Our display on the lake was an Evolution of Fabric Boats through the ages - an event which I had thought about the previous year, as a way of bringing exhibitors together in a co-ordinated fashion!
We also hijacked members of the Old Gaffers Association to fill boats and where some exhibitors were unable to participate, they kindly loaned us their boats – so thanks to: Rob of Northern Sound Birch Bark Canoes and Richard Best for his Greenland Kayak.
The display went really well, adding an unsual and hopefully informative element to the show. Here’s an insight into what is a fasinating piece of our history.
We look forward to seeing you at 2012’s event.By Simon and Ann Cooper – Salmon Boats.
Evolution of fabric and skin boats - Stone age to 16th century
Skin boats are one of the earliest types of craft built, made from locally sourced materials, using simple tools and the skills which were passed on through many generations, adapting design and build methods to suit local needs.
These skills, having stood the test of time, are still in existence
today. Woven round timber, such as hazel and withies, they were covered in
bovine animal hides then waterproofed with animal fats and resins.The smallest of these - the coracle - were
used throughout the British Isles, India, The Middle and Far Eastern countries,
as well as North America where they are known as ‘bull boats’.Larger craft, built using similar methods,
were capable of longer sea journeys - these included the curragh and the Inuit
Umiak, the latter being clad with seal or walrus skins.The Inuit kayak then developed for hunting;
made from scarce timber, driftwood or animal bones and covered in seal or split
The North America Indians peeled the bark from trees to make open canoes to paddle the lakes and rivers; their lightness enabled them to be portaged overland where necessary.
16th century to 1920’s
As cloth became easier to spin and weave an alternative cover became
available to the boat builder. Woven fibres such as hemp, flax and cotton,
waterproofed with resins or tars, started to appear in the 1700’s. Timber was
either sawn or cleaved which allowed finer boat lines to be developed. The
Irish Curragh, along with the coracle, are typical examples of hide covered
craft which adapted to the new coverings.
By the early 20th century the leisure canoe had become highly popular - influenced by Canadian canoe designs and the birch bark canoe. Canoes were often built with finely sawn timber, and covered with a painted canvas, creating a lighter craft than a fully planked boat.
1890’s to 1960’s
Increasing affluence in the western world and the desire to explore the great outdoors found canoeing becoming highly popular. Folding canoes packed for transport on trains or boats further encouraged the leisure explorer.
Skins made with a canvas, linen and rubber laminate were sewn to make the hull, stretched over ash frames. Up until the 1970’s canvas canoes were the choice of the homebuilder, sea cadets and scouts groups etc.
The users or owners of these craft, often having been involved in the building process, fully appreciated not only the materials used but also the necessary care and maintenance involved with a fabric boat and natural materials.Animal hides required regular drying and treatment to keep waterproof; tar and pitch could crack - but all of these could easily be repaired.
Boats were stored in the dry where possible and were lifted in and out of the water as opposed to being dragged over stony beaches.
The 1950’s saw a move away from natural materials to manmade fibres and resins leading to a revolution in all manufacturing as well as boat building.Exciting new products such as woven glass fibres, polyester fabrics and others enabled a range of rigid and flexible method semi industrialised boat building; distancing the boat owner from part of the process of owning such crafts.
With little care or maintenance necessary with many of the plastic type boats, new avenues opened up for many - such as white water canoeing and extreme sport canoeing.
The dawning of the 21st century has seen a drive towards the return of sustainable natural materials together with a desire to understand how and where products are made.In both industrial and marine construction the concept of replacing petrochemical based composites has already led to developments by boat builders using more natural fibres than manmade materials where possible and beneficial.
The concept of the FlaxlandBoats
The Flaxland coracle, canoe and kayaks in both design, build method and materials used in construction are a further evolution of the boat building process. Traditional materials, combined with 21st century technologies have enabled the novice and experienced boat builder or owner to further enhance their links with nature and an active life style.
The designs of the boats are replicated from lines drawn up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, using a combination of traditional build techniques.Recent developments in spinning and weaving, along with newly introduced plant based resins, enable the use of the flax plant to form the major part of the hull construction. Computer cut marine ply frames add accuracy and efficiency to material use.
Flax fibre and seed has been grown in the
The boats are suited to rivers, lakes and sheltered water and, like their natural predecessors, will give good service with proper care and use.Along with the good eco credentials in the materials used in construction, we have developed a build method having the least impact on the environment and the immediate surroundings in which the boat is built.