Friday, October 12, 2018


If you were following this blog, you may have noticed that the frequency of posts has dropped to something like zero.
Well don't despair.  I still have ideas and an urge to type at my laptop and anyone out there able to tear themselves away from politics may find me back on the internet, only not writing on the topic of skinboats.
Reasons for that are mainly that to say something useful on the topic means that I should still be involved with skinboats in some meaningful way.  Truth is that I am not.
Reasons for that are that we are disengaging ourselves from a fixed abode and shop and proximity to water, all of which have something to do with kayaking in skinboats.
Going nomadic on dry land with minimal opportunity to mess with boats.
That may change in the future, but for now, I am landbound.
Soon as I think of new things to talk about, I will post a link to where that is so you can decide whether you want to bother going there and reading what I wrote.
In the meantime, read back posts on this site.  If you're like me, you'll discover things you might have read but forgot so old stuff will feel like new.

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 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.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Aleut Kayak Sail - sutu-x^

Sails on Aleut kayaks were used early on though probably copied from western sailing craft.  Early sails were made of grass matting or skins though later of canvas. The sail was called sutu-x^.  In Attuan, the sail made of skin was called chiyug^asi-x^.  Sailing was done primarily down-wind which in Unangam Tunuu is slam chidug^-ag^i-i. The mast was called aqax^tayuuchi-x^.  To sail was called chidux^-six^.  When wind was calm or opposing the direction of travel, sails were taken down.
The mast was set into a mast step that was lashed to ribs adjacent to the keelson.  The mast entered the hull through a sleeve sewn into the skin.  The mast was probably also lashed to the deck beam to minimize stress on the skin.
Sailing against the wind would have required lee boards and additional lines on the sail, encumbrances which the Aleuts apparently chose to avoid, probably because they weren't worth the trouble.
Kayaks rigged with sails did, however, have a rudder which was controlled by the paddler in the rear cockpit.  More details on that in a separate post.
Although some single kayaks used sails, the sails were primarily used on doubles which were the preferred craft for hunting sea otters under the Russian regime.
This photo shows a group of paddlers in two-hole kayaks.  The kayak farthest to the right looks like a three-hole kayak.  In all cases, the mast is behind the front-most paddler. The sails are lowered and laying on the decks.
This kayak from an illustration by Elliot shows the sail in its raised position.  Most likely, when the kayak was on land, the sail would have been lowered, but Elliot is allowed some license. The sail was raised and lowered by a line which went from the top of the sail through a hole or block at the top of the mast to a block on the deck.  The line was controlled by the paddler in the rear cockpit. The illustration also shows the rudder.  The rudder was controlled by a line which wrapped around the rear cockpit.
This photo shows kayaks on land.  Spray skirts are tied at the middle and raised up by a stick to form conical tents that prevent rain from getting into the kayaks.  The masts are acting as clothes poles to hang paddling jackets from.

This is the block through which the line runs that raises the sail.  The line goes from the mast right behind the front-most cockpit down to the block and then back to the cockpit behind the sail where that paddler trims the sail.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Deck Load, the Bailing Pump, muunhma-x^, muunma-x^, puunpa-x^, liivira-x^, liivri-x^, chxuusi-x^

Aleut kayakers carried bailing pumps or bailing tubes on the decks of their kayaks.  To use the pumps, the kayaker would have to loosen the string that cinched the spray skirt around his chest and push the pump down along his chest down between his legs to the bilge of his kayak.  Then he had to bend his head forward to suck up water into the pump, then stopper the bottom opening, lift the pump out of the cockpit and drain the contents of the pump over the side. I have not made one of these pumps but my experience with bottles is that when turned upside down, the contents run out, so most likely, the kayaker needed two hands to pull the pump out of the cockpit without having the water run out the bottom hole back into the bilge.
The bailing pump also had to be sized to be about as long as the distance from the bottom of the boat to the chin of the paddler.
This drawing shows the type of bailing pump or tube that is shaped the same on both ends. The tube was usually carved out of red cedar in two halves which were separately hollowed out and then mated together and held together by three or more sections of twine.
Names for the bailing tube varied from place to place and over time.  The name puunpa-x^ appears to be an adaptation from the Russian word for pump.  The Attuan names liivira-x^ and lliivri-x^ are derived from liv'er, the Russian word for siphon. The name chxuusi-x^ appears to be derived from chxu-x^, the name for sponge.  This hints that the carved wooden tube is a late invention and that in the past, natural sea sponges were used to get water out of the bottom of kayaks.
This bailing pump has a bottom and a top.  We are looking at the bottom end here.  Others were made so the top and bottom ends were both shaped the same way.

The mouth piece is to the right.
As the model shows, the bailing pump slides under one of the deck lines of the kayak.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chag^a-n, Charms and Amulets

For the linguistically curious, chag^a-n (amulets) is the plural of chag^a-x^ (amulet).  Charms and amulets probably varied quite a bit from one paddler to the next since they were probably a personal affair.  What worked for one paddler would not necessarily work for the next.  But let's look at some things that might have been charms.
This figure is made out of bone.  It may have had inserts where the holes are in the eyes, chest and the chin.  The chin probably had labrets.  Who knows what was in the eyes. It has also been suggested that this figure may have been attached to a wooden hat.  That might explain the slanted cut on the figure's own right side.  The angle of the cut would match the slope of the side of the conical hat.

The groove around the back of the head  of this fellow may have had hair attached to it with a string, or maybe it was just a place to tie a string around so it could be worn around the neck.

This fellow is made out of  wood.  Nothing more can be said about him.
Whether any of these figures were carried in ditty bags is not known.
There were other carved figures about the kayak though some had practical uses like cleats at the ends of deck lines that kept deck gear like paddles from slipping off the deck.
These sea otters were attached somewhere on the kayak, most likely not to deck lines but more likely to a vertical part of the kayak in its interior.

Black sea otter.

This drawing  shows various otter carvings in use on kayaks some on deck lines, some not.  The one on the top right was attached to the vertical brace inside the kayak that ran from the keelson to the deck stringer. Right underneath the figures is a cutaway of the deck showing the brace that maintains the distance between the keelson and the deck ridge.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ug^ada-x^, the Aleut Kayaker's Sea Bag in Unangam Tunuu

I decided to fight my way through Knut Bergsland's Aleut Kayak Terminology a piece at a time. Rather than starting at the beginning with the kayak itself, I have decided to start near the end, not with the kayak itself but with the sea bag or ditty bag, ug^ada-x^ that an Aleut kayaker would carry with him inside his kayak. The ug^ada-x^ contained a bunch of small items that the kayaker would need to repair his kayak or clothing and also some items he would need to start a fire on shore.
The terms listed here come from page 154 of Contributions to Kayak Studies.
For background on Bergsland see an earlier post of mine on this blog.

Bergsland's notes on the kayak terms is here in this picture. Click to enlarge.
This is Bergsland's explanation of where his information came from. The key information here is the explanation of the abbreviations EA, AA, and Au for the principal Aleut dialects.

This is the snippet of Aleut Kayak Terms that deals with the ditty bag.

My illustrated version of Bergsland's text.  Click on the picture for a larger view.
I should mention that in drawing up the diagram of ditty bags and ditty bag contents, I did not have any images of what these things actually looked like.  Bergsland mentions that the ditty bags were about two feet long.  That's all I had to go on.  Dry grass, yeah, we know what that looks like, but whether it was just in a lump or if people twisted it up, I don't know.  Likewise, I don't know what Aleut fire drills looked like.  They could be the type I showed which is a pump drill.  But there are other types of fire drills.  I drew a pump drill because Mike Livingston had students make these at Aleut Culture camps.  Same goes for amulets and charms.  They could be just about anything from a pebble to elaborately carved ivory.  As for caul of baby, look that up.
And part 2 of ditty bag contents.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Handline Assembly for Kayak Fishing

Here's some info on the handline rig I've been using to fish from my kayak.  I got the design from my friend Marc who introduced me to his fishing grounds.  This kind of rig makes it possible to fish from a sit-inside kayak.  You don't need a sit on top with rod holders, bait wells, fish hatches, etc. etc.
Much of the complexity of commercially sold kayak fishing setups comes from the fact that the industry wants to sell gear.  It's that simple, and guys being guys want to buy gear.  But you don't need all that much gear.
So here it is, the handline rig.
This photo shows the rig which consists of a wooden spool, 200 feet of  300lb braided spectra line, 8 feet of  60 pound mono leader, a  12 oz sinker assembly with swivel hooks followed by 4 feet of 40 pound mono leader snelled to a 5/0 circle hook.

This is what the rig looks like set up for transportation.  Fits nicely in a one gallon ziploc plastic bag. If the wire of the sinker assembly were a little shorter, it would store even better.  This rig has 250 lb braided line with an 8 ounce sinker.
And here's a schematic of the handline assembly.  Some additional comments on the schematic.  The 300 pound braided line comes in various lengths, but 100 meters is a good spool size, that's about 300 feet of line.  You can wind half of that on your spool or even all of it, depending on how deep you want to fish.
The spool itself is made out of wood. A scrap piece of one by six will do fine.  Before you commit to any dimensions, try wrapping your hands around a length of wood that is 3/4" thick by 1-1/4" wide and has the edges rounded. If the wood needs to be wider or narrower to feel comfortable in your hand, adjust the dimensions on the spool accordingly.  If the long dimension of the spool is longer than 8 inches, you need fewer turns to spool up the line when you're retrieving a fish.  On the other hand, a longer dimension will put more torque on your wrist.
The length of the sinker assembly, which consists of a piece of coat hanger or heavy gauge copper electrical wire with a sinker attached to it  should be about the same as the length of your wooden spool.  This makes it easier to wind up for storage.  Weight of the sinker should be roughly one ounce for every ten feet of depth you are fishing.  That would be 10 oz for 100 feet of line, for instance.  Rate of drift and weight of main line also makes a difference.  You want your line to be as vertical as possible so you can know how close you are to the bottom.  This is where a drift chute comes in handy if there is a wind blowing.  The drift chute slows down your kayak and allows the line to hang more vertical.  Some drift is ok, but you don't want your line going out at 45 degrees.
Snap swivels should have a breaking strength at least that of the lines they are tied to, in our case, at least 50 lbs.  I bought some that were 150 lbs which is overkill.  Overkill is ok sometimes, but the 150 lb wire snaps are pretty hard to get open with bare hands, especially cold bare hands.  And carrying pliers in a kayak is a nuisance.
The idea with this rig is that when you are fishing rock reefs where there is a possibility of snags,  you want the leader to break and lose maybe your hook and bait but not your sinker.  You can carry more snelled hooks and bait, but the sinkers assemblies are more bulky and you want to avoid losing them.  Worst case, you snag the sinker and the 60 pound leader breaks, but you still have your main line.
All the knots mentioned in the schematic can be found on the internet and youtube.  I tried using a double uni knot to tie the 60 pound mono leader to the 300 pound but the mono line was too stiff in comparison to the braided line so that the knot didn't work and ended up using an Albright knot which worked fine.  It takes a while to get the hang of some of these knots especially if you are watching a bad youtube or if you are working with stiff monofilament, but practice pays off.
Thanks again to Marc who taught me this stuff.
The lincod is resting on a plastic rice bag which I keep in my lap when fishing and into which I shove the fish that I catch.  

And here's some fish caught by handline, lincod, and two rockfish.  The little guy is bait herring.  These guys were caught with octopus for bait.