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Periagua (from the Spanish language Piragua, in turn derived from the Carib language word for dugout) is the term formerly used in the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of North America for a range of small craft including canoes and small sailing vessels. The term "periagua" overlaps, but is not synonymous with, "pirogue", derived through the French language from "piragua".

The original periaguas or piraguas were the dugout canoes encountered by the Spanish in the Caribbean. Small craft of greater capacity were created by splitting a dugout and inserting a plank bottom, while the freeboard was increased for sea voyages by adding planks on the sides. By the 18th century the term "periagua" was being applied to flat-bottomed boats, which could be 30 feet (10 m) or more long and carry up to 30 men, with one or two masts, which could also be rowed. Later in the 18th century "periagua" became the name for a specific type of sailing rig, with gaff rigged sails on two masts that could be easily struck, commonly with the foremast raked forward and the main mast raked back. The "periagua rig" was used on U. S. Navy gunboats on Chesapeake Bay in the early 19th century. The term "periagua" was also applied to rowing scows similar to a john boat.[1]

Periaguas were used in fishing and coastal and inter-island commerce. Early in the 18th century periaguas were used by pirates around the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispaniola. Periaguas could be rowed against the wind, useful for approaching potential victims or escaping from pursuers. Benjamin Hornigold and Sam Bellamy began their careers as pirate captains operating from periaguas.[2]


  1. Oxford English Dictionary#Compact editions: piragua
    Century Dictionary: periagua
    Chapelle 19-20, 32-3
    Woodard 54, 89
    Montfort, Kent. (2006) "Logbook provides a vehicle for cruise down memory lane." Chesapeake Bay Journal. February 2006. found at [1]
  2. Century Dictionary: periagua
    Chapelle 19-20
    Woodard 89, 125, 128-30, 133-34