Humans have tended to live near water, and it is natural to make use of things that float. Logs or bundles of reeds were lashed together to form rafts; hollow trunks can be improved to become dugout canoes. (HistoryWorld)
In ancient marine times, people used rafts, logs of bamboo, bundles of reeds, air filled animal skins and baskets to traverse small water bodies. The first boat was a simple frame of sticks lashed together. (Karanc)
The earliest known boats were log-boats or dugouts, with examples from Holland and Denmark going back to the Middle Stone Age or Mesolithic. (Wright) Carbon dating of a Danish dugout canoe shows its age at between 8040 and 7510 BC.
Over five thousand years ago, in Mesopotamia (present day Syria and Iraq, between the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf,) it is thought that the first sailing vessels were used (a square sail acted like a modern-day spinnaker to run with the wind.)
About 3000 BC, Greek ships had sails, and were pushed along by the wind. Small trading ships usually stayed close to the shore, so the sailors did not get lost. Greek warships had oars as well as sails – some as long as 115-feet.
The earliest plank-built boats (planks attached to a ribbed frame) are from Ancient Egypt and include the royal barge of Pharaoh Cheops, found dismantled in a rock-crypt in front of the great Pyramid and dated to about 2600 BC.
The invention of the sail was the greatest turning point in maritime history. The sails replaced the action of human muscles and sail boats could embark on longer trips with heavier loads. Earlier vessels used square sails that were best suited for sailing down wind. Fore and aft sails were devised later.
Egyptians take the credit for developing advanced sailing cargo ships. These were made by lashing together and sewing small pieces of wood. These cargo ships were used to transport great columns of stone for monument building. (Karanc)
Sea-going vessels followed and are depicted in bas-reliefs and wall paintings. In the Aegean a positive regatta of boats was depicted in fresco on the walls of a building destroyed by the great volcanic eruption of the island of Thera (Santorini) around 1400 BC.
In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, departed from Peru on the balsawood raft Kon-Tiki, demonstrating that a vessel made of nine balsa tree trunks up to 45-feet long, 2-feet in diameter, lashed together, could have been carried people 5,000-miles across the Pacific Ocean out 1,500 years ago.
In 1970, using Ra II, a papyrus reed lashed boat, Heyerdahl showed such vessels could cross the Atlantic, from Morocco to Barbados.
As boat designed evolved, the Vikings (around the 8th – 12th centuries) incorporated a keel into the hull design. Sails evolved, too; most look to the development of the triangular sail as the significant innovation (called lanteen (Latin) found in the Persian Gulf. Combined, this is basically what we know as today’s sailboat.
Before European open ocean exploration began, Eastern Polynesia had been explored and settled. (Herb Kane)
More than three thousand years ago, the uninhabited islands of Samoa and Tonga were discovered by an ancient people. With them were plants, animals and a language with origins in Southeast Asia; and along the way they had become a seafaring people.
Arriving in probably a few small groups, and living in isolation for centuries, they evolved distinctive physical and cultural traits. Samoa and Tonga became the cradle of Polynesia, and the center of what is now Western Polynesia. (Herb Kane)
Because of the great distances, these must have been sailing double-hulled canoes, with paddling as auxiliary power used only for brief periods-to launch or land canoes, or keep off a dangerous lee shore.
Changes in the primary power mode of the larger canoes of the Hawaiian Islands from sail to paddling, followed by a return to sail.
Voyaging vessels were double-hull; hulls were deep enough to track well while sailing across the wind or on a close reach into the wind. The round-sided V hulls provided lateral resistance to the water while under sail. (Herb Kane)
The most widely distributed and presumably most ancient sail was a triangle made up of strips of fine matting sewn together and mounted to two spars, one serving as a mast; the other, as a boom, usually more slender and either straight or slightly curved.
Throughout Eastern Polynesia, the same basic design probably persisted throughout the era of long distance two-way voyaging. (Herb Kane)
The double-hulled voyaging canoes were seaworthy enough to make voyages of over 2,000 miles along the longest sea roads of Polynesia, like the one between Hawai‘i and Tahiti.
And though these double-hulled canoes had less carrying capacity than the broad-beamed ships of the European explorers, the Polynesian canoes were faster: one of Captain Cook’s crew estimated one could sail “three miles to our two.” (Kawaharada)
In 1976, Hokuleʻa, the double-hulled Hawaiian voyaging vessel, demonstrated the Hawaiʻi – South Pacific sailing, when it left Hawaiʻi and reached Tahiti. (Hokuleʻa continues today on a worldwide voyage.)
Voyaging between Hawaiʻi and the South Pacific appears to have ceased several centuries before European arrival. No explanation is found in the traditions. (Herb Kane)
As long distance voyaging declined, the need shifted from voyaging canoes to large canoes for chiefly visits and warfare within the Hawaiian Islands, resulting in changes in canoe design.
For these short coastal and inter-island trips, paddling replaced sailing as the dominant power mode. Never certain when hospitality might turn sour, chiefs prudently traveled with bodyguards. (Herb Kane)
Throughout the years of late-prehistory, AD 1400s – 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi. Canoes were used for interisland and inter-village coastal travel.
Most permanent villages initially were near the ocean and at sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating convenient canoe travel.
Fast forward to post-‘contact’ and the time of the Islands’ unification; a new style of boat was in the islands and Kamehameha started to acquire and build them.
The first Western-style vessel built in the Islands was the Beretane (1793.) Through the aid of Captain George Vancouver’s mechanics, after launching, it was used in the naval combat with Kahekili’s war canoes off the Kohala coast. (Thrum)
Encouraged by the success of this new type of vessel, others were built. The second ship built in the Islands, a schooner called Tamana (named after Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Kaʻahumanu,) was used to carry of his cargo of trade to the missions along the coast of California. (Couper & Thrum, 1886)
From 1796 until 1802 the kingdom flourished. Several small decked vessels were built. (Case) According to Cleveland’s account, Kamehameha possessed at that time twenty small vessels of from twenty to forty tons burden, some even copper-bottomed. (Alexander)