SOOMAA SINGLE-LOG CANOE
The Finno-Ugric one-log boat or haabjas in Estonian is probably the
world’s oldest boat type and the forefather of modern plank boat.
Haabjas was used as a fishing and a transport vessel already during the
stone age – they were used by our forefathers already when they were on
their way towards the present territory of Estonia. Dugout is a long
and narrow vessel carved out of a single log. Well-built dugouts were
light, which enabled them to be carried over natural obstacles between
bodies of water. In Estonia traditional dugout building has survived in
the regions famous for their great floods – around Matsalu Bay, in
Võnnu parish at the mouth of Ahja River, and in Sooma National Park on
the lower reaches of the many tributaries of Pärnu river. Estonia also
happens to be the westernmost area of dugout boats.
By today Soomaa has developed into a center for builiding and
maintaining the traditions of these ancient boats in Estonia. Guests
are welcome to come and educate themselves about the history and
construction of these ancient vessels, participate in the practical
building camps and make forays into the pristine nature of Soomaa
National Park on these prehistoric vessels.
Technical information and construction
Building of a dugout starts with selecting a suitable tree – the old
folk considered pine and aspen the best, the latter gave the vessel its
original name (haabjas meaning of aspen in Estonian). The tree had to
be tall and without branches and any signs of decay, also it had to be
cut down in winter. From outside the log was hewn to a cigar shape and
great attention was paid to leave all the branches and cracks in the
part that was to be cut out. For emptying the middle part a special
U-curved carpenters’ axe was used. To ensure equal thickness
shipwrights, depending on the region, used either knocking or drilling
small holes that were filled with spruce clogs once the dugout was
finished to determinne the thickness of the boat. Next the sides of the
dugouts were made wet and slowly bent ajar using fires and sticks to
keep both boards in fixed position. The desired shape was then
reinforced with purpose-built arcs. In some places people used to make
their dugouts higher attaching planks on both sides.
Interesting facts and stories
to folk beliefs one could only cut down the chosen tree with a northern
wind and declining moon, also the tree had to fall against the wind.
This was believed to protect the dugout against decay. Also it was
believed that if the log fell far from the stump the dugout will be
- In Saarde parish it was
believed that when towing the log out of the forest, “the horse had to
be a mare if you wanted to have a boat with strong carrying capacity”:
On the lower reaches of Ahja river it was customary to raise the board
with extra planks attached to the sides. This is a great example
illustrating how dugouts gave birth to the modern plank boat.
There is a joke among the Siberian people Handies : “If you sit in a
dugout you have to keep your tongue in the middle of the mouth” - who
has tried to ride with one knows why.