boats originalcats

After towing a severely wounded machinist two safety while he led the 13-man crew (women weren't allowed on small military craft in this war) to safety on one of the many small islands in the Bismarck Archipelago the also injured officer (the late President John F. Kennedy, if you hadn't guessed), swims back out to the middle of a channel and waits floating in a life jacket for a native canoe to appear.

Ultimately, a canoe did appear and pull the then Lt. (jg) Kennedy aboard where he scratched the famous rescue message into a coconut husk and he then slipped back into the water and swam back to his waiting crew. The native canoe, avoiding Japanese patrols, did ultimately deserve the message coconut to local naval headquarters where the message worked its way up the chain of command and a PBY was dispatched to do a water landing and fly them all low and slow to safety and medical help.

The key vessel in this story, though, was the native canoe which was a catamaran not in the sense you may think of as a large cat-rigged or sloop-rigged sailing craft but in the sense that it was a canoe with an outrigger.

This layout, with a person sitting either amidships paddling, or two persons one in the bow and the other in the stern paddling a long canoe to which was lashed, bow and stern, a long boom to port or starboard (the direction depended on the builder and his builders at this time in history in this culture were always men primary side, left-hander or right-hander) to which was lashed another, smaller canoe-like outrigger for stability was and still is the original catamaran.

Today's catamaran is usually a twin-hulled (deep-V) primarily sailing vessel that is inherently stable because of the use of dual hulls and a deck that stretches between them upon which one or two masts are stepped. The format can be cat-rigging, sloop-rigging or even ketch-rigging (large foresail, small rear staysail) with the masts stepped into the platform that stretches between hulls.

In the case of Kennedy and crew, the canoe was an original catamaran. Catamarans are inherently stable craft that can easily be used to island hop. At the time of this occurrence now 70 years ago even before your author's birth the men of the Bismarck Archipelago, which contained an island called Guadalcanal, the scene of fiercest fighting of World War II and which, when ultimately won by Marine and Naval forces after six precarious months of hanging by their fingernails as they fought off an onslaught of resources that the Japanese ultimately wasted because of poor management (note we didn't say leadership or discuss bravery because that has never been questioned; it's just the leaders in Tokyo assumed that the American 2nd Marine Division was a far smaller force and dismissed it at first as they ultimately believed they were destined to win an Adm. Togo-like victory over the Americans as Togo had over the Russians in1905).

The craft that delivered the coconut husk on which Kennedy scribed his famous note was relatively small, at less than 20-feet. It was powered by two men paddling (fore and aft) and was of classic lashing design. This design, still used in many places in that area today, although it is now more likely to be machined, was also the design of the ships that carried the Micronesians to islands throughout the Pacific rim.These catamarans, though, featured larger, hollowed out and covered dual hulls that were lashed together. Between and on top of the booms, though, one was likely to find a square-rigged or lateen-rigged sailing vessel that not only had a mast stepped but usually also had dual-tiller steering.

Interestingly, the larger and more ornate not only the sail and masting (some were equipped with dual masts and a large staysail set squarely between), but also the housing facilities, indicated the owner's social standing.

If it was a simple, small catamaran, then the owner was likely to be on the more well-to-do side but not in the same class as he nobility which maintained large, dual-hulled catamarans that mounted one or two gaudy sails and whose hulls were likely to be oversized, hollowed out war canoes with their fiercesome faces painted on and rather ornate sweeps that were used as tillers.

This style of sailboat is inherently stable and safe and was the ship that conquered the Pacific. Interestingly, those who sailed in these ships were seldom out of sight of land for much of the time as they needed to reassurance that land was nearby so that is also why they drew very little water.

On landing at a settlement island, the ship was likely to either become the start of the palace of the leader or its fine deck housing would be dismantled, leaving the hulls and sails available for commercial sailing while the owner rebuilt small cabins on the hull and the ornate ones became villages.