This kayak is the daughter of a harsh winter, without much snow. She was born after a long period of stitch and glue and strip building, period which does not make the subject of this page. Coming immediately after such a modern era, she contrasted strongly with it: the complexity of modern composite materials and resins, the technological beauty of laminated wood and the intricate curves of the boats versus the simplicity of skin on frame building, the primal, raw and blunt beauty of a skin on frame Greenlandic kayak. Snowflake was built between different boarders and in a different environment, embedding in her a bit from the new culture and wrapping her around different needs.
She marks the start of a new beginning, and this new beginning required a kayak to give the junkie the water experience he needed.
Snowflake was born in winter time, like a real kayak. An important part of her was built outside. The other part took shape in an unfinished house and shop. Some strange techniques were required to build parts, as again tools and materials were not exactly the right ones.
Due to the environment change, there was no longer required to have a true sea-kayak. The need was more inclined towards large lakes and quiet rivers (including the greatest Delta in Europe); to have more storage space and comfort; to be light, cheap (or free) and simple; to be able to fit and store in an apartment (transport on the staircase included); to be easy to carry on the top of a small city car. And finally, to be able to accommodate other paddlers who may wish to try such a boat (as the country has absolutely no culture for SOF boats in particular and hand-made boats in general).
All above had to be solved somehow, and I am going to start with the materials.
Since I was in full process of refurbishing a house, there was plenty of timber around. Not of a good quality though. Still, it provided all the necessary wood.
Scaffolds and roof beams became gunwales, stringers and deck beams. All kind of cement stained boards provided the material for the ribs and the stems. The rib stock was cut with a hand held circular saw as a table one was not available in my tools inventory. After destroying a few ribs, I made an art in cutting them, a skill which I still use today. After all, a hand held saw is easier to carry around than a table one.
The masik was carved out of a beam using a jigsaw.
The ribs were steam bent by hand and by eye outside, in a pot boiling above a wood fire. I didn’t build a steam box not out of laziness, but due to practical reasons. The whole place had only a lousy propane stove which could hardly warm up a tea pot. I also made an art in bending the ribs this way, after a very frustrating day of destroying almost the whole stock. The lesson was learned and today I take great pleasure in applying the method, using the steam box only when pressed by time or the wood is too long.
I used wood screws to temporarily hold the ribs in place as I had no clamps again. The method is not the greatest as it leaves small holes in the rib from where cracks may develop later.
Otherwise, apart for the methods and materials used the frame is of a pretty classic construction for a Greenland style boat. Tenons and mortices, traditional lashing and knots and a not so exact cockpit rim, but still acceptable. I used rope to create the spray skirt lip, a method used also in earlier projects. Using rope is easier and equally efficient as long as the rope is relatively rigid and strong. One can play stitching around it making different visual effects (spirals, lines, zig-zags).
The skin is cotton canvas, my material of choice, and the paint is plain white, decorated by my partner with a simple and beautiful pattern. I wanted it white because of the outside winter and the traditional camouflage of a seal hunter. Later on I regretted the decision somewhat, as I found to be difficult to approach wild life in midsummer wearing a winter camouflage.
Dimensionally speaking the boat is a compromise, but a useful one. I didn’t respect the tradition exactly. The boat is 1 meter shorter than it should have been. I shaved this length off due to several reasons: little sea usage foreseen in the future and less speed required; in order to have more maneuverability on tight sections of water; and to fit in a block of flats. The beam of the boat was also a compromise. It didn’t match my hips, making it larger than I should also for several reasons: to compensate the lack of buoyancy generated by the shorter length; to have more inside volume; to accommodate someone else who may want to try it (as I am pretty slim for a guy). Also for the same reason I made the ocean cockpit slightly bigger than my needs with a bigger rim to avoid scaring claustrophobic people away.
The final result was Snowflake. This compromise of a boat with its shorter stature blended into Greenland lines proved to be a real Ford model T of the Greenland boats. She is fast enough, wide enough, strong enough, has enough space and stability for whatever inland waters one may decide to explore. She excels at nothing in particular but does everything well. She rolls nicely performing with ease the main Greenlandic rolls.
After a few rides in her I realized her great adaptability and versatility, fell in love and soon my ideas of selling her in order to sponsor building a real traditional Greenland yak went down the drain. She simply became my boat of choice in these waters. I solved the problem of a larger cockpit by generously padding it, which also provided a lot of comfort and that was it.