflower painting by Van Gogh… lavender fields.. the game of the petanque… Absinthe… les cafes de Paris.. Place Montmartre… Quartier Latin… Pigalle … Honfleur.. Deauville… Gauguin..Tahiti and many others.
But what it really means is the artist’s life, whether poets, painter, musicians, actors etc and his lust for love, life and art. It also illustrates somebody who is in charge of his life, free to go play golf or hike up Haleakala when ever it pleases him, free to be able to lay down his pencil or tool and “talk story” when been visited, free to work or have a lazy day, c’est ca la vie d’artiste.
Oceanic people fabricated very strong and durable cordage with the fiber of coconut husk, also called the coir. Strands of coir were removed from coconut husks than soaked, beaten, sorted out and separated into strands of different lengths or characteristics. Then, to obtain strands of a desired thickness, several fibers were rolled together either by hand or by rubbing it against the tight or against the palm of the foot, adding additional fibers in the process. Once enough strands in hand they were then braided, always by hand of course, into cords of desired length and strength. Sennit is still produced in relative quantity in some Austral Islands , to be used for the fabrication of local crafts and also to lash or rig real size or model canoes.
The leaf base of the coconut palm is made up of very fine and long fibers and those were used for the fabrication of baskets and even clothes. A very fine example of such a palm leaf base is illustrated hereby. I found it lying on the street and wondered how many local people and visitors to these islands know what the ancient Polynesians were capable of doing with those beautiful strands of fibers. The color of those dried fibers is a beautiful red brick color.
I have often been asked where I get my wood from to make my canoes. One would think that I must be a good customer of the few lumberyards we do have on Oahu or that I must be flying to the Big Island to get my Koa. Well, to be honest, its none of those. Yes, I do buy some veneer on E-bay from time to time, but for the rest nature supplies me most of the wood I need, and this for free. Now if woodworking is your hobby and you wonder where could you could get that ivory looking Tamarind or the golden Jackfruit wood for free, all you need to do is to follow the noise of the chainsaw and find out what kind tree somebody is cutting. You will be surprised how fast you will end up with a huge pile of wood. Here are the wood species I got this way in the last 2 weeks: Koa acacia, Koa formosa, Jack Aranda, Jackfruit, Monkeypod, beautiful wood that would have found its way into the shredder would I not have followed the sound of the chainsaw.
My close friend Keith C. from Guernsey, Channel Islands, told me one day that a good way to avoid being asked to many questions about one’s profession or business is simply to tell people that I am a truck driver and that this is what I do for a living.. Here in Hawaii I have taken habit of saying “I am a woodworker” interesting… Because you see when I say what I am really doing I am afraid to put most people into the embarrassing situation of either having to false praise me for what they think are well made toys, or be at a loss of words when I mention to them the price of those so called toys. Many understand that it takes hours, days, weeks or months to make those canoe models, and few realize that it requires in depth knowledge of the craft or canoe in order to be able to execute a scale model of it. Somehow I feel uneasy talking about my work and prefer the “work” to talk on my behalf. You see, this way I do not inconvenience those who are not interested in canoe models, while still leaving it to admirers and collectors to take pleasure in it. I am just a woodworker whose work will talk well beyond me writing this blog
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.
My first comment regarding this canoe dates back 12/5/07 and when writing it I really thought to have the canoe finished by the following day.
I should have known better. Indeed it took me a few more days to finish the sail and rig the canoe. Has it ever happened to you that you visualize this or that project you intend to do and in your mind things look pretty easy ? Like changing a faucet…piece of cake…or the door lock. no sweat…and you find yourself battling with tape measurer, screw drivers and chasing a ton of other tools and appliances down the nearest hardware store over a few hours, even days? Well, I may have all the tools necessary to build ship and canoe models, and still it took me another 5 days to finish the darn canoe. The trouble started when having to lash the counterweight boom to the hull. When making a model, assembling steps have to be done in a very chronological way. If not, one will loose enormous amount of time working around things were space to use tools is at a premium ! I had also forgotten to install the mast step prior to lash down the beams. Also, the rigging of the sail was much more difficult than what I had imagined. All those difficulties added up and it took me 5 more days to finish the model. I was very happy with the end result but would not like to do a similar model. It will stay one of a kind.
After the sunshine, the rain. In all my many years living in Hawaii, this is the first time, and I admit this readily, that I got scared. It all happened overnight, towards 3.00 AM. The wind suddenly picked up, doors started slamming, gusts of wind rolled down the valley like a thunder, whistling through the palm trees and our big albizia back in the yard. I could hear branches snapping off, empty buckets flying around the yard, and sheets of water falling from the black sky. The house was shaking. Blackout……
Where’s the flashlight, the emergency box. It was not the wind that scared me, or the thunder or lightning’s. But the visualization of this 110 foot albizia tree toppling over and falling over our house. It’s only a few days ago that I witnessed another albizia tree been uprooted by strong winds. The storm receded towards 4. 00 AM but the fright it created so suddenly would not let me go to sleep again until daylight, and when daylight came, things had moved, other things had come down and the entire valley looked like having been stricken by a hurricane. It became another long day in paradise without power, internet connection and what not.