I joined my friend Dick Mahler the other day for a little paddling trip to the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival in Seattle. Dick has a condo just on the north shore of the lake right across the street from Gasworks Park, a convenient place to put-in. In addition to his three-piece Pygmy Arctic Tern 14 he has a custom wooden “Blazing Aspen” in storage at the local kayak store, a Feathercraft K1 expedition, and a couple Pakboats. He’s also got a bunch of Beale paddles and beautiful Aleut paddle carved by Jim Mitchell. One bathroom in his condo is stuffed with gear: immersion wear, PFDs and stuff still in original packaging. It looks like he's preparing for a major expedition.
That day he took his 14 ft Pakboat Puffin out to assemble in the parking garage. It’s 26 lbs and fits in a duffle bag. It assembles like putting up a tent. Two folding aluminum poles slide into the skin for the gunwales, and one serves as the keelson. There are no chine stringers. Dick discovers one of the plastic pegs on an aluminum deck beam has broken off. If it were made out of wood we could just drill a couple of holes and lash it together. There is still a lot to be said for ancient Inuit engineering! Oh well, hopefully the skin and inflatable sponsons will hold it together. Once the frame is assembled inside the hull skin, the deck is attached along the shear with Velcro. I notice a couple small holes in the deck and point them out to Dick. He says it must have gotten a little beat up when it was sent to Chris Cuningham for the Sea Kayaker Magazine article -- yes, this is the actual Pakboat used in the review!
Finally on the lake we paddle a mile to the far end to the Center for Wooden Boats.
On this holiday weekend the water is crowded with boat traffic: yachts, sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and those amphibious tour bus “ducks”. Around the Center for Wooden Boats the traffic gets more interesting: a steam launch called The Alien Queen, a 14 ft tugboat Rascal, an umiak, and a couple skin-on-frame baidarkas, one just newly finished. Dick stops to talk with just about every person who asks about his Pakboat. We paddle close to the floats and admire the big collection of classic wooden speedboats. I love the brightwork, chrome and glossy paint.
On land there is even more to see. One strip kayak builder has his kayak rotisserie on display. It’s powered by an electric motor and used for varnishing. Rod Tait from Orca Boats is there, as well as Joe Greenley of Redfish Kayaks. Joe is showing off the new design, the Golden. It has an adjustable resistance back support (more resistance for touring, and less for rolling) made out of his characteristic pinstriped wood strips and finished like a piece of sculpture. By the way, I’ve actually never demoed any of Joe’s kayaks before because I’ve always been too afraid I’d scratch them.
We find Corey Freedman under the shelter standing in spruce wood shavings, finishing up his Aleut paddle carving class. We talk about the kid that just finished his baidarka. It took him 11 days to make it. Corey says it typically takes 8.5 days to build one. To someone who spent the last 9-10 months making a strip boat the difference of 2.5 days is pretty insignificant.
Corey isn’t afraid to talk about Greenland style’s dirty little secret (also mentioned by Brian Schulz and Warren): “Greenland kayaks all paddle like shit.” He says the upswept bow and stern catch the wind and they all weathercock. The overhanging ends are wasted length. If you cut the ends off and trim it more aft you might get a kayak that paddles well. Of course, then if you just add a round bottom and bifid bow it becomes a baidarka. Some speculate that Greenland kayaks were meant to weathercock to keep the hunter downwind of the prey. They might have been made with a narrow beam to keep the paddles from hitting the sides and making noise that would scare away animals. Whatever the reasons for the design they were probably specialized tools not meant to be used the way recreational kayakers use them today.
On the trip back Dick wants to try Moonlight Dancer. I worry that he might not be able to fit so we try it out on the grass.
“This is absolutely the best fitting kayak I have ever been in!” he says.
“How's you’re roll?” I ask.
“Not so good,” he says. “Why? Is she really tender?”
I get in the Pakboat. The tracking is a little loose but I can manage it. Dick says it might be because of the broken deck beam. When we get back to Gasworks Park I get out and sit on the foredeck of Moonlight Dancer to stabilize and help Dick get out. He’s stuck!
“Try twisting your legs off to the side,” I say.
He twists and turns, pushing out and lying back. “This isn’t funny anymore!” he says. “I’m REALLY STUCK!”
“Well, if you got in you can get out,” I say. Then after several attempts at scraping his kneecaps off I get an idea and unbuckle the backrest, snapping it loose. It gives him the extra inch to squeeze out. Good thing he didn’t capsize out there or I'd be practicing the Hand of God. Whew!
Check out more of my pictures of the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival here.