Condition Assessment of Micronesian Canoe

To: Habele Outer Island Education Fund
From: Geoffrey Chambers
Date of Assessment: Friday, April 7, 2017 at 4:00 PM
Location of Assessment: Edisto Island, South Carolina

Abstract and Summary of Conclusions:

This is a condition assessment of a donated 11.5 foot long outrigger canoe built by Larry Raigetal and the Waa'gey Organization of Lamotrek Atoll. The canoe is a solid and well-made vessel of tropical hardwood construction. The canoe is currently in good condition and stored disassembled in a shipping crate. Minor repair of cosmetic outrigger grain separation should be considered prior to assembly. All parts are present for assembly and are structurally sound. The canoe and parts show no evidence of rot or significant deterioration and the paint is in good condition. Authentic coconut hair line was provided for lashing in the assembly of the canoe. Expert assistance is needed for assembly with the coconut hair line because there is insufficient coconut hair line to make mistakes in assembly and / or lashing.

Background and Objectives:
Habele is a non-profit organization benefiting education and cultural preservation in the outer islands of Micronesia. Habele and Burnie Maybank organized the importation of a Micronesian paddling canoe to the United States. The canoe is currently in a shipping container on Edisto Island.

The Habele canoe was shipped to Edisto Island in the fall of 2015 and has been stored in a plywood shipping container at Edisto Island for approximately 18 months. The objective of this assessment is to determine the current condition of the canoe and assets, expertise and materials necessary to assemble the canoe.

Basic Canoe description: 
This is a small paddling canoe with an outrigger. It does not have a sail rig. The canoe was built by Larry Raigetal of Lamotrek Atoll. The main hull of the canoe is approximately 11.5 feet long, 2 feet wide and 1.5 feet from keel to gunnel. The canoe has a single outrigger. The terms familiar to the author of this report regarding parts of an outrigger canoe are vaca (main hull), ama (outrigger float or outrigger hull) and aka (the cross beam connecting the main hull to the outrigger hull). The terms vaca, ama and aka may not be correct terms for a Micronesian canoe. The author requests correction should different terms be appropriate for a vessel from Micronesia.

Construction of the canoe is very high quality and utilized mahogany and other tropical hardwoods.
This particular canoe design has two akas connecting the ama to the main hull of the canoe. The akas are spaced approximately 1.5 feet apart and attach to the ama using lashing and forked wood fittings.

Overall Condition of Canoe:
The overall condition of the canoe was very good. It was stored in a shipping container with all parts needed for assembly of the canoe in the main hull of the canoe. The canoe was secure in the shipping container and there was no visible sign of damage to the hull of the canoe.

The shipping container was open on one side, but the top, bottom, back side and ends of the container were intact. The container protected the canoe and its parts from sun and shielded the canoe from most weather. The canoe is painted and the paint appears in excellent condition.

Some rainwater collected in the main hull of the canoe and some of the canoe parts were wet when inspected. Live oak leaves and pine straw had also collected in the main hull of the canoe. Evidence of a water level about three inches deep was observed as a stain line on the inside of the canoe. There was minimal water in the canoe when inspected for this report and the water and leaves were removed from the canoe. It is likely the standing water / tannin stains can be cleaned from the canoe.

The shipping crate contained the following items:
1. Main hull of the canoe or vaca
2. Outrigger hull or ama
3. Two akas
4. Four forked pieces of wood for attaching the akas to the ama.
5. One bundle of coconut hair rope for lashing connections in assembly of the outrigger.
6. One hand carved bailer
7. One hand carved paddle
8. Approximately 100 feet of coconut hair line for lashing parts of the canoe together during assembly.

Condition of Individual Parts:

The water collecting in the canoe caused one of the akas and one of the forks to discolor. The discoloration was a paper thin layer and there was no structural rot. When tested with a knife blade, the discolored wood was as hard as wood without the water stains. The discoloration can be sanded off of the wood and is paper thin.

The bailer is very unique and in excellent condition. It fits the profile of the bottom of the canoe to scoop water out of the vessel. The bailer is hand carved, stunningly beautiful as well as functional.

The paddle and the ama have minor cracks where the wood grain has split. This type of grain splitting is usually caused from drying of the wood. The splits can be repaired in the paddle and ama. The splitting in the ama does not appear to be structural. The splitting in the paddle is likely a structural issue because it is on the blade where the wood is thin. The canoe builder and an expert in marine wood repair can be consulted on options for repair of the wood grain in the paddle and ama. Two such experts are known to the author. One is a wooden boat builder in St. Augustine and the other is a retired marine carpenter and cabinet maker from Rhode Island who now resides in Beaufort, SC.
All other parts of the boat were inspected for cracking, rot or other issues. No other issues were found during the inspection. The hull of the boat, akas, ama-aka connection forks, bailer and lashing line showed no signs of deterioration and appeared structurally sound. No cosmetic blemishes were observed other than the above listed water stains and minor grain splitting on the ama.

Re-packaging the Canoe in the crate:

The small parts for this canoe were placed inside the main hull of the canoe for shipping and storage. Water collection in the main hull likely caused the minor cosmetic issues observed. To avoid future wetting of the canoe parts, the parts were packed above the main hull of the canoe. This will prevent soaking of the parts in the event of a rain event. The disadvantage to the repackaging is parts are more likely to fall out of the shipping container. Care should be taken if the shipping container is moved.

Assembly of the Canoe:
The canoe is in structurally sound condition and could be assembled with the parts supplied. All parts for assembly are present. As stated earlier, the cosmetic grain separation in the ama should be addressed prior to assembly. This cosmetic repair will be more difficult to access following assembly because grain splitting is near the location where an aka attaches to the ama.

Photos provided by the builder, Larry Raigetal, of similar vessels would be helpful in guiding assembly of this canoe. Likewise, video and / or photographic instruction in the lashing techniques used in assembly would be very beneficial.

A very similar canoe with the ama and akas attached to the canoe is depicted in the photo by Arde Pedersen on the following page. The akas are attached to the main hull of the canoe by lashing. Likewise the ama is attached to the akas by lashing and four forked pieces of wood. The lashing is a very technical procedure and requires specialized knowledge and skill. We have sufficient coconut hair line to accomplish the lashing, but we do not have enough coconut hair line to practice and learn the lashing techniques. Because coconut hair line is both difficult to obtain and very labor intensive to manufacture, it is recommended that expert assistance be obtained for lashing with the coconut line. It is further recommended that video documentation of the lashing techniques be used to preserve the knowledge. Video documentation can be used as a tool to teach the lashing techniques to both Habele volunteers and future generations interested in learning the arts associated with building and assembling authentic Micronesian canoes.

A modern production 3/32” synthetic fiber line should be used for learning and practicing the lashing techniques. There are several synthetic line products on the market that have a similar brown color to the authentic coconut hair line.  Temporary assembly of the canoe prior to obtaining expert lashing assistance can be done with synthetic line.

The author does not recommend using synthetic line for final and permanent assembly of this canoe. The coconut hair line is the traditional and authentic lashing material for these craft. The coconut hair line should be used in permanent assembly to preserve and maintain the beauty and authenticity of this canoe.


The canoe is in very good condition.

The canoe can be assembled and used in its current condition.

Repair of cosmetic grain splitting on the ama is recommended prior to assembly of the canoe.
Repair of structural grain splitting on the paddle is necessary prior to use.

Water stains can be removed from the akas and aka-ama connecting fork with light sanding or scraping.

The water stains on the interior of the canoe can likely be cleaned with a soft sponge and water. Care should be used if using a detergent because this is a painted surface.

Expert assistance is necessary for lashing with the rare and difficult to manufacture authentic coconut hair line supplied.

The coconut hair line is difficult to manufacture and a precious resource. Practice lashing should not utilize the coconut hair line. Practice lashing or non-skilled assembly of the canoe can be accomplished by lashing with 3/32” or 1/8” synthetic fiber line. Synthetic fiber line is made in a brown color that resembles the authentic coconut hair line used for lashing in these canoes.