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November 2008

Shedding My Skin

Shedding skin-0

I know I said I wasn't going to be doing any boatbuilding until the end of 2009, but the reason for that was partly to to give myself time for maintenance of the boats I already have.  So now I'm starting my long list of kayak projects.  First of all, I'm reskinning my historic reproduction of the Howard Chapelle's 1948 Greenland kayak, fig. 208 of Adney and Chapelle's book The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

Here is what my kayak looked like after two years of regular use and storage outside: generally in good condition except some wear around the coaming, especially the back deck, and where my knees and feet pressed against the underside of the foredeck. Also, the thin coat of one−part polyurethane that I put on is flaking off from the underlying two−part polyurethane. Brushing on that coat of one−part hardware store polyurethane was a big mistake. I did it purely for cosmetic reasons, to cover the glossy sheen of the two-part polyurethane. It lasted a year before it started to peel off.

Shedding skin-1

If it wasn’t for all the unsightly peeling I probably wouldn’t have bothered replacing the skin for another few years, but it had gotten just too embarrassing to show off anymore. So I finally took a box cutter to the skin and pulled the whole thing off. This also gave me the opportunity to remove the rub strips I glued and pegged to the keelson and chines. Although they were traditional, the skin was plenty abrasion resistant by itself so they really weren’t necessary. I also suspected they added some drag and slowed the kayak down. I also wanted to tweak the frame a little, giving the bow a finer entry and see if I could finally figure out why the kayak tended to pull to the left. 

Shedding skin-3

The skin adhered well to the frame. I was able to pull it off, but had to cut the skin into several pieces to make it easier. In some areas, it stuck so well to the frame that it tore chunks out of the gunwale and keelson. Whether that happened depended on if I was pulling the skin with or against the grain. If you ever do this yourself, I recommend that if you start tearing pieces of wood out just pull in the other direction. 

The frame looked like it held up well. The lashings were still tight, except for a couple lashings in the floorboards.  No signs of rot, but the frame felt wet and heavy. It was probably seasoned like driftwood. I found pockets of sand at the ends. I suspect that it never completely dried out since the first time I took her out. The moisture would explain the significant weight gain over the years: the day she was completed she weighed 29 pounds, but last year in the middle of winter she weighed 44 pounds. Originally, I didn't oil the frame because I thought it an unnecessary step to preserve the wood which would be constantly exposed to saltwater. But this time I’m going to coat it generously with tung oil to see if it will inhibit the absorption of water and keep the weight down.

Next step: repairing the frame

Shedding skin-4

Maligiaq and the Meat-Based Diet



When I took lessons at George Gronseth’s Kayak Academy a few years ago I noticed a moldering white Hypalon-coated skin−on−frame Greenland kayak in his storage shed, and the rotting skeletal remains of an old baidarka. George regularly offers classes on Greenland paddle making and has the distinction of being the first outsider ever to train at a kayak training camp in Greenland in 1990. The year before, he had met Greenland kayaking champion John Peterson and kayak historian John Heath in a traditional kayaking event in Kodiak, Alaska. The invitation to travel to Greenland grew out of that event. 

George has some great slides of his Greenland trip, including some rare color pictures of actual seal skin kayaks. He says that it was a challenge to try to find a kayak in Greenland that would fit him. Eventually he was able to squeeze into the roomiest kayak I think by rubbing himself with seal fat and having one person pull up on the coaming of the kayak and another person lift the bow, which loosens the skin on the deck. Of course then there was the question of being able to get out. 

By the way, the water they were training in was about 32 degrees and frequently littered with icebergs. 

George tells a great story about how he was designated the chef for the end−of−training-camp barbeque, since he was the only one with barbeque experience. He set up an apparatus to roast a pig on a spit, rotating it around a scrap metal pole (found in an abandoned building on the site) and rocks to reflect the heat around the fire pit. He stuffed the inside of the pig with apples, and baked potatoes in the coals. He couldn't help being a little worried about how it would turn out, but the flesh was completely cooked and tender inside and the meal was a big success.

While on the subject of meat, I found it interesting that Maligiaq says it’s a big part of his diet; seal, whale, beef, pork −− all kinds. If you are looking for the secret to his athletic prowess maybe that's it. George says that seal meat contains vitamins that are not found in beef, namely vitamin C. That’s how the Inuit have been able to survive while eating a diet consisting entirely of meat. These days fresh fruits and vegetables have to be shipped in from Denmark. Well, maybe global warming will change all that.
So I'm guessing it's probably impossible to be a vegan in Greenland.  You have to wonder if for genetic reasons Inuits an Inuk wouldn't simply just up and die on a vegan diet.


Harpoon Throwing With Maligiaq!

Harpoon Throwing With Maligiaq! from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

I'm officially announcing the Dash Point Pirate TV Channel.   For the big kickoff I'm releasing a new video, Harpoon Throwing With Maligiaq!  Look for me in there: I'm the guy in the Smurf outfit near the end.

Chris Cunningham made the harpoon, by the way.  His impressive collection of hunting implements was on display for the event.


Maligiaq’s Sealskin Tuilik



I finally met famed Greenland National Kayaking Champion Maligiaq Padilla! He’s really a nice guy. In the days before he arrived there was some concern over whether we could communicate with him and someone initiated a search for a Danish interpreter but he actually speaks English pretty well.

Years ago when I was first learning Greenland Style I ordered the videotape Rolling With Maligiaq and watched it over and over. At the time the video was made, Maligiaq had won the 1988 Greenland National Kayaking Championship. At age 16 he was the youngest kayaker ever to win that honor.  Kayak historian John Heath had brought him to the United States and they traveled together speaking and giving rolling and rope gymnastics demonstrations at a number of small kayaking events all over the country including the Pacific Northwest. In the video he performs the competition rolls with incredible grace using one of Harvey Golden’s Greenland kayak replicas. Rolling with Maligiaq was the definitive Greenland rolling video up until Dubside’s DVD came out. Although it wasn’t an instructional video, for many self−taught fans of Greenland style like myself it was one of the few sources of instruction available at the time outside of kayak symposiums. The movie is a classic and I recommend it to anyone interested in Greenland Style.

When I first met Maligiaq and told him how inspired I was by John Heath’s video he laughed and said he didn’t really like that video. It guess it didn’t turn out to be what he had expected.

Maligiaq then brought his sealskin tuilik and laid it out on the grass. The craftsmanship is impressive. The seams are sewn with a fine waterproof stitch that doesn’t leave holes in the skin. A woman in his town had sewn it. It is frozen for storage. For use it needs to be soaked in water for a while then rubbed with oil to soften it. He says that it is quite comfortable and completely waterproof when the wrists and face are cinched up tight.  It is possible to wear sweaters underneath it, although some people will wear a dry suit. Maligiaq wore a Brooks neoprene tuilik for the Kayak Academy event, which I think was officially called, Greenland Instruction with the Masters. When it is made from neoprene the Greenlanders have a different name for it, that sounds something like “tuiliosaq”.


Rolling With Maligiaq: Greenland Kayaking Technique (1999).

Dubside and Maligiaq

Dubside and maligiaq

I spent all day yesterday with Dubside, Maligiaq and George Gronseth of Kayak Academy doing the Greenland Style Kayaking thing.  It was a good review of paddle strokes, and I learned quiet a few things too!  Maligiaq and Dubside worked with me on my forward finishing rolls.  The key is a really powerful "hipsnap" (more later).  Right now I need to lie down and watch a movie because I'm so sore!