Friday, December 31, 2010


Somebody suggested that the post apocalyptic boat from the last post was a jangada, a design native to Brazil.  Could be. Here's a picture of a jangada.

Hull shape looks similar, but all the jangada pictures on the internet show them rigged for sailing.  Who knows. Ongoing mystery.

postapocalyptic I can haz cheezburger boat

If you've never been there, the I can has cheezburger site is a place where people post pictures of their pets and put funny captions on them.  The captions are written in a babytalk/imaginary pet language with its own orthography. In any case, they have branched out into other realms.  I am posting a photo from that website here because it is obviously a prime example of post-apocalyptic boat building.  If you want to see it in its original environment, go here. Then you can also look a funny cat pictures. 

Some points worth mentioning: The upright rowing posts and the oarlocks, a piece of rope or rag tied around both oar and post and the fact that the boat is rowed by the rower facing forward place it somewhere in east Asia.  Normally, the person rowing is standing, but who knows, maybe they need a break sometime, hence the lawn chair.

Monday, December 13, 2010

ok, I'm turning on the word verification thing again

The no word verification thing on comments was good for about a week or two.  I don't get huge amounts of spam, but enough to annoy me after two weeks.  Spam is bad enough, but having it archived on a hard disk somewhere in my comments section goes against my basic don't waste principles. And I don't feel like monitoring comments or cleaning out ridiculous stuff.
Some examples here of stupid stuff that you probably don't want to read any more than I do,

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Aleut Bent Wood Hat Making":

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Mary Swift
 London Latin Escort

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Appropriate Technology???":

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Planting Boat Parts

So today I went out to this willow patch and got some willow shoots to plant behind the shop. Chopped them up into foot long sections and stuck them in a bucket of water.  In a week or so they should be sprouting roots.  I know this works because one time when I had harvested more rib stock than I could use right away, I put the excess in a bucket of water to keep them pliable and after a week or so they sprouted roots.  Once they have roots I will plant them.  I know they will survive into spring.  Who knows what happens after that.  I can water them for a while till their roots get thoroughly established.  After that, they will be on their own.  They will either send roots down till they find water or they will dry up.  I hope they make it.

I also stopped by the quince trees.  I don't know why they are where they are. They are not native.  Someone may have planted them long ago before this was park land.  The quince were all gone. I got there a little late.  The deer ate them all.  There's deer tracks all around the trees.  Maybe the deer munched the quince when they were younger and got them to send up all those skinny straight shoots.  They bend nicely.  Would make some good boat ribs.

Reinventing the Folbot

A while back I picked up this book called Fabulous Folbot Holidays at the local used book store.  I got it mostly for the pictures, I thought.  I loved the vintage 70's era photos.  I took the boat home and stuck it in the bookshelf and didn't look at it for a year.  A week ago I pulled it out again for whatever reason and started reading it.  Really quite entertaining.  It's part stories and testimonials by people who owned Folbots and part advertising copy for different Folbot models like this one following.

 Hey, it's the 17-1/2 foot Super.  Looks a lot like my first baidarkalounger which comes in at 18 feet and is 32 inches wide.  Only the Super is 37 inches wide.  If you click on the photo, you'll get a large view and can probably read the specs and the advertising copy. So what I discovered was that a boat that big is too much for one person to paddle casually, though I've done it.  It's not impossible.  It's just not desirable, It's just more work than I typically want to do.

So then I built another baidarka, this one a little shorter, 15 feet and 30 inches wide.  And wouldn't you know it, Folbot had a 15 foot boat as well. They called it the Sporty and made it 32 inches wide.  You might almost say that I was channeling Folbots for a while there. 
I don't really know how these things happen.  I wasn't thinking of Folbots when I made my baidarkas.  They just turned out proportioned like slightly slenderized Folbots.  I was really taking my inspiration more from sailing canoes of a hundred years ago, at least on a conscious level. 
And then I started thinking that yes, back in the 60's my dad had a Folbot and I used to paddle that but it didn't make any kind of impression on me that I could tell at the time.  Never had a desire to own a Folbot, but here I am building baidarkas that are shaped an awful lot like Folbots.  The workings of the boat building mind are truly mysterious.
And the weirdest thing about these Folbots is that they really are not bad boats.  They are a little wide by today's standards, but they are stable and probably paddle a heck of a lot better than plastic sit on tops.  Who knows, I might be tempted to build a real Folbot, one that fols up into a bag.

more thoughts on coppicing

I picked up a copy of Eric Sloane's America at our local used bookstore the other day. What becomes apparent if you read even a little of the book is the prodigious amount of wood consumed by the early European settlers.  There were so many trees to cut that they didn't have to bother with twigs.  As Kilii points out in a comment, native dwellers did coppice, most likely because given the tools they had, it was easier to collect twigs than to cut down whole trees and split them. And Kiliii and his crew are keeping up the tradition.  So I am happy to hear that somebody beside myself collects twigs for boat building. 
And finally, here is a picture of pollarded willows.
The picture is from the back cover of a book I had read as a kid.  It shows a medieval German landscape.  Willows grow here and there next to the road.  But they are entirely lacking in branches.  Every winter, the thin shoots are cut for basketry and brooms and whatnot and every spring, the willows put out new shoots with enough leaves to nourish the tree and keep it alive for another year. 

dry ride in an ulux^tax^ (two hole baidarka)

Dave Wilhelm asked me if I had any thoughts on how to build an ulux^tax^, an Unangan (Aleut) two-holer in which the bow paddler stays dry.  I gave him a brief reply and told him I would post some pictures here for the benefit of a slightly larger audience.  So here goes, a picture.

The really apparent thing here is that the front 3 feet of this boat are sticking out of the water.  This seems to be an extreme case.  Most of the time only the front 2 feet of a double would stick out of the water, but you get the idea.
What makes for a wet ride in a double is that the bow spears a wave  and the water on deck douses the bow paddler.  The trick is to prevent the bow from spearing into the face of a wave.  Elevating the bow is one way.  Making the boat flexible is another. A long stiff boat with some momentum to it has no option except to spear into a wave unless it has a good deal of rocker and enough volume forward to lift the bow.  Having flex lets an ulux^tax^ pick up rocker as needed.
Although much has been written about the flexibility of baidarkas, little has been said about the role of the skin.  My observation is that regardless of how flexible the frame is, a tight skin with little stretch to it will limit flex of the boat as a whole considerably.  I have no experience with hide-covered boats, but I suspect their ability to stretch would have affected how flexible they were.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I got some feedback on whether to turn on monetization or not.  Nobody seems to care, so the next time I'm in the mood for jumping through the requisite hoops, I may turn it on.  I got thumbs down on word verification for comments, so I turned that off.  We'll see how many spam comments that allows in.  What the heck, bad attention is better than no attention at all.

Friday, December 3, 2010

coppicing and pollarding

You don't hear much about coppicing and pollarding in America. And right now, as I'm typing this, the editor is putting red squiggly lines under both of the words because they aren't in the editor's dictionary. So, in case you haven't figured out what coppicing and pollarding are, let me tell you. Coppicing is the practice of sawing off a young tree at ground level. All the roots of the tree are intact so next year, it puts out several shoots from the stump you have left behind, and in a few years, how many, depends on how big a piece of wood you need, you have several straight pieces of wood suitable for things like fence posts, hurdles and other application.
Pollarding is similar to coppicing, except you prune all the branches off an older tree and just leave stumps. Next year, the stumps put out new branches, each one a straight shoot especially suited for things like basked weaving.
I really don't know why coppicing and pollarding isn't practiced much in America, but I know that it is in England.
The reason it is practiced there, I am theorizing, it twofold. One is that coppicing and pollarding works best with certain species of trees which seem to like the British climate. The second reason is that Britain has been densely populated for a long time and so mature logs are not as plentiful as in North America. As a consequence, the British have come up with a way to quickly raise useful wood in less than full tree dimensions.
And as I already alluded, coppicing trees looks like a good way to grow boat parts like ribs or stringers, and for small boats, even gunwales. What appeals to me is the idea of growing boat parts to the proper dimensions so all you have to do is peel and trim which is a very low tech way of processing wood. No running full grown trees through a saw to produce lots of sawdust and a few usable planks. Anyway, I'm looking to do some coppicing provided that I can find some suitable wood species that will grow locally.
Stay tuned.

The west end of Alameda, a former salt marsh topped off with dredged fill, mostly sand. Will anything tree-like grow here? It's raining now & I can probably get some willow shoots going. But no rain from March to November. Who knows what will survive.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coppicing Wood to make a Yurt - a Shamans Life - by

So as a seamless segue, here is a guy showing how to cut wood to make a yurt. Same concept would work for gathering kayak materials.
Certain locales work better than others, but even here in the SF Bay area which has an arid climate, there is water in low places that favors some growth of sticks suitable for boat wood.

И. Растеряев. Моя деревня Раковка - My village is Rakovka.

a few posts back I put up a little youtube video clip of a Russian Aleut accordion player. So most recently, I got a friend invite on youtube from sunfish737, another Russian accordion player, not Aleut though. Check him out. he has a bunch of videos of himself playing accordion. sort of a punk sensibility. The accordion seems to be to Russians what the guitar is to Americans, a medium of proletarian expression.
But OK, so what does this have to do with boat building? Check out the background in this video. It is what the British call a hurdle, I think, a fence made of small diameter sticks woven around verticals stuck into the ground. Anyplace that can grow these can come up with wood for a skin on frame boat.
Anyway, enjoy the accordion playing.

everything is connected

everything is connected - a corny concept, perhaps somewhat discredited by blatant overuse by the new age crowd. Nevertheless, if you have an active mind, you can connect everything and anything with anything else.
So in short order, I have managed to connect the Russian Aleut accordion player with another Russian accordion player with coppicing with boat building with new age thought.
Anyway, the idea of connectedness was not invented by new age thinkers, it was simply revived by them. The central concept is animism, I think, that everything has spirit which is the substrate that connects all things. So there we go. Animism is still the major explanatory concept throughout most of the world, much more popular than materialism which is what drives industrial cultures.
I don't know if this is a valid connection, but it seems that where materialism is the intellectual substrate of industrialism, animism is the intellectual/spiritual substrate of pre and possibly post industrial societies.
So here is my proposal for the day: animism is the driving force of post-apocalyptic boat building.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Visit to the Hearst Museum

No, not the Hearst Castle, the Hearst Museum at the UC Berkely campus. Named after Phoebie Hearst, philanthropist mother of William Randolph Hearst the newspaper man and creator of the Hearst castle and the inspiration for the Orson Wells movie, Citizen Kane.
This place used to be called the Lowie museum, named after an anthropologist. Something must have happened to trigger the name change, probably a gift of money. That's usually what motivates change.
So anyway, Mike Livingston was in town and he had never seen the baidarka frame at the museum before, so we went to visit it. Mike also arranged for us to see a bunch of baidarka models that were in the museum storage.
I wasn't expecting to see much new stuff since I had been to the museum twice before. And models tend not to offer much insight either. So all in all, my expectations were low. But as it turned out, I did learn a bunch of new stuff and noticed things that I hadn't noticed before. So overall, this turned out to be quite an enlightening trip.
A few photos and some brief comments follow. This is not a full analysis of the situation which I hope to work up and post somewhere but just a quick overview of what I noticed.

Here is a picture of the bow of the Aleut kayak from Atka. Of special note is the lashing at the top that ties the deck stringer to the bow plate. You might have to click on the photo for a larger view to see it clearly. Anyway, the string goes through the deck and then through a hole in the vertical part of the bow assembly.
What I noticed was that this was one of a number of modifications to the boat made by someone other than the original builder. My suspicion that it was other than the original builder who made the add-ons is based on two things. The original build was of very high quality and workmanship. And the builder didn't paint the frame red until all the building was done, including the boring of holes. What makes me think that the bow lashing was an add on is that the holes are rougher than the original lashing holes and that they are not painted, that is the boring of the holes exposed fresh wood.

The same goes for the stern. A new lashing was added to tie the tail fin into the stern cross block. Not shown here are three more additions that would reduce the flex of the frame. Apparently, the add ons were made to stiffen up the boat. Why would someone want to stiffen up the boat? Apparently to sail it.

Here is the mast step add on lashed to the ribs. We saw the sail that was used with this boat, but didn't take it out of its plastic bag.

We looked at a bunch of baidarka models as well. For some reason, all but one were two-holers. No singles. As I already mentioned, I wasn't expecting much since models are usually not to scale and distorted for ease of building, but these were quite accurate. The detail on the deck gear and paddles was especially revealing. What sets these models apart from some others I have seen is that they were apparently made by men who had also done the full size boats and gear, so the detail was quite authentic. I especially noticed the paddles. The one pictured above and below was of the short loom variety. I don't think that all paddles of that period had short looms, but some definitely did. Looms were on the order of 18 to 20 inches and blades were on the order of 40 inches.

Here is a picture of a guy holding his short loom paddle. I think that paddlers held these paddles like Greenlanders held their short loom paddles, that is, thumb and forefinger curled around the loom at the root of the blade and the rest of the hand sitting on the root of the blade.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Maiden Voyage of Culture camp Iqyax^

What we built this year at the APIA culture camp was an open cockpit baidarka that would be easy for people to get into and paddle. On the last day of camp we took the boat out to the Alaska Native Heritage Center and launched it in the pond there. Everyone who wanted to got a chance at paddling it.

Russian Aleut Accordion

The 2010 APIA culture camp had some Aleut visitors from Russia. When Alaska was still a Russian colony, the Russian transported a number of Aleuts from Atka and Attu to the Commander Islands to do the fur hunting there. A few of the old people still speak the Attuan dialect of Aleut or Unangam Tunuu. The Russian Aleuts like the American Aleuts are trying to conserve some of their traditional culture.
Anyway, here is a little clip of the Russians performing a song. Sally Swetzoff of Unalaska on the left is helping them out.

How to say kayak in Yupic

This is a test of my ability to add videos to the blog. If it works, you may get more.

The video was taken at the APIA culture camp. Not everyone there was Aleut. Clinton was Yupic. In the video, Clinton is wearing a mask of his own making. He made it out of some fabric scraps left over from covering a baidarka we made. Anyway, Mike Livingston is prompting him to give us the Yupic word for kayak.


The blog people, that is Google which owns blogspot have a monetization scheme. I don't really know what that looks like, but its a way of putting ads for stuff related to the blog on the blog page and if people click on an ad, I get paid something.
I started going through the steps for setting this scheme up but then abandoned it because it seems that it is easier to turn on than it is to turn off. Once turned on, I was afraid that monetization might be overly annoying with lots of flashing and blinking going on.
So I thought I would ask my readers if any of you would have objections to monetization. If I get more than a few comments saying no, stop, don't do it, I really hate the ads, I won't turn it on.

The Post-Apocalyptic Boat Builder, #3

I am reading a pamphlet by Howard Chapelle on the Chesapeake bateaux, also knows as skipjacks. These had hard-chine hulls which are easier to build than hulls with round bilges. Chapelle claims that anyone with basic carpentry skills could work on constructing these which brings me back to requirements for the post apocalyptic boat, namely, that just about anyone in the population with some rudimentary skills should be able to put one together.
A lot of the boats in fishing cultures were built by fishermen and not necessarily boat building specialists. As a consequence designs had to be simple enough that pretty much anyone could learn how to build them.
This was also true of kayaks. In a culture where you starved if you didn't hunt and hunting required a kayak, you better be able to build one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Portable Boat Ramp

I just moved into my new shop location. The good news is that there is water a mere hundred yards from where I store my boats. The bad news is that it looks like the picture above. Big rocks to climb down with a boat. It's 16 feet from the top to the bottom. I thought of building something semi-permanent to make getting a boat in and out of the water easier but it's public property and therefore might have a limited lifetime. So I didn't want anything elaborate.
What I came up with was a ladder-like contraption that I could slide the boat up and down on. A friend had given me some redwood deck lumber that was going to be tossed. Luckily it was 16 feet long, just the right length for my portable ramp. And it is easily hoisted on top of the car.

Yesterday I did a test run of the ramp. The water was close, but I hauled things by car just so I'd have someplace to lock up my camera and other stuff while paddling. Plus it gave me a chance to test long distance portability of the rig.

Here's the ramp, deployed. The long pieces are spaced about 7 inches apart. That separation allows the boat to slide down the longitudinals without the keel dragging on the cross braces of the ramp. The two vertical pieces of two by four keep the ramp from sliding down into the water.

Here's the ramp in action. The slope is steep enough for the boat to slide down without any assistance. You can't see it in the photo, but I planed down the inside edges of the runners to make contact surfaces less sharp and less likely to injure the boat.

And there's the boat, successfully launched. I didn't have a photo assistant so I don't have any pictures of me climbing into the boat. That was actually the hardest part of the whole deal, climbing in and out of the boat while the boat is floating. It's much easier getting in and out of the boat on a beach. I was able to stabilize the boat with my paddle while climbing in and out of the boat but that's hard on the paddle with these sharp barnacle covered rocks. Should have brought my boat pole. Next time. In any case, I might need to add some sort of light weight, easily portable launching platform to the rig.
Overall, I have to say the ramp was a success. This particular boat I launched doesn't weigh much but I have some that are fairly heavy and a real pain to carry down those rocks, so much of a pain in fact that I wouldn't want to do it without the ramp. And it's a local solution engineered specifically for this spot. But heck, what isn't engineered for a specific purpose. Universal technology costs a whole lot more and doesn't work nearly as well.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Post-Apocalyptic Boat Builder, contd. some more

Long as I'm on a post-apocalyptic streak here, let me post two more pictures. The first one, above shows one of those WWII era steel lifeboats used on Navy craft. It appears to have been outfitted with a custom rudder, a mast and a new coat of paint. Haze gray is the original color for these things. I don't have a story for this boat except that there were a bunch of people with camera equipment and walkie talkies running around apparently doing some sort of cinematography. You could tell they were professionals because they took themselves very seriously.

And while I'm at it, I want to provide a link to Tim Anderson's work on Instructables, in this case, documentation of how he got hold of a free yacht. Details can be found here. Anything free that floats qualifies as post-apocalyptic boat material and Tim is a champion of the free. I take the liberty of quoting his author statement:
"Tim's philosophy involves building minimum-consumption personal infrastructure from recycled scavenged materials. Redirecting the waste stream. Doing much with little. A reverse peace-corps to learn from poor people all over the world."
If that isn't post-apocalyptic, then I don't know what is.

The Post-Apocalyptic Boat Builder, contd.

I couldn't find my waterproof camera for a while. But the other day I did. It was in a bag in the front hall closet where the kitty litter used to live.

Anyway, the camera is back and on it, more examples of local post apocalyptic boat building. I don't know the story of this particular piece of post apocalyptic engineering other than that the Oakland police or some other organization with nautical jurisdiction dragged this item out of the water, up the ramp and into the parking lot at the Oakland aquatic center. I don't know the reason for their hostility to its presence in the harbor, but I assume it has something to do with potential hazard to navigation.

Another thought just came to me. I think that one of the potential problems with this craft is that it may have been a live-aboard anchored out in the harbor, not paying any fees.

The pictures could probably speak for themselves, though I couldn't resist adding some comments.

Rear quarter view of the raft. I don't know if all the stuff on it and around it was part of the setup, but let us assume that it was.

Here is a closeup of some of the cargo. Some storage units, plastic and cardboard. Andy Boy Romaine lettuce. They were eating healthy or maybe not. The blue thing, a water container?

And now some closeups of structural details in case anyone wants to copy this design. The basic design was stolen off one of those inflatable rafts or Zodiac thingies. Only instead of flexible air tubes, these guys used large pvc pipes and stuffed them with plastic foam. The pipes were cross linked with dimensional lumber. The orange lumps are pieces of dock foam, the stuff used to make floating docks float. It is hard to tell what those were for, perhaps auxilliary or outboard floatation, or could these have served as dinghies for ship to shore transport?

Here's a rear view of the craft. Decking is plywood. The seam between sheets is bridged with a 2x6. There is also a center floatation tube, perhaps for hydrodynamic reasons.

And a gap in the decking reveals interior floatation, white styrofoam. The marker was not part of the cargo.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Post-Apocalyptic Boat Builder

Kevin Kostner, Hollywood's version of the post-apocalyptic builder

Every once in a while I feel the need to examine why I build skin on frame boats. As for any other thing that we do more or less compulsively, the best answer is probably, because. Just because. I don't know why. Why do people get tattoos or wear their pants around their knees? Because.

But seeing as I try to make a living of sorts promoting the building of skin boats, I feel the need to come up with an answer that sounds more insightful than because. I feel the need for giving some pragmatic reason for wanting to build skin boats.

Actually, I doubt that there is any kind of sensible reason for skin boats but the one that sometimes suggests itself is that it might be useful some day to know how to build skin boats. You know like after our civilization collapses.

Yeah maybe. The post-apocalyptic boat builder. Trailing a hand cart he roams abandoned subdivisions and with a crow bar and hammer strips plywood and two by fours out of old buildings. Back at his waterfront lair in what used to be a surf and turf supper club he and his cohorts work on a boat lashing the members together with electrical wire and cover the whole thing with a skin made of awnings sewn together. Yeah, maybe.

I have at one time put together a whole kayak with materials I did not buy. Everything was either scrounged, beach combed, harvested (willow ribs) or salvaged (a skin made of scraps left over from other boats).

Whenever I build a boat, I like to use some materials that are just laying around. For the most part, it's a piece here and there from the scrap pile, but large parts like gunwales invariably are easier to buy than scrounge. So yes, some scrounging and re-use goes into my own boats, but the building of an entire boat from scraps is more like a stunt than a practical means of going about the process.

But there are places in this world even today where people don't just go to a lumber yard to get their boat materials. They scrounge or harvest local materials. For them, this isn't a stunt. It is necessity. They may be too poor, or they may have had an apocalypse for real, like the Vietnamese who had their economy destroyed by a long war. They build boats with what they have.

Skinboat building lends itself to the spirit of survivalist post-apocalyptic boat building even if it really isn't. But people built skin boats not because it was a cool thing to do. It was in a way, the only sensible way to build boats given what they had for materials.

Anyway, further musings on this topic may arise, in the meantime some photos and links.

The following photos are from the boats and rice website dedicated to indigenous boat building industry of south east Asia. Actually, a lot of what I think of as post-apocalyptic boat building is really just third world boat building. That's probably because the third world is essentially a world before a whole lot of technology and money, a lot like what a world after a whole lot of technology and money would look like as well. If you like this sort of boat, check out the Indigenous Boats Blog of Bob Holtzman. One of my favorites.

This definitely qualifies as post-apocalyptic boat building. Nothing store bought almost. The whole thing scrounged, except for some nylon monofilament line used to do the lashing, but that could have been done with local materials if need be.

Decked over basket boats. I like the one on the left, quartered automobile tires serve as fenders. looks like wooden barricade parts making up the seats, but maybe that's just artistic flair on the part of the builder. Also check out the oar locks on the boat in the rear, rags tied around vertical stanchions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Andrew's boat

This year, Andrew Abyo built an Alutiiq kayak with us. He decided to take the urban kayak approach and go with the plastic ribs.

That's Wayne's hand in the picture. Wayne was helping out with both kayaks, the urban Aleut and the urban Alutiiq.

Here's Andrew demonstrating rib shape. A short piece of aluminum rod gives the flat center profile while the bilges stay round.

Andrew used some cable ties to hold the hull stringers to the ribs but also did some lashing with artificial sinew.

Here's a picture of the bow which we cut from plywood. The paper template is laying on the ground.

The cockpit rim was plastic as well. Here Andrew is pretend bending it with his teeth the way that people used to do with wood in the days when they lacked materials to make steam boxes.

The hull is stained the traditional red and Andrew is just putting on some finishing touches.

Last day. We almost finished the sewing except around the cockpit.

And a side view to show off the nose.

Looks like the head of an eagle, doesn't it?

And one final shot of Andrew in the dining hall of the APIA building.

The urban baidarka

This year at culture camp, we built an urban kayak. The idea for this boat was hatched by Mike Livingston. The premise was that a modern Aleut living in an apartment in Anchorage would not have access to a whole bunch of wood working tools but might still want to build a baidarka, an iqyax^. The challenge was to come up with a list of materials that we could pick up at a home supply store like Loew's or Home Depot and without the use of a table saw be able to turn those materials into a usable iqyax^. The other idea was that in spite of the use of non-customary materials, the resulting boat would still be recognizable as an iqyax^.

The biggest challenge for making the boat was to find a substitute for steam bending the oak ribs. We settled on flexible plastic water pipe. The pipe bent nicely but not in the shape we wanted. To get the flat mid section, we inserted length of quarter inch aluminum rod in the middle. Gunwales were twelve foot red cedar one by twos. The stringers, as you can see were aluminum rod, and the stringers were attached to the ribs with cable ties.
How plastic can you get.

I was skeptical about the chances of getting a decent hull shape, but as it turned out. I needn't have worried. The shape turned out fine. And as you can see above, once the skin was on, the boat looked just dandy, hard to tell that there was all that plastic inside. Never mind that the skin was made out of plastic fiber as well.

And here we are, sewing on the skin around the square cockpit. This was not meant to be an ocean boat but more something that anyone could step into and paddle without the hassle of squeezing into a small cockpit.
In case you're wondering, one of the kids appropriated some cutoff boat skin and turned it into a mask.

And everyone who worked on the boat signed the skin.

And here's the boat with the faux sea lion hide finish. Ready to launch.

Speed vs. Comfort

Lately, I have been building wider kayaks, both for reasons of comfort and for potential use in sailing. If you want to hang a sail off a boat, you want some stability and stability is achieved by making the boat wider. A wider boat is unfortunately a slower boat to paddle.
So the question is, where is the point of compromise?
Just how much speed do I want to trade off for stability. I ponder this question each time I haul a kayak down to the water.
Last night I paddled one of my skinny baidarkas. I was of course pleased by its speed but also considered that it was not a good beer drinking platform. But when I paddle one of my wide boats, I am pleased by the fact that I can lay back in it and if I wanted to, drink a beer. But then, running my usual circuit once around Alameda's Coast Guard Island, I find that I don't like the drop in speed.
Of course, speed is relative and perceptions can quickly change. If my speed drops from 4 mph to 3 mph, how big a deal is that? What if I just relax, paddle no harder than usual and just take a little extra time to run my circuit?
And here's another revelation. I like how my body feels after I paddle. I always knew that I felt better after I went out in my kayak, but I assumed that that was just something that came from being in a kayak. It is in part, but the largest part of the feelgood response is caused by the effort of paddling.
On summer afternoons, the wind blows from the west on SF bay, and the estuary where I paddle runs east-west and the wind blows straight down it. I have found that with a sail on my wide kayak, I can sail two miles up the estuary, even with the tide going out and then paddle back home. Great stuff for relaxing, but I have found that I miss the feelgood response that paddling produces.
Oh well. The search for the perfect compromise goes on: a kayak that is fast enough for paddling but doesn't have to be wide enough for sailing.
Stay tuned.

Did you say wood?

Yeah, wood.
I'm starting to be of the opinion that with world population pushing on toward 7 billion people, wood is no longer a renewable resource, at least not the kind of wood that used to be used for boats and paddles. It's turning into a material used primarily in the manufacture of luxury items.
Yesterday, my shop partner Sebastian was working on some shelving he had bought at Ikea and was modifying. He sawed through the shelf which was about 2 inches thick. The flat surfaces were made of 1/8 inch of some composite. The sides were faced in plastic. The perimeter was made of chip board and the hollow interior was filled with a paper honeycomb material.
I suspect that in the northern latitudes of the world where trees are small, they do not bother cutting trees into boards. I suspect that they feed it directly into a chipper and then glue the chips into particle board. Wood is the feedstock for an industrial process.
Of course you can't build boats out of the kind of stuff that Ikea makes furniture out of. You need actual wood for that.
Same sort of dispiriting trends that have developed for boat building wood have also developed for paddle building wood. My supplier has piles of Sitka spruce in his warehouse, but he hasn't re-ordered in a while due to the recession and each time I go to get more wood for paddles, I have to pick through more boards to find the few good ones suitable for paddles.
So yes, wood is renewable if you're talking of the stuff you can plant now and harvest in ten years, but boat building wood has always been cut from trees that have had a hundred years of growth or more. Once we cut all of that down, it will be the twenty second century until we can see some more of it, assuming of course that anyone lets a tree stand that long.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Appropriate Technology???

Every year, the magazine Scientific American puts out a special issue devoted to a single topic. This year's issue is entitled the end. Or is it?
Popular science magazines aren't noted for their deep thinking. Their editorial content trends firmly toward cheerleading science and technology. So the current issue of Scientific American is a pleasant surprise.
Among other things it has a list of technologies that in the opinion of the editors the world would be better off without. What a concept - technology is not all an unalloyed good! Scientific American is not the first body to have this idea, but for a cheerleading magazine, it is a good start.
It also has an article on resources that the earth does not have limitless supplies of. Among them, oil, silver, gold, copper, coal, all due to run out in this century.
So what does any of this have to do with building skin boats? Nothing, directly, but wood wasn't one of the things we're expected to run out of this century. So skin boat building has some promise for the future. Skinboat building has its problems as well, like what to use for a skin in place of nylon or polyester when the oil is gone later in this century.
Or if you're living in a place that has no wood like Easter Island where you've cut down all your trees, what do you make the frame out of? Problems, problems.
But perhaps the part of skinboat building I like the best, apart from the difficulty of finding a suitable skin is the low tech nature of the process. It isn't reliant on any upstream industries for its raw materials. You can get your own wood, whittle your own dowels and spin your own yarn.
OK, I'm starting to sound like a survivalist. I'm not a survivalist. But I do like whittling my own dowels and thinking about how I would drill holes without electricity and I do own a rip saw, the kind you operate with muscle power. etc. etc.
Well, enough congratulating myself on what a clever fellow I am. Go out and buy a copy of the current Scientific American and read all about the possible ways that the world will end. What the heck disaster sells magazines.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shark Bites

Duane Strosaker, our paddler friend down in Southern California had a run in with a great white shark. Go here for pictures and Duane's account.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mask Burning Ceremony

The people of Kodiak had a mask burning tradition which like most things native was at one time suppressed in an effort to force the native populations into becoming more like Americans with a European background. However, the people of Kodiak are now trying to reclaim some of their suppressed and lost traditions, the mask burning ceremony among them.

Andrew Abyo, pictured above left with myself at the right invited us, attendees of the Aleut culture camp, to come and view his dance group perform at the mask burning ceremony.

Here is the dance troupe, about half of which is Andrew and his family which would be a key part of the mask burning ceremony.

The man who had made the mask, pictured here in the red shirt, explained to us the background of the ceremony. The ceremony is essentially a memorial service. Details of how the ceremony was practiced in the past are vague. Likewise, information about what the burned masks looked like are scarce since they were burned. But one or two masks survived in museums. Apparently they were incomplete and not used in the ceremony. The mask for this ceremony was based on the ones in the museum.

And now it gets more complicated. In addition to the friends of the dancers there was a group of young people, immigrants into this country who were part of some sort of reality show that the Discovery Channel was doing. The show follows these young people as they travel all over America, trying to find their own identity. The man holding the mask and the woman to the right were both part of the Discovery cast. The woman is handing out goose feathers which people tied to the mask. Each feather represented a prayer or offering that would be released when the mask was burned. While this was going on, two camera crews each composed of a camera man and a sound man zoomed about the area taking pictures of everything that was going on. Surprisingly, the ceremony was powerful enough in its own right that the camera crews didn't detract from it substantially.

Once everyone who wanted to had attached their feather to the mask, one of the dancers donned the mask and the group danced.

When the dance was over, the mask went into the fire.

And here it burns, still recognizable as a face.

And finally, it fell apart.