An initiative to revitalize and refine traditional Marshallese ship building skills is currently underway in the Marshall Islands . Look to these pages for more information in the near future.
The double canoe was never in use in the Marshall Islands -- nor generally in Micronesia : the typical fast sailing craft of this region had a double-ended hull with asymmetric sides and a sharp, very narrow, keel, passengers and goods being carried on a transverse platform. This led from the outrigger float and projected over the lee side of the hull. The crew sat as ballast on it, their number depending on the weather -- a gentle breeze being a One-man Wind and a strong blow needing four. The mast stays were fastened to two independent main booms and their pull ingeniously used to strengthen the attachment between the float and the auxiliary booms. Cargo could also be stowed in the hold but had to tolerate water since much was shipped and baling ceaseless.
The canoes of the past could reach a length of 100 feet and carry up to 40 people, with supplies for open-sea voyages that lasted well over a month since these large vessels, called walap, were not fast. The tipnol was smaller and speedier and used mainly for fishing inside the lagoons: it could still carry 10 or more and be serviceable for ocean voyaging. The korkor was a small paddling outrigger, sometimes fitted with sail, used for lagoon work. Sails were triangular and often extremely large, with a yard and boom on two sides.
Woven in matting strips from the strongest pandanus leaves, they were sewn together most securely. They were set with apex down; tacking was accomplished by reversing the boat, so to speak, the stays being hauled to slant the mast's forward lean in the other direction and the tack of the sail moved and lashed to the opposite end of the ship, all of which took place in less than a minute. Sail was shortened in squally weather by a spiller which raised the boom and reduced the total area.
The hulls were made of the breadfruit tree, the best wood available but far from ideal; the necessary dimensions were achieved by skillful edge-jointing and patching, by drilled holes and lashings made of coconut cordage.
Western contemporaries acknowledged the canoes as "remarkably handsome and well furnished ... our cabinet-makers do not polish the most costly furniture better." Captain Cook recognized their great speeds -- 12 knots, much more with racing craft -- and that they sailed considerably faster than his ship could. And a nineteenth century sailor left a vivid description of a trip:
"Up went the huge sail, down went the great steer oars and away we shot like a racehorse. The mast bent like a reed, and at the great rate at which we were going the sea was like a hissing cauldron on either side of our course."
For more information on Marshallese canoes, visit the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands ) website, click HERE