Opelu Canoe – Cutting And Assembly

Here I’m cutting the long planks to form the sides of the canoe cutting_panels02


The finished planks. Each piece is shaped differently and when stitched together will ‘shape’ the canoe.






Stitched together with plastic cable ties

I experimented with hanging the canoe to let gravity determine the fore and aft rocker.hanging_canoe03

Later I added a box frame as the sides were ‘flapping’ around.






The canoe glued together!

Opelu Canoe – Scarf and Glue Plywood

OK, I have my scale model and now it’s time to start making the ‘real’ canoe! Just to recap: I decided not to use either the Waka Ama or Ulua plans, but to create my own design using the scale drawing in “The Hawaiian Canoe” on page 69. I made two 1/4 scale models of the canoe hull – one out of solid redwood, and one from plywood strips I stitched together the same as I’ll be doing with the full-size canoe. My first step will be scarfing together two sheets of 1/4″ marine ply; these will be joined end-to-end to make a single sheet 4 ft wide by almost 16 ft long. scarf_n_glue01

I start by stacking the sheets of plywood on top of each other pushing each sheet back from the edge 2″ – this will create a 1:8 ratio for the angle of the scarf. Using a plane and sander I make the scarf.


The finished scarf. This is actually 4 sheets of 1/4 inch plywood.

scarf_n_glue05Here all 4 sheets are ready to be glued up at one time.


All glued and clamped. The epoxy resin glue will create a joint as strong as the wood around it.



The finished joint. Now I have a sheet of plywood that is 15 ft 10 inches long.

Opelu Canoe – Model and Design

I’ve been studying the canoe designs in “The Hawaiian Canoe” by Tommy Holmes, as well as the Ulua by Gary Dierking, and the Waka Ama by Selway-Fisher. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Waka Ama is not really a “Hawaiian” design in that the bow and stern are symmetrical: meaning that the canoe can be propelled either way – just depending on which direction you set up the seats. This is a common design in parts of the Pacific – but not in Hawaii. The Ulua is primarily a sailing canoe; in his book “Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes” Gary Dierking even comments “I’m a sailor and I’ll only paddle if I must.” From what I’ve learned/read most Hawaiian style, single hull, outrigger canoes are primarily paddling canoes – that may also be sailed.

OpeluWith that in mind I’ve done my best to build a 1/4 scale model of the Opelu canoe from “The Hawaiian Canoe” page 69. Using some scrap redwood I created this modelIMG_20130708_193122.

This is 46 inches long X 4.75 inches wide so the finished canoe should be about 15 feet 4 inches long and 19 inches wide. Planning to make this as a ‘stitch and glue’ canoe I then cut plywood planks also at 1/4 scale.

IMG_20130709_161139After stitching together with wire the model looks like this:




With no bulkheads or seats to maintain the shape I inserted temporary cross pieces to hold the proper width. Now I just have to scale this up to Full Size!

Plans: Ulua Saling Canoe by Gary Dierking

After purchasing Gary Dierking’s book “Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes” I decided to purchase his to-scale plans for the Ulua Saling Canoe. It’s a strip-plank canoe with fiberglass inside and out. Before I actually start building I’m trying to get a good idea about different ways to put a canoe together – what method do I actually want to use. Also the plans show a little more detail than his book for the foam and fiberglass ‘ama construction.

Plans: Waka Ama Canoe Plans – Selway-Fisher Design

Back in 2009 my friend, Tevita Kunato, and I purchased the plans for the Waka Ama outrigger canoe from Duckwork’s Builders Supply located in Harper, Texas. It is a Selway-Fisher design. According to the website: “This is an outrigger canoe of classic Hawaiian design. Classes of these craft are very popular, especially in places like New Zealand where they are raced in various lengths—this example being one of the shortest. They are noted for their stability and carrying capacity in use both off shore and inland and are sometimes seen carrying a simple sail—a very versatile craft—the main hull can be built in 2 halves. Construction is simple stitch and tape and the beams are tied to the hulls”.

The plans are easy to read and understand: wakaama

I haven’t built this design yet, but I am studying the techniques and general design to incorporate into my first canoe.

Kayak Fishing… What Happened To The Outrigger Canoe?

Last week I left Hilo on Hawaiian Airlines on my way home to Kauai; each time I fly Hawaiian I look forward to the latest copy of Hana Hou!, the airlines in-flight magazine. In this latest edition (April/May 2013) the story that caught my attention was “Who Needs A Bigger Boat? Two-hundred-pound ‘ahi vs. fourteen-foot piece of plastic: the thrill of kayak fishing”. kayak_fishermanIt was a great article about a minimalistic approach to fishing – just you, a few poles, and a small craft propelled by your own muscles! Many of these kayak fishers will even go several miles off-shore in pursuit of their prey!

At one point in the story Isaac Brumaghim, a kayak fisherman living on Oahu, mentions “Canoe racing was a part of my Hawaiian culture, and I really took pride in that… I tried fishing off a one-man outrigger, but those canoes are expensive and fragile and there’s not really enough room.” …That was it. That sentence is the catalyst for this website – the call to action that I’ve decided to follow!

Outrigger canoes are expensive! Explore the islands of Hawaii and you rarely see outrigger canoes outside of Canoe Clubs or Waikiki. I haven’t traveled the South Pacific very much – but I have visited Fiji, Samoa, and Nauru. Go into any village along the coast and you’ll see small outrigger canoes made for fishing – made for daily use.DCF 1.0

Look around Hawaii and you’ll mostly see expensive canoes made for racing! Outrigger Canoe rides are one of many attractions for tourists on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI.Now don’t get me wrong, outrigger canoe racing is a great sport. I don’t want to limit the number of racing canoes, I want to increase the number of fishing/surfing canoes!

Let me back up a few years. From 2005-2010 I lived in Hilo on Hawaii Island (aka: the Big Island). Shortly after moving there I met Tevita Kunato – a wood carver/artist born in Papua New Guinea. I can’t remember exactly when but some time in 2009 he decided to make a traditional island outrigger canoe – so he walked into a friends back acreage, cut down a tree, built a tarp tent over it, and went to work! Using an adze, fire, chainsaw, chisels, and a lot of sweat, he carved out a canoe! tumbu_kanuI was there the day we pulled it “out of the bush” and put it in the water at Reeds Bay in Hilo (click here). The long and the short of it was that he decided to build a canoe and within a month or so he did it! Since then he’s built several more – and sold them too!

Sitting around the tanoa (kava bowl) at our friend Fong’s house we’d talk about designs and what to do differently, lamenting the fact that there are so few outrigger canoes in Hawaii. We even bought a set of plans online for the WakaAma Canoe – a Selway-Fisher Design. Unlike Tevita, I usually have to mull over an idea for a long time, then talk about it even longer, before I finally take action. So here it is several years later… BUT it is time to take action!

I have several resources I’ll post about: The Hawaiian Canoe by Tommy Holmes; Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes by Gary Dierking; the plans for building the strip-plank canoe Ulua by Gary Dierking; the plans for the WakaAma mentioned earlier; and I’ll be posting my progress as I build Hawaiian style outrigger canoes. The goal is to create a design that can be built easily and affordably; one that can be used for fishing and surfing. There will probably be at least two different designs: a one-man and a 2-3 man canoe. Like my friend Tevita I’ll try to jump in and just get to work…