- Museum number
Plaited vegetable fibre sail, long and narrow. One end gently sloped, the other narrowing to a point. Length of plaited rope attached to the point, and another to one of the lower corners.
- Production date
Length: 9.68 metres (approx)
Length: 153 centimetres (of tyvek roll)
Width: 1.53 metres (approx)
- Curator's comments
The sail is tall and narrow, measuring 9.68m high by 1.53m wide, and curves inwards at the top and bottom ends. Its form matches the illustrations made by the artists on Cook’s and Bligh’s early voyages to Tahiti: in particular by the artists S. Parkinson, W. Hodges and J. Webber on the three Cook voyages; and Lt. George Tobin on Bligh’s Providence, 1792 (see figures 2, 9, 10). The sail’s dimensions, a one to six ratio, accord with the observations these visitors recorded.
The sail is constructed from three large mats, as well as smaller pieces varying in shape and size, made from plaited Pandanus sp. leaf (Tahitian term fara). These have been stitched together with running stitches approximately three to four centimetres long in a two Z-plied cord made from the internal bark of the Hibiscus tiliaceus (Tahitian term purau). These materials were identified by visual inspection using knowledge of traditional materials (confirmation by scientific analysis is planned). The outer edges of the mats have been folded over, and stitched into a sleeve that runs along the entire perimeter of the sail, encasing a thick (approximately 3 cm in diameter) three Z-plied rope made from purau fibre (Figure 3). The rope, strengthening the sail at the edges, extends out at top and bottom ends with a separate section extending out the mast edge of the sail, roughly one half from the top. These three thick purau ropes are a remarkable feature of this sail. The two lower ones most likely served to fasten the sail to the mast, but the one at the top was probably used to fix a long rope of black feathers.
Along the edge of the sail, numerous small purau fibre loop fasteners are tied at regular intervals, save for a length between the end of the spar (which ran in parallel with the mast) and the top of the mast, where there are no fasteners. Tied to several of the loops fasteners are remains of two-ply purau fibre cord lengths, which would have helped fix the sail to the mast and the spar. The sail would most likely have been rigged on one side to a straight mast reaching half way up its length, and on the other to a J-shaped spar extending along its entire length (Figure 4). Extra stitching with a cord made from plaited coconut fiber (Tahitian term nape), in this case a three strand flat plait, has been added along the edge without loop fasteners to strengthen this section which was not reinforced by wood when the sail was rigged.
The pandanus leaf has been split longitudinally in strips and plaited together in a plain bias pattern, now rather distorted. The upper surface of the leaf is characterised by a smooth glossy cuticle; the lower surface is ribbed and matt. These strips have been plaited predominantly, but not exclusively, with the same leaf surface facing to one side of the sail, Figure 5. The width of the cut strips varies from mat to mat and is in the range 3–5 mm. This difference produces mats that vary in delicacy and fineness, suggesting they may have been plaited by more than one hand.
Two tied-on labels of parchment-type paper, handwritten in black ink: "Tahiti".
- Not on display
- Although the conservation has enabled the sail to be unfolded and closely studied, the pandanus leaf remains extremely brittle. The sail is thus very prone to continual fresh, small scale breaks occurring, especially during handling. This makes it unlikely that the sail itself can be regularly or repeatedly rolled and unrolled in its entirety without causing damage.
- Acquisition notes
- The sail probably reached the Museum in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It has been in storage over the years, in the Museum’s reserve collection, until curators Dorota Starzecka and Jill Hasell recognised its significance and initiated a program of conservation. It was assessed, conserved and documented in exceptional detail in 2007-2008.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number