I’ve never been cool. My natural tendencies, interests, even hair, just wouldn’t allow for it. I’ve never been into fast cars or fast boats. For a couple years, I even drove a bright blue-green Ford Aspire — and I still found a girlfriend (now my wife)! So, if you see me walking to the river with a coracle on my back, there’s no need to say it; I know. I’m not cool — but I’ll be smiling.
That’s because coracles are such fun — to build and to use. I built a couple nearly ten years ago, one for me, and one for my kids to have some fun with. After many duct tape repairs, it was finally time to “re-skin” it. This time, rather than tar coated canvas, I used pvc coated polyester fabric. It’s obviously not a natural fabric, but I gave in this time. It is incredibly strong and should hold up very well against sharp rocks.
The sequence above shows the two coracles when I first made them, then the larger one right before I decided to re-skin it. The third photo shows the sawn hickory laths re-exposed (hickory was probably overkill), and finally the new skin.
I am 185 pounds, and my coracle is plenty stable at 5 feet long and 4 feet wide. I forget where I saw the general plan years ago, but here is a site with plans for the same style plus some great information in general about coracles.
There are many styles. In this video clip from the BBC Edwardian Farm series, you can watch Sean Hellman build one with willow wands. As you’ll see, they also try it out, but don’t let that deter you. By the way, the entire BBC Farm Series shows are wonderful. Most episodes are on YouTube in their entirety. A quick search on You Tube will get you started. Robin Wood is turning bowls in one of the Medieval episodes.
And this short video from 1934 should give you an idea of how stable they really can be:
A coracle is a little sluggish on open water, but a joy on a river. It goes with the flow and spins around on command (or on a whim, sometimes) for a change of view. And you don’t have to chance looking cool.