Introduction: Sailing Canoe Chapter 9: Dipaakak

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…

Step 1: The Story of Jebro

This captain lost the Dipakaak from one end of his canoe during the RMI National Race in 2000. After that he could only sail one direction. We picked him up and towed him with the chase boat.
I was amazed. It was just like Timur's boat problem in "The Story of Jebro".

The Story of Jebro is the legend of how the sail came to the outrigger. It's a story all Marshallese people know. They will tell you the story when they explain about sailing. The story is deep. The names of people in it are the same as the navigation stars. The story chant repeats the star names in the same order as their appearance. So when you lull a child to sleep with this chant, you are teaching stellar navigation.

The following excerpt is from
Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (1998). Marshallese Legends and Traditions Second edition. Albury:

"At last, they were ahead of all except Timur. Then they came to him. He was surprised to see the sailing canoe. "Give me that boat! Exchange with me at once!" he shouted.

"I'll have to give Timur my canoe" said Jabro. [3]

"Very well" said Liktanur. "We'll get into his canoe and let him have this one. But take along with you the repakak and jurikli (boom socket) from one end of the canoe. Leave him only those at the other end."

So Timur got the sailing canoe. Jabro and his mother paddled ahead in Timur's canoe and were soon hidden from him by high wave. Timur sailed very fast, but when he tried to tack, he had trouble, because of the missing gear. The canoe would go only one way. Jabro reached the shore of Jeh Island long before the others. "

There is much more to this story. Read the whole thing. Learn Marshallese and memorize the chant.

Step 2: The Marshall Islands and the Language

This map is from the RMI Embassy website.
The archipelago consists of two parallel chains of islands. "Ratak" in the east literally means "Sunrise" in the Marshallese language. "Ralik" means "sunset". The northeast tradewind makes it very fast to sail from island to island in either chain. The dialect is slightly different in the two chains.

You will encounter a variety of spellings of Marshallese words. For instance
"One Marshallese word is yokwe, which means both hello and good-bye. It also means love. The literal (although outdated) translation means "you are a rainbow." It is also used as a term to show sympathy. (Compare Hawaiian aloha.) This word may also be written iakwe and io'kwe." (wikipedia)

I've seen this word spelled repakak, dipaakak, and ripakak.

Don't let any of that scare you. The language is much simpler than attempts to explain it.
Here's the Peace Corps Language Manual

The language has more sounds than English does. These are rendered with accent marks not found on an English keyboard.

I'll mostly use the spellings used by the WAM Canoe Program or the Standard Marshallese-English Dictionary

Please correct my Marshallese!

Step 3: Other Styles of Dipaakak

I make the style I learned about on small decked canoes in Majuro. There are other traditional styles from other islands. Here's a good view of one from Wotho in the 1970's, taken by David Anderson. Notice how the backstay runs under the dipaakak and is cleated off next to where the helmsman sits.

Step 4: Four Views

These photos are the "mechanical drawings" of the part.
There's a top, front, side, and 3/4 view.
Take a chunk of 2x4 timber and draw the three orthogonal views on the faces of the wood.
I used a piece of pine softwood. Use breadfruit if you have it.
Trace the foot of your yard to make your socket big enough.
The socket needs to be loose so you don't pry the dipaakak off or break it when your sail falls down.

Step 5: Drill Rows of Holes, Then Chisel

Take a hand drill and drill all around the inside of the socket. The floor of the socket slopes up toward the front, which is a little hard to see in the photos.

Then use a chisel to connect the holes and pry the chunk out of the middle.

Step 6: Carve a Bear

Now do what my Granddad told me about how to carve a wooden bear.
Cut off everything that doesn't look like part of a bear.

Use all your tools. One easy way to remove a lot of wood is to make a bunch of closely spaced saw cuts and then split the wood out between them.

My Granddad's Warning:

Don't cut toward yourself and you'll never get cut.

Step 7: Make Another One

You'll need one for both ends of your canoe.
If you make patterns you can trace it'll be quicker to make the next one.

Soak it well with linseed oil and bolt or screw it to your boat.

Step 8: A Hasty Alternative

The heel portion of a running shoe can make a good temporary dipaakak.
It's hard to see in this photo, but that's what I used on this canoe in Mexico. I got the shoes off a beach. It was all left shoes on that beach. The right shoes were probably on some other beach in Africa.
The waves were too big for me but I had to come in to go to the airport.
I got rolled and pounded all the way in. As you can see I'm pretty glad to be on land again.

What next?
Howabout making an outrigger assembly with more flex in it?
Sailing Canoe Chapter 10: Independent Suspension
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