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Thread: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

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    Default Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Although there are a great many other regional specific types of kayaks in the Arctic traditions, there are two styles that are the most commonly reproduced for modern, recreational-type paddling, the Greenland kayak--or qajaq , and the Aleut ikyak, more often called by the Russian name baidarka. These two types are probably the best suited for recreational paddling, compared to some of the very specialized hunting types, but they are also very different from each other. I'm certainly not going to try to tell you which kind is best--because that's a flawed question right from the start. These kayaks are good at doing different things, and every boat is a compromise. What I will do is try to point out the differences, so that you can make your own determination over which style might be better suited to your own purposes. And each of these two have influenced modern touring sea kayak designs greatly, with wood, fiberglass, and plastic kayaks taking features and design cues directly from these two different schools of design.

    Some of us still think the old styles are pretty cool, though, both in the building and in the paddling, and I've got a couple of examples here that I'd like to use to demonstrate some of the basic and essential differences between these two. Now to some extent, there is no absolutely "typical" skin-on-frame kayak, as they were, and continue today, to be built to order to custom fit the the paddler--very often by the paddler himself. It's very different indeed from the one-size-fits-all modern boats that are pumped out of a mold. But there are most definitely some standards and rules of thumb that guide the building of these boats, depending upon the tradition you are working within. Here are a couple of my own boats, my favorite two so far of the half-dozen skinboats I've built for myself. The tan one is a South Greenland qajaq, and the white one an Aleut ikyak, based on the Unalaska style.



    These two boats have the same max beam, which is the beam at ass-level of yours truly, plus two fist-widths, plus the thickness of the gunwales. This works out to about 22" for me. This is certainly on the narrower side for modern recreational kayaks, but then again, we're not messing around here. These are intended to be kinda high-performance boats, not casual ones.



    You can see from the top view that they have very different prismatic coefficients. The Aleut type is far fuller, and carries that fullness all the way fore and aft. The Greenland is much lower volume.



    Rolling the boats over, we can see another, very profound basic difference in hull shape. The Greenland is a distinctly hard-chined kayak, with clear and prominent rails. The Aleut has so many stringers that it is to all intents and purposes a round-bottomed boat--or actually a v-bottomed, soft chine boat, to be most accurate. The keelson in the baidarka is a big, deep member, and there is a distinct gap in the spacing from the keelson to where the series of stringers start. With water pressure against the skin, this effectively creates a bit of a hollow in the section, not at all unlike the section of a viking boat. By contrast, the keelson in the Greenland type is little different in size or depth from the chine stringers.



    The bows and sterns of these two types are very different indeed. The long raking stem of the Greeland type stores reserve buoyancy with a big overhang. The section is triangular. The bifid bow of the baidarka stores reserve buoyancy in a more complicated, but ingenious way, with the two halves allowing for an effective Y -shaped section, with the skinny lower blade and the wide, flat top part. Without the bifurcation, there's no easy way to achieve this section within the limits of stretching a skin over a framework.
    Last edited by James McMullen; 05-12-2015 at 01:32 AM.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison



    Here you can also clearly see the peaked decks of the baidarka versus the nearly flat decks of the qajaq. The peaked deck will shed green water better, while the flat deck catches less wind. A compromise. At any rate, you can see just how much more volume is in the Aleut boat. The East Greenland saqqit has an even more extreme version of the low flat decks, with the boat being nearly awash. I can't hyperextend my kneecaps enough to fit in that type though, so I stick to South or West Greenland types myself.




    Looking right into the gaping maw of this unique feature.



    The sterns are very different too. The Greenland stern is not a whole lot different in shape from the Greenland stem, other than being a bit smaller and lower. But the Aleut stern is radically different from the bow. The fullness aft helps the boat pick up and surf in a following sea--I've done it with a fair amount of success. And you can see just how much more volume is carried aft.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison



    A view from the topside. The carved peg in the stern of the qajaq is a drainplug. You can tilt the boat up on the end to drain out any water. Some folks add an external skeg to the stern of Greenland kayaks if they want a boat that tracks more firmly (which is not my own personal preference, which is why this boat doesn't have one). Aleut kayaks already tend to track more strongly from their basic shape, so it's unlikely to add anything similar on a baidarka.



    Ikyak stern.



    And qajaq stern.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison



    Let's look at the insides now. Here's the view from inside the Greenland boat looking forward. The heavy deckbeam in the near foreground is called the masik, and is very important to the fit and feel of the kayak, as it is what provides your thighbrace for controlling and especially for rolling your kayaks. I like to add actual carved thighhooks into the masik of my personal boats, for a super tight fit. The third deckbeam down is the footbrace deckbeam. Both masik and footbrace are located to fit the inseam measurements of the paddler when you are building the frame.



    And here's the view looking towards the stern. On a Greenland kayak the lashings go along the length of each stringer. You can also see the little pegs which hold the tops of the ribs into their mortices. The thicker section in the middle of each rib is to encourage it to stay flatter in the middle, to keep the desired degree of deadrise in the shape.



    The insides of the baidarka are a bit busier. As we look forward, we still have a masik (with carved thighhooks again), but all of the deckbeams are peaked, and have a centerline ridge stringer on top. The gunwales are shorter and wider, there are more ribs that are more closely spaced, and it's got a lot more stringers. The keelson is much deeper than the stringers. On a baidarka, you lash your stringers athwartships side-to-side along each rib.



    Looking aft. I have an additional thin "floorboard" stringer lashed on top of the keelson to make it easier to skid drybags in and out over the ribs when packing this boat up for a tour.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison



    Going to the topsides again, let's look at the cockpits. The proper Greenland cockpit is very rounded, and angles back rom horizontal from the arch of the masik forward down to the flat beam aft. The skin is drawn up inside of the coaming, leaving the wood of the coaming exposed. Note the seat boards spanning the ribs right where you'll sit, to keep you from wedging down in between the ribs.



    The proper Aleut cockpit is much more egg or oval shaped, and is held much more level. There are little struts which hold the outboard sides of the coaming up. Aleut practice is to sew the skin up, over and around the coaming, capturing it inside the skin. The ribs are more closely spaced in the cockpit area, right where you sit, to give more support.



    Stacked one on top of the other like this, you can see how the Greenland, despite being longer overall, actually has a shorter LWL than the Aleut.



    Yes, very different indeed.

    Now I do like them both for sure. They each have some real strengths. The Greenland is a light, agile and responsive craft, responding to leaned turns with a will. It's a great boat for a day paddle, especially up some twisty creek or something. But I have to admit that the Aleut boat is my favorite overall, for my purposes. It's a better open-water boat, handling waves and chop and current effects with more aplomb, is faster in a straight line, and has probably double the capacity for gear haulage. If you were looking for a boat for loaded touring, the baidarka is the winner for sure. But let's be honest here. . .wouldn't it be better yet to just make yourself one of each to cover all the bases?

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Lucid. Thank you.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Thank you for this. I'd wondered about the reason for the bifurcated baidarka bow before but never seen it explained.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Good to read - cool photos - and some new views upon this two traditional kayak types.
    Too often a comparison between Baidarka and Greenland Kayak get´s somehow out of course,
    because the diversity in each type, flex yes/no, materials etc. but this all sounds very found.
    I always found Baidarkas a bit strange looking compared to a Greenland Kayak,
    that is of course subjective. I have to build a Baidarka one day. Both of your Kayaks have fine shape and are a joy t look at.
    I can´t understand why people can still paddle clumsy, heavy and slow plastic kayaks if they have a sense for SoF kayaks like those.
    My vote goes to the Greenland Kayak (for the lines!)





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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Those are nice looking boats, Moritz. Did you build them? I recognize the Disko Bay type for sure, and the others look quite East Greenland-ish.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    V good, James. Thanks.
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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    I've often wondered about trying a baidarka style stern with a Greenland style bow... Probably would look awful and the fact that the volume isn't carried aft on a Greenland hull would require an asymmetric shape to get away with that.

    James - do you prefer the "chain" lashing style over individual lashings for speed, tradition or what?
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Chained lashings are super efficient, and there's a particular way of doing it which is extraordinarily effective in locking bits together yet still offers just the right amount of give for a springy flexibility that utilizes the length of the twine for shock absorbtion. I find individual lashings to be both tedious and inelegant. Too many little knots.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Tried it on a boat and didn't like it as the shape of the hull led to getting snagged on the "chaining" when using the boat. I tried to get it to run along the ribs - maybe I just need to work on my technique.
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Nice thread. Thanks for taking the time to put it together
    Elect a clown expect a circus

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    I ran this thread past Harvey Golden, who is really one of the world's foremost authorities on the traditional skin-on-frame kayak, and he pointed out a truly egregious error which I need to rectify. There in the last paragraph where I suggest building one of each? That's an absurdly low number. It should read "several", or possibly "dozens".

    And on a completely serious note, skin-on-frame kayaks are a phenomenally inexpensive and accessible form of boatbuilding that I'd reccomend to anyone, whether you go full traditional, or one of the simpler styles like the sort Dave Gentry offers plans for. Either way, you won't be disappointed. These humble little boats offer more joy per dollar invested than anything else I've come across. Everyone should have a canoe or kayak in addition to whatever other sort of boats they've got.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Quote Originally Posted by James McMullen View Post
    I ran this thread past Harvey Golden, who is really one of the world's foremost authorities on the traditional skin-on-frame kayak, and he pointed out a truly egregious error which I need to rectify. There in the last paragraph where I suggest building one of each? That's an absurdly low number. It should read "several", or possibly "dozens".

    And on a completely serious note, skin-on-frame kayaks are a phenomenally inexpensive and accessible form of boatbuilding that I'd reccomend to anyone, whether you go full traditional, or one of the simpler styles like the sort Dave Gentry offers plans for. Either way, you won't be disappointed. These humble little boats offer more joy per dollar invested than anything else I've come across. Everyone should have a canoe or kayak in addition to whatever other sort of boats they've got.
    ..
    "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
    -William A. Ward



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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    That's a very nice comparison. Thank you for sharing.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    For another take on a Baidarka, here is what I did. I built George Dyson’s design, but instead of the aircraft aluminum that he called for, I converted it to wood and made into a folding design as well. I haven’t folded it up all that often but I did pack it up and put it on the plane for a 3+ week long trip to Haida Gwaii a long time ago.



    The skin is nylon coated with Hypalon





    The frame is Douglas Fir keel and gunwale pieces, stringers are 5/8” Ramin dowels socketed into ¾” alum. tubing. Sockets for the keel and gunwale pieces were fabricated of carbon fibre and Kevlar in epoxy. The whole lot is lashed with Nylon.





    End assemblies are mostly ply, held in 3 dimensions with stainless steel machine screws and wing nuts, so that they can pack flat.

    Alex

    "A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. We do be afraid of the sea, and we only be drowned now and again" Aran Islands Fisherman

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Awesome, Alex! Is that his 5.28 meter design?

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Quote Originally Posted by James McMullen View Post
    Awesome, Alex! Is that his 5.28 meter design?
    Yup, that's the one
    Alex

    "A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. We do be afraid of the sea, and we only be drowned now and again" Aran Islands Fisherman

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    These humble little boats offer more joy per dollar invested than anything else I've come across. Everyone should have a canoe or kayak in addition to whatever other sort of boats they've got.

    Absolutely. I've build one of each type, and am now about 80% of my way through a stripper kayak build. The stripper will cost about 4 times what I spent on each of the SOF boats, and is taking about 3 times as long to put together. Will it be 3 or 4 times as satisfying once I get it in the water?

    One other note to the well-thought commentary, James. I find the lower-volume Greenland type much easier to roll, which would lead me to advise that model for anyone who wants to learn a roll or two. As to the tippiness factor, my Greenland boat is only 19" wide, and despite the uneasy sense it gives when starting out, I've have never once gone over accidentally. Same with the baidarka -- a bit wider at 21" -- it doesn't have much initial stability, but loads of reserve. Next, a discussion of traditional paddle styles?
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    All good points, Wox. I too find cedar-stripper to be an almost unbearably tedious, time-consuming, and expensive way to build a boat compared to SOF. Pretty as they might be, I doubt I'll ever build another one that way. Stitch-n-glue ply kayaks are more durable and crunch-resistant anyways, if you're preferring a modern-tech hardshell boat.

    Likewise, rolling a low volume Greenland boat is super easy. . .but that doesn't do you a whole lot of good if you're loaded touring. I find that proper outfitting is really the most important factor anyways. You should practice yer moves until you can roll your fully-loaded touring kayak without batting an eye if you really want to be a self-sufficient wilderness padder.

    Paddles are indeed worth a post-script. I very much prefer the Aleut type with a dedicated dihedral-ridged power face over the flatly ovalled and symmetrical Greenland type. And I like big, fat blades too. This is of course very much in the eye of the beholder, of course, as there are lots of gung-ho paddlers who prefer skinny Greenland sticks instead, and they are not wrong, not for them. It's all a personal preference.
    Actually, to be totally honest, I like my carbon Werner Kalliste better than any of my wooden or traditional paddles. . .which never fails to get me teased at trad. skinboat meets. <sigh> I wish I could like them more, but I use trad. paddles more out of a sense of duty than by genuine preference. Though try as hard as I have over the years to wean myself off of them, I like me a feathered, fat-blade, euro-paddle just fine.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Thanks for posting all this James. Any thoughts from you or Harvey on what prompted the different design directions between the Aleut and Greenland boats. What were the builders trying to achieve, how did the different environments and uses the kayaks were put to influence the different design directions?

    Ian

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Quote Originally Posted by IanHowick View Post
    Thanks for posting all this James. Any thoughts from you or Harvey on what prompted the different design directions between the Aleut and Greenland boats. What were the builders trying to achieve, how did the different environments and uses the kayaks were put to influence the different design directions?

    Ian
    good questions. It seems the greenland style boats were used fairly far out at sea, I dont know about the pacific coast type. It might be my experience with dorys talking but the narrow, high, ends of the greenland boat make it look like it might be better in a short steep sea, where the other boat looks like it might be lifted by the bows and stern or submarine them with considerable turbulence.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Actually the exact opposite is true, Daniel. The Greenland boats were used close in to the ice pack and up narrow leads in the ice. They were in relatively sheltered waters, considering that we're talking about the Arctic Ocean, of course. It was the Aleut types that were the open-water specialists, designed for longer duration trips over much greater distances in the nasty weather off the Aleutian Islands. A true ikyak has a bunch of carefully crafted joints and lashings allowing for specific flexibility in specific ways intended to ease and improve the boat's motion in big seas. And the bow and stern shape, the higher prismatic, and the peaked decks, handle breaking waves and green water much more handily than the Greenland type. In a chop that would keep the Greenland nearly awash, the baidarka stays on top with aplomb.

    Having a fair amount of experience in both of these kinds of boats, I would be far more comfortable being caught in bad weather or negotiating a surf zone in the Aleut baidarka myself. Greenland boats are fun and fast and maneuverable, but honestly, they're simply not as "seaworthy" from my experience, not for big water. Day trips are one thing, but if I was headed out somewhere beyond assistance for a few days, I wouldn't even think twice before picking the baidarka.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Right, or to relate the types to whitewater boats, the Greenland is a playboat, the Baidarka a creeker. I'm still learning how my Baidarka behaves and had it out in some chop and swells this weekend. It has massive reserve buoyancy and recovers with authority when you push the bow under. In situations where the Greenland boat would bring solid water washing right over the cockpit, the Baidarka lifts and shrugs it off before it's halfway down the deck. There is speculation, by the way, that one of the principal reasons for the sharp forward rake of the Greenland boats' stem is to make it easy to paddle right up onto an ice shelf.
    -Dave

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    interesting, I suppose once the wave lenght is longer than the hull the ends mater less and less, so it's more about what style keeps you dry.

    are the fiberglass expedition type Kayaks out west built to Bardika lines? of all the serious expedition type "SEA" kayaks I've seen people on multi day trecks with around here (NE, Maine island trails, etc.) all that I can remember are on modified Greenland style lines, but that makes sense if the greenland boats are better along shore and designed for landings in difficult conditions and terrain like the coast of Maine. I know every time Ive been kayaking Ive been near shore, within 5 miles, so the greenland style was, in hindsight, the right choice.

    It's cool that the Bardika is designed for multi day open water journeys, have you used it that way? most padlers I know do a series of day trips, along shore and like to pull in and camp over night, none of them sleep at sea in their Kayaks.

    there's an ancient story of a hunter being blown ashore in his kayak in Ireland or England in the 17-1800's he died a few days later from the toll of his ordeal, assuming that was a greenland type boat.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Dear All,
    Kayaks in parts of Greenland were every much open water hunting vessels as those of the Aleuts (Unangan). Inhabited Greenland spans some 17 degrees of latitude starting a hair above 60 degrees north. Some Greenlanders would use kayaks year-round in wide open waters. For others it would be a seasonal endeavor, limited to leads in spring and fall, but in open water otherwise. One mustn't confuse fjords with protected waters; I myself have paddled with Greenlanders in a fjord outside of Nuuk during a 70 mph winds storm, and 8' rolling seas. The kayaks we were using (Greenland of course), were especially well suited for it. That said, an Unangan Iqyax would've been perfectly at home in these waters as well. 90% or more of any particular kayak's 'abilities' will lie in the paddler's skill and experience alone.

    Briefly, both types are adapted to open water subsistence pursuits. Their variation of form is on account of many factors including ancient cultural-traditional diversion, different hunting weapons, different modes of retrieving game, and a different degree of required adaptability of local/seasonal conditions. The Iqyax or "Baidarkas" folks are most familiar with come from a period when the Unangan were forced into the commercial pursuit of sea otter furs by Russian Colonials. The forms of these kayaks is undoubtedly very different than pre-contact Iqyax would have been-- early contact examples were described as being much shorter and wider. This suggests a form adapted to a broader substance use.

    I have not come across any historic descriptions of Unangan willingly over-nighting in their kayaks during hunts, though no doubt it was something that was possible and had to be done on occasion. With regards to Greenlanders making long sea passages, this too would've been accidental, but it is fairly well documented (i.e. South Greenlanders being swept out to sea in storms and turning up on the European coasts). These examples of 'overnighting' successfully at sea must be considered against the fact that many hunters died at sea-- kayak hunting fatality statistics are particularly grim (and well-documented for Greenland).

    All the best, Harvey


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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Some place I have a reference that factored in the kind of territory and the kind of game into qajaq design, but I can't remember where. It looked at things like launching and recovery, whether the seal was butchered on rocks or ice of convenience and stowed inside the qajaq to get home or was plugged up and towed or deck carried. It had stuff like launching conditions e.g. the King Islanders needed wicked strong craft. Where the Caribou hunters needed straight line speed on relatively flat water. I'll poke around.
    Ben Fuller
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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Awesome pics, Harv. Surfing off the Oregon Coast? Can you expand upon which models of boats are in the pics? The top one looks like a West Greenland type to me, and the bottom maybe a copy of the Lowie Museum baidarka from the bow shape, maybe? Love to hear your take on the reasons for the differences between the super low-sided East Greenland boats and the much higher ended types up and around the other side.

    I would be indebted if you had some comparitive pics of Greenland vs Aleut paddles to add too, as I broke my last Greenland stick, and am unlikely to build another in the foreseeable future.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Dear James and all,
    Yes, a little offshore paddling in Oregon (Short Sands and Arch Cape). The upper kayak is a replica of a mid-20th century kayak from Nuuk West Greenland, and the lower is a replica of an Unangan Iqyax from the 1820s. Here's a link to varieties of kayaks and paddles from the arctic hunting tradition-- all replicated full-size: http://www.traditionalkayaks.com/Kay...kReplicas.html

    As for why the differences. . . the easy answer is that different shapes can work equally well. Pre-contact East Greenland kayaks had high ends are were deeper than later types; I have no idea why the relatively sudden change. I suppose the difficult answer is that I don't know .
    Best, Harvey

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    "Equally well." Ha ha, Harvey, you're still a lumper while I'm a splitter, even after all these years.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Quote Originally Posted by James McMullen View Post
    "Equally well." Ha ha, Harvey, you're still a lumper while I'm a splitter, even after all these years.
    Naaah. . . I think we are both lumpers.

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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Quote Originally Posted by Harvey Golden View Post
    Dear James and all, Yes, a little offshore paddling in Oregon (Short Sands and Arch Cape). The upper kayak is a replica of a mid-20th century kayak from Nuuk West Greenland, and the lower is a replica of an Unangan Iqyax from the 1820s. Here's a link to varieties of kayaks and paddles from the arctic hunting tradition-- all replicated full-size: http://www.traditionalkayaks.com/Kay...kReplicas.htmlAs for why the differences. . . the easy answer is that different shapes can work equally well. Pre-contact East Greenland kayaks had high ends are were deeper than later types; I have no idea why the relatively sudden change. I suppose the difficult answer is that I don't know .Best, Harvey
    What is with the keelson in the INUPIAQ QAYAPAURAQ? Do you grip it with your butt cheeks?
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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  35. #35
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    Default Re: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

    Thank you very much for the thread James, and thank yo too Harvey. Good pix and tech. information and a discussion of lashings, what more could I want?

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