Subject:      Native American maritime cultures
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/10/13
Message-ID:   <61tg5u$mb4$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,sci.anthropology,alt.native

Don Judy ([20] wrote:

: What is the earliest date you have for sails on balsas? On what basis do
: you place three foot diameter balsa logs on PreColumbian South American
: rafts? Where do these three foot diameter balsa trees grow? AFAIK, the :
balsas as described in the 1500's used logs which were as thick as a :
man's thigh. : How long was the Tupac Yupanki trip supposed to have taken?

Hi, Don,

These are a lot of questions you ask. So perhaps you will be interested to
read this old post of Larry? He was kind enough to provide all this
material for us. Plenty of primary sources here...



[begin quote:]

Subject:      Re: reed boats
From:         "Larry J. Elmore" <[21]>
Date:         1997/08/19
Message-Id:   <01bcac3e$3c16ac80$8e6700cf@ljelmore>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology

All of these references are drawn from the first chapter of "Pyramids of
Tucume" (1995) by Thor Heyerdahl, Daniel H. Sandweiss and Alfredo Narvaez.
Published by Thames and Hudson Inc., New York.

In a letter from Juan de Samanos to King Charles V of Spain, there is a
description of the first known encounter between a Spanish ship and a
Peruvian balsa when Bartolomeo Ruiz, Pizarro's pilot, encountered a balsa
tacking northward against the Nino Current in 1527: "They captured a
vessel which carried twenty person on board, of whom they threw eleven
overboard.  Of the others who were captured, the pilot retained three. He
set the others ashore . . . The three who were kept as interpreters were
well treated and were brought back with them. This vessel which I say he
captured appeared to have a capacity of up to thirty 'toneles' [36 gross
tons]. The flat underbody and keel were constructed of logs as thick as
posts, lashed together with ropes of what they call 'hennequen', which is
a kind of hemp. The upper part was of more slender canes, tied together
with the same lashings, and there the crew and cargo went dry while the
bottom was awash. It carried masts and yards of very fine wood, and cotton
sails in the same shape and manner as on our own ships. It had very good
rigging of the said 'hennequen' . . . and some mooring stones for anchors
formed like grindstones."  -- Samanos, J. 1844 [1526] 'Relacion de los
primeros descrubimientos de Francisco Pizarro y Diego de Almagra, sacada
de codice numero CXX de la Biblioteca imperial de Viena'. In 'Coleccion de
documentos ineditos para la historia de Espana, Tomo V'. Madrid. p. 196.

This same event was described by Francisco Xerez. He also tells that the
three women were taught Spanish and accompanied Pizarro on his first
expedition to Peru where they helped him open negotiations with an
'orejon' (literally 'long-ear') nobleman on a mission to Tumbes from
Cuzco.  -- Xerez, F. 1872 [1534] 'A True Account of the Province of
Cuzco'. In 'Reports on the Discovery of Peru'. Hakluyt Society Vol. 47,

Miguel de Estete wrote in a report to the Council for the Indies, "These
rafts are made from very thick and long logs; they are as soft and as
light on the water as cork, and they tie them together solidly with some
kind of cables they use, and over them they install a high framework so
the merchandise does not get wet. And in this manner, by placing a mast on
the largest log in the middle, they fasten a sail and navigate the entire
length of these coasts. And these are very secure embarkations, for they
can neither founder nor capsize because the sea lifts them on all sides."
--Estete, M. 1992 [1534] 'El descrubrimiento y la conquista del Peru'. In
'Nouvelles certaines des Isles de Perou: texte rapproche du francais
moderne', ed. H. Cazes and I. de Soto, Amiot Lenganey, Cairon. pp. 56-57.

After a description of how the native mariners deceived and killed many of
Pizarro's men, and a quotation from (Inca) Garcilaso de la Vega describing
a similar incident between the coastal natives and their Inca overlords,
Heyerdahl writes: "It is important to note the references to the contrast
between the ruling Inca landlubbers and the coastal mariners recorded
before the Spaniards had yet reached the highlands. Subesequently the
chroniclers paid very little attention to the subdued coastal dwellers and
their watercraft. Evidently the navigable balsas were still in use and
even of importance during the Inca rule of the coast, as the Incas
themselves had no alternative type of vessel. The Spaniards, however,
brought the European tradition of plank-built boats, and as they took
charge of all trade and communications in the country, large sea-going
balsa rafts became of secondary importance and gradually disappeared. Yet,
for coastal traffic and as landing bargers bringing crew and cargo ashore
on the shallow Peruvian beaches, the flat-bottomed, unsinkable balsa rafts
proved so superior to the European vessels with keel and open hull that
some large balsas survived until modern ports with wharves were built in
all coastal towns."  -- Heyerdahl, 1995, p. 22.

There is a photo on page 29 taken November 6, 1899 off the coast of Peru
showing a large balsa with an enormous square sail on a single mast
tacking against the wind.

Pascual de Andagoya, the first Spaniard to explore down the Panamanian
coast towards the northern border of Columbia, wrote about the natives of
coastal Peru and Ecuador: "They go to the sea to fish, and navigate along
the coast in balsas made of light logs, which are so strong that the sea
has much ado to break them. They carry horses and many people, and are
navigated with sails, like ships . . . The inhabitants have a manufactory
where they make cordage of a sort of 'nequen' which is like a carded flax;
the cord is beautiful, and stronger than that of Spain, and their cotton
canvas is excellent."  -- Andagoya, P. 1865 [1541-46] 'Narrative of the
Proceedings of Pedrarias Davila in the Provinces of Tierra Firme or
Catilla del Oro : and of the Discovery of the South Sea and the Coasts of
Peru and Nicaragua'. Hakluyt Society Vol. 34, London.

"Another variety of the triangular sail is shown in an illustration drawn
in 1582 by Richard Madox, reproduced in a recent study of indigenous
Peruvian watercraft by W. Espinoza Soriano [1987, 'Artesanos,
transacciones, monedas y formas de pago en el mundo andino, Siglos XV y
XVI Tomo II'. Banco de Central de Reserva del Peru, Lima, p. 30]. In this
drawing the apex of the triangular sail is pointed down to the very bow of
the raft and the sail is supported on two slender rods converging down to
deck without any mast. This peculiar form of rigging conforms precisely
with that typical for the sailing rafts of southeastern Polynesia, as
shown in great detail by [F.W.] Beechey [1831, 'Narrative of a Voyage to
the Pacific and Beering's Strait . . . in the years 1825, 26, 27, 28'. H.
Colburn and R. Bentley, London] in his report on the discovery of
Mangareva Island."

"The next time a Peruvian balsa was depicted by a European it was shown
with a triangular sail, the tip of the triangle at the masthead. This
rough but informative drawing appearts in the book of an experienced
navigator, the Dutch Admiral Spilbergen, reporting on his voyage around
the world in 1614-17 (ill. 9). Reaching Peru he speaks of 'the savage
vessels, called Balsem' which sailed swiftly in the wind. When his fleet
entered Paita harbor, Spilbergen recorded how Indian fishermen, who had
been out fishing for two months in their well-made craft, brought them
their catch.  [Spilbergen, J. 1906 [1619] 'The East and West Indian Mirror
Being an Account of Joris van Speilbergen's Voyage Round the World
(1614-1617), and the Australian Navigations of Jacob Le Maire'. Hakluyt
Society 2nd ser.  Vol. 18, London. p. 83]"

"Spilbergen does not comment on how these indigenous fishermen could ha ve
navigated their balsa raft for two months in the open ocean outside Paita
Bay, where the Humboldt Current runs like a giant river. The raft is shown
sailing under full sail towards the Dutch fleet, with neither paddles nor
steering oar. The lateen sails, hoisted on two independent single masts,
are attended by two standing mariners; three others are squatting and
handling broad boards inserted vertically in the cracks between the logs.
Stone anchors resembling millstones are shown on deck as noted on the
first balsa encountered north of the equator by the Spaniards.
Unwittingly, and with no comment, Spilbergen here gives us the first
illustration of a balsa raft being navigated merely by lowering and
raising boards called 'guaras', an ingenious system of deep-sea navigation
not understood by the European visitors until the middle of the subsequent

"But before the century ended, in the 1680's, English buccaneers began to
harass shipping in the waters off northern Peru. Among them was William
Dampier, who paid particular attention to the large balsa rafts and their
cargo. Like Spilbergen, he entered Paita Bay with its main village of
Colan, where he found that all the Indians were fishermen and went to sea
in balsa rafts. These varied in size and type according to the taste and
needs of their owners, wrote Dampier, and he went into great detail
describing a huge type used for conveying merchandise weighing up to 60 to
70 tons, in the open ocean. Some of them had large cabins on two floors,
leaving barely space outside for one helmsman astern and another in the
bow. The cabin consisted of a solid framework of light balsa logs lashed
together with one lower and one upper deck of planks. The lower deck, only
just above water, was for the crew and their necessities, and on the deck
over their heads was the main cargo, fenced in by planks. With these
top-heavy cabins around 3 m (10 ft) high, such rafts were in need of
ballast in the form of huge stones placed on the main logs below the lower
deck and awash together with such cargo as would resist water. [Dampier,
W.  1729 'A Collection of Voyages'. In four volumes. J. and J. Knapton,

"These monstrous cargo balsas, wrote Dampier, were so clumsy to navigat e
with their huge sail hoisted on a mast coming up through the cargo space,
that they could only sail before the prevailing winds from south to north.
In a north wind, the sail was lowered and the vessel drifted. With
inadequate space for free 'guara' navigation, these clumsy cargo feighters
could not maneuver like normal balsas. Therefore 'they take particular
care to have free deck space when they undertake long voyages, as for
example from Lima to Trujillo, Guayaquil or Panama.' [Ibid.]"

"Not until 1736 did two inquistive Spanish naval officers, G. Juan and A.
de Ulloa, study the sailing technique of balsa rafts, intent to discover
how seemingly primitive vessels with neither keel, rudder, nor steering
oar could sail like ships in the open ocean. They found large numbers of
deep-sea-going balsa rafts in the Ecuadorian port of Guayaquil, which
regualarly frequented ports in Peru all the way down to Paita and
Sechurea.  From there Peruvian merchant mariners with balsa rafts sailed
on down to Callao and even the Chincha Islands."

"The balsa rafts measured by Juan and Ulloa were between 25 and 30 m (8 0
and 100 ft) long and 6 to 8 m (20 to 26 ft) wide, with bipod masts and one
or more cabins on the bamboo deck covering the logs (see ill. 8). Merchant
balsas generally carried 20 to 25 tons. Indians and mulattos in the
Guayaquil area moved on to their balsa rafts with their entire families in
the rainy season when they were cut off from their small farms. They lived
on board in thatched huts with the same conveniences as on shore, moving
continuously along, fishing and also subsisting on the preserved meat and
plant food carried aboard to last throughout the rainy season. The sails
were square, hoisted on a boom that could be swung around at the mast-head
where the two poles met. Some balsas had an extra foresail hoisted on an
additional bipod mast. Then the authors add:

'Hitherto we have only mentioned the construction and the uses they are
applied to; but the greatest singularity of this floating vehicle is that
it sails, tacks, and works as well in contrary wind as ships with keel,
and makes very little leeway. This advantage it derives fgrom another
method of steering than by a rudder; namely , by some boards, three or
four yards in length, and half a yard in breadth, called 'guaras', which
are placed vertically, both at the head and stern between the main beams,
and by thrusting some of them deep in the water, and raising others, they
bear away, luff up, tack, lay to, and perform all the other motions of a
regular ship. An invention hitherto uknown to the most intelligent nations
of Europe... [Juan, G. and Ulloa, A. 1748 'Relacion historica del viaje a
la America meridional . . .  Vols I-IV.' A. Marin, Madrid]'

"Not even today, more than two and a half centuries later after Jaum an d
Ulloa's written documentation, have modern mariners and anthropolgists
fully grasped that flat-bottomed rafts can be steered into the wind. Their
explanation of how 'guaras' function left no deeper impression on readers
than did Spilbergen's unwitting drawing of 'guaras' in use, or the records
of conquistadors who met balsas sailing against the elements. Yet the two
observant naval officers explained at length that the combined surfaces of
inserted 'guara' boards served like a keel, but in addition the ratio
between submerged boards fore and aft would determine which end of the
craft would best resist the leeway and which would turn over with the
wind, thus permitting the crew to set a predetermined course and change it
at their will. In their own words: 'The method of steering by these
'guaras', is so easy and simple that when once the balsa is put on her
proper course, one only is made use of, raising, or lowering it as
occasions require, and thuse the balsa is always kept in her intended
direction.' [Ibid.] -- Heyerdahl, 1995, pp. 24-27.

Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- [22]

Reality is that which, when you stop believing
in it, doesn't go away -=O=- Philip K. Dick

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