Paddling from Cypress Head to Eagle Cliff, San Juan Islands

Lummi at sunset

I'm excited to share this montage I put together with the help of Katya Palladina of her first time touring in her beautiful new Pygmy Kayaks Pinguino Pro 150 out to Cypress Head and Eagle Cliff, San Juan Islands. It's an amazing kayak and a real pleasure to paddle!

Music: "Secret" by Kenneth Ward Lovell Jr., licensed through Audiosocket.

Cypress Head to Eagle Cliff, San Juan Islands from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Maiden Voyage

Katya in kayak 600

I love the look of Pygmy's wooden "stitch-and-glue" kayaks and always thought they looked like furniture. My first kayak was a Pygmy Osprey Standard (15.8 ft long, 24 inches wide) that I bought at the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium that was held every year at Port Townsend, the regional mecca for wooden boatbuilding. I used to dry if off lovingly with a clean soft cloth after every trip. When I mentioned to Katya that I thought her new Pygmy Kayaks Pinguino Pro 150 looked like a cabinet, she commented that it did actually remind her of the plywood furniture they had in school in the Soviet Union. So now she can't help thinking of her kayak as a cabinet or wardrobe. A lot of builders report thinking exactly the opposite: after working on a wooden kayak for so long, preoccupied with bringing out the beauty of the wood finish, when they finally put it in the water they suddenly realize it really IS so much more than a piece of furniture!


Maiden Voyage from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Freya Fennwood prepares to compete in the 2015 Greenland National Kayaking Championships

Freya is going to Greenland from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

We caught up with outdoor action photographer Freya Fennwood at the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium (SSTIKS) this past weekend while she was training for her upcoming trip to participate in the Greenland National Kayaking Championships. She brought along a sporty new kayak, custom-designed by her father, John Lockwood, owner and designer of Pygmy Boats, the Port Townsend manufacturer of wooden stitch-and-glue kayak kits.

After the rolling demo we sat sat down to talk with her about her preparations for Greenland. Here is the full transcript of our interview:

Andrew: What inspired you to take the trip to Greenland?

Freya: My father designed a boat specifically for me and specifically to do Greenland rolling. We came to SSTIKS actually, and Dubside was like, “You guys should go to Greenland with this boat! Freya is really good! I think she could compete and do well!”

It’s really not about doing well. It’s just a really good excuse to go take this boat there and go participate in the paddling culture, which is something that I’ve been born into and been in my whole life. To go to the birthplace of kayaking sounds like a really awesome experience, so I’m really excited to see what it’s like there, to meet the people, and participate in what they do.

Andrew: Can you tell us about what you mean about being born into the kayaking culture?

Freya: I’ve been paddling boats — in boats— since I was 18 months old. My dad designed the first kayak for me when I was 5. It was built by the time I was 6, and I paddled that. Then he designed me another boat, maybe when I was around 10, the Osprey 13. And that was my next boat, and then he didn’t really design me another boat until he designed the Freya. He decided to call this boat the Freya after me, which is pretty sweet! Can’t complain. Gotta boat named after me!

Andrew: How did your father get interested in Greenland style?

Freya: Really it’s not something he’s been into for super long. He probably picked up a Greenland paddle about 5 years ago. I remember as a little kid at kayak symposiums, seeing people with Greenland sticks and just thinking it was the silliest thing I’d ever seen. And then my dad comes up to me — he is just raving about this paddle and how it doesn’t hurt his shoulders, and how he can paddle twice as far as he could with the Euroblade. And I was like, OK, I’ll try it out. And I tried the Greenland paddle and I was like, Oh, I’m pretty young but this does actually NOT hurt my shoulders as much. I can paddle just as fast or faster, and longer with the Greenland paddle. So that kind of interest in Greenland paddling started from using the paddle first and then getting more interested in the boats.

The Pygmy boats my dad designs are definitely based off of traditional Greenland kayaks — he’d have to tell you —some big book of classic Inuit designs. His designs definitely take from that, but we’re only starting to come out with lower volume boats that are really made to do Greenland rolls really well in the past couple years.

Andrew: Tell us about your kayak. Was it designed specifically for rolling?

Freya: The Freya is really optimized to be a rolling and a kind of rock gardening play boat. We optimized it specifically for rolling, to do forward finishing rolls really well, and to do layback rolls really well. So the boat has more rocker than any other boat my dad has ever designed. It has more volume in it than a traditional, typical rolling skin-on-frame kayak, which actually helps it pop and roll up more. But it has a really low rear deck. My dad has designed this recess that is actually something that he came up with, that Pygmy has got a patent on, that really allows the back deck to be super low and then pop up to have nice volume, to have the boat flip back up. So really people are surprised when they see the boat. They think it looks really too-high volume, like, “Oh, thats probably not going to be that easy to roll.” And I’m like, “No, I’m decent at rolling but my boat is really good at rolling.”

Andrew: So you are taking the Freya to Greenland? What does it take to get a kayak over there?

Freya: We took the boat, and the shop cut it into 3 pieces. So it’s actually a three-piece take-apart kayak. We got the specs from the airlines — exactly how long the segments are allowed on the flights — and we cut the boat to those specifications. It’s bolted together at the hatches essentially.

Andrew: What kind of training have you been doing to prepare for the kayaking competition?

Freya: We’ve been thinking about potentially going for couple years and so I’ve been slowly learning. I learned how to roll about 4-5 years ago. I didn’t actually know how to roll, like as a little kid. Most of our kayaking is flat water stuff that is really close to shore. You would needn’t to use a roll.

So I learned how to roll, and then I ended up being kinda decent at it. And it was fun just to learn all these other ones. And then the possibility of going to Greenland really motivated me to learn a lot more rolls. I probably wouldn’t have learned this many rolls if there wasn’t a purpose to it. A roll generally for me is for a purpose. I learn to roll so I can go into rougher, wilder conditions. To roll in 30-some ways, the purpose for me is to go experience Greenland.

Andrew: Have you been consulting and asking for advice from some of the other people who have participated?

Freya:  I’ve talked to Dubside, and he’s taught me rolls here at SSTIKS, and has really informed us about Greenland. I was just up in Victoria with James Manke. He went and competed last year in Greenland, and he gave me a ton of information. I learned that I was supposed to preregister, and the registration was due last week! Hopefully it worked out. He contacted a person who is the head of registration, and was like, “We have this girl, Freya. She’s coming to Greenland! She really wants to participate! She had no idea there was registration that needed to be done!” So he’s been a huge help with his knowledge. But there’s a lot of information that’s hard to find.

I’ve talked to Helen Wilson, and she’s been super helpful. But there’s just a lot you don’t really know until you get there. They all say you just have to go with the flow, and go with the intention of just participating and having fun. The schedule may be two days late, so I’m just going and hoping to hang out in a beautiful place and meet other people who like to kayak.

Andrew: Do you know if there are any other international competitors going?

Freya: I have no idea if there are other international competitors. I don’t believe if there are any Canadians. I don’t know if there are any Americans. I don’t think so, so I'll find out!


UPDATE: Warren Williamson's Custom Stitch and Glue Greenland Kayak


I dropped by Warren Williamson's workshop the other day and he showed me the progress he has made on his custom stitch and glue Greenland kayak. The panels have been joined together -- spot welded with thickened epoxy, but no fillets or fiberglass yet. The panels came together easily to form a beautiful, sleek and lightweight symmetric hull.

Some building notes:

Since the hull panels were cut with a CNC router from 8x4 sections of plywood, they had to be joined together using butt joints and "butt blocks". Using a butt joint is much easier than trying to scarf together thin plywood panels. Warren was a little concerned about getting the joint right, because a small error in lining the panels up at the joint will be magnified at the ends.  So he basically lofted the panel out full scale and laid the panels out on the diagram before joining them together. If you look very carefully along the length of the hull you can see flat spots where the joints are. Warren said that using smaller butt blocks might have avoided this. One could also try using a few sheets of fiberglass instead, which apparently what Pygmy does.


For stitching the hull together, he used two external forms, internal building forms and four permanent bulkheads. There is a small bulkhead at both the bow and the stern, which help give the hull a concave shape at the ends. This will produce a small air chamber at the bow and stern which will need to be vented.


The deck in the forward cockpit area is stitched together from five panels. Using several panels instead of a single panel bent ("tortured") over frames (the method Chesapeake Light Craft uses) keeps the deck from being under constant tension. It also simplifies sealing the underside of the deck, since the underside of the deck can be fiberglassed prior to installation.  In CLC kayaks, the underside of the deck is coated with epoxy only (no fiberglass) and installed while the epoxy is still wet.  


Warren installed a "sheer clamp" around the inside of the sheer.  It looks like it's about a half-inch by half-inch length of cedar, tapered towards the ends. A rolling bevel along the top surface of the sheer clamp facilitates joining the hull and the deck. The sheer clamp helps keeps the hull fair, since the plywood is very flexible without any support.  In CLC kayaks, the deck is nailed to the sheer clamp. Nails are necessary because the deck is bent around a form and under tension. Since his deck isn't under tension, Warren says he can simply join the deck with a bead of thickened epoxy and avoid the appearance of ugly exposed nail heads. 

By the way, Warren is building this kayak in what is basically a large tent that he built in his backyard. If you talk to enough boat builders you can't help but be impressed with what people will go through to acquire workspace to build their boats. For instance, another friend of mine built his Pygmy Arctic Tern over a winter in a rented 10 x 20 ft unheated mini-storage unit, equipped with a single exposed lightbulb and one electrical outlet. 


Building a Custom Stitch and Glue West Greenland Kayak

Cut out parts 3


Warren Williamson recently showed me the drawing of a kayak he plans to build. It’s one of many boats he has designed using a 3D modeling program called Rhino: a West Greenland style kayak, intended for “stitch−and−glue” construction. Using Rhino, Warren is able to develop a 3D model from a 2D lines drawing of a kayak, and then expand the panels to produce a “.dxf” file which can be plugged into a CNC router to produce panels in plywood. He has arranged all the parts of the kayak (bottom and side panels, deck, coaming and lip, hatches, bulkheads, and temporary station forms) so that they will fit onto three 4x8 plywood sheets.




In his workshop Warren showed me the resulting plywood parts, precisely cut out of 4mm BS 1088 Joubert/French marine plywood, just like in the drawings. This is the good stuff he said, not like the plywood that comes from China, which is also rated BS 1088 but has a more fragile face veneer. The owner and CEO of Chesepeake Light Craft, John Harris, agreed to cut and ship these panels for him for a small fee. The panels look remarkably thin and they all fit in a flat cardboard box. I am amazed how little lumber is needed for this kayak. I can tell it’s going to be sleek, low volume, and high performance. 
An experienced boatbuilder and graduate of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Warren has planned this project out to the last detail. I hope to follow the construction of his kayak closely as it progresses.




Warren and I spent the afternoon playing in the ebb at Deception Pass. The kayak he used, an Arctic Hawk SS, was designed and meticulously hand-crafted by Mark Rogers of Superior Kayaks. Although it looks like a plywood stitch−and−glue kayak I can’t really call it that because Rogers uses “stitchless” construction. He omits the wires that are used to hold the plywood panels in place while they are joined together with fiberglass and epoxy. The result is that the Arctic Hawk SS has none of the visible holes that are the artifact of typical stitch−and glue−construction. There is not one blemish that distracts from the gorgeous bright−finished wood.
When the current reached it max (around 6.8 knots) Warren showed me a spot at the Whidbey Island side of the Pass where a submerged rock kicked the water up into a small wave. In my skin−on−frame East Greenland kayak, I struggled to get on and surf the wave. The current tended to catch my bow and wash me away. After a few attempts I learned to lean back to be able to more easily swing my bow right into the current, and then lean forward to stay on the wave. I worked on getting a feel for surfing, and for slicing my paddle into the water by my stern to act as a rudder. I suppressed the instinct to keep slapping the surface to brace. When perfectly tuned, you can stay in one spot as the water rushes underneath you, without even touching the water with the paddle.
As the current died down to half max in Deception Pass, we paddled to Canoe Pass and joined a group of paddlers from NWOC. Surprisingly, the waves were bigger there than they were earlier at max. Warren said that can be the case when the wind blows from the west. At its maximum, the current is so strong that it flattens out the waves. As it slows down, an opposing wind and swell kick them up again.
Conditions were perfect for riding waves. I would slide down them and shoot upstream, do a few rolls, let the current wash me backwards, and then work my way back upstream, weaving among the half−dozen or so kayakers riding the waves along the way.
I’ve recently subscribed to Warren’s minimalism when it comes to gear: no pfd, no helmet. Just a tuilik. I enjoy a much greater freedom of movement. It seems to help me summon the playfulness of a rolling session in conditions that really call for it.
VIDEO: Warren riding the wave at Deception Pass, then performing kingup apummaatigut “behind−the−back” roll

Warren Williamson: Behind the Back Roll from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.