Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Launching Pepiotel

So back about a week ago, Paula and I attended the launch of a new canoe here in Cadboro Bay. Over the summer, as we walked across the University of Victoria campus, we watched a cedar log appear beside the new First Nations building. Then one of those temporary garage structures (a framework and tarp thing), and finally a bunch of sawdust, shavings, and bits of wood. And, over the weeks, a new canoe. When we heard that the canoe, named Pepiotel, was going to be launched on "our" beach, and that the ceremony was open to the public, we made a point of showing up.
Pepiotel--in the local First Nations culture, canoes are treated as living individuals--was brought down to the water early in the morning on September 15th and lifted off the trailer and onto a couple of sawhorses, and then to a couple of beach logs.
    Pepiotel has an interesting shape; it's not the symmetric cigar shape I've come to expect of canoes. Rather, the canoe widens from the front to about 4/5ths of the way back, then abruptly narrows to the stern.

    It also reminded me of a dory shape, where a flat, shaped bottom has angled sides attached to it. The bow also had an interesting groove shaped into it, the purpose of which I never did find out.
    I thought it was interesting that the elders were brought in to cleanse the boat before its launch. I wouldn't have thought that a new boat had had time to develop any bad habits to cleanse from it, but perhaps the ritual was intended to suit the tree to its new status as horizontal boat rather than vertical tree. The ritual itself was interesting--we were told we could take pictures or footage, but that they preferred that there be no sound recording of the ceremony. The ceremony was quick--there was one elder on each side of the boat, chanting a prayer (I'm assuming it was a prayer) and patting the sides of the canoe, with one hand on the outside and one on the inside. They worked from the stern to the bow, and then repeated the action. A few speeches later, and the canoe was lifted into the water.
    Pepiotel, it was explained to us, was the name of the group of three stars on the front of the canoe. The condensed version of the story is that three duck hunters were transformed into stars and placed in the sky together. Now they appear together when it is time to hunt ducks. We never did hear why they were transformed....
    Pepiotel the canoe floated quite high in the water--as you would expect from a wide, flat-bottomed boat. The first crew hopped into the boat and were drummed away from shore and off around the bay.  Pepiotel wasn't the only human-powered boat in the bay; during the ceremony a poly sit-on-top/canoe/undecked kayak was launched, and a small zodiac-style inflatable was rowed in to shore. After the fist paddle, the opportunity to paddle Pepiotel was offered to anyone who wanted the chance--Paula, naturally, leapt at the opportunity . Her report was that the canoe had a low initial stability, but firmed up as it picked up speed. The high, flared sides would also increase its secondary stability.
    All in all, a fascinating morning. You can check out the video below.

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