From Douglas Brooks – The Cormorant Fishing Boat is Done

I got an email this morning from American boatbuilder Douglas Brooks, who has been in Japan, studying and constructing an Ukaibune, or a traditional river fishing boat used by the cormorant fishermen of Gifu prefecture.

Photo of completed Ukaibune courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

The boat is reportedly 42 feet long, 4 feet wide, and used some 900 nails in construction. And, for those not familiar with Japanese traditional boat construction, we’re not talking about wire nails, we’re talking about hand-forged flat iron nails.

A pair of Japanese made iron nails used in wooden boatbuilding.

The boat will launch in one week.

Learn more by visiting his blog at: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com

As always, I can’t recommend his book enough. Order direct from his website to assure that all proceeds go to help fund additional research. Plus, short of meeting the author in person, this is the only way to get an inscribed copy: http://douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/japanese_wooden_boatbuilding.html

Tell him I sent you and you’ll help give me more leverage to get him to provide some plans for ship/boat modelers to scratch build from.

 

Douglas Brook at the Sabani Races in Okinawa

If you haven’t been following his blog, now is a good time to check in on blog.doublasbrooks.com to get an update on his efforts to study the construction of an Ukaibune, or Cormorant fishing boat.

The ukaibune with the last of the hull planks going on. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

But for the moment, at least as far as his blog updates are concerned, Mr. Brooks is taking a break from work and visiting Okinawa to see the sabani races.

Sabani are semi-dugout boats with thick cedar hull planking. While traditional Japanese boats have been disappearing, the sabani made a resurgence due to the interest of wooden boat sailing enthusiasts.

Okinawan sabani. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

Mr. Brooks studied the construction of this traditional Okinawan boat through an apprenticeship back in 2009/2010. You can read about the boat and the apprenticeship in detail in his book on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding. There is also a nice write up on the sabani on his website.

Sabani racing in the beautiful waters of Okinawa. Photo courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

Mr. Brooks is only taking a 1-week break, so I imagine we’ll see an update on his blog soon about the ukaibune project. I don’t imagine it will be long before we see the completed boat engaged in cormorant fishing on the Nagara-gawa.

Douglas Brook in Gifu Prefecture to Build Ukaibune

I got an email from Douglas Brooks while on his flight to Japan last week to build an Ukaibune, a boat used by cormorant fishermen in Gifu prefecture. I also saw that he recently  posted his first blog entries from Japan, as he begins work on the new project.

Douglas Brooks’s recently completed Ayubune

I saw from Internet posts elsewhere that he is going to be working with someone from Tri-Coastal Marine to take measurements for CAD work. I don’t know any details beyond that, though I’ve been trying to look into this further as the company is local to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The cormorant fishing boats are big, and they are someone complex in shape and structure compared to other Japanese river boats. But the would certainly be interesting models.

An Ukaibune, a boat used in Gifu prefecture for cormorant fishing.

Here’s a link to Douglas Brooks’s first post from Japan this trip: http://blog.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/2017/05/now-in-gifu-japan.html

Check out the great photos of the 15-shaku (15 foot) Hozu river Ayubune that he built for a client just before he left for Japan. This particular boat has some extra “bling” in the form of small copper plates that were never used on the real riverboats.

Douglas Brooks Building Cormorant Fishing Boat in Gifu

Boatbuilder, and my personal Japanese boatbuilding mentor, Douglas Brooks will soon be returning to Japan to begin working on the construction of an Ukaibune (鵜飼船), a cormorant fishing boat, in Gifu. In mid-May he will be working with Mr. Seichi Nasu, who may very well be the last builder of these famous Japanese boats.

The 85 year old Mr. Nasu has built over 700 boats of various types in his lifetime. But, unlike with Brooks’s past apprenticeships in Japan, Mr. Nasu will not be directly involved in the construction, and will instead direct, while Brooks provides the physical labor.

Ukaibune on the shore of the Nagara river. Image courtesy of Douglas Brooks.

Ukaibune are incredibly long and narrow. In Gifu, they are generally worked by three fishermen at night by firelight. From these boats, the fishermen use cormorants to catch fish. A snare is placed around the base of the bird’s throat which allows it to swallow smaller fish, but not larger ones, which are instead held in their mouths. When a larger fish is caught, the fishermen bring the fish back aboard the boat and where it spits out the fish. It is a very old tradition practiced not only in Japan, but also in China, and parts of Europe.

In Japan the practice has become less about catching fish and more about bringing in tourists, at least in Gifu, where the tourists number in the hundreds of thousands annually. There, on the Nagara river, fishing is done at night, as tourists ride around in viewing boats, observing the 1300 year old tradition.

Cormorant fishing on the Nagara river. Image from go-centraljapan.jp.

I’ll post more about the building of the Ukaibune as I learn more. In the meantime, you can follow the work of Douglas Brooks by visiting his blog. There’s some interesting information about the cormorant fishing boats from his February 2014 visit.

To learn more about the man and his past projects, or to buy his book on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding (highly recommended), visit his website at http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com/

For more information about cormorant fishing in Gifu, check out this site: http://en.go-centraljapan.jp/place/detail_115.html