By looking backwards we can often discover solutions that will allow forward progress. We see in the bible the idea that history repeats itself: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 But the author subscribes to the idea put forward by the American humorist, Mark Twain: History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. The design and construction of water-borne craft using “scientific” methods is a relatively recent development in the context of the whole history of that activity, and is by no means universally applied even today Many traditional craft in current service still rely on the process akin to natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, that is, it is not the strongest, most intelligent nor the fittest that survive but those that best adapt. And the evolutionary process continues today. From Bangkok water taxis with “long-tail” propulsion systems, and from Haitian fishing boats with high performance new sails to whaling umiaks in NW Alaska covered with tensioned membrane skins made from walrus hide and equipped with outboard motors, there can be value in studying the design, construction and operational approaches of these craft. Such consideration can lead to insights for the modern naval architect. A number of well-researched publications (Tapan Adney, 1964) and (Haddon, 1975) give a wealth of information on indigenous craft. Sturgeon Nose Canoe USN ZUMWALT Class Destroyer. Noble Lessons to be learned from the study of indigenous craft 2 Lessons such as optimizing weight/strength ratios, minimizing resistance, utilizing materials in clever ways, developing repairable structures etc., can all be learned from the study of indigenous craft. The sense of continuity with a living past obtained by the study of the work of previous generations of designers and builders, realizing that many current problems were their problems too, is both valuable and satisfying. That said, not all examples given in this paper can be directly linked to designers actively seeking out past developments. Some examples have occurred by coincidence, some by accident and some by unwitting “reinvention of the wheel”. Many “new” ideas, however, have been tried before and it is very often possible to test a new idea against past experience. This paper builds on previous ethno-technical study, (Noble 1994) describing the author’s experience in this field and uses a number of specific examples to illustrate the premise.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.