Gary Dierking’s modular canoes

20 January 2011     Editor    0 Comments.

Gary Dierking is a small craft designer inspired by the native canoes of the Pacific islands. He started out with some elegant cedar strip versions of a Micronesian proa and a Hawaiian outrigger, but it is the “three board canoes” that I admire most. From Gary’s site:

In the late 1800’s, when sawn lumber began to appear in Hawaii and other Pacific islands,  the local canoe builders immediately saw it as an easier way to build canoes.  While perhaps slightly less efficient than round bottom shapes they have now become the standard working canoe seen throughout the Pacific.  The first models were simply built of three wide planks and came to be known as “three board canoes” or wa’apa in Hawaiian.

Like any good islander, Gary has chosen the obvious cost/benefit leader for his three boarders, which, even today, is second to none: marine plywood. Plywood was a World War II invention, an exotic laminate for use in fighter planes and bombers, and if generals had to pay out of their own pockets for their arsenals, weapons might even today be made out of plywood. It’s that good. They say “horses for courses”, and for the amateur builder plywood continues to make good sense.

Whatever the material, what really sets Gary’s designs apart is their modularity - an inborn facility for builder customization. Wa’apa can be built as a “take apart” canoe of either 16’ or 24’. He can also be built as a single outrigger, double outrigger, double canoe, a tacker or a shunter! And none of these permutations are permanent - your outrigger can easily become a trimaran with a few weekends of work building another ama - and when you’re done with that he can go back to being an outrigger, since everything is lashed together like a congressional bill.

I find this idea to be so… logical. Imagine if everything were made in this way: houses, cars, computers, even apps. You wouldn’t throw it away when you’re done with it, you’d simply reconfigure. It seems almost utopian! But thanks to Gary Dierking, we don’t have to wait for utopia, just go build one of his canoes. And then modify it.

Gunnar Jentzsch and his Hawaiian style double canoe made from two Wa’apa hulls. Image via Outrigger Sailing Canoes.


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