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Thread: Aleut vs Greenland Inuit kayaks: a Visual Comparison

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2007

    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 12:32 AM.

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