Sailing Canoe Chapter 10: Independent Suspension




Introduction: Sailing Canoe Chapter 10: Independent Suspension

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

The Marshallese outrigger suspension system is very sophisticated. It is an independent suspension like a sports car that lets the outrigger flex and follow wavetops different from the wave train the main hull is on. The suspension has a number of adjustment points that let you program its response to waves.

Continues from
Chapter 1: Make the Deck, Keel, and Cockpits
Chapter 2: Make Ribs
Chapter 3: Lash the Frame
Chapter 4: Carve outrigger and Break tools
Chapter 5: Hull Frame Finishing
Chapter 6: Morton's Oar
Chapter 7: Hull Skin
Chapter 8: Keel and Rub Strips
Chapter 9: Dipaakak

Followed by:
Chapter X: Maiden Voyage

Roll your mouse over the yellow squares in the photo to learn the Marshallese words for canoe parts and what their functions are. Here are some you've seen in previous chapters:
"kie" sound:"kee-ey". The two heavy straight beams. "aka" in polynesian or multihull jargon.
"apet": sound:"ah-pet" curved crossbeams lashed to the outrigger float.
"ai": the raised boss on the outrigger float that the apet crossbeams get lashed to.
"kubaak": outrigger float. "ama" in polynesian or multihull jargon.
"inwijet" The traditional lashing between apet and kubaak.

Many thanks to Alson Kelen, Dennis Alessio, Joseph Keju, Emai Simon, Annukat Silk, Mack Jackelic, and other Marshallese people who taught me about canoes.
Please support the WAM canoe project as they preserve and foster canoe knowledge in the Marshall Islands.

Step 1: Inwijet

Emai Simon, master canoe carver from Ujae Atoll, shows me how he ties his inwijet lashing.
The string is coconut sennit, twisted from the fibers of a coconut husk.

When the inwijet is done right as seen here, it's like the Chinese finger trap toy. The more it flexes and works in the waves, the more it climbs up the apet and gets tight.
The 1976 dictionary says "Raan kein ejeja en emman an inwijet", "Few people nowadays can perform a good lashing job."

That's certainly true today, 30 years later. I've had my own inwijet come apart while sailing. It's a big hassle trying to tie the outrigger back on while swimming around in waves. There's a saying about that but I can't remember or find it now - can a Marshallese speaker fill in the details?

Step 2: Emai's Canoe

Emai Simon and Annukat Silk sail their canoe for the first time.
They cut the mast shorter a few times til the sail raked back just the right amount to balance the hull side force.
Then they sailed out across the lagoon.
Notice the proportions of the outrigger suspension parts. Each island and family has their own traditions.

Step 3: Canoe on Truck, Majuro

Here's how they carry canoes on trucks on Majuro. Enough people come along for the ride to lift it off and carry it to the beach. It takes 4 or 5 people to do it right. That's good, because when you come back tired with a load of fish, they'll help you again, and you'll have someone to give your abundant fish to.

Step 4: Canoe on Car, Maui

Contrast that to my lonely American "get away from it all" vehicle. The load needs to be a narrow road-legal width. The canoe needs to disassemble quickly so I can lift and carry the pieces by myself. So I'll use a few non-traditional quick-detach lashings.

Step 5: Hasty Innertube Lashings

The black lashings here are done with bicycle innertubes or strips of innertube. Don't tie knots, just tuck the end under the last turn. It goes really quick. The 7 lashings marked with yellow squares are temporary. You tie them when you assemble the canoe. Then you untie them when you're done sailing to disassemble the canoe.

The order is something like this:

Plug the kie into the hull and tighten the lashings that hold them there with wedges.
Slide the apet-deck-mweir assembly over the kie.
There are buttons hanging from cords under the deck. Use them as cleats to lash the deck to the kie with innertubes.
Lash the kie to the mweir lon.
Lash the jojo to the kie. The jojo travels with the kubaak(outrigger) hanging from its tension cords.

turn to the next step.

Step 6: Hasty Inwijet Substitute

Here's my method for attaching outrigger to apet in place of the traditional inwijet lashing.
The wooden buttons are tied to the apet with a log hitch.
There are loops of cord attached to the inner end of each apet.
Poke them through the hole in the top of the outrigger.
Insert a short chunk of stick through the loops of cord.
Use an innertube to lash around and around the button and the stick. That pulls it tight. Each turn adds 40lbs more tension or so.
Terminate the lashing by tucking the end under a previous turn or by going all around the button once.

Good things about this system.
You can tie it and untie it in a hurry without tools.
It's strong and you can use as much tension as you want.

Bad things.
It's not traditional.
It doesn't look as good as the inwijet.
A fishing line could get snagged on the buttons or sticks.

Step 7: Old Windsurf Booms Become Curved Apet Beams

Here's how I made my three curved "apet" beams from some free windsurf booms.
I carved the plastic thingies at the front of the boom to make a bracket that mates with the outrigger float.

A scavenger is always at risk of becoming a pack rat.
Especially if you are looking for uses for materials you find.
If you look for materials to solve a particular problem it's less of a problem.

Step 8: Carve a "bird's Mouth" on the Bracket Ends

These apet boom-end brackets have no traditional equivalent. In a real Marshallese canoe the apet beam just rests on the outrigger float and gets lashed there with the inwijet lashing.

There are Marshallese proverbs about incorrectly lashed inwijet.
I'm pretty much guaranteed to live those proverbs if I attempt the inwijet. Let's see what kind of trouble my newfangled junk brackets get me into.

Butcher the ends to make a square notch to mate with the raised boss on the outrigger float.

Step 9: Finished Apet-end Brackets

My windsurf booms were very different from each other. Yours will be too. I put the odd one in the middle. Make sure the bracket has a mating surface that's parallel to the straight part of the shaft.
Drill a couple of holes in the plastic bracket for the lashing loops to go through.

This photo is not an endorsement of ryobi brand tools. Get an antique drill that will last longer.

Step 10: Cut the Tubes Off Square

My windsurf booms were different lengths. I cut the long one to match the others. Here's a trick to cut a tube straight. I wrapped a piece of paper around it and drew a line at the edge of the paper.

Please excuse my exposed thighs.
Marshallese people don't do that unless they're playing team sports in a uniform.

Step 11: Wooden Sockets

I wanted to extend my curved apet beams with wooden sticks to reach all the way to the hull.
I couldn't figure out how to do that, so I ingested a shamanic drug known as "caffeine".

Before long I was carving round grooves in some 1x2 sticks to grip the ends of the aluminum tubes.
Here's my mockup of the construction I used. You could probably use any other method and it would be just as good. Butt blocks, scarf joints, or glue up a full length curved laminated beam and make the whole apet out of wood.

Step 12: Grooving on the Tablesaw

Here's how I cut those grooves on my nomad tablesaw.
I put the fence at an angle so the blade intersected the wood making a cylindrical cut.
I wore goggles, gas mask, hearing protectors, and was very cautious.
There is nothing safe about this operation.
I carved those grooves, made a lot of sawdust, didn't cut my fingers off, and was glad to be done.

Step 13: Mast Steps

The deck is a 3 foot square piece of 1/4" marine plywood.
I put my mast steps on the inboard edge of the deck, rather than on the hull as is traditional. The skin lacing was in the way. I drilled circles of holes with a small drill bit and then whittled the sockets smooth with an instructables leatherman knife.

Step 14: Deck Assembly Etc.

I glued the mast step board to the deck with epoxy thickened with white flour.
I glued a .75" square stick to the edge nearest you in this photo.
I painted some finish on all the other sticks seen here.

The caffeine wore off and I went to sleep.

Step 15: Lash Deck to Apet Beams

These will be permanent, so I used string for the job.
Finish these lashings the same way you did your instant canoe paddle.

What next?
Make a sail (not yet written) and
Go sailing!

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    5 years ago

    ... exemplar vege garden too bro!


    5 years ago

    Very nice, I love how windsurfing technology is seeping into backyard proa design - Proas act like windsurfers anyway. Maximum ups bro!!


    8 years ago on Step 5

    Do the apet get lashed to the hull, or is it just the kie?


    13 years ago on Introduction

    The way you join the outrigger to the float using the buttons and innertube is just genious. 

    Leon Close
    Leon Close

    14 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great series. I'm really looking forward to the sailmaking chapter, my canoe is just at the stage of rigging.