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    Arctic Skin Boats

    Encyclopedia Arctica 9: Transportation and Communications

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_IX-0005                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transportation and Communications

    (Howard A. Chapelle)




    Introduction 1
    Curraghs and Conacles 2
    Special Features of Eskimo Skin Boats 5
    Umiak Types 11
    Asia 12
    Alaska 14
    Eastern Canadian Arctic 23
    Greenland 25
    Kayak Types 27
    Asia 32
    Alaska 33
    Mackenzie Delta 39
    Coronation Gulf 41
    Eastern Canadian Arctic 41
    Greenland 45
    Fittings and Techniques 49
    Bibliography 55

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    EA-Transportation and Communications

    (Howard A. Chapelle)





            The various forms of skin boats developed by the Arctic Eskimos have

    been found to be remarkably efficient craft for small-boat navigation in

    arctic waters. Two basic types of skin boats were produced, an open boat

    ranging from about 15 feet to approximately 60 feet in length, designed

    for carrying cargo and passengers long distances, and a small-decked canoe

    developed for hunting.

            The open boat is called the umiak and is propelled by paddles, cars,

    sail, or towed; in very recent years the outboard gasoline engine has been

    used. The umiak, while fundamentally a cargo carrier in the Arctic, has

    been employed by some Eskimo groups in whaling and in walrus hunting; these

    were generally a faster and more developed design than those used only to

    carry families, household goods, and cargo of the constant Eskimo movements

    for purposes of visiting, trading, or changing hunting grounds. This Eskimo

    boat is characterized by great strength combined with lightness to a far

    greater degree than any other boat of similar size.

            The decked hunting canoe, the kayak, is propelled by paddle alone in

    hunting and fishing, but is occasionally towed by the umiak when the owner

    migrates. The kayak is perhaps the most remarkable example of a hunting

    boat and can be propelled at high speed by its paddler and maneuvered with

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    ease. These hunting canoes are commonly built to hold but one person;

    though one group of Eskimos built the kayak to carry two or three. The

    kayak is remarkable not for its speed and maneuverability but also

    for its seaworthiness, lightness, and strength. It has been one of the

    most important weapons in the Eskimo fight for existence and few groups

    were unacquainted with its use. Because of its employment, the kayak

    often has to be designed to meet particular requirements and so there is

    greater variation in form and dimensions than in the umiak. With few

    exceptions, the arctic skin boats are wholly seagoing craft.


    Curraghs and Consoles

            Seagoing skin boats have not been common, outside the Arctic, in

    historical times. In fact only the European Celts, particularly the Irish,

    are known with certainty to have used such craft. The Irish are known to

    have employed large skin boats of a seagoing type as late as the reign of

    Queen Elizabeth of England; a drawing of one of these is preserved in the

    Pepysian Library ( Mariner's Mirror , Vol. VIII, 1922, opp. page 200). There

    can be little doubt, however, that large seagoing skin craft had been more

    widely used in prehistoric times. The perishable nature of the skin cover–

    ing and the light framework probably account for the lack of any remains

    that would indicate the range of this class of boat, but the availability

    of the materials required in its construction in prehistoric times gives

    some support to the assumption that its use was once widespread. The long

    voyages known to have been made by the Irish alone in the dawning of

    recorded history would be sufficient to indicate that its design and

    construction would have become well known to many others than the Celts.

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            There are still many skin boats in use by primitive people and even

    a few survivals in Europe. With the exception of the Irish curragh , how–

    ever, these craft are designed for inland waters and are either rather

    dish-shaped, or oval, in plan. They are related in design to the ancient

    coracle of Britain rather than to a seagoing type of skin boat, such as

    was employed by the early Irish or as still used by the Eskimos. The

    Irish curregh and the British coracle have both survived, though now, of

    course, the covering is canvas rather than hide.

            There are records of long voyages in the skin-covered curragh by the

    ancient Irish; it is apparent that such voyages were possible, judging by

    the design and construction of either the existing models of the curragh or

    the umiak. Compared to the dugout canoe, the skin boat was far lighter and

    roomier in proportion and so could carry a far greater load and still retain

    enough freeboard to be safe. The size of the early skin boats cannot be

    established with certainty; the modern Irish curragh is undoubtedly debased

    in this respect; but early explorers of Greenland reported umiaks nearly

    60 feet in length and there is no structural reason why the curragh type

    could not have been equally large.

            Comparing the curragh type with the umiak, it is found that the latter

    is lighter, stronger, and more resistant to shook. The curragh was built

    with closely spaced bent frames and longitudinal stringers to support the

    skin cover. The umiak, on the other hand, has very widely spaced frames

    and few longitudinals, giving the skin cover little support. The reason

    for the difference in construction undoubtedly was the type of covering used.

    The curragh was covered with cattle hides, less strong covering than

    the bearded seal, white whale, or walrus skins used by the Eskimos. Because

    of the strong and elastic skin cover of the umiak, the lack of a rigid

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    structural support gives the boat the advantage in withstanding the shocks

    of beaching or of working in floating ice. Because of its relatively light

    framework and the mode of securing the structural members, the frame of the

    umiak is far more flexible than that of the curragh.

            The skin cover of the curragh was made watertight by rubbing the hides

    with animal fat and the sewn seams were payed with tallow. The Eskimos

    usually pay the seams with seal oil. Both treatments produced a watertight

    cover, which, however, required occasional drying and reoiling to remain so.

    Under most climatic conditions met in the North Atlantic or Pacific the oiled

    skins would remain watertight four days to a week. However, this period

    could be lengthened by various methods; skin boats traveling in company

    could be dried out in turn by un loading one of them and placing the empty

    boat aboard one of her companions for a sufficient time. This may have been

    a common practice during the long Eskimo migrations. There is some evidence,

    in addition, that there were other methods of treating the skin covering than

    those mentioned; the use of melted tallow as a waterproofing or covering the

    skins with a vegetable gum, such as pitch, would enable the skin covering to

    remain watertight a much longer time, though such treatments would make the

    covering less elastic. Pitch was used in curragh building at one time and

    it would be unwise to assume that the present oil treatment used by the

    Eskimos was the only method they ever used.

            The fundamental difference in the construction of the curragh and that

    of the umiak is in the type of longitudinal strength members and transverse

    framing. The curragh, like the North American birch-bark canoe, depended

    upon its gunwales for longitudinal strength, whereas the umiak had a strong

    keel, or properly keelson since it was inside the skin cover. The former

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    had a very complete system of longitudinal battens supporting the skin

    cover, like the canoe. The latter, however, rarely had more than a couple

    of battens on each side. The umiak had a rather strong longitudinal mem–

    ber in the chine timbers and this construction gave additional strength to

    the bottom. The transverse frames of the umiak, unlike the curragh's,

    were not continuous from gunwale to gunwale, but were in three sections,

    two side pieces and a floor- or bottom- frame. The joining of the frame

    members to gunwale, chines, and keelson was accomplished by lashings of

    sinew whalebone, or hide, which gave great flexibility to the framework.

    The early curragh frame was undoubtedly sewn or lashed in a similar manner

    to that employed in the birch-bark canoes but because of the fundamental

    differences in structural design neither the canoe nor curragh frames were

    as flexible as in the umiak.


    Special Features of Eskimo Skin Boats

            The features of the umiak's frame are not found in the kayak, however,

    for the structure of the hunting boat approaches that of the curragh in

    nearly all types. The strength member is the gunwales in the kayak and

    some types have a rather extensive longitudinal batten system as well.

    In only a few types of kayak is the keelson an important strength member

    and even here the gunwales are of primary importance. The hypothesis has been

    made that this indicates a different parentage for the kayak than for the

    umiak; on this basis it could be assumed that the umiak represents the

    earlier type on the argument that this type of boat was the one required in

    the early migratory periods. Such conclusions should be accepted with caution,

    however, as the fundamental difference in the requirements for the two types

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    of craft might readily explain the variation in their principles of

    construction. The reasoning that each primitive type of boat descended from

    a single anestor has long been attractive, but evidence presented in support

    of the theory has not been wholly conclusive.

            The majority of Eskimo skin boats, particularly the umiak, possess

    remarkable advantages for their employment and conditions of use. When the

    boat is employed in floating ice, power to resist the shocks of ramming the

    ice exists beyond the tensile strength of the skin covering. This is obtained

    by the method of attaching the skin cover to the framework of the hull and,

    to some extent, by the form of the boat in most cases. The skin cover of

    the umiak is not rigidly attached to the frame in a number of places, rather

    it is a complete unit secured only at the gunwales and to the heads of stem

    and stern. This permits the skin cover to be greatly distorted by a blow,

    with the elasticity of the material at point of impact assisted by the move–

    ment of the whole skin cover on the frame, which the form of the umiak hull

    does not hinder. Also, the frame itself is very flexible and allows disto–

    rtion and recovery, not only within the limits of the elasticity of the wooden

    frame, but also by the movement of the lashed joints in the transverse frames.

    Some kayaks have similar characteristics though their small size, and the

    light weight of both boat and loading, make resistance to shock of far less

    importance than in the umiak.

            Lightness of the Eskimo skin boat is obtained by the small number of

    structural members required in their construction and the small scantlings

    necessary. Light weight of hull is a very desirable requirement in small

    craft in the Arctic as it permits the boat to be carried over obstructions

    and removed from the water with comparative ease, without the aid of skids

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    or other mechanical contrivances. The boats may also be transported either

    by sledge or by carrying over long distances. And, as previously pointed

    out, light hull weight permits heavy loading in proportion to the size of

    the boat. This in turn allows building with the minimum of labor and mate–

    rial to carry a fixed cargo, since only minimum dimensions are necessary.

            Celerity of movement is an important factor in all small craft in arctic

    waters. Speed under paddle, cars, sail, or low-powered gasoline motors is

    very desirable for many reasons. The necessity of covering as much distance

    as possible in a short time is obvious in arctic waters, where the distances

    between sources of supply may be great and the time the water is open to

    navigation is relatively short. This requirement in design has the additional

    advantage of permitting movement with the minimum of effort when manual pro–

    pulsion is being employed. The exigencies of arctic travel, in which damage

    to any form of propulsion is possible and where loss of fuel might occur,

    make it highly desirable that small craft be capable of being propelled by a

    number of ways, with ease. The skin boat, because of its form and weight,

    can be readily designed to meet this requirement. Most umiak forms and all

    kayak types possess speed of movement to a marked degree.

            Simplicity in construction and in repair are basic requirements for all

    craft operating far from normal building or repair facilities. Emergency

    may make it necessary to rebuild a damaged boat out of materials available,

    or to repair a boat with the minimum of tools and under adverse weather conditions.

    In the Arctic these possibilities must be considered normal ones

    and the Eskimo has therefore produced a boat construction to meet them.

            Seaworthiness is required in nearly all Eskimo craft, the only exceptions

    being those employed on rivers, lakes, or other protected waters, or where

    ice conditions prevent heavy seas from m a king up. Many arctic waters are

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    subject to violent storms and the arctic skin boats have been developed

    with forms and proportions to permit use under this condition. In this

    matter, the light and flexible hull structure is a definite advantage.

    The kayak, in its highest state of evolution, is perhaps the most seaworthy

    of all small craft when in skillful hands, but the umiak is a close second.

            The capacity of skin boats has been mentioned; the umiak is notable

    in this rexpect, exceeding the curragh and even the craft produced by

    modern civilization. The umiak possesses the advantage by its combination

    of very light hull weight with its form; nearly flat bottom with very flaring

    sides. The hull form allows heavy loading with relatively little increase

    in draft, as the flaring sides cause the displacement to increase very

    rapidly with the slightest increase in draft. While a similar form exists

    in the lumberman's "drive boats" the greater hull weight of this type makes

    it inferior to the umiak. Light draft, when loaded, has very definite ad–

    vantages in the Arctic; it allows loading and unloading on the beach, afloat,

    or allows the boat to be beached where it would not be possible with a deeper hull.

            Arctic skin boats are highly specialized types developed over a very long

    period to meet rigid and severe limitations. The designs of these craft have

    not been static, as can be seen in both umiaks and kayaks, for the models of

    these boats have gone through changes since the first of the types were

    placed in American museums. The imperative need of very efficient watercraft

    has made the Eskimo seek improvement and as his needs altered so did his skin

    boats. It is noticeable that, among other changes, the amount of freeboard

    of umiaks altered when their owners met new conditions. The high-sided

    umiak while suited for heavy loads and very seaworthy was impossible to

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    paddle or even row against a strong gale, as in nearly all small craft

    so propelled. When this conditions was found, it was met by reducing the

    freeboard and flare to minimize the windage. In recent years a few umiaks

    have appeared with round bottoms to give greater speed under paddle, the

    resulting boat being an enlarged kayak in frame construction. These changes,

    to meet a new condition, were not necessarily improvements, for they resulted

    in the sacrifice of some of the other qualities of the type. Nevertheless,

    they indicate the fluid state of primitive boat design in the Arctic. This

    has been accentuated, of course, by the influence of white men and their

    boats in recent years.

            Experienced arctic travelers have been almost unanimous in their respect

    for the Eskimo skin boat. To explain this it is necessary to keep in view

    the conditions under which arctic small craft must operate and to examine

    the design and construction of Eskimo craft. Fortunately, they are a large

    number of Eskimo skin boats in American museums, as well as a still larger

    number of native-made models covering the period roughly between 1880 and

    1930. While there are few full-sized umiaks, there are excellent models and

    many measurements in existence. Much of this material was examined and careful

    measurements made where necessary. Wherever it was possible, full-size craft

    were used as the source; in some cases only fragments existed and these had to

    be supplemented by reference and interpretation of the models of the same type.

    In view of the fluid state of design in Eskimo craft, it is obvious that the

    examples shown represent the stage of development at a given date, though in

    the majority of cases the alteration in the designs was so minute that the

    representation will serve to illustrate a type with reasonable accuracy.

            It was found that the Eskimo craft were "fair" and without irregularities

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    in their form, comparing very favorably with the more primitive craft of

    civilization in symmetry. The dimensions and proportions of the hulls

    varied slightly in a given location or region in all cases, due to the

    fact that the boats were fitted to their owners' need, though adhering

    to the regional model generally. The variation in kayaks was due to the

    well-known practice of the Eskimo in "tailoring" his boat to his physical

    characteristics by building to measurements taken from some part of the

    body; usually arm, hand, and finger measurements. The umiak does not appear

    to follow set proportions as rigorously as the kayak.

            To show the construction and design of Eskimo skin boats, scale draw–

    ings were made. These permit an accurate representation of form and details

    of construction though they necessarily idealize a primitive boat design, to

    some extent at least. In attempting to show the hull-form the usual methods

    of projecting the "lines" of the hull were discarded as unsuitable and instead

    the structural features were employed; hence "round" bottom kayaks are shown

    as multi-chine hulls, as they properly are.

            It is not possible, on the available material, to explore all the indi–

    vidual types and forms in full and the geographical range of a type can be

    stated only approximately due to the overlapping of groups and the effects

    of migratory movements of the people. The use of the material in museums

    has one distinct advantage; it enables the representation of some forms that

    have now disappeared in the arctic seas, due either to the influence of the

    white man or to the degeneration or extinction of a regional group.

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            The umiak was undoubtedly more widely employed by the Eskimos before

    the coming of the white man than existing records indicate. It was a type

    of boat most necessary for migration by sea. With the umiak, the early

    Eskimos could establish themselves on islands far from the main and cross

    large bodies of water. It is apparent that the umiak has disappeared in

    some areas where early explorers mention having seen the type. This indi–

    cates that there is a possibility that all Eskimos may have employed the

    type in prehistoric times and thaf the groups now unacquainted with the

    umiak can be explained on the grounds that they had reached a location where

    the boat was no longer necessary.

            The umiak, or bidarrah ( baidarka ) as the type was known to the

    early Russians of Siberia and colonial Alaska, was common in open waters and was

    found from Kodiak Island through the Aleutians and north and eastward along

    the west and north coast of Alaska to the mouth of the Mackenzie River. On

    the Siberian coast, opposite Alaska and for a short distance westward, the

    umiak was also employed. From the Mackenzie eastward to Hudson Bay the umiak

    has not been employed in recent times though it is highly probably that it

    was used in the migrations that populated this part of the arctic coast.

    Early explorers found umiaks in use along the northwest coast of Hudson Bay

    and in Foxe Basin but these boats disappeared during the last century. The

    umiak again appeared in Hudson Strait and was highly developed in Greenland.

            The form of the umiak's hull varied a good deal, as did the dimensions,

    among the various groups known to have employed the boat in the last century.

    The general form, however, was much like the lumberman's "drive boat" except

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    that most umiaks had a slight V-bottom and quite different bows and sterns.

    The size of the umiak does not seem to have been established by a set of

    measurements as regular as that used in the building of kayaks but rather

    to have been the result of utilizing the material available with due re–

    gard to intended use. Such matters as the fla m t e of the sides, rake and

    shape of bow and stern, and width varied from district to district.

    The Asiatic and Alaskan umiake were usually rather sharp-ended with little

    spread to the gunwales at bow and stern; one of the Asiatic types has gun–

    sales brought round in a full curve at bow and stern. In the east, however,

    the umiaks have rather upright bows and sterns and the gunwales at the ends

    of the hull are often rather wide apart. Some of the western umiaks were

    navigated with paddles only; in others both oar and sa i l e may have been in

    use before the appearance of the Russians in this area. In the east the

    umiaks were paddled, rowed, and sailed when the first white men reached the

    Arctic in historic times.



            The Asiatic umiaks may be classed into two types, the Koryak type of

    eastern Siberia and the Chukchi model of the Siberian side of Bering Strait.

    The Koryak umiaks illustrated by Jochelson show a highly developed boat,

    rather lightly framed compared to boats on the American side. The bow

    has a long raking curve in profile, while the stern has much less; this

    makes the bottom rather short compared to the length over the gunwales.

    The gunwales, in plan view, round in at bow and stern to form almost a

    semi-circular arc; at the bow the gunwales are bent around a horizontal

    headboard tenoned over the stemhead but at the stern there is no headboard.

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    The sheer is moderate and very graceful. The flare of the sides is great

    and there appears to be a little V in the bottom transversely. There is

    also a slight camber in the bottom, fore and aft. The construction is

    similar to that of the Alaskan umiaks except the Koryak umiake have double

    chine stringers and also a double riser, or longitudinal stringer, halfway

    up the sides. The riser is not backed with a continuous stringer, however,

    as is the chine, but rather there are three short rods lashed inside the

    side frame members. The side stringers do not reach bow and stern. The

    thwarts, four in number, are located well aft and there is a larger space

    between the first and second thwarts than between others for cargo. The

    boats are rowed, two carsmen to a thwart. The cover was formerly walrus

    hides scraped thin but more recently the skin of the bearded seal came

    into use. A sail is sometimes employed, of deer skin and rectangular in

    shape. It was lashed to a yard and set on a tripod about [ ?] midships. Two

    legs of the mast were secured to the gunwale on one side, the remaining

    leg was lashed to the opposite gunwale. Judging by the draw n ing made by

    Jochelson, this umiak is perhaps the most graceful of all known.

            The Chukchi umiak is about the same as that used on the opposite

    American coast. The cover is bearded seal and the boat has less flare to

    the sides than the American umiaks. Bogoras measured an example and found

    her 35 ft. 9 in. long, 4 ft. 6 in. wide amidships, 2 ft. 6 in. wide on the

    bottom over the chines. An umiak from the Alaskan side measured 35 ft.

    9 in. long, 8 ft. 2 in. wide, and 2 ft. 8 in. over the chines. The Chukchi

    also use a very small hunting umiak having two or three thwarts, and 15 to

    18 ft. long, much like the small hunting umiaks once used in the Aleutians.

    The larger Chukchi umiaks had sails rectangular and set on a pole mast;

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    Fig. 1

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    some boats carried a square topsail. The sails are lashed to their yards

    and the lower sail, or course, is controlled by sheets and braces. The top–

    sail, when used, has braces only. Reindeer skins were formerly used for

    sails but now drill is used. These umiaks were formerly paddled as indicated

    by their narrow beam, but since the coming of the white men oars have come

    into use. It is probable that the topsail is also the result of white man


            Some of these umiaks employed weather cloths 18 or 20 inches above the

    gunwales. These were raised on short stanchions lashed to the hull frames in

    stormy weather. The ends of the stanchions were inserted in slits in the top

    of the weather cloth. In fair weather these cloths were folded down inside

    the gunwale out of the way. Inflated floats, of seal skin, were also lashed

    to the gunwales, in some umiaks, to prevent capsizing.



            The Alaskan umiaks varied in size but were of rather similar forms. The

    small hunting umiaks used by the Aleuts were about 18 feet long, while the

    large cargo-carrying umiaks ranged up to about 40 feet in length, so far as

    records show. All are marked by heavily flared sides and rather strong sheer;

    a few however are described as rather straight on the gunwales. Nearly all

    existing models and boats were built since 1880 and there is no information

    on the forms and dimensions of earlier boats. It is evident that the majority

    of Alaskan umiaks had slight V-bottoms, though there are a few Aleutian models

    that indicate a marked degree of deadrise.

            Figure 1 is a drawing of a small hunting umiak from the Alaskan coast

    in the neighborhood of the Aleutians that was used in walrus hunting. The

    remains of a similar boat from northern Alaska are in the U.S. National Museum,

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    obtained in 1888. This type of small umiak was not only employed in

    walrus hunting and in fishing but it also was rather widely used as

    a passage boat, for short voyages along shore. These boats were propelled

    by paddles and were primarily fast, handy hunting craft rather than boats

    for migration or cargo carrying. For this reason they were quite sharp–

    ended and shallow. The construction of the example will serve to illus–

    trate the common construction methods.

            The umiak shown is 20 ft. 8 1/4 in. over the headboards, 4 ft. 91/2 in.

    extreme beam and 1 ft. 5 3/8 in. depth; apparently an average-sized boat of

    her class. The width of the bottom over the chine members is 2 ft. 7 in.

    The keelson is rectangular in section and in two pieces, hook-scarphed

    together; each piece is shaped out of the trunk of a small tree with the

    root knees employed to form the bow and stern posts. The floor timbers are

    quite heavy and support the chine members by having the floor heads tenoned

    into the chine pieces. At bow and stern the chines are joined to the keelson

    in a notched scarph; at these places the keelson is sided rather wide to give

    good bearing. It is evident that this portion of the boat's structure is the

    first built and forms a rigid bottom to the hull. The floor timbers are sewn

    or lashed to the keelson, by lacings of sinew, whalebone, or hide passed

    through holes bored in both, as indicated in the p l a l n. The heads of the

    floors are pegged where they tenon into the chines and the ends of the chines

    are pegged to the keelson. There are models showing that this was not a

    universal practice and that lashings at floor heads and at chine ends were

    also common. The headboards are carved out of blocks in a T-shape and are

    stepped on top of the stem and stern posts and lashed. The fit is extremely

    accurate. The bow headboard is narrower athwartship than the stern headboard.

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    The detail of the hook scarph in the drawing shows the method of lashing

    which was very widely used.

            Because of the manner in which the keelson is cambered and the fitting

    of the floors, the covered hull shows a slight V in the bottom, reducing at

    bow and stern. The amount of V seems to have been determined by the manner

    of fitting the floor timbers and was quite typical of the Alaskan umiaks.

    The dead rise in the bottom helped the boat to run straight under paddle

    and oars. Th In most cases the amount of V in the bottom was slight; too

    much would make the boat difficult to sledge overland, without employing

    chooks to steady the hull.

            In building, the frames at the thwarts were next made and set up at

    the desired flare and height, and held in place by temporary lashings and

    braces. The thwarts were not fitted, however, until after the gunwales were

    in place, as the lengths of the thwarts were controlled by the fairing of

    these members. The gunwales were round poles slightly flattened on the

    lower side at the headboards, where they were secured by lashings. The

    gunwales were shaped and secured by lashing them to the side frames selected

    to shape the hull. The side frames were secured to both gunwale and chine

    by lashings passed through holes in each member and have taut with a short

    lever, with a hole bored in it to take the end of the lashing which was

    wrapped around the lever to give temporary purchase. The side frames had

    saddle notches to bear on the chine and gunwale. All these lashings in the

    frame, it will be noted, pass through holes bored in the members secured and

    in some cases the lashings are let into the members so that the sinew is

    flush with the surfaces of the members. This prevented the lashing from

    being damaged by chafing.

    017      |      Vol_IX-0023                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            The remaining frames were now put in position and lashed to gunwales

    and chines. An outside batten was next run along each side and lashed by

    turns over batten and around the side frames, with lashings let into each

    member to prevent slipping and chafe. At the bow and stern the batten was

    lashed to some umiaks but in many it stopped just short of coming home on

    the posts. The short frames at bow and stern were next put in place and the

    risers secured inside the side frames. The thwarts were now fitted and

    lashed to the risers. The thwarts are not put in until the frame is other–

    wise complete, temporary spreaders are lashed to three or four control frames

    to hold the boat in shape. These are sometimes aided by thongs from frame

    heads to keelson at each pair, to steady the frames in bending the gunwales.

    When ready to cover, the frame is stiffened by a thong tie which has one end

    secured by turns around the gunwale, with the other end passed through holes

    in the keelson and secured. These form diagonal ties and are commonly per–

    manent fixtures in western umiaks. The small umiak has but one pair of

    these, placed amidships. The ends of the gunwales are lashed together at

    bow and stern and the boat is ready to cover. The timber used in this boat

    appears to be fir, spruce, and willow.

            The skin cover was in such a condition that the number of hides could

    not be determined; there were probably three skins sewn together with blind

    seems, which are used in Eskimo boots. The skins are first sewn together and

    then thoroughly soaked. Then the cover is stretched over the frame and worked

    taut by lacings. The skin cover is wide enough to reach from gunwale to gun–

    wale and a little down inside the boat. The cover is laced to the rising

    batten with close-spaced turns of hide rope, 3 to 5 inches apart on the batten.

    The turns are closer together in the ends of the hull than amidships. At the

    head blocks the cover is laced around the gunwales and through holes in the

    head blocks, two independent lacings being used on each side, two turns each.

    018      |      Vol_IX-0024                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    At extreme bow and stern the cover is laced to the gunwale lashings. In

    fitting the cover, gores appear to have been out out and the skin resewn,

    where it would not stretch smooth. The cover is then allowed to shrink

    and in this manner it becomes very smooth and tight. The skin is now heavily

    oiled and the seams are rubbed with tallow or seal oil. This treatment is

    repeated at regular intervals. Care is taken to dry out the skin cover

    frequently, while the boat is in service, at least every third day.

            The sequence of construction described is not followed universally;

    some builders fix spreaders between the gunwales in bending them and sheer

    them by thongs to the keelson, after which the side frames are put in, the

    side and rising battens added, and finally the thwarts fitted. Judging by

    numerous models, the small hunting umiaks varied a good deal in the rake and

    sweep of the bow and stern, even in the same village. These hunting umiaks

    worked with kayaks in Aleutian walrus and sea lion hunting, a practice that

    seems to have once been common along the western Alaskan coast and in the


            Figure 2 is the drawing of a large Alaskan umiak from King Island.

    Two boats of this model, but with modern metal fastenings, are in The Mariner's

    Museum, Newport News, Va., but the drawing shows the methods of fastenings

    used in 1886. The plan is of a burdensome model, such as was used for

    migration or any other cargo work. The boat is 34 ft. 21/2 in. over the

    gunwale rods, 8 ft. 0 1/2 in. extreme beam, 2 ft. 3 3/8 in. deep, and 2 ft.

    10 in. beam on the bottom over the chines. The construction follows the general

    plan of the small umiak just described, except that another method of fitting

    the floor timbers to the chines is employed. Due to the size and use of the

    umiak, two side battens are employed with a single riser. The thwarts are

    not notched over frames and fall between them. This made the thong diagonal

    018a      |      Vol_IX-0025                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 2

    019      |      Vol_IX-0026                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    braces from gunwale to keelson, described in the small umiak, ineffective

    and so wooden braces, that will resist not only tension but also compression,

    were required to take the thrust off the thwart lashings. Two sets of

    bracings were used. These brace-frames are staggered slightly to allow

    room to fit them at the keelson. The drawing shows the p l a l n of construction

    and the important lashings and requires no additional explanation. The

    method of fittings oars with thong thole-loops is also shown. These boats

    carried a square sail lashed to a yard; the mast being stepped in a block

    on the keelson. No mast-thwart is used, stays and shrouds of hide rope

    supported the mast and this method made it easy to step or unstep the mast

    in a seaway. Early umiaks in this area are said to have had mat sails;

    later skin and drill sails were used. The modern umiaks of this class often

    have rudders hung on iron pintles and gudgeons and the floors are fastened

    to the keelson with iron bolts or screws. The scarphs are also bolted,

    but the remaining fastenings are lashings, in the old style, to obtain

    flexibility in the frame.

            Figure 3 represents a north Alaskan whaling umiak supposed to have been

    built about 1890. The remains of the boat were sufficient to permit recon–

    struction of the frame. This umiak is about the size of a New Bedford

    whaleboat and in profile greatly resembles this type. However, the model

    is that of the umiak, rather sharp-ended and strongly sheered. The boat is

    29 ft. 4 3/8 in. over the headboards, 5 ft. 10 1/2 in. extreme beam, and

    2 ft. 1 3/4 in. depth. Umiaks of this model were used at Point Barrow and

    vicinity, in shore whaling, and were also used for travel and cargo work.

    They used only paddles in whaling; but in more recent times sail, oars, and

    outboard engines are employed in other work. The umiaks of this class appear

    019a      |      Vol_IX-0027                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 3

    020      |      Vol_IX-0028                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    to have been marked by a very graceful profile and strongly raking ends.

    In spite of the strong resemblance of this type of umiak to the whaleboat,

    it is very doubtful if the model of the umiak was influenced by the white

    man's boat. A rather questionable hypothesis could be made; the whaleboat

    appears to have been first employed in the early Greenland whale fishery

    and so might have been influenced by the umiak found in that area. In

    rebuttal to this, the model of the early European whaleboat is much like

    that of a Viking boat. It will be seen that there is danger in accepting

    chance similarities in form or detail as evidence of some relationship.

    Would it not be possible that similarities in use and requirements would

    produce similar primitive boat types in many respects, without the users

    coming into contact?

            The whaling umiak has been much used by explorers and arctic travelers

    in the western Arctic; it s lightness and strength, and its ability to be

    easily driven, have made the type highly regarded. On the basis of models

    and numerous photographs it can be said that the amount of fore and aft

    camber in the bottom varies a great deal in individual umiaks; some are

    almost straight on the bottom. However, due to the light framework and

    elastic construction, these boats often camber a good deal when heavily

    loaded. When sledged, they are sometimes fitted with a brace amidships

    to support a line from bow to stern, to form a "hogging-brace," to prevent

    the boat from losing camber. It is also apparent that there was no standard

    practice in fitting floors to the chines; Murdoch shows a rough sketch that

    indicates the floor heads were often tenoned into the chines as in the small

    umiak. Treenailing of the floors and chines, and the keelson, was also

    practiced. In some cases both pegs (treenails) and lashings were used in

    021      |      Vol_IX-0029                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    scarphs. In some umiaks both the single side batten and the riser were at

    the same height in the sides and the riser only had its ends secured to

    the posts. The side battens then were out short and had their ends lashed

    to the riser a few inches inside the posts.

            The method of sewing the skin cover has been mentioned. Figure 3 shows

    a sketch of the two stages of making the blind seam used. The edges of the

    skins were placed about 2 inches apart; flesh side of skin to flesh side of

    skin. Then, using a thin needle and slender sinew, the skins are sewn to–

    gather, over and over, taking care not to penetrate the lower skin. When

    this is completed the skins are flattened out and the second seem made on

    the grain side. This gives a double seem, neither of which penetrates both

    skins. The sketch shows the method of making the seam better than a descrip–

    tion. The width of the seam varies somewhat among the Eskimos, when used in


            The skin cover of the whaling umiak was made of bearded seal, as a rule,

    but walrus, white whale, and perhaps even polar bear skins were occasionally

    used. Lashings of the frame were of whalebone, sinew, and hide. Oil treat–

    ment of the skins employed seal oil and caribou fat. When taken ashore the

    whaling umiak was usually stored on a stage; sometimes however it was propped

    on its side, upside down, leaning over, and used as a shelter in traveling.

    In the winter the cover is removed and stored. When it is necessary to recover

    the frame, the cover is soaked in sea water three to five days and then the

    boat is recovered in the usual manner. When dried and stretched, the skin

    cover is thoroughly oiled. [ ?]

            New skin covers are made by removing the hair and fat from the skins and

    022      |      Vol_IX-0030                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    and then sewing them together to obtain proper dimensions. Green hides are

    generally preferred, as they stretch into shape better than partly or wholly

    cured skins. Once the green hides have been stretched to shape and cured, the

    cover can be readily removed and replaced without resewing. In fitting a

    new skin cover, the lashings are hove up hard and adjusted until the cover

    is fairly smooth and taut; the curing them makes it drum-taut. Low, rather

    wide sledges were sometimes built to carry the umiak overland or on the ice

    but usually the regular sledge was used. The boats are difficult to sledge

    against a strong gals because of their windage.

            Though propelled by paddles like the Chukohi umiak, the Alaska whaling

    umiak was much wider and had far more flare. The paddles used in whaling

    umiaks had rather long narrow blades, as a rule, though a short and wide-bladed

    paddle was sometimes employed, particularly at Kotzebue Sound and Point Hope.

    Paddles ranged from about 50 to 76 inches long. Oars of the Alaskan umiaks

    also had rather long narrow blades, 3 to 4 inches wide. The oars were from

    6 ft. 3 in. to 8 ft. 6 in. in length.

            The three examples of Alaskan umiaks will serve to show the features

    that are most common in the area. However, models in the U. S. National

    Museum show that there was a great variety of model and appearance. One

    model showed the gunwale ends lengthened by pieces that were shaped very

    much like the projecting gunwales of the Malay sampans. Some showed extreme

    rake at the bow, somewhat like that found in the Koryak type but without the

    rounded finish to the gunwales. In view of the early influence of the

    Russian traders in this area, it is impossible to estimate how far the umiak

    model has been affected, so far as the west coast of Alaska is concerned.

    It is probable that the use of oars can be traced to this influence. Careful

    023      |      Vol_IX-0031                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    examination of the full-sized umiaks, and of models and photos from the

    Bering Strait area does not give information that allows any conclusion

    to be reached as to possible parentage, or direction of spread, of the umiak

    type. Though there are occasional details in fittings or construction, such

    as the gunwale extensions just mentioned, that seem to deuplicate details in

    primitive craft in Asiatic waters, the evidence is too scant to allow a

    sound hypothesis, based on umiak model or construction alone.


    Eastern Canadian Arctic

            No models or photos have been found of the extinct types of umiaks once

    used in the northern part of Hudson Bay, and the sketches of early explorers

    are too crude for useful discussion. The evidence is too slight to allow

    judgment on whether the umiaks in this area were of the western type or were

    in any way similar to the eastern models.

            Figure 4 shows a drawing of the Baffin Island umiak, based on measured

    dimensions of a single boat, and upon a model in the U.S. National Museum.

    This model confirms in most respects with the drawings and sketches made by

    Boas. The umiak shown is a small one, 24 ft. 7 1/4 in. over the posts,

    5 ft. 8 3/8 in. extreme beam, and 1 ft 10 1/2 in. deep. The measurements

    obtained show that the bottom of this type of umiak was wider than the western

    boats, the example being 5 ft. 10 in. wide over the chines. The bottom is

    flat and both sheer and camber are slight. The stem and stern are practically

    upright and are not formed of knees but rather are made by tenoning the posts

    into the keelson with an open tenon. The headboards are very wide and the

    side battens and risers stop short of the posts. Instead of the carved

    headboards seen in the Alaskan umiake, the Baffin Island boat has hers

    023a      |      Vol_IX-0032                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 4

    024      |      Vol_IX-0033                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communi. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    tenoned over the posts as seen in the Asiatic Koryak umiaks. The details

    of the rest of the framing are not dissimilar from those of the Alaskan

    boats, except that the Baffin Island umiak does not employ any short frames

    in the end of the hull. The framework is rather heavy and the square-ended

    appearance of this class of umiak makes her appear more clumsy than is

    actually the case. The risers used in this umiak are notched into the side

    frames, unlike the Alaskan boats in which only the riser's lashings are 1st

    into the side frames. The Baffin Island umiaks carried a square sail lashed

    to a yard; the mast was placed right up in the eyes of the boat. Boas shows

    that some of these umiaks had rudders hung on metal pintles and gudgeons but

    this, of course, was due to the influence of white traders, whalers, and

    sealers who had operated in these waters long before Boas made his investiga–

    tions. The umiak was rowed in the usual manner, using thong loops as tholes,

    and was usually steered with an oar or long paddle.

            This is the only American type of umiak found that does not have pro–

    jecting gunwales at bow and stern. In this boat the ends of the gunwales

    are out off, a little inside the forward edges of the headboards. The pro–

    jection of the gunwales undoubtedly served as a practical purpose in lifting

    the boat out of water, but obviously this was of minor importance. Probably

    the real reason for the existence of these projections was that they made

    building easier, by giving room for a retaining lashing when bending the

    gunwales. As the headboards widened, the spring of the gunwales became less

    acute, so there was less strain put on the lashings of the gunwales to the

    headboards and also bending the gunwales required less power. In many umiaks

    the projecting gunwales and retailing lashings were utilized in lashing on

    the skin covering, at bow and stern. Beginning as a practical solution of

    a building problem, the projecting gunwales may have eventually become a

    traditional feature of the type in many localities.

    025      |      Vol_IX-0034                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats



            Figure 5 is a drawing of an East Greenland umiak made from measurements

    taken off during the late war and checked against dimensions, photos, and

    descriptions of boats from the same territory. In general design and in

    construction this umiak differs little from the umiaks from the southern

    west coast of the same island. The East Greenland boats are on the average,

    much smaller than on the southern west coast, due to the more severe ice

    conditions met in the east. Some of the Greenland umiaks have flat bottoms

    like the Baffin Island boats, but the V-bottom appears to be more common.

            The chief characteristics of the Greenland umiaks are their slight rake

    in the bow and stern, moderate sheer and camber, and conservative flare of

    the sides. The drawing shows the important structural details seen in most

    of the Greenland umiaks. The floor timbers are on edge instead of on the

    flat as in Alaskan boats; this seems to be characteristic of all eastern

    umiak construction, as is the arching of the under side of the floors as

    well. Another common structural detail is the passing of the risers through

    the side frames; some Greenland umiaks have them in deep notches fashioned on

    the inside of the frames, however. The East Greenland umiaks have rather wide

    headboards with only slight projection to the gunwales but the West Greenland

    boats have rather narrow headboards and somewhat more projection to the gun

    wales in most cases. Like the Baffin Island umiak, the Greenland boats have

    their side battens and risers cut shore of the posts but the ends of these

    members are commonly supported by frames placed very far for and aft, often

    these frames form brace-supports to the headboards, as in the example. The

    headboards of these umiaks are always tenoned over the top of the posts.

    Some of the Greenland umiaks have rather curved side frames, which cause

    025a      |      Vol_IX-0035                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 5

    026      |      Vol_IX-0036                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    the side battens to form a knuckle in the skin cover. The East Greenland

    umiaks rarely if ever carry sail, but this is common in the west and

    southwest, where a square sail on a yard is popular; the mast is usually

    well forward.

            Hans Egede found Greenland umiaks fitted with sails of seal intestines

    in 1729 and also saw boats about 10 fathoms (60 ft.) long; another early

    writer, Cranz, states umiaks were commonly 36, 48, and even 54 ft. long.

    In the larger umiaks two side battens were employed. The thongs and brace–

    frames, seen in many Alaskan umiaks, do not seem to have been used in eastern

    waters, the use of frames from stem to stern post to gunwale probably serving

    the purpose; but it is noticeable that pictures of Greenland umiaks preserved

    in some European museums show the hulls have a tendency to twist that is not

    seen in Alaskan boats. The old Greenland umiaks were built with lashed joints

    combined with pegging, or treenailing. In recent times the use of pegging

    increased and iron fastenings are now seen. Rigid fastenings of the peg and

    metal types are used only in scarphs and in securing the chines and keelson

    to the floor timbers, as in the modern Alaskan umiaks.

            The Greenland umiak frame is much heavier and more rigid than the Alaskan.

    In comparing eastern and western umiaks, the former seem to have their frames

    somewhat better finished but the western models are undoubtedly the better.

    The eastern umiak is primarily a cargo carrier and is not used in hunting.

    As a result, its use had been confined to women and its chief employment is

    moving the family and household effects from one hunting ground to another.

    While it is highly probably that this condition is the result of the dis–

    appearance of whaling in this region, the use of the umiak as a hunting

    boat ceased so long ago that the eastern umiak model has probably degenerated

    027      |      Vol_IX-0037                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    to a degree. It was otherwise in the western Arctic; here the use of the

    umiak in hunting has continued until very recent times and the boats have

    been managed, to a very great extent, by the men. As a result, the better

    models have survived long enough to be recorded and the boats are held in

    greater respect by their builders. Regional distinctions in the western

    umiaks are therefore more marked than in the east. Only two basic and

    distinct umiak models are known to have existed in the east — the Baffin

    Island type used on both the north side and on the Labrador side of Hudson

    Strait, and the Greenland type. In the latter there were local variations,

    it is true, but these were minor. In the western Arctic, including Siberia,

    there were at least three basic models and a very large variety of local

    variations, as can be proved by existing models.



            The Eskimo hunting boat, the kayak, is more widely employed in the

    Arctic than the umiak. Also the variations in model construction, and

    appearance are more distinct and numerous. The kayak, called baidarka

    by the colonial Russians in Alaska, is a long, usually narrow, decked canoe

    and is commonly very well finished. In Alaska there were a few skin-covered

    canoes used in rivers that were undecked and on kayak proportions and con–

    struction. The model of these was quite different from the Alaskan sea kayaks,

    however, as the river canoes were V- of flat-bottom, much like the Greenland

    kayaks. A similar kayak-type canoe, but burch-bark covered and flat-bottom,

    was used by Yukon Indians. Undoubtedly there were once a number of such

    types but most of these became extinct before any attempt was made to pre–

    serve models or canoes in the museums.

    028      |      Vol_IX-0038                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            There was, unquestionably, some relation between the sea kayaks and

    the river kayak-canoe as the latter, even when birch-bark covered, retains

    a vestige of decking (in a short bow-deck) in nearly all cases. The basic

    models used in kayaks are multichine, V-bottom, and flat. The multichine

    models are employed throughout Alaskan waters, except in the river kayak–

    canoe just mentioned, which probably should be classed as an open canoe

    rather than as a true kayak. The geographical spread of each basic hull

    form is rather ill-defined, as there is some overlapping. An extinct type

    of V-bottom kayak was used at the mouth of the Mackenzie, though the multi–

    chine kayak appeared east to the northwest coast of Hudson Bay. In this

    area there appears to have been another V-bottom kayak (now extinct) in use.

    In Hudson Strait, along the shores of Baffin Island and Labrador, a flat–

    bottom kayak with the chines snied off much like a Japanese sampan was used.

    On the northwest coast of Greenland a flat-bottom kayak, shaped like a

    sharpie, appears. On the eastern coast and on the south and southern west

    coast of Greenland the V-bottom hull is employed.

            There are variations in each basic model, of course, and the designs

    used vary a good deal. On the whole, the kayak is very carefully built to

    meet the local conditions of hunting, sea and land or ice portaging. As a

    result, some types are far more seaworthy than others and the weight of hull

    varies a great deal, even within a basic model. The appearance of all the

    kayak models, by regional selection, show the influence of tradition and,

    in many cases, display (in either shape or decoration) a group totem.

            The basic requirements in nearly all kayaks are the same; to paddle

    rapidly and easily, to work against strong wind and tide or heavy head sea,

    to be maneuverable, and to be light enough to be readily lifted from the water.

    029      |      Vol_IX-0039                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    The low freeboard thus required makes docking a necessity. In general,

    the kayak is designed to carry one paddler, but in Alaska there were kayaks

    that could carry two or three paddlers, or a paddler and one or two passen–

    gers. It is generally conceded that the kayak built to carry three is the

    result of Russian influence. Where it is desirable to portage the kayak

    over ice or land for any distance, the boat is very light and is capable of

    being carried like a large basket, by inserting one arm under the decking

    at the manhole or cockpit. Where such a requirement is not a factor, the

    kayaks are often rather large and heavy. In the majority of types, the

    degree of seaworthiness obtained is very great. Some types are built very

    narrow and sharp-ended; these usually require a skillful paddler. Others

    are wide, or very stable, and require less skill to use. Where severe

    weather is commonly met, the kayaks are usually very strong and well-designed;

    some will come head to the sea when the paddler stops work, others come

    stern-to. Where ice or other conditions do not allow a heavy sea to make up,

    the kayaks are often light, narrow, and very low-sided, more like racing shells than working canoes.

            The construction of the kayak has been mentioned; in all the gunwales

    are the strength members longitudinally. A few designs employ a strong keel,

    in addition, but most have rather slender and light longitudinal batten

    systems combined with very light frames transversely. Even in the flat–

    bottom models the kayaks, unlike the umiaks, depend upon the gunwales for

    longitudinal strength. In all but some of the flat-bottom kayaks, the frames

    are bent and in one piece, gunwale to gunwale. There are some flat-bottom

    kayaks, of the sampan cross-section, that also employ bent frames. The

    longitudinal batten systems are in great variety — the eastern kayaks of the

    030      |      Vol_IX-0040                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    flat-bottom and V-bottom models have three longitudinal battens (including

    the keel or keelson) in addition to the heavy and often deep gunwale members.

    These are supported at bow and stern either by stem and sternpost of shaped

    plank on edge as in the Greenland V-bottom kayaks, or by light extensions

    of the keelson and small end blocks as in the northern West Greenland,

    Baffin Island, and Labrador types. The multichine types of the western

    Arctic have from seven to eleven longitudinals (including the keelson) in

    addition to the gunwales. In some of these kayaks there are no stem and

    stern posts, the battens and keelson coming together at a blunt point in

    small head blocks, but many types have rather intricate pieces carved from

    blocks of wood and plank on edge sternposts.

            The Asiatic kayaks, curiously enough, exhibit the construction of both

    the east and west arctic kayaks, the crude small Koryak kayak being a V-bottom

    on a three-batten system while the Chukchi kayak is on the same system as the

    kayaks on the east side of Bering Strait.

            [ ?] The decking of kayaks is of very light construction; usually there

    are two heavy thwarts to support the manhole and from one to three light

    thwarts afore and abaft these. The Alaskan kayaks from Kotzebue Sound south–

    ward have ridged decks supported by a ridge-batten from the ends of the hull

    to the manhole, fore and aft. Elsewhere the deck of the kayak is flat athwart–

    ship except at the manhole, where there is some crown or ridging to increase

    the depth inside the boat, particularly forward of the manhole. In the

    majority of these kayaks there are short battens laid on the thwarts, fore

    and aft, forward of the manhole, to support the skin cover in its sweep

    upward to the manhole.

    031      |      Vol_IX-0041                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            The fastening of the frame members in kayaks is often rather intricate

    and shows great skill in the builder. In nearly all kayaks, the heads of

    the frames are seated in the under side of the gunwale members by socket

    holes drilled to the required depth and angle, into which the frame heads

    are driven. All other joints and connections are lashed together. Hooked

    scarphs, like those used in the umiaks, are sometimes used in the gunwale

    members. Pegs are sometimes used to lock the frame heads into their sockets

    in the gunwales. Sinew lashings are also used on occasion. Care is taken

    that all lashings are flush on the outside so that the skin cover is smooth

    and chafing avoided. The almost universal method of construction is first

    to shape and fasten together the gunwales and thwarts, with stem and stern

    pieces fitted as required, then to fit and place a few transverse frames to

    control the boat's shape. Next the longitudinals are fitted, and finally the

    remaining transverse frames are put in place. In some types the manhole rim

    is now fitted, but in others the manhole rim is put on after the skin cover

    is in place as some kayaks have the skin cover placed over the manhole rim and

    others have it passed under. The skin cover is stretched and sewn over the

    frame and is rarely secured to it by lashings except at the manhole. Due to

    the shape of bow and stern, in some types, difficult and redious sewing is

    required to stretch the skins over the ends of the hull. Much of the sewing

    is completed after the skins are stretched over the hull and held by temporary

    lacings. The blind seam is used as far as possible but in many kayaks the

    lap is very short, about 3/8 inch being common.

            Few Eskimo groups are without kayaks; only those living inland, or where

    the sea is rarely open, are without these hunting craft. In very recent times

    some have ceased to use kayaks, employing purchased wooden canoes instead.

    032      |      Vol_IX-0042                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    The kayaks of the Asiatic Eskimos, and those from the Mackenzie to Hudson

    Bay, are the crudest in built and of inferior design. Both the Greenland

    and the Alaskan kayaks are the most highly developed and it would be difficult

    to decide which is the superior in construction and design. The Greenland

    kayaks are undoubtedly given more intricate r equipment in the way of weapons

    and accessories than the Alaskan craft.



            Figure 6 is the plan of the Asiatic Koryak kayak. This is the type used

    in the Sea of Okhotak and on the Siberian coast of Bering Sea. This is the

    only distinctive Asiatic type. The Chukchi of the Siberian side of Bering

    Strait use a kayak that is on the same model as the one found at Norton Sound,

    in Alaska. The Chukchi kayak differs only in the ends, which are wholly

    functional and without the handgrips that distinguish the Alaskan type. There

    is also a crude Chukchi river kayak, covered with reindeer skin, but its de–

    sign is not represented in an American museum.

            The Koryak kayak is a weakly built hunting boat for protected waters,

    but is well designed for its use. In general form it is much like the models

    of hunting and fowling skiffs formerly used in America. The plan idealizes

    the kayak somewhat, for the boat is very crude in finish. The only example,

    in the American Museum of Natural History, was in poor condition. The hull

    is short, wide and shallow, rather V in cross-section, and there is a slight

    camber in the deck. The length rarely exceeds 10 ftt, the beam is from

    24 to 26 inches and the depth between 8 and 9 1/2 inches. The manhole rim

    is of large diameter, high and without rake. The gunwales are rather slight

    but are the strength members. The keelson is a thin, flat batten and forms

    032a      |      Vol_IX-0043                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 6

    033      |      Vol_IX-0044                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    the stem and stern posts; it is stiffened amidships by a short batten lashed

    inside the frames. The chine battens are also slight and do not reach the

    stem and stern. The frames are widely spaced, and are wide and thin, in

    one piece gunwale to gunwale. There are only two thwarts; those are strong

    and support the manhole rim, showing inside the cockpit. Two thin longi–

    tudinal battens, afore and abaft the manhole, support the deck, in addition

    to a slight center-line ridge batten. The outboard battens appear to have

    had additional support; two pairs of stanchions standing on frames at the

    chines seem to have existed, with their heads secured to the deck battens,

    a pair being placed before and abaft the manhole. A small plank seat appears

    to have been used and the boat was propelled by t w o w short one-hand paddles to

    the manhole rim by thongs; these would be efficient only in calm water. The

    skin cover is made from bearded seal skins and passes under the manhole rim,

    being sewn to the rim on the inside, at the top, by coarse sewing through

    holes bored in the manhole rim. There are two thong lifting handles or loops,

    one at bow and stern. This kayak is the most primitive of all types and it

    is the smallest as well. The Koryaks are not daring canoemen and do not

    venture into rough water. Nevertheless, this type of kayak is said to be fast

    and highly maneuverable.



            Compared to the Koryak, the Alaskan kayaks are a tremendous step in

    development. The Aleuts were, in particular, very daring and accomplished

    kayakers and their craft were among the finest. The Kodiak Island kayak,

    shown in Figure 7, represents one type used in this area, and Figure 8,

    from Unalaska, the other. The Kodiak boat is rather short and wide,

    033a      |      Vol_IX-0045                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 7

    034      |      Vol_IX-0046                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    measuring 15 ft. 1 in. in length, 29 ft. in. beam, and 14 ft. in. . depth to ridge

    batten of the deck just forward of the manhole. The boat has the "humped"

    sheer found in many Alaskan kayaks and is intended for use in stormy waters.

    Its large manhole permits two persons to be carried, one facint forward to

    paddle and the passenger facing aft. These boats could also be used to

    carry heavy loads in lieu of a passenger. The drawing shows the construction

    and requires no explanation. Kayaks, from the Aleutian Islands southward to

    Kodiak, used rod battens and only the gunwales and keelson were rectangular

    in section. The frames were thin flatf strips bent from gunwale to gunwale.

    The ridge-batten of the deck was laminated and was in two strips. The deck

    beams and part of the thwarts were notched into the ridge-batten and lashed;

    two thwarts were arched and shaped the gunwales. The bow piece was carved

    from a block with the longitudinals lashed to it, each in a carefully fitted

    notch. The sternpost was formed of a plank. The skin cover passed over the

    manhole rim; a line passed outside the rim held the skin down enough to form

    a breakwater. The skin cover is sewn to the inside lower edge of the rim.

            The Unalaska kayak, in Figure 8, is a better-known type. This design

    was used throughout the Aleutians and on the adjacent mainland as far east

    as Prince William Sound. It was also employed in the Pribilofs and at

    St. Lawrence Island, having been spread by Aleuts engaged in sealing. All

    kayaks of this type did not have the same bow and stern profiles as the

    example; some had the bifid bow built with the portion above the slit arched

    upward higher than the outer stem piece and so more prominent; there were

    also minor variations in the stern. The shape of the hull, however, was

    consistently held to throughout the area of this model's use. Though the

    deck is ridged it is relatively low, compared to that of the Kodiak kayak,

    034a      |      Vol_IX-0047                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 8

    035      |      Vol_IX-0048                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    and the thwarts supporting the manhole are heavily arched and in one piece,

    gunwale to gunwale. The construction follows the principles of the Kodiak

    kayak, but the gunwales and upper longitudinal battens do not meet the

    sternpost; they end on a crosspiece well inside the stern. This gives the

    effect of a transom stern. However, all Aleut kayaks do not retain this

    feature; some have the normal sharp stern, after the fashion of the Kodiak

    kayak, without the projecting tail or handgrip. Nearly all Aleut kayaks

    have two thwarts between the after manhole thwart and the stern and three

    forward of the fore manhole thwart. The skin cover passes over the manhole

    rim as in the Kodiak type. The bow block is sometimes built up of two blocks

    sewn or laced together. St r engthening pieces, from the bow block aft, are

    sometimes fitted; these are light plank laced to the top, inside, edge of

    the gunwales and pinned to the stem block, to form long breasthooks. In

    some kayaks, with the square stern, only the gunwale is supported by the

    crosspiece on the stern, two battens on each side being supported by

    the last frame only, about 6 inches ahead of the crosspiece.

            This type of kayak is the only one known to have been built with more

    than one manhole. So far as is known, the two-hole kayak was an Eleut

    development used in whaling and sea otter hunting; the type was worked by

    a paddler in the after manhole when fishing. A two-hole kayak measured

    20 ft. 7 1/4 in. long, 23 in. deep, and 9 1/2 in. deep to top of gunwale.

    The manholes were about 40 in feet apart and the foremost was about 8 feet

    from the bow.

            The three-hole boat is commonly believed to have been instroduced by the Russians and this type was much used by Russian officers, inspectors, and traders in their explorations and travels on the Alaskan coast.

    036      |      Vol_IX-0049                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    One of these boats measured 24 ft. 8 3/8 in. long, 30 in. beam, and 10 1/2 in.

    deep to top of gunwale. The center manhole was commonly larger in diameter

    than the other two and gave room for a passenger or cargo. The fore end of

    the fore manhole was 8 ft. 0 in. to 8 ft. 6 in. from the bow, and the other

    manholes were from 3 ft. 6 in. to 4 ft. 6 in. apart. A large example of

    this class of kayak measured 28 ft. 0 1/2 in. long, 38 1/2 in. beam, and

    12 in. deep to top of gunwale. Probably none exceeded 30 ft. in length.

    Both the single-blade and the double-blade paddle were used by the Aleuts,

    but in hunting the double-blade was generally preferred. The paddles had

    rather narrow, leaf-shaped, blades, with pointed tips.

            Figure 9 is the p l a l n of a kayak from Nunivak Island, about due north of

    Unalaska and roughly halfway to St. Lawrence Island. This type of kayak is

    obviously related to that of Kodiak Island; the lines and proportions of the

    kayaks are approximately the same. Only the profiles of the Nunivak kayak is

    its bow, which probably represents a seal's head; a hole through the whole bow

    structure forms the eyes. The stern profile is a more functional one than was

    used in the Kodiak kayaks. The example shows the painted totem that once

    distinguished the Nunivak kayaks; missionary influence has long erased such

    decorations from Alaskan kayaks. Whereas the Kodiak kayaks had eleven battens

    (including keelson) in their frames, the Nunivak kayak had nine. The dimensions

    of the Nunivak and Kodiak kayaks seem to have varied remarkably little; the

    longest reported for either type is 15 ft. 9 in. and the greatest beam is

    32 in. Both types have the large manhole and have the same mode of carrying

    a passenger, back to back with the paddler. The Nunivak kayaks have all

    longitudinals rectangular in section. The single-bladed paddle is used.

    These kayaks are very highly regarded by all who have had contact with them

    036a      |      Vol_IX-0050                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 9

    037      |      Vol_IX-0051                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    and are generally considered one of the safest and most useful of the

    Alaskan kayaks.

            King Island, at the entrance to Bering Strait, is the home of the kayak

    shown in Figure 10; the King Islanders were noted as skillful kayakers.

    Their kayak follows the general pattern of the Nunivak kayaks, but is

    narrower and more V in cross-section. The stem and stern are also distinctly

    different; the King Island boat has a bold upturned stem ending in a small

    birdlike head with a small hole through the stem to represent eyes. The stern

    is low and without the projections seen in the Nunivak type. The fitting of

    the cockpit rim is unusual; the rim does not appear to be supported by thwarts

    but rather is made part of the skin cover and therefore can be moved. The

    King Islanders are said to have launched their kayaks by hurling paddler

    and kayak bodily off the rocks into the water. A watertight jacket with the

    skirt laced to the manhole rim prevented swamping. If this claim is true the

    need for a flexible manhole becomes apparent. The use of the watertight jacket

    secured to the manhole was common among most Eskimos working in stormy waters.

    A warm-weather alternate was a wide waistband with its top supported by straps

    over the shoulders and the bottom laced to the manhole. The King Islanders,

    some of the Aleuts, and the Greenlanders, could right their kayaks unaided,

    when capsized at sew, while still in the cockpit. Indeed, it was the practice

    of many kayakers to capsize their kayaks deliberately to avoid the blow of

    a large breaking sea, and then to right the kayak when the sea had passed.

    A somewhat similar but slightly smaller kayak was used at Cape Espenberg;

    in these the upturned bow ended in a simple point. The sterns were alike in

    both types. The Cape Espenberg kayak had a fixed cockpit rim however, as in

    the Nunivak type. Both types employed the single-bladed paddle.

    037a      |      Vol_IX-0052                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 10

    038      |      Vol_IX-0053                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            A little to the south, in Norton Sound, the long, narrow kayak shown

    in Figure 11 was popular. These were somewhat like the Nunivak kayaks in

    cross-section but with far less beam. They had a slight reverse, or humped,

    sheer and were very sharp ended. The peculiar handgrips at bow and stern were

    characteristic, though the shape and size of the grips vary among the villages;

    the style shown is that of St. Michael. A single-bladed paddle is used.

    This type is very fast under paddle but requires a skillful user in rough

    water. The Norton Sound kayaks were very well finished and strongly built.

            From Kotzebue Sound, at Cape Krustenstern, along the north shore of

    Alaska to the Mackenzie Delta, the kayaks are very low in the water, long,

    narrow, and spindle-shaped at the ends. They are distinguished by a very

    strong rake in the manhole rim, with the accompanying prominent swell in the

    deck forward of the manhole. In general, these kayaks are not employed in

    rough weather, but in skillful hands are seaworthy. They are built with

    seven longitudinal battens (including the keelson), in addition to the gun–

    wales. The latter are sometimes slightly channelled on the inside, apparently

    to decrease weight. These kayaks are very light and easily carried. Both

    the single-and double-blade paddle are employed; the single blade is usually

    used in traveling. Figure 12 shows a kayak from Cape Krustenstern and

    Figure 13 a similar kayak from Point Barrow. These types are going out of

    use, it is reported. No stem or sternposts exist in these boats; small

    end-blocks usually take their places in the ends of the hull. The only

    important difference, in the two types shown, is in the style of crowning

    the deck; the Cape Krustenstern kayak has a ridged deck whereas the Point

    Barrow kayak is more rounded. In spite of their narrow beam and obviously

    unstable form, those kayaks were said to have been used by rather skillful


    038b      |      Vol_IX-0054                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 12

    038a      |      Vol_IX-0055                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 11

    038c      |      Vol_IX-0056                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 13

    039      |      Vol_IX-0057                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            The skin covering most widely used in Alaskan kayaks was the bearded

    seal skin, but walrus skins were also used, particularly by some of the Aleuts.

    The heavy, thick walrus hides were first piled and "sweated" until the hair

    became loose, then the skins were scraped until they were clean. They were

    then thin and light and could be air-dried and stored until ready for use.

    Like seal skins, they had to be well soaked before being stretched over the

    frame of a kayak or umiak. When dried out on the boat frame they were oiled

    in the usual manner. It is claimed that walrus skin, though strong, is not

    as good as the bearded seal skin for boat covers as the latter holds the oil

    longer and does not become water-soaked as quickly as walrus skin.


    Mackenzie Delta

            Though the north Alaska type of kayak, as illustrated by the Point

    Barrow model, may be said to represent the structural design of kayaks to

    the eastward as far as Foxe Basin, the Mackenzie Delta kayaks are on an

    entirely different model. Due to migration to this area, in the last seventy

    years, of numerous groups of Eskimos the design of kayaks in this area

    appears to have undergone a great change. Figure 14 is the plan of a modern

    Mackenzie Delta kayak. The design is marked by a very narrow flat bottom,

    or wide keel, combined with the V-bottom. These boats are well built and

    are light and graceful. The wide keel is formed by a thin plank keelson

    which narrows at bow and stern and is bent up to form the stem and stern.

    The chine pieces run fore and aft and are lashed to the stem and stern thus

    formed. The gunwales are stout, about 3/4 in. x 1 1/8 in. The frames are

    about 1/4 in. x 5/8 in. bent in a strongly U form with their ends tenoned

    into the bottom of the gunwales. The keelson is only about 3/8 in. thick

    and the chines are rather wide, thin battens, about 5/16 in x 1 1/4 in.

    039a      |      Vol_IX-0058                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 14

    040      |      Vol_IX-0059                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    Some kayaks have an additional batten in the sides above the chines. The

    deck is slightly ridged nearly the length of the boat. The stem and stern

    are carried up above the sheer to form prominent posts; some builders

    carry them higher than shown. The construction is neat and light and the

    boat is very easily paddled. Its narrow beam makes it somewhat treacherous

    in unskilled hands, however. A double-bladed paddle is generally used with

    this kayak. While the form appears to vary little among individuals of this

    class, the construction varies, particularly in the number and dimensions

    of the longitudinals. Frames are spaced rather consistently 5 to 6 inches


            The foregoing design differs greatly in every respect from the kayak

    shown in Figure 15. This example was obtained by the U.S. Fish Commission

    in 1885 and is a large heavy boat compared to the one just described. The

    model of this old kayak, and the construction too, is on the eastern pattern,

    such as is used in Hudson Straight. The strongly upturned stern and less

    rising bow faintly resembles the old Greenland kayaks. The V-bottom and

    three-batten construction combined with heavy deep gunwales is not to be

    found in any of the known Alaskan kayaks. Unfortunately there is no record

    of the exact location where this kayak was found on the Mackenzie, nor any

    information on the builders. If this was a Mackenzie type, it now appears

    wholly extinct and there is nothing in the vicinity that resembles it. The

    kayak is well built and was a safe, strong boat. The high stern would aid

    it in coming head to sea and wind when paddling stopped. This kayak resembles,

    more than most, the early explorers' drawings of arctic kayaks. The very

    high ends indicate that this kayak was not used where high winds are common,

    in spite of the otherwise seaworthy design and construction.

    040a      |      Vol_IX-0060                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 15

    041      |      Vol_IX-0061                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats


    Coronation Gulf

            To the eastward of the Mackenzie, the kayaks used are narrow, spindle–

    shaped, and very low sided, in the manner of the northern Alaskan boats.

    Figure 16 shows the drawing made from the remains of a kayak from Coronation

    Gulf which has been compared with photographs and measurements of some

    Copper Eskimo kayaks to insure accuracy. These kayaks were used mainly on

    rivers and lakes to spear swimming caribou. They are characterized by a

    rather marked reverse sheer and a strongly raked manhole rim. The deck for–

    ward of the manhole sweeps up very sharply but with a different profile than

    seen on the north coast of Alaska; the eastern kayaks have the deck swept up

    in a very short, hollow curve instead of the long convex sweep popular in

    Alaska. The ends of the hull finish in small bone buttons; the skin cover

    passes under the manhole rim, as in the Cape Krusenøtern and Point Barrow

    types. A two-bladed peddle is commonly used. The hull design is more stable

    than at Point Barrow and the ends are somewhat fuller, giving the boat a rather

    parallel-sided appearance. Five longitudinal battens, one the keelson, form

    the bottom of the hull; the gunwales are channelled on the inside and are very

    light and neatly made. The frames are split willows, round on the inside.


    Eastern Canadian Arctic

            The Caribou Eskimo kayak preserved in the American Museum of Natural

    History had a chief use in the spearing of caribou and is the best example

    of the type found. Figure 17 shows the features of this particular type;

    the construction is about the same as in the Point Barrow kayak but much

    lighter and weaker. The peculiar projecting stem is formed of a stem block

    with the beak piece attached with a lacing. The stem block is scarphed to

    041a      |      Vol_IX-0062                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 16

    041b      |      Vol_IX-0063                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 17

    042      |      Vol_IX-0064                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    the gunwales. The stern is formed in a similar manner and the sharply

    turned-up stern is formed by two pieces joined together at the tip and laced

    to the stern block; this follows the stern construction of the Mackenzie

    kayak, Figure 15. Both caribou hides and seal skins are used to cover

    the Caribou Eskimo kayak. The seams are rubbed with fish oil and ochre, which

    is also used extensively along the north coast of Alaska as a paint for the

    framework of both kayaks and umiaks.

            The Netsillik Eskimo kayak is a related type, but less stable and with

    different bow and stern profiles. Figure 18 is an example of the Netsillik

    type and requires little discussion. The cover of the example is seal skin.

    These kayaks are used only in hunting caribou at stream crossings and are not

    employed in sealing. The very narrow bottom and small beam make this kayak

    the most dangerous of all in the hands of paddlers unaccustomed to such craft.

    Neither the Caribou nor the Netsillik kayaks are very seaworthy and their

    construction is inferior. They are characterized by rather heavy gunwales

    but the other members of their structures are very slight.

            No examples of the kayaks once used on the Gulf of Boothia, at Fury and

    Hecla Strait, and on the west side of Foxe Basin, have been found. Early

    explorers in this area found kayaks but the types used have been long extinct.

    One kayak, supposed to have been built at Southampton Island, had been pre–

    served by a private collector but when measured was in a damaged state.

            The kayak, shown in Figure 19, does not conform with the old descriptions

    of kayaks from the Melville Peninsula, but does agree with the Boas model of

    a kayak from Repulse Bay in the U.S. National Museum (68126). On this basis

    it would appear that this form of kayak was also used on the east side of

    the Melville Peninsula in Boas' time. The design resembles the Greenland

    042a      |      Vol_IX-0065                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 18

    042b      |      Vol_IX-0066                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 19

    043      |      Vol_IX-0067                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    kayaks, from the southern west coast, to some extent, but the stern is like

    that used in some Labrador craft. This old kayak was very light and sharp,

    rather slightly built, but very graceful in model so far as could be deter–

    mined from the remains of the craft. The fore deck camber is ridged and

    carried rather far forward. If the identification of this kayak is correct,

    it is apparent that the astern model of the kayak once extended as far west

    as the west side of Foxe Basin, with the extreme outpost of the type at the


            The kayak of the lower Baffin Island, Figure 20, is a flat-bottom, long

    and rather heavy model. The gunwales members are very deep and the keelson and

    chine battens are quite heavy. This type has a slight side batten between

    chine and gunwale which gives [x?] five longitudinal members besides the gunwales

    and so this example is the sole exception to the three-batten construction

    that may be said to mark the eastern kayaks. The Baffin Island kayak is rather

    roughly built and the two examples found had many cracked frames at the chines.

    However, this kayak has many excellent features, being easily paddles, very

    stable and seaworthy, and comes head to the wind as soon as paddling ceases.

    The double-blade paddle is used as in the Labrador kayaks, very long with

    narrow blades. When the paddler is seated, these kayaks, like many of their

    eastern sisters, drew more water forward than the drawing would indicate;

    here it should be noted that the trim of the kayaks in the water is not

    indicated by the base lines used in the plans. The effect of the deeper

    draft at the bow is to allow the kayak to come head to the wind when at

    rest, to hold her course into the wind, and to give a long easy run in the

    bottom toward the stern. The small rocker or camber in the bot [ um ?] shown in

    the drawing is thus misleading. The stem is formed by an extension of the

    043a      |      Vol_IX-0068                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 20

    044      |      Vol_IX-0069                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    keelson and the clipper-bow, seen in many eastern boats, is thus formed.

    The stern is shaped by a stern-block of simple form into which the gunwales,

    keelson and chines are notched. The batten between chine and gunwale does

    not run to either bow or stern but stops a little short.

            A somewhat similar kayak is used on the Labrador side of Hudson Strait,

    but, as shown in Figure 21, the appearance of the craft is distinctive. The

    kayak is flat-bottom, with the snied-off chines seen in the Baffin Island

    boat, giving a form like that of many Japanese sampans. The three-batten

    system is used in construction and the gunwales are very heavy and deep,

    standing vertical in the sides of the boat. The sheer is slightly reversed

    and there is little camber in the bottom. One of the most obvious features

    of the Labrador kayaks is the long "grab" bow which is formed by a batten

    attached to the end of the keelson. The stern is formed with a very small

    block inside the gunwales and to this the keelson is laced or pegged. It

    will be noticed that the rake of the manhole is very moderate. These kayaks

    are heavy and strong, paddle well and particularly so against wind and sea.

    The type of long and narrow-bladed paddle used is shown in the drawing.

            This example serves to show better than the Baffin Island kayak the

    combination of deep forefoot and greatest beam well abaft the mid-length

    that marks many eastern designs of kayaks. The model always trims, when

    paddled, so that the kayak draws most water at the fore-end of the keelson

    and the bottom of the stern usually is just awash. This makes the bottom

    sweep up from the forefoot in a very slight, gradual curve to the stern when

    the boat is afloat. As a result, the kayak may be said to be on the "double–

    wedge" form that has been popular in fast low-powered motor boats, since the

    beam is far aft giving a wedge shape to the bow n in plan, and the deep forefoot

    044a      |      Vol_IX-0070                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 21

    045      |      Vol_IX-0071                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Communic. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    and shallow stern produce an opposite wedge in profile. It would appear

    that this form was adopted by trial and error as it was found to produce

    a fast, easily peddled kayak in an otherwise heavy hull. The north Labrador

    kayaks are the largest in the Arctic, for a single person; some are reported

    as long as 26 feet. The unusually long and narrow-bladed paddle may be

    explained by the fact that the Eskimo never produced a "feathered" double

    paddle, with blades set at right angles to one another. So, to paddle

    against strong winds, he developed the long and very narrow blade which in

    turn made the whole paddle very long for a double-blade. The long blade

    enables a deep dip being made, so little propulsion effect is lost.

            The kayak used on the northeast coast of Labrador is shown in Figure 22

    and differs slightly from that of Hudson Strait. The northeast coast kayak

    has a very slight V-bottom and a strong concave sheer, with relatively great

    rocker in the bottom fore and aft. While the boat trims by the bow afloat,

    the rocker probably makes the boat more maneuverable than the Hudson Strait

    model, though less easily paddled against strong winds. The V-bottom is

    formed by using a heavier, deeper keelson than is used in the chines. The

    latter are thin, wide battens, on the flat. The V-bottom appears to help

    the boat run straight under paddle and may be said to contradict the inten–

    tion of the strongly rockered bottom, to some extent at least.



            The west coast of Greenland is the home of the sharpie-model kayak,

    having a flat bottom and flaring sides. At the extreme north, the kayaks

    shown in Figures 23 and 24 are representative. These kayaks have clipper

    bows with sterns of varying depth and shape, concave sheers, and varying

    degrees of camber in the bottom fore and aft. Most of their greatest

    045a      |      Vol_IX-0072                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 22

    045b      |      Vol_IX-0073                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 23

    045c      |      Vol_IX-0074                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 24

    046      |      Vol_IX-0075                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    beam well aft and so draw more water forward, as in the Labrador and Baffin

    Island types. The chief characteristic of the construction of this type is

    in having the transverse frames in three parts, somewhat the same structure

    as in the umiak. However, these kayaks depart from umiak construction in

    having the frame heads rigidly secured by trenoning them into the gunwales.

    This is done to give some measure of transverse rigidity to the structure

    which would otherwise be lacking, since the keelson, stem, and chines are

    light battens. Figure 23 shows the details of the construction used. These

    kayaks are highly developed craft, stable, fast, and seaworthy. The construc–

    tion is light and strong to withstand the severe abuse sometimes given these

    craft. The purpose of the can on the fore part of the manhole is not known

    with certainty; it may be fitted to allow a tow line to be passed around the

    manhole and to prevent this from slipping upward and interfering with the

    paddler's comfort. It will be noted that the shape of the manhole in many

    of the eastern types of kayaks already described ceased to be oval or circular.

    U-shaped manholes, or bent-rim manholes approaching this form, appear in the

    more stable types; there is reason to suppose that such shapes indicate craft

    which are not righted at sea by the paddler and in which the watertight

    paddling jacket or waistband is not used.

            Farther south, along the west coast of Greenland, and apparently also on the

    opposite Baffin Island coast, a modified design of kayak is used. This type

    is shown in Figure 25 and shows relationship to both the flat-bottom kayak

    of northern Greenland and to the northwest Labrador type. In this model

    the clipper bow is retained but the stern and cross-section resemble the

    Labrador kayaks. The construction, however, is fundamentally that employed

    in northern West Greenland. As in the Labrador type, the dead rise in the

    bottom is formed by the use of a deeper keelson than chine members. The

    046a      |      Vol_IX-0076                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 25

    047      |      Vol_IX-0077                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    gunwales do not flare as in the Greenland model, however, but stand vertical

    in the side, flaring slightly at bow and extreme stern. The frame heads

    are rather loosely tenoned and are commonly secured to the gunwales with

    lashings. Transverse stiffness is obtained in this model by employing a

    rather heavy, rigid keelson fixed to the stern block and by a tripod arrange–

    ment forward, consisting of the stem batten and a pair of transverse frames

    placed at the junction of the stem and keelson with their heads firmly lashed

    and tenoned into the gunwales. The construction, though strong, is rather

    rough compared to other Greenland types. It is possible that this model of

    kayak was introduced into Greenland from Baffin Island. The manhole rim,

    in this type, is not bent but is made up of short straight pieces as shown in

    the draw a ing. The double-bladed paddle used is shown in the plan and

    resembles that used in Labrador. This is a rather heavy kayak of very good

    qualities but not as maneuverable as some of the flat-bottom kayaks farther north.

            The style of kayak used on the southerly west coast of Greenland has

    changed in model rather markedly since 1883. This change has apparently

    affected the kayaks used on the east coast of Greenland also. In this part

    of the Arctic, the Eskimos are notable kayakers and the boat is not only well

    designed but also carries highly developed equipment and weapons for its

    work. The model used is a graceful one, V-bottom, with raking ends and rather

    strong sheer. In the old boats, represented by Figures 26 and 27, the sheer

    was strong at bow and stern. The kayaks are narrow but their shape gives them

    much stability. Plates of bone were attached to the bow and stern to protect

    them from ice; these bone "stem bands" or "bang-plates" were usually pegged

    048      |      Vol_IX-0078                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    to the stem and stern; in rare cases lashing is seen. Figure 26 shows the

    construction used; light strong gunwales and a three-batten longitudinal

    system with bent transverse frames. The keelson and chines are light, rec–

    tangular in section, and placed on edge. They are shaped slightly to fair

    the skin covering, seal skin. The cover passes under the manhole rim. Bow

    and stern are made of plank on edge, shaped to the required profile. The

    gunwales are strongly tapered in depth fore and aft. The thwarts or deck

    beams are rather numerous; in addition to the two heavy thwarts supporting

    the manhole, there are eight to twelve others but these are very light in

    scantling. There is usually one more forward of the manhole than there is

    aft. The fore thwart of the manhole stands slightly inside the cockpit and

    is strongly arched. The after one is clear of the cockpit opening and has

    very little arch. The deck, where it sweeps up to the raked manhole is sup–

    ported by two light short battens or carlins, 24 to 36 inches long; usually

    there were two abaft the manhole as well. The fastenings were lashings

    except at the ends of the hull where pegs were used to secure the keelson

    to the stem and stern. Sinew lashings were also used here in some examples.

    The whole framework was light, strong, and neatly made. In some of the gun–

    wales did not flare with the sides the whole length and near the stern a

    knuckle was thus formed in the skin cover, as in Figure 27. This appears

    to have been rather unusual, however. The exact amount of flare and dead

    rise varied village to village.

            The old kayaks used in East Greenland had more rake in the bow than

    the examples and also were marked by a sheer that was almost straight from

    the bow to within a foot or so of the stern, where it turned up sharply to

    a high stern, as in Figure 26. These kayaks also had less flare and dead

    048a      |      Vol_IX-0079                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 26

    048b      |      Vol_IX-0080                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 27

    049      |      Vol_IX-0081                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    rise than most of the southern West Greenland models. The amount of rocker

    in the keelson vafied a good deal; that shown in Figure 2 4 6 appears to have

    been about the maximum; a straight keelson does not seem ever to have been

    used. The manholes were fitted to allow use of the watertight paddling

    jacket; the projecting rim shown at the after side of the manhole in Figure 26

    was probably intended to prevent the drawstring in the skirt of the jacket,

    which held it to the rim, from slipping over the top. This form of kayak has

    been the most widely described type and has been much admired; it was a fast

    and handy hunting boat.

            This old form of lower Greenland kayak has apparently become obsolete

    and has been replaced, since the '80's, by the style shown in Figure 28. The

    modern version has the same construction as the old but the model has undergone

    much alteration, as can be seen. The rake of the bow and stern have become much

    greater; the sheer is now almost straight. The flare of the sides has

    been increased and the dead rise in the bottom has been reduced. The new

    model has spread northward on both the east and west coasts. It is undoubtedly

    an improvement over the old style, being faster (particularly against a head

    wind) and quicker turning. However, it would probably be found to be some–

    what harder to right when capsized than the old model. The new model is more

    stable than the old but is not suited for unskilled users; a few American

    soldiers were drowned in such kayaks during the last war through rashly

    venturing into rough water before becoming practiced in the use of the craft.


    Fittings and Techniques

            The intricate arrangement of deck lashings shown are required tohold

    weapons and accessories. Just ahead of the paddler there is a stand or

    049a      |      Vol_IX-0082                                                                                                                  

    Fig. 28

    050      |      Vol_IX-0083                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    tray on low legs to hold the coiled harpoon line; weapons of various types,

    lance, darts, and harpoons, are held under the deck lashings. Toggles of

    bone or ivory, often carved, are used to tighten and adjust these lines.

    The Greenland kayaks carry far better developed deck fittings and gear than

    is seen in any of the western types.

            The paddler's seat, in most kayaks, consists of a portion of heavy

    skin with fur attached. Sometimes this is supported by a few short, thin

    battens laced loosely together. These, and the fur seat sometimes are as

    long as the paddler's legs. No back rest is known to be used. Seat, and

    any batten supports, are loosely placed and are not part of the kayak


            The kayak is usually entered by floating the boat near a stone or low

    bank and stepping into it with one foot, after carefully wiping it. With

    the body steadied by placing the paddle upright on the shore or outside the

    kayak, the other foot is wiped and placed in the boat. The paddler then

    slides downward and works his legs under the deck until he is seated.

    Getting out of a kayak is almost the reverse of this process. Great care

    is exercised to avoid getting dirt into a kayak as it might chafe the hide

    cover. Hence the care in wiping the feet before entering. The practice of

    entering the boat ashore and throwing man and kayak into the water was un–

    doubtedly very rare but is said to have been practiced not only at King

    Island but in some parts of Greenland on occasion.

            Lashing two kayaks side by side, or parallel, with spacing rods, was

    commonly practiced to enable the craft to ferry persons or cargo across

    streams. Some Alaskan kayakers thus converted kayaks into catamarans and

    then fitted a mast and sail, but such an arrangement was never used in rough

    051      |      Vol_IX-0084                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    water. Both Alaskan and Greenland hunters often lashed two kayaks together

    in order to rest in rough water. Many kayakers, using the narrow models,

    use the paddle, laid athwartships across the deck, to help steady the kayak

    when resting or throwing a weapon; this is basically the same idea as holding

    the sculls in the water in a racing shell, to steady the boat.

            The methods used to right a capsized kayak by its paddler, without aid,

    have often been mentioned but few attempted to record the exact details of the

    operation and the scanty descriptions found do not give sufficient explanation.

    As far as can be judged, great strength and quickness are required in the

    paddler, and the kayak must be of suitable design. The Eskimos are reported

    to be gradually losing this skill and a detailed record of kayak-righting

    methods should be made, before it is too late.

            [ ?]

            Excepting a few specially wide kayak models, some or all of which may

    have been introduced under European influence, the kayaker, to avoid cap–

    sizing, had to have at least one of his hand s constantly upon a paddle the

    blade of which was in the water. The weapons that a kayaker might use were

    determined by the nature of his craft. So his weapons were those that could

    be manipulated by one hand — the harpoon, spear, dart, knife, and bolas.

    The dart might be sped with the help of a throwing stick. The harpoon fre–

    quently and the dart occasionally would have an inflated bladder attached to

    its line, and such a float might range from an actual bladder, with a buoyancy

    of a pound or a few pounds, to a sealskin bag which had a 200 or even 300 pound

    lifting power. The floats were for the double purpose of slowing up the beasts

    to which they had become attached, and of bringing them to the surface after

    a dive or "sounding."

    052      |      Vol_IX-0085                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

            There were at least three reasons why a bow was ill suited for kayak

    use, and was in fact never employed except for a stunt. To begin with, a

    bow resuires the full employment of two hands; next, an arrow will sink

    and a hunter cannot afford to waste his weapons; then an arrow does not

    readily carry a float to buoy up a wounded or dead creature; and, finally,

    the Eskimo bow ralies for its [ ?] springiness not upon the wood

    from which it is constructed but upon a rope ot twisted sinew lashed against

    the back of the wood frame, and this sinew loses its springiness if it

    gets wet, or even damp.

            All eastern kayaks appear to have been propelled with the double–

    bladed paddle, but folklore indicates the single-blade kayak paddle may

    have once been used. Greenland kayaks have been reported as carrying a

    small square sail for occasional use.

            The timber used in kayak building was usually driftwood. Fir and pine,

    or more often spruce, thus were used for longitudinals. Bent frames were

    commonly of willow. Scarphing in the frames of kayaks seems to have been

    far less common than in umiaks; when found the scarphs are in the gunwales.

    Sinew is generally used in all lashings and for sewing material. The heads

    of frames are tenoned into the under side of the gunwales and are then

    either lashed or pegged (with treenails of wood or bone) to retain them

    in place. All scarphs are of the hooked type and are usually quite short;

    the hooked scarph is perhaps the best one when the fastenings are lashings.

    In the joining of frames and longitudinals, the lashings are commonly

    individual but, in some types of kayak, continuous lashings (connections

    in series using one length of sinew) are occasionally found. Where possible,

    the lashings are turned on so that the turns cross right and left. In some

    053      |      Vol_IX-0086                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    parts of the framework two pieces of timber are "sewn" together; holes

    are bored along the edges to be joined and a lacing run in with continuous

    turns, over and over. Sewn joints are common in the stems of Alaskan


            Gunwales and battens are most commonly lashed through holes bored in

    them and bow and stern members. The practice of passing the skin cover

    over the manhole rim seems to have been confined to the Alaskan kayaks.

    Bone knobs at stem and stern heads were used in the Coronation Gulf kayaks

    and in many Greenland models, so far as the existing evidence shows. Bone

    stem bands were more widely employed, however, having been used at Kodiak

    and Nunivak islands, in the Aleutians, at Norton Sound in Alaska, and in

    Greenland and Baffin Island in the east. It is probable that these bands

    were once in wider use than thus indicated. Most Alaskan kayaks would come

    stern to the wind when paddling stopped while most of the eastern craft

    came head to the wind. Each type was developed by long periods of trial

    and error to produce the greatest efficiency in meeting the conditions of

    use in a given locality. This had made the kayak a more complicated and

    more developed instrument of the chase than is to be found in any other

    form of hunting canoe.

    054      |      Vol_IX-0087                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats


    1. Crants, David. History of Greenland, Vol. I . London, 1820.

    2. Birket-Smith, K. "Ethnology of Egedesminde District," Medd. om Gron.

    Vol. LXVI, 1924.

    3. ----, The Caribou Eskimo. Rep. of the Fifth Thule Expedition.

    4. ----, "The Eskimo." Geogr. Tids. , Vol. 39, No. 2, 1936.

    5. Boas, Franz. "The Central Eskimo," Bureau of American Ethnology,

    6th Annual Report, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

    6. Bogoraz, V. G. The Chukchi, The Josup North Pacific Exped., Vol. VII,

    Mem. of the American Museum of Natural History.

    7. Egede, Hans. A Description of Greenland. 1745.

    8. Elliott, H.W. "The Seal Islands of Alaska," U.S. Gov. Printing Office,


    9. Holm, G. "Ethnological Sketch of the Angmagealik Eskimo," Medd. om Gron.

    Vol. XXXIX, 1914.

    10. Hornell, James. British Coracles and Irish Curraghs , London, 1938.

    11. ----, Water Transport, Origins and Early Evolution, 1946.

    12. Jochelson, W. The Koryak. The Jesup North Pacific Expedition, Vol. VI,

    Mem. of the American Museum of Natural History.

    13. Parry, W. Edward. Journal of a Second Voyage . London, 1824.

    14. Murdoch, John. The Point Barrow Eskimo. Bureau of American Ethnology,

    9th Annual Report, Smithsonian Institutions, Washington, D.C., 1899.

    15. Nelson, Edward W. The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Bureau of American

    Ethnology, 18th Annual Report, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

    16. Nenson, Fridjof. The First Crossing of Greenland , 2 Vols. London, 1890.

    17. ----. Farthest North , New York, 1897.

    18. ----. Norwegian Polar Expedition 1893-96.

    19. ----. In Northern Mists , 2 Vols. London, 1911.

    20. Mitman, C. W. "Catalogue of the Watercraft Collection," Bull . 127,

    U.S. National Museum, Washington, D.C.

    055      |      Vol_IX-0088                                                                                                                  
    EA-Transp. & Commun. Chapelle: Skin Boats

    21. Paris, F. E. Essai sur la construction navale des peuples extra–


    22. Stefansson, Vilhjalmur. My Life with the Eskimo . Macmillan, New York,


    23. ----. Ultima Thule . London, 1942.


    Howard I. Chapelle

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