The Melanesia Story

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By James Wharram

The l6ft. 'MELANESIA', using two sheets of ply for the main canoe hull is our modern solution to the shortage of suitable trees for dugout construction.

The 'MELANESIA' is to be used in the traditional manner as a small inter island sea truck, for daily commuting to their gardens, for out to sea fishing or just paddling around to see friends, families or nearby islands.

Recently, coming back to the Western sailing scene, studying yacht magazines and visiting the London Boat Show, I find modern yachts feel 'artificial' with unnecessary, expensive items added on. In general discussions with other sailors I notice that I am not alone in the critical observations of modern sailing yacht development.

Melanesia on land, green sail up
Melanesia exhibited at Greenwich Maritime Museum at the 'Wooden Boat Show'.
Outrigger crossbeams
Float attachment to crossbeams.

The 'MELANESIA', designed for Pacific working sailors, could help many Westerners to recover the simple approach to sailing pleasures, which they feel is being lost. So, here it is:

The single hull of the 'MELANESIA' is made out of two - yes, two - sheets of plywood stitched and glued together.

The crossbeams and float are gathered from your local woods or forests (ask permission first). Bamboo can also be used for crossbeams and spars. The sails for the Crab Claw rig, you can make yourself (how to do this is shown in the plans). An old windsurfer rig would be suitable, too. Steering is done in true Pacific style by raising and lowering the paddle.

Close up of bow crossbeam attachments and mast
Spars and crossbeams are made from saplings and natural forks.

For under £200 you can have a car top, quick sailing, coastal camping craft.

The low cost and simplicity of building the main hull of the 'MELANESIA' is attracting another group of Pacific Island canoe enthusiasts. The Offshore Paddling Canoe racers, who use expensive, six man fibreglass canoes in their inter island competitions, need a low cost 'OPTIMIST' style training canoe to encourage and develop their future paddling champions. A simple paddling 'MELANESIA' is being considered both in New Zealand and Fiji as their low cost simple and quick to build trainer.

- James Wharram

Melanesia Design Data
Building Method: Ply/Glass/Epoxy Stitch & Glue
Length Overall: 16' 4.90 m
Length of Float: 12' 3.65 m
Weight of Hull: 46 lbs 21 kg
Overall Weight (sailing version): 110 lbs 50 kg
Overall Weight (paddling version): 75 lbs 34 kg
Sail area: 58 sqft 5.35 sqm
Building Time Estimate: 115 hrs