“The bay forms in the morning and evening an animated spectacle, covered as it then is by a fleet of small vessels called Mackinaw boats going and returning from fishing, for each family has its own boat, and the Indians are very expert in their construction.” - 1857 Government Report
The Mackinaw boat as a distinctive type dates back to the early 1800’s. It was the “pickup truck” of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior for over a century. Though size ranged from 16 feet in length to over forty, the average was 26 feet in length, 8 foot in beam and drew about two feet of water. Characteristics included a plumb stem, raked stern post, strong sheer and beam carried well forward. The majority were two masted—ketch or schooner rigged—with a bowsprit and foresail. As the photograph of the Seang testifies, the Mackinaw was a beautifulsight on the water! The craft were sturdily built and their hull shape provided a safe and stable platform for fishing and the efficient transport of goods and people. They were noted for their speed and seaworthiness. The French, the earliest large European presence active on the Lakes, developed close associations with First Nations peoples. Brought together by exploration and the fur trade, the two groups probably used their extensive experience with the Indian freight canoes to establish the “template” of what later became recognized as a the Mackinaw boat. Already accomplished in woodworking, Native peoples quickly learned how to incorporate this skill set into European boat building methods and capitalized on the demand for these boats. As a result, many of the Mackinaw boats in use on the Upper Lake were built—and asignificant number owned—by First Nations people.
Fast forwarding to 2017, Hands on Deck took on a custodial role for the Serang. She is a 27-foot Mackinaw boat built on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron in thethe early part of the 20th century. Serang is past the point of being a candidate for a full restoration but we are researching her background, have recorded her dimensions and will be making her lines and construction details available in 2019. And, who knows, we may evenbuild a sister ship some day.
As of the Fall of 2018, SERANG’s lines have been taken by Rodger Swanson and Pete Matcheffs, and she has been moved into a permanent home in Two Rivers at the Rodgers Street Fishing Museum. We are continuing our efforts in experimental archaeology with smaller Mackinaw Boats at this time.