Thursday, March 22, 2007

The First Oamaru Coracle

In 2006 I built my first coracle.
To start with I did not even know how to spell the word, let alone understand the construction or have any appreciation of regional types and their uses.
I learnt a great deal.
It is possible to build a great little boat that will give lots of pleasure and fun for next to nothing. It is extremely difficult to change or improve the coracle in any way as it has evolved from the intuitive synthesis of need of use, craftsmanship, local materials and the character of a specific stretch of water. The coracle is elegant and deceptively simple. What the aspiring cultural tourist, does not immediately grasp is the reason the coracle is the shape that it is. I cannot explain about this, the best way is to build a coracle and the coracle will provide the answers.

I began by studying info on the internet… there is heaps. “The Coracle” by J Geraint Jenkins was the most authoritative source. This book covers in detail, history, types and construction. Having all this information in my hands was not much use as I could not really understand the subtleties of the craft from a book. I decided to have a go and accepted that I would probably make mistakes which would in the long run be insightful.

I chose to follow instructions on the net titled “elfin coracle workshop” I harvested approx 40 willow withies about as thick as my finger. These were pushed thick end down into the ground to form a rectangle 4ft wide by 5ft long . There were 8 pairs of withies down the length of the coracle and 6 pairs across

The next step is to bend the opposing withies towards each other and to lash them to themselves to form a frame . I started with the 8 cross ones first because I wanted the last layer to run longitudinally for streamlining. In bending the willow in my hands I tried to make the bottom as flat as possible for stability. I used the willow within a day of harvesting it and did not bother to soak it. Initially I lashed my frame together using strands of unravelled polyester rope. When the cross frames were done the same process was repeated longitudinally. Next I ran a stringer around what on a boat would be called the turn of the bilge, that is at the base of the side right around in a complete circle. I had to use several withies overlapped. I then repeated the process around the top of the side. The whole basket frame was now stabilised and the shape locked into the structure.

I next pulled everything out of the ground and to my surprise it stayed in one piece. Once turned over I nailed a withy into the trimmed-off ends of the frames using 4 inch galvanised nails, again forming a complete circle using several lengths. The thwart or seat was nailed straight onto this gunwale

The frame was then covered with 10 oz cotton duck held in place by tacks driven into the gunwale stringer. Finally the fabric was trimmed and a waterproof layer of pitch painted on the outside. The product I used was an emulsion, and being water based was non toxic to apply.

My coracle floated , and another adventure began
Regarding the paddle there is as much sophistication in the design and ergonomics of this than as of the coracle itself and that is another story.

No comments: