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#1 Second Edition:
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Inca's Balsa Log Raft

What we know about Inca seafaring

This is a MANUAL for sailing with Guaras
= daggerboards

The maritime society in the Pacific developed different

What happened when the Europeans discovered the South American continent?
In the conflict with the Europeans the Incas were knocked down in an impressing havoc in good Christian style, due to superior weapon technology + unknown illness that killed more men than the arms. A sort of bacteriological war, we could call it. The bad result costed them their freedom, their gold and all their fertile land.
The aboriginals survived as race, because the men were strong and good (gratis) workers for fields and mines, and the women grew good mothers for the Spaniard's illegitime children. In comparison, the North American aboriginals didn't survive.
But as second consequence: the Inca nation too lost their culture and their organizations. Technologically subdued - and still kept down !
Therefor is left so little from their heydays.

Don't forget the general RULE OF WAR - still valid:

As soon as the size of a BOOTY seems larger than the MILITARY COSTS, then the war will break out

 Robbery and war is as any other business:  The income has to be higher than the costs

So it always was - and so it still is -
- the Incas learned it -
and many nations will experience that phenomenon in a foul way.
That means: "If a boy, a man - or a country - can't defend himself, he will get bullied, exploited or enslaved"

, the Incas learned this in the same moment, as they showed their huge richness of GOLD to the Spanish visitors in Cajamarca 500 years ago - subsequent, as told, they only few years after had lost everything.
But things repeat, and even today the Peruvians have a problem with too much Gold recently found in the region of Cajamarca - in Conga.
Adam Schmidt year 1776,
"The Wealth of Nations":

The discovery of the abundant mines of America, reduced, in the sixteenth century, the value of gold and silver in Europe to about a third of what it had been before.

The dominance at sea
To meet the balsa rafts was a great surprise for the Spaniards
- even their own ships could hardly take so heavy a load. And from the Spaniards we have the oldest written accounts.
The balsa rafts came from the Manteña area, as is on the westmost coast of Ecuador just south of the Equator. There they had the materials to construct the rafts and from there they started sailing up and down the coast
After the deed of Thor Heyerdahls scholars and archaeologists seems to have intensified their work, and have found evidence that the pre-Columbian seafaring as had its center in the maritime coast-society just under Equator. From what today is called Puerto Viejo their rafts sailed up along the coast til Panama and Acapulco in Mexico and down to Chiclayo, Trujillo and Paracas areas against south until the northern of Chile.
There are archaeological finds as indicate a frequent mercantile interchange together with transfer of technology.

We don't know any historical nor archaeological argument for Heyerdahl's choice of Callao as port of departure for his Kon-tiki expedition, there were never before mentioned rafts starting out from Callao, until he did it in 1947. It seems as a result of an arranged meeting with the peruvian president Jose Bustamante y Rivero, as of narrow political reasons offered the service of the peruvian navy.
Now it is a part of the "Heyerdahl concept", and Callao has developed as a main start-port for oceangoing Rafts.
Callao was founded by the Spaniards, as a lovely site for anchorage, protected from the ocean waves by a natural breakwater: the Island of San Lorenzo.

The Manteños continued their sailings too under the Spaniards but their oceangoing rafts disappeared together with other big sailships by arrival of steamers and motorships of iron. The route up and down the coasts have still no contemporary raft accomplished even there have been attempts. On the other side the descendant in form of smaller rafts are still sailing on the coasts of Ecuador.

According to old legends reproduced by the Spaniards, the later Inca Tupac Yupanki around year 1465 sailed out from Manta to the islands of Mangareva (23°S and 135°W) - then to RapaNui (27°S - 109°W) - and then back to Puerto Viejo (1°S - 80°W).


An artist's interpretation of a Tupac Yupanki Raft with an A-mast, a square sail and a central placed Cabin
- and too the artist has demonstrated an open fireplace on the quarterdeck
- and that the craft was controlled by the daggerboard system in combination with the stabilizing and long-nosed flat keel-system.

The round "mill-stones" on foredeck are anchors.

[ Img: tupaq-raft+.jpg ]

A condition for any empire is, that they can write a letter and send a message, as they will be able to read and decipher without misunderstanding in the other end of the empire.

Incas writing system is called Quipu (also spelled khipu or quipo). Quipus were the means for the Inca's messages = their Writing to administrate and keep together the Empire. It seems as every Impire need a writing system to exist. Quipus is the only known pre-Columbian writing system in South America - in Central America both the Aztecs and the and the Maya had their.
A Quipu consists of knots tied on wool and cotton strings and dyed with certain colors - and not symbols carved in wood nor clay tablets neither painted on papyrus, paper nor vellum.
Quipus were a knotted "page" of information as easily could be sent by running messengers and interpreted across all their civilization.
All quipus were gathered by the Spanish church and burned as heretic, diabolic or heathen - to make a stop for the Andean Deity. The same happened in Central America.

More or less 600 quipus have survived around in museums, and nobody today can interpret them. Therefore nobody knows if they could tell something about seafaring and the Balsa Rafts? I guess we need to get a Quechua speaking investigator to be able to decode these quipus.

Survived descriptions from the Incas themselves around their Balsa rafts?

[ Img: quipus-1.jpg ] [ Img: quipus-2.png ] [ Img: quipus-4.jpg ]
Drawings made by the indigenous chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma around year 1615

Inca language today

The most spoken native languages
in South America is Quechua, the Inca's language - too the biggest native language as has survived in all America. Quechua is still spoken by around 10 millions of persons.
In their striving to transfer the messages from the Bible onto their community many clergymen have expressed the sounds of the local dialects of Quechua into words written by latin letters. From the Quipus their writing has been changed to Latin Letters, and in that way the Inca writing system is changed from quipus to latin letters. Each dialect their own diccionary !

The 10 million Inca-descendants as still are Quechua speaking are divided. They live now in what is 6 national states as can't cooperate - at least not in indigenous matter.
The result is as if a woman has got half pregnant:
Such a hard work serves for nothing. Here a letter written in one region can't be read in another.

On the web-site of Quechua-people we can demonstrate 6 alphabets with many 'surprise-letters' and many 'right writing dictionaries' = as give us different dialectal spellings for the same word in the quechua language.
We can here compare with all bigger colonial languages, as in spite of used in many continents and countries are kept united by one and only one 'right writing'.

Well - it is the task for the Quechua speaking themselves to unite their writings, but that will not happen without some political support from the National States.

we can't expect survived lore expressed in any Quechua dialect.


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Cuquimpu natives paddle to the Santiago to unload it's cargo. Courtesy Louis S. Glanzman and National Geographic Magazine.

The last balsa rafts left

The last oceangoing Balsa raft was reported 1910.

As told, they waned and disappeared together with the big sail-ships - by the arrival of steamers and motor driven ships.

What we know today comes mostly from historical and literary studies of what some of the first Europeans have heard and seen in this new world - and then have written down.
From then and until the balsa rafts disappeared 1910 we have 3-400 years. That means that there may be much material, that neither is collected, registered nor investigated. One more task for the historians.
On the other side, if the descriptions from all the years are mixed without taken in consideration that during the years and generations, the European technology has been transmitted and mixed in with the original American - then we too could have a source for misunderstandings.
There are neither much investigation of, what we could call the natural base for the existence of those Balsa Rafts: Technology employed on the rafts, tools and methods at disposal for the construction of rafts nor the raw material present in the area - at that time.
Because of this lack of knowledge around what they then could, much misconception is sneaking in. Tools and technology from other parts of the World is creeping into our interpretation and filling up this void.


Evidences from a Past:

The sketch made by lieutenant later admiral F.E.Paris 1841 is the only one we have found showing technical details in the construction of a native balsa raft. The raft is from the north-west coast of South America. The maximum length of the raft is 80-90 feet, maximum width of a raft is 25-30 feet - and with a freight capacity of 20-25 tons. Double size of Kon-tiki.

[ img - balsa1841.jpg ]

The curved yard
is something totally unseen in the western hemisphere, outside the balsa sail area - and we have no experience. A curved yard is a light construction, tied together of three parts (ref: Brunning photo#1) and therefor not so heavy to hoist (what probably not is important, in relation to the weight of sail).
The halyard is passing over a block of some sort, tied in the top of mast. On this drawing we clearly can se both the braces and one single row of reefs on top of sail (what seems very few), but we can't see any parrel - what we too agree could be a little complicated on an A-mast.
A lighter yard can be more flexible - as a fishing rod - why it shouldn't break so easily. Remind of the flexible latin yard.
If there are any aerodynamic advantage in this curved construction? As said: we don't have any experience. The drawing verify that an A-mast only need stays and no shrouds.

A photo is showing details as we can't find on a drawing, but these photos are 50 years = two generations younger than the drawing.
This photo#1 of a balsa by Brüning show some interesting details.

1): Over the balsa trunks for buoyancy
is tied a layer of crossbeam-trunks to keep together the balsa-logs. Upon them are placed a few longitudinal going trunks, as seems used mainly to lift the deck aun higher from the sea.
That third layer we have never seen or heard about before
. Then at top we have the deck as a fourth layer of timber or whatever they used as floor for crew and cargo.
2): The sail
seems rather high and large for a craft of that size - holding around 15 meters in height and 10 meters width.

3): The yard is curved
, and build by three sections and seems more across the raft than the fastening of tack and sheet indicate. We don't know why it is so, but perhaps it has a function as an
- to add an aerodynamic pull, when the wind is passing from the port side and over the curved surface of the sail. On the photo we can't see any braces, and we have no experience with curved yards, but that turn us back to the old theme for dispute: if the wind on sail Push - or Pull?
4): The strange claw
, as is seen where the bow-line is attached on fore leech, could look like the fork-end of a spar, a sprit, a pole as probably is supported by the foot of mast and attack the leech in an eye.
If that is the case, it signify that there are no force from bowline hauling against fore stay nor downwards on their curved yard - with other words, it is possible for them to position the fix point of the leech where they want and therefor it is easier to "screw" the sail, as it seems they have done.
(We DON'T KNOW that trick from our own one-masted square-sailors.)
5): The mast
as is a mono-mast and not A. It seems supported by three stays only and we can't see any shrouds. That is a solution as is known from land-based aerials.

This photo has been taken in the childhood of photography - in 1890.

That means from last in the era of the big sail ships - after 350 years of naval development under influence of the Europeans.

Photo text in Spanish:
"Impressing photo by the german Hans Heinrich Brüning of a balsa-raft in the north of Peru, where we clearly can see the difference between the size of sail and the sailors"

[ Img - bruning.gif + Bruning-balsa short2.tiff.jpg ] [ Img: Bruning-balsa short2.tiff.jpg ]

If the Bruning Museum has more photos of Rafts - that is not known

This second photo from Brüning seems to show the same first balsa
- or perhaps it was the other seen in the distance.
The photo is verifying that it is a pole as is attacking the foreleech in its bow and in this way give special options for adjusting the sail.
The curved yard seems hanging, but how it is fastened to a halyard is not possible to see - neither how it is controlled by the brace-ropes. It seems more as there are no braces. A curved yard as this probably is easier to hoist, and being of a flexible nature it won't break so easily.
[ Img: balsas107a-Bruning.jpg + balsas107b-Bruning.jpg ] [ Img: balsas107b-Bruning.jpg ]


The messages from Early drawings

Our problems with early drawings seems to be many and one of the obstacles is that so little information is left from the Incas - and the drawings and sketches as exist is often object for misinterpretion, mainly because they were drawn under other conditions and with other purpose than we use today.
Some examples: One of the earliest drawings is due to the Dutch Admiral Joris Van Spilbergen, as on his journey around the world visited Paita in Peru year 1615. The sketches are a product of hand drawings and hand copying technique of at that time - and copies were always: MIRRORED !
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Payta Nr.13
[ img - Payta-46-Spilbergen.jpg ]
Payta Foly 46
which drawing is the original and the copy is difficult to say

Two extracts from Gutenberg EBook around Joris van Spilbergen: "Voyage of George Spilbergen around the world, in 1614-17": (Note: The original document of the admiral was in Latin language"
1): "On this occasion they took a Peruvian bark, strangely rigged, having 6 stout natives on board, who have been out fishing for two month and had a cargo of excellent dried fish, which was distributed through the fleet." - (paied or not?)
2): "While on island of Lobos, the Dutch took two birds of enormous size, not unlike an eagle in beak, wings and talons; their neck being covered with down resembling wool, and their heads having combs like those of a cock. They were two ells in height, and their wings, when displayed, measured three ells in breadth."
And that was van Spilbergens experience and adventure !

So, it is confirmed, that a such strange rigged craft they really meet - and took, and therefor she is drawn on the image from the bay of Payta, and that is the message of the drawing: to tell a story. But many scholars have since taken this subordinated detail out of its main and analyzed it separately. The sail is often named in the running literature around rafts, and she has raised much "technical" discussion among scholars in Post Heyerdahl time.
What is wrong? the draughtsman probably wasn't seaman and couldn't therefor catch all the smaller maritime specialities in his memory for later put them down on paper - so I expect the raft drawing is mixed up with whatever. My guess as sailor is, that the raft has had a Crab-Claw sail as was rather common out among the pacific islands, whereas a Crab-Claw was unknown in the European region - and as Indigenous matter therefor inferior for a Dutchman to pay any special attention more than establish as 'a rare case'. The way the rigging is shown for example: For his reproduction the draftsman picked up the bent mast, but drawing sheet and underleech sitting down in his cabin, he made something he knew from home - from the lateen sail. Good enough for that illustrative purpose!
My evaluation says, that both rafts (this with a condor and that with curved mast) are drawn of decorative reasons on that sketch of a battle - or to tell a good story - or simply to fill out an empty space on the paper. At least we know, that no raft will sail into an active battle field as is indicated here.

The extract of the raft with curved mast we have in two sailing directions but three qualities.
- and that means probably one original and two mirrored copies -
[img - Paytaraft-with-triangular-sails.jpg ]
[ img - Spilbergen-ano1615.jpg ]
[ img - raft46.jpg ]

[img - tahitiwayfarer-Hanneke.jpg ]
Hanneke sailing with Crab-claw sail
[ img - Jangada_(de_Chesnel,_1856).png + jangada-Encyclopédie militaire et maritime.jpg ] [ img - jangada-Encyclopédie militaire et maritime.jpg ]
Encyclopédie Militaire et Maritime 1856

Not all what is drawn with ink is old
- too sketches can simulate to be oldish -

The dominance at sea

This sketch has given much confusion
An encounter between two cultures in that time was always hostile - pure sea robbery - well, the raft was conquered, the seamen thrown out and the women taken on board
These strange alike lateen sails seem to be an erroneous interpretation from a draughtsman.
But that isn't so - the sketch was made and published to justify the choice of lateen rigging for the Manteña Huancavilca expeditions twenty years ago.
[ Img: lateen-sails.gif ]


A mirrored copy will always lose some details !

in the time before the photography

If not done as free hand, copying in that time before Xerox too was by a 'Photo-Graphic technology'. (Photo=light and Graphic=draw)
The tool was a simple glass plate, a candle plus ink and a pen to trace the reflected image.
Therefore not any drawing are possible to accept as a reliable testimony and source for studies, but often it is difficult to see which one is the original - and which is a later careful handmade copy; but in general a copy is with fewer details.
The mirrored technology was very useful to produce a matrix for later book-print. The glass-plate principle for copy of drawings was used until we got the photocopier.

  Nobody says that the original drawings are made 'on-site' - perhaps drawn after the memory - as illustration for a book printed years later in another country as Holland.
[ img - mirror copying.gif ] As I understand the sketch, the admiral Spilbergen had ordered his sketchsman to illustrate the position of the Dutch fleet in front of Payta (all 6 with Dutch flag).
I can't see where the draughtsman has been seated while sketching, but I know, that a draftsman in that time must have worked with ink and feather pen, and that normally claim conditions as is difficult to obtain outdoor and in no way flying above the ocean in the middle of a bay. Sitting down in his cabin he had to rely on his memory and imagination, and that is OK for drawing of the Dutch ships, as he knew very well - the landscape he could control by peep out, but the surrounding adorning details are uncertain.
The compass is drawn of decorative more than informative reasons - the arrow point more to East and not North, but that isn't marked. Too we know that two Condors ware caught on 'Isla de Lobos' 100 nautical miles before the arrival to Payta and it seems incredible to imagine, that the one animal was brought by a paddling balsa all the way to Payta. The conclusion is, that raft simply is placed for only decorative and illustrative reasons.


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kly-site updated May 2017