Historical Musings II
by Lori Safford
According to the Encarta World English Dictionary, the word kayak (spelled different ways throughout the literature:kayak, kyak, kyack, kayak…) is derived from a mid-18th century Inuit word qayak meaning “hunter’s boat” and used to name a traditional Inuit boat made of seal skins and wood for one or two people using (mostly) double-bladed paddles. The qayak was made from pieces of driftwood (fir, pine, spruce, or willow—all relatively light and flexible) that was formed into a narrow and pointed frame. Bearded seal skins, after de-haired and waterproofed with oil, were then stretched around the sinew-lashed frame, and sewn together, again with sinew.
Wood and wood/fabric were common materials up until the 1950’s when fiberglass was introduced. This was followed by plastic in 1984, the Chinook being the first of the rotomolded boats.
Distinctive designs evolved in Greenland, Baffin Island, the Bering Strait area, and the Aleutian Islands and were specialized for the local conditions and needs of the hunters. No distinction seems to have been made between seaworthy and river-worthy kayaks.
Sleek lines and low profile signaled a Greenland kayak which, because of the narrow, single chine V hull, required a highly skilled handler. Baffin Island kayaks were built to carry heavy loads, hence the flat and stable hull, long and wide frame. Although shorter, the Bering Strait kayaks also could store massive cargo loads; multi-chimed hulls and high-crowned decks were their distinctive trademarks. Kayaks from the Aleutian Islands were fast; “a unique forked bow design was created to maximize the efficiency of slicing through waves while maintaining sufficient buoyancy in rough conditions” (Derek Hutchinson, The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking. )
Modern sea kayaks seem to have developed from two types: the Greenland kayaks and the “Rob-Roy” kayaks. In 1959, Ken Taylor brought a Greenland kayak back to his homeland, Scotland, which was copied by Geoff Blackford in 1971. Blackford retained the upturned stern but adjusted the dimensions to 17 feet long with a 21 inch beam. This style was used as a plug for a fiberglass mold made by Frank Goodman of Valley Products into a kayak dubbed “Anas Acuta”. After several expeditions using the Anas Acuta, explorers needed a boat that would hold huge quantities of supplies without losing maneuverability and seaworthiness.
Goodman went back to the proverbial drawing board, incorporating elements of standard boat design, with a round bilge capapble of the extra payload—voila! The Nordkapp.
The Rob-Roy kayaks stem from designs of what John McGregor in 1865 envisioned Eskimo kayaks to look like. The Coaster and Kleppers were also similar to this style.
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