How to Build a Coracle

How to build a coracle, a large, basket-like woven boat. Includes how to build and lash a coracle, weaving a boat layout, bending the ribs of the boat and boat waterproofing recipe.

| April/May 2003

Learn how to build a coracle, an ancient boat design made of willow branches.

Learn how to build a coracle, an ancient boat design made of willow branches.

Photo By Lynn Karlin

Learn how to build a coracle. Coracles have been made by people of many cultures for thousands of years.

How to Build a Coracle

In 1978 I ran into a friend, Hugh Curran, at the coin-operated laundry in Ellsworth, Maine. He saw one of my handmade laundry baskets, and he remarked that it reminded him of a miniature version of the boats, or coracles, his uncle once had built in Ireland. They were used for salmon fishing on the rivers. The possibility of making such a boat, based on a basket form covered with hide or cloth, really appealed to me. Hugh wasn't sure if anyone was still building coracles, but he wrote to his uncle to inquire.

About the same time, National Geographic ran an article about the Irish curragh, a cousin of the smaller coracle, entitled "The Voyage of the Brendan: Did Irish Monks Discover America?" by Tim Severin (December 1977). My curiosity engaged, I began a search and was fortunate enough to locate the only extensive book on the history and design of coracles, British Coracles and the Curraghs of Ireland, written in 1936 by the noted small craft historian James Hornell.

Born of necessity, coracles have been made by people in many places for thousands of years. It is thought only the dugout canoe predates the coracle as a means of water travel.

In June of 1986, I read an article in The New Yorker entitled "A Good Little Vessel" by Anthony Bailey. Eustace Rogers, the subject of Bailey's article, was reputed to be the last coracle maker in England. I was inspired by the description of his craft and decided to build my own coracle.

I visited Ironbridge on the River Severn to see firsthand what a coracle looked like and to talk with Eustace. I also wanted to see if I could locate any other builders in Wales, the main area where the craft was once in use. After some searching I found another coracle maker, Ronnie Davies, on the River Teifi in South Wales. Ronnie and Eustace spent many hours talking with me about coracles, their construction, history and use in fishing. Thanks to their considerable knowledge, help and enthusiasm, I have been able to carry on the tradition of coracle construction.

8/27/2009 10:29:51 PM

The article said that it had been excerpted from the book Maine Farm, A Year of Country Life, written by the late Stanley Joseph. I found the book available on line and ordered it today. I’m hoping many of the questions will be answered there.

kathy marsh
8/27/2009 6:01:29 AM

You don't need the construction paper at all. I've worked on a few Boyne corracles (on the Boyne and neighbouring rivers) and you just make an oval on the ground the size you want your boat to be. The usual wood is not willow but hazel but the cutting, drying and soaking of the wood is still a good idea, though not absolutely essential. If you can get hold of an ox hide it will shrink to fit the basket work support and you won't need to dry and then soak. In use it will tend to be kept soaked anyway - using a corracle is pretty much a recipe for a wet backside. Don't think palm fronds would work - not rigid enough. You need something that combines stiff and pliable - sorry but I don't know enough about the vegetation of Florida to make recommendations. I think if I were making a home made local material fishing boat in Florida I'd maybe be looking at the south american style reed boats. I'll try and put together some corracle pics and get them up on the sonairte website

8/26/2009 7:33:11 PM

How can I find the answers to the existing questions? Thanks,Cat

8/26/2009 11:28:50 AM

Is it possible to use something other than willow? I live in south Florida where palm fronds are plentiful, would these work or some other local material?

8/26/2009 10:55:40 AM

Nice article, but could use more photos. Do the sticks go through the paper or beside the paper? What does willow look like? Are you talking about weeping willow or some other kind? Can a keel be added? What does a proper paddle look like? Is a kayak paddle of any use? What does the seat look like? Thank you.

7/13/2009 9:56:54 AM

I was so pleased to hear you've revived the coracle. I first read about them around 10 years ago when reading the dictionary one night. Webster's made it out to be a lake craft. I'm glad to hear it can be used on rivers as well. Do you have a book I can buy?

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