design question

Most of the pictures of old traditional canoes I have seen show highly recurved stems. Does this offer any advantage over a modern stem design?

recurved stems
Recurved stems are difficult to lay up in a mold and require two piece or split molds to get the boat out . As such, they increase costs to no good purpose, but they look cool.

Recurved stems
actually catch more abeam wind than modern designs and that can be very frustrating to deal with.

I suppose they might be slightly drier in big waves, but the wind issue, plus just that a high, recurved end is in your way when you’re trying to cast while fishing, make the high recurved ends very undesirable, in my opinion.

It seems possible that recurving the
stems in birchbark canoes might have a bit or a stiffening effect on the hull, at the ends. Probably recurved stems on wood-canvas and other kinds of canoes are just imitation. The original birchbark builders also seemed to put some value on a tribal style, though differences between one tribe’s design tradition and that of others can usually be traced to what sort of boat performance was sought for specific environments and activities.

I’ve often wondered if…
… that’s a shape that was necessary on “stone age” birch bark canoes where the strength of fasteners might have been a limiting factor. If you want to put a nice sharp bend in the wood that makes up the stem, it might be easier to anchor it in that shape if a substantial lever-arm extends beyond the functional part of the bend. Naturally, the lever-arm portion of that beam would bend too, resulting in the kind of curve being discussed here. If you bent the stem the necessary amount, but tied it off at the same height as the stem of a modern canoe, the amount of fastening strength needed to anchor it there would be a whole lot greater. Of course, if the frame of the stem is pre-bent and maintains its shape without being held in position, this hypothesis doesn’t hold up as well. I’m sure somebody out there knows about this.

Spruce roots are pretty strong.

Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney, Howard I. Chappelle, and John McPhee is a nice book that will answer your questions. Some but not all of bark canoes had recurved stems.

Interesting question
Looking over the responses above it would appear that every single post touches on part of this puzzle. Yes indeed, as Charlie said – it looks cool. Stevet & Al – yep, catches the wind alrighty. Drier in big waves, but limiting for casting – yep. Tribal variations certainly had a great impact on design as g2d proposes. Guidboatguy’s speculation about strength/construction definitely holds water (pun intended). Certainly studying Adney and Chapelle’s seminal book as Bryan suggests will give insights… (I LOVE to point out the fact that E. Tappan Adney was born just a few miles from my home here in Athens County Ohio, USA).

I’ll add yet another thought… a factor that hasn’t been mentioned yet: An inverted bark canoe with high ends offers is a handy, dandy built-in shelter for sleeping. This was especially true with the exaggerated high ends of the fur trade era. Observe:

recurved stems are wetter

– Last Updated: Jan-07-08 6:44 AM EST –

than forward stems, I think, because of the sides being forced inward with recurved stems, although the difference will be very small with comparable shapes, see:

I was under thej assumption
that when Native builders bent the spruce back upon itself to make the stems, a recurve shape resulted when teh wood was tied off.

Maybe that is too simple an answer.