Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why a Skinboat

There's no question mark in the title just like in Hillary Clinton's book What Happened because I'll tell you Why a Skinboat.
There's also a reference to Why a Duck here, one of two jokes that I can remember, the other one starting with, a duck walks into a bar.
But enough about sentences that start with Why and on to the real meat, the reason for building skinboats.
There is more than one reason for building skinboats.  I don't know what yours are, so I will tell you mine.
Fundamentally, in the back of my mind, I like things that have a short supply chain, reason being that I distrust long supply chains.  Just about everything these days has a long supply chain, but not everything, especially stuff you make yourself.  Supply chains for those not steeped in the language of goods delivery are all about how stuff gets to the end user. Let's take something simple like a tee shirt.  First someone needs to grow cotton which depends on farm implements and fertilizers.  Next the cotton has to be turned into yarn.  Then the cotton is spun into fabric.  After that it is dyed, or maybe before and after that it is sewn into the finished garment which is then shipped to some distribution center from which it goes to the retail store where you buy it.
And that is just a very simplified version of how you get your tee shirt.  Every step along the way has more supply chains backing it.  The chain is in fact more like an inverted tree in which you trace the path from every leaf up to the trunk.
Skinboat technology appeals to me because it has a short supply chain, at least in the original cultures before the arrival of modern intruders into the Arctic.  The person making the boat collected all the materials needed by himself and fashioned all the tools to make the thing by himself and with the help of other men and women of the village put a boat together.
The boat builder could get everything he needed in his immediate environment which did not include stores or amazon.com. So why does this matter?  It probably doesn't matter if you are comfortable with your reliance on industrial society to provide you with all the stuff that you need. 
I have to admit that I belong to the pessimist fringe that thinks it might be worthwhile to have some backup plans in case our industrial arrangement runs into problems.
Ergo, I like to look for technologies that don't rely on a whole bunch of industrial technologies.
And yes, I realize that the nylon string I use to tie my boats together with and the varnish I paint them with and the polyester skin I cover them with are all  industrial products. Still, I feel that if I had to, I could make a kayak out of materials in my immediate environment.
And quite frequently, people ask me why I don't use carbon fiber or whatever the latest development in materials is.  I really can't find a reason that a person who is in love with modern technology would understand. So I just nod politely and tell them that I use carbon fiber and epoxy and whatever else on occasion in addition to power tools and electricity, & & for the sake of convenience.
But the key thing I like about traditional technology is that it is possible to deploy it without modern tools and materials.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Welcome back from the LDP (long dark period). Surely I'm not the only one hoping you're OK, even through the TTT (trumply turbulent times).

I think your admitted reliance on polyester/nylon skins, nylon lashings, varnish, etc. is understood as shortcuts. Were these suddenly unavailable, then no doubt the available, scavengable substitutes would be employed.

The economics of global, fragmented supply chains may soon be stretched to breaking, and your analysis is prescient.

Wolfgang Brinck said...


thank you, anonymous for your concern for my well being. I am fine.
The reason I am not doing much posting about kayak building is that I have moved away from water for the time being.
The forces that blow economic bubbles have concentrated a disproportionate amount of money in the SF Bay area which raises the price of everything, especially housing and has prompted us to take to the road for the time being.
I have not lost my love for water, though for the time being we are not near it.
As for skinboat coverings, I imagine there might be substitutes for synthetic fabrics even if the synthetic skin industry goes out of business. By and large though, I imagine that as long as there is water and as long as there are people, there will also be boats of one kind or another. Skinboats may be harder to build but skinboat builders will find a way to build boats one way or another. Lashing technology for tying pieces of wood together will still be useful.
In any case, the main lesson of arctic boat building is the application of ingenuity to survival in a harsh environment. That will not go out of business in a world of short supply chains.