Monday, December 31, 2007

West Greenland Kayak Design

During the last visit at the Ethnological Museum in Leiden I learnt something new about traditional kayak design. I thought the upswept bow and stern had to do with the rougher waters the West Greenland hunters paddled in - but that proved to be a common misunderstanding. In the Museum the following text was displayed along with some traditional kayaks:

"...Kayaks are different from region to region. Kayaks from West Greenland have bows and sterns that curl up. The kayak from East Greenland is the flattest. That was first attributed to environmental factors, but a researcher recently discovered that the protruding points disappeared everywhere when weapons arrived. With guns, hunters sometimes shot through the point of their kayak and went down. Spears and harpoons are thrown overhead, high over the bow. When guns came into general use, the West Greenland Kayak was already less in use, so it was less influenced by that.
When hunting for narwhals, mostly in Northern Greenland, kayaks now take precedence and traditional harpoons are still used. In East-Greenland people still live from hunting plentiful seals of various species - using guns and motorboats."
Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden , 2007 -"ALS HET IJS SMELT".

Valley says the Pintail is based on the classical lines of the Igdlorssuit Kayaks, but with rounded bilge hull sections. Igdlorssuit is the old name for Illorsuit - a place in West Greenland). In fact the relationship between the Greenland Design and the Pintail is more indirect. First was the Valley Anas Acuta (a hard chined kayak - more close to the original skin boat) and later Valley rounded off the chines and added a bit of beam - the Pintail was born. In an interesting interview in Ocean Paddler nr. 5 Nigel Dennis explains how he was involved in this evolution - somehow the NDK Romany is also related.

Since this last day of the year I am the very proud owner of an Anas Acuta - the white kayak next to the faithful Kajakwoerden Pintail. I am sure I am going to have a lot of fun with this new toy in 2008!

More history of the Anas Acuta and the Pintail kayak:
Memory Lane - blog item by Douglas Wilcox
Bryan Hansel on


Anonymous said...

Wow! It is beautiful to see these two boats side by side, Hans.
Congratulations for such a good choice.

Anonymous said...

Hi Hans,

Congratulations with your AnasAcuta !!!!

But what a pity for our Pintail: I guess she will be very jealous in time.

As I have an AnasAcuta since approx. 1985, I am interested very much in you experiences. Some of my own probably are faded away: paddling it for such a long time makes everything normal.

Looking at the decklayout made me think it is quite a new version, equiped with a variable skeg. After all those years the skeg is the only thing I missed the last years when everybody paddles with a skeg; making me work harder than my companions.

May be I can provide you with more historical information about the AA, as I have been collecting this for some years now. May be I write an article this winter.

About the museum in Leiden: I want to thank you for the text-quote next to the exhibited kayaks: I have been there as well and I closely examined the kayaks but obviously I missed this information.

This is surely an interesting theory (or name it an conclusion) about having the upswept bows or not: it surely makes sense.
It is probably a coincidence that East Greenland has less rough seas, making low bows possible when guns entered daily life. I conclude from the text that the bows were all upswept in the beginning.

It seems an interesting case to me if this evolution of the bow would have been like this when sea-conditions were more rough in the east.
It looks like you can think in circles: because East Greenland has less rough conditions, hunting with guns from kayaks seems easier than in the west, where people switched earlier to other boats for hunting as I understand it.
But might they not yet have left the kayaks as hunting-craft as the guns arrived, it seems very difficult to me to use a gun in the rough conditions in West Greenland from these narrow, unstable kayaks. I think it is, even in our modern kayaks from today, not easy to use a gun in waves.

I guess the appearance of guns in West Greenland could have caused the people to abandon their kayaks as well. The question is now: Why did they switch to other boats earlier; before the guns came??
Might the hunters have considered the WestCoast as too dangerous for hunting from kayaks; after having got the knowledge about other cultures and boats than their own??

Hans Heupink said...

Hi René!
Don't feel sorry for my Pintail - there will be a good place in my heart for this great kayak - also besides the Anas Acuta. For multiple daytrips the extra luggage capacity of the Pintail will be welcome (though with a more compact sleeping bag, and the little shelter - I should manage longer trips with the AA too - the new challenge of minimalistic camping).
You have seen it right: it's a recent AA, just 3 years old in immaculate condition (and what you can't see on the pictures: it's a very light "Ultra Kevlar-Carbon" version...).
You put some interesting questions on the introduction of guns and the effects on kayak design and use. Let's discuss these questions on Wednesday with the experts in Alphen!
Greetings, Hans