Boat makers have been building wooden watercraft for thousands of years and despite the presence of modern materials such as rubber, plastic, fiberglass and aluminum, wood is still a popular choice for boats among traditional craftsmen and hobbyists. Propelled by sails, oars, paddles or motors, wooden boats still come in a wide variety of sizes and types.
Made from hollowed out tree trunks, dugouts are one of the earliest forms of boat. The oldest examples found by archaeologists date to the Stone Age. It is thought that the first dugouts were propelled through the water by hand. Dugouts have been made by several cultures in the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Pacific. Some cultures known to have used dugouts include the Vikings, the Maoris and American Indians. Dugouts can still be found in some areas.
Birch Bark Canoe
A wooden frame covered in the bark of the paper birch tree, birch bark canoes were an important means of transportation for American Indians in the northeastern United States and Canada. Algonquin birch bark canoes were relatively simple.They were made of large sheets of birch bark wrapped around a cedar frame held together with spruce roots. The seams were sealed with spruce gum. These lightweight canoes could be used to haul heavy cargo or several passengers. Built in 1956 by Matt Bernard, "Gitche-Cheemum", the largest birch bark canoe ever built, is displayed at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
While boats propelled by oars were once commonly used for both trade and warfare, today they are mostly used for recreation and racing. One of the oldest continuous competitions in the world is Doggett's Coat and Badge Rowing race, held in London every year since 1716. In a modern racing boat, oars are attached to arms to increase leverage. They are also positioned in an alternating pattern on either sides of the boat. The boat is propelled by crew members who use both hands to guide the oar through the water.
The dragon boat is a traditional form of boat developed in China thousands of years ago. The long, slim boats are driven forward by single bladed paddles. In ancient times dragon boats were used for a variety of religious and competitive purposes. The smallest dragon boats were called "Baby Dragons" and were designed for a crew of eight. The largest form carried 100. In modern dragon boat competitions the crew is limited to 22, including 20 paddlers, one drummer and one helmsman.
Adirondack guideboats developed in the Adirondack region of Upstate New York. Combining elements of the canoe and rowboat, guideboats were large enough to carry up to two people and their gear but small enough to be carried overland between lakes. Rowed with long oars rather than paddles, guideboats were used to carry freight, guide people on hunting and fishing trips and transport passengers. Larger versions, sometimes referred to as "church boats," were used to carry people to church on Sunday mornings.
- "The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea"; Dugout; 2006
- "The Sydney Morning Herald: Viking Era Dugout Boat Found in Norway
- TeAra The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: Waka Tau
- Algonquins of Pikwakanagan: Birch Bark Canoe
- International Dragon Boat Federation: What Are Dragon Boats
- Adirondack History Network: Guideboats
- Photo Credit Andreas Brandt/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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