Traditional Hide Coracles

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John Fenna

Lifetime Member & Maker
Oct 7, 2006
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Pembrokeshire
That guy that sailed a large coracle ( to Iceland?) some decades ago, how did he water proof his vessel?
Was it with a mix of fat and wax or something?
I read the book decades ago. Called Brendan something.
Tim Severrin?
"The Brendan Voyage"?
As I recall it was Oak tanned cow hides proofed with fat and wax... years since I read it though...
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Tim Severrin?
"The Brendan Voyage"?
As I recall it was Oak tanned cow hides proofed with fat and wax... years since I read it though...
Yes, correct.
I recall the wax+fat proofing lasted incredibly well. My memory tells me the mix went hard, but still kept the flexibility ( and water proofness)?
Maybe something like this could be done on your 'skins', Hamish!

That book is well worth reading.
 

Janne

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Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
To be frank, I have not read that book since late 70’s or early 80’, but I think he descrived well ’how and why”.
I recall he was not sure about the longevity of the w. proofing, but that it worked better than expected.
If you create more than one boat you could always try both techniques.

I need to try to find an online version of the book, would love to read it again!
 

Dreadhead

Bushcrafter through and through
To be frank, I have not read that book since late 70’s or early 80’, but I think he descrived well ’how and why”.
I recall he was not sure about the longevity of the w. proofing, but that it worked better than expected.
If you create more than one boat you could always try both techniques.

I need to try to find an online version of the book, would love to read it again!
excellent :) the leather boat i build a few years ago in norway was in the sea for 4 years with just tar on it, and when we finally had a look for maintenance it could have lasted another year or two but be re-tarred it anyway. So i think you have a few years with tar, with some maintenance every few years the same as any boat :)
 
Jan 6, 2019
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West of Ireland
My local community here in Mayo, west of Ireland and Kilmartin museum, west of Scotland were involved in a large corricle building project back in 97. There is a long connection between here and Iona. The corricle was build here, and sailed to Scotland from Antrim, I went over for its arrival on Iona.
Often wondered where that boat ended up. Must ask around. It was 22 foot long, took eight cow hides, and carried a team of six rowers and had a sail.
A little bit of googling I found, not much info, but this newspaper story for anyone that might be interested. No photos sadly, but I did be able to track a few down.
 
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Dreadhead

Bushcrafter through and through
My local community here in Mayo, west of Ireland and Kilmartin museum, west of Scotland were involved in a large corricle building project back in 97. There is a long connection between here and Iona. The corricle was build here, and sailed to Scotland from Antrim, I went over for its arrival on Iona.
Often wondered where that boat ended up. Must ask around. It was 22 foot long, took eight cow hides, and carried a team of six rowers and had a sail.
A little bit of googling I found, not much info, but this newspaper story for anyone that might be interested. No photos sadly, but I did be able to track a few down.
That could be the one that ended up in Archaeolink in Aberdeen? Which is sadly now closed so no idea where it could have ended up

Sent from my F8331 using Tapatalk
 

Tony

White bear (Admin)
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Apr 16, 2003
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Can't believe I missed this thread, excellent stuff Hamish, thanks for sharing it. Here in west Wales there's a fair bit of Coracle history and we see them around quite regularly. Any other projects in the pipeline?
 

Robson Valley

Full Member
Nov 24, 2014
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McBride, BC
What could have been the sources of the water proofing materials?
Rendered animal fats, I can understand but wax (bee's wax?) and the tar?
From all your accounts, the needed quantities must have been substantial.
 

Janne

Guest
Feb 10, 2016
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Grand Cayman, Norway, Sweden
Tar was one of the most profitable exports from Scandinavia since early history.
Nobody knows how far back

Sheep cultivating for wool goes back a long time in the British Isles, and one byproduct is Lanolin.
Excellent leather preserver and water proofer, as all of us know.
Fat from other domestic animals, including the body fat from sheep, was too valuable as a food source to use on a boat.most was eaten, tallow was made into candles.

Wax? I do not know in Britain, but bee keeping- every farm had bees. Honey was the only sweetener for Millenia, the wax was used for luxury candles, and usually paid as tax to the church, chieftain or overlord.

I doubt bees wax would be used on boats.
 

Yngve Cymric

New Member
May 25, 2020
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Wales
The St Brendan was coated in rendered lanolin ( or wool fat as is called sometimes) as a exterior treatment to the oak tanned ox hides, given the sea temperatures and a little chemical reaction with sea water, served it's purpose. My late father was at cordwainers when it was built and knew the saddlery students that helped, he passed up the opportunity to join them citing family responsibilities but truth be told he'd been in the military was told that there maybe issues given the location and political situation.

It's one of the first proper books I read as a child and still have the copy dad gave me all those years ago
 

Dreadhead

Bushcrafter through and through
The St Brendan was coated in rendered lanolin ( or wool fat as is called sometimes) as a exterior treatment to the oak tanned ox hides, given the sea temperatures and a little chemical reaction with sea water, served it's purpose. My late father was at cordwainers when it was built and knew the saddlery students that helped, he passed up the opportunity to join them citing family responsibilities but truth be told he'd been in the military was told that there maybe issues given the location and political situation.

It's one of the first proper books I read as a child and still have the copy dad gave me all those years ago

excellent thanks for that info!