Harvey Golden’s Skinboat Replicas at SSTIKS 2015


Harvey Golden in a kayak replica off of Cape Falcon, Oregon. Photo by Brian Schulz.

I build replica kayaks because they are pretty, because every traditional kayak I build teaches me about modern ones,  because the Greenland hunting kayak imparts a sense of history, even if it’s not my history; and mostly,  by simple virtue of proximity, the Greenland kayak conveys a powerful intimacy with the water.

Brian Schulz, Kayak Builder.


Those of us who go to South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayaking Symposium (SSTIKS) are interested in skin boats, long paddles, and the traditional roots of our paddling discipline.  Though most of the year we paddle our fiberglass and plastic boats, we know that our kayaks come from a tradition spanning thousands of years. This year, at SSTIKS 2015, attendees will have the opportunity to paddle a variety of traditional skin boat replicas drawn from designs around the Arctic. These boats will be provided courtesy of Harvey Golden, boat-builder extraordinaire and one of the world’s foremost scholars on traditional boats of the Arctic peoples.

We also need to thank Alder Creek who graciously provided a kayak trailer to haul the fleet north.  This is really an unparalleled opportunity – thank you Harvey and Alder Creek!

Below is a list of the boats with a brief Bio for each.  I hope to see many of the readers of this blog at SSTIKS and hear from you in person what it is like paddling one of Harvey’s reproductions. For those who cannot make it, I encourage a visit Harvey’s website and of course, buy his masterwork Kayaks of Greenland .

Boat 1.  Chugachigmiut Kayak

Replica of a Chugachigmiut Kayak (Prince William Sound Sugpiaq), ca. 1900. (Canadian Canoe Museum’s 977.185, collected by Capt. D. F. Tozier, U.S. Revenue Service).

Harvey paddling the Chugichigmiut kayak replica

The Chugachigmiut are (along with the Koniagmiut) Sugpiaq-Alutiiq people, speakers of a Yup’ik dialect. The Chugachigmiut are from Prince William Sound, and live in a temperate rainforest. This replica carries a quiver and bow for otter and dolphin hunting. The curious split bow is artfully baroque, but the slit is also the means to acquire a concave cross-section, giving the kayak a sharper cutwater with a broader more buoyant upper portion that is helpful when the seas are up.  This boat was traditionally paddled from a kneeling position with a  single-bladed paddle.


The Chugach people still revere their traditional craft.

The Chugach people still revere their traditional craft.

Boat 2.  Maritime Chukchi Kayak

Replica of the Uebersee Museum’s (Bremen) C.8707 of unknown provenance. This kayak is 13’3″ long and 24-1/2″ wide.
The Cockpit is about 3′ long, and the original’s cockpit was made of whalebone and was lashed to the kayak’s skin with baleen. The original’s skin was made from one walrus skin. 


In prehistoric times, the Chukchi People engaged in nomadic hunter gatherer modes of existence. In current times, there continue to be some elements of subsistence hunting, including that of polar bears, marine mammals and reindeer.

The original was covered with a single split walrus hide, and the white portions of the coaming were fashioned from whale or walrus ribs, and lashed with baleen (the black portions). This Maritime example is generally accepted as having come from Yuit living in the Russian Far East.

Representation of a Chukchi family by Louis Choris (1816)

Chukchi family by Louis Choris (1816)

Boat 3.  Uluxtadax Unangan Kayak


Three-hole Unangan kayaks were often used for carrying officials or non-native hunting party leaders; the Unangan probably did not make three-hole kayaks before European contact and colonization.

After rifles began to be used for the commercial sea-otter hunts, multi-hole kayaks became more common than one-hole kayaks, as they could cover more ground much faster, and carry more supplies and hold more pelts.


Aleut couple, 18th century. Note hunter’s hat decorated with sea lion whiskers and distinctive ribbed Aleut paddle.

Such kayaks were essentially otter killing machines, which led to the extinction of sea otters throughout much of their historical range.  These kayaks and their Aleut hunters were carried on Russian ships which ranged up and down the West Coast of North America from the Aleutians all the way down to Southern California.  Over 1,000,000 sea otters were killed during the heyday of commercial hunting in the 18th through early 20th centuries.  Ironically, these beautiful craft presaged the virtual extinction of the Aleut people as well, under pressure from disease and especially having been reduced to virtual slavery by the Russian fur enterprises.


Boat4. Unaligmiut kayak


Unaligmiut Kayak showing framework


Unaligmiut kayak from St. Michael on Norton Sound in western Alaska. Unaligmiut kayaks are considerably narrower than more southerly Yup’ik forms; this example is 23-1/4” wide. The deck ridge carries on very straight from bow to stern, and the ends of the deck stringers serve as handles.

The Unaligmiut People are the northern-most Yup’ik on the Alaskan coast.The Yup’ik are an indigenous people of western, southwestern, and southcentral Alaska and the Russian Far East.

The Yup’ik used kayaks for seal hunting, fishing, and general transportation. The Yup’ik people considered a kayak the owner’s most prized possession. Traditionally, a kayak was a Yup’ik hunter’s most prized possession and a symbol of manhood.  The Yup’ik kayaks consisted of 5-6 young seal skins stretched for the covering. The Yup’ik style of seams contains a running stitch partially piercing the skin on top and an overlapping stitch on the inside with a grass insert.

Kayak cockpit stanchions (ayaperviik). Collection of theUniversity of Alaska Museum of the North

Kayak stanchions or kayak cockpit stanchions (ayapervik ) are top piece centered at side of coaming and used as a support as one climbs out of a kayak. They prevented the person from falling while getting in and out of the kayak. All kayaks had ayaperviik on them.
Fishing was the mainstay of the Yup’ik life and salmon fishing is still an important part of the modern Yup’ik economy.

Yup’ik fisherman carrying nets and floats.  National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, L2355, Dr. Leuman M. Waugh, 1935


Boat 5. Inupiaq “Little Kayak”

little kayak



The very short kayak  is from North Alaska. It is a specialized type of kayak called a qayapauraq or “little kayak” and was used in the mid 20th century for retrieving seals shot from shore or from sea ice. By this point the longer, faster kayaks specialized for harpoon hunting had been replaced by shorter, more stable bots which better supported rifle hunting techniques. By the 1960s the “little kayaks” too had become obsolete, having been replaced by safer open skinboats.


A family of Iñupiat from Noatak, Alaska, 1929 - by Edward S. Curtis

A family of Iñupiat from Noatak, Alaska, 1929 – by Edward S. Curtis

Boat 6. Mackenzie Delta Kayak.

Mackenzie Delta Frame

Mackenzie Delta Frame

The Inuvialuit, the real people, are Inuit people who live in the western Canadian Arctic region. They, like all other Inuit, are descendants of the Thule who migrated eastward from Alaska. Their homeland – the Inuvialuit Settlement Region – covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border, east through the Beaufort Sea and beyond the Amundsen Gulf which includes some of the western Canadian Arctic Islands, as well as the inland community of Aklavik and part of the Yukon.

The Inuvialuit used their kayaks for beluga hunting, seal hunting, fishing, and trapping.  MacKenzie River Delta kayaks are a unique exception to the rule of kayaks north and east of Kotzebue Sound having flat decks. This kayak type also has unusual vertical end horns, and a smooth hull-shape formed of very broad and thin chines—these aspects may signify a lineage or merging with bark canoes of the upper Mackenzie River, and perhaps roots with Yup’ik or Southern Iñupiaq pitched-deck kayaks.

By the early 1900’s wooden whaleboats had almost entirely replaced skin covered kayaks and umiaqs.

Eskimo [Inuvialuk] in a kayak’ with a whaleboat in the background, Fort McPherson, 1910. (Hon. F. Oliver, Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-019470

Eskimo [Inuvialuk] in a kayak’ with a whaleboat in the background, Fort McPherson, 1910. (Hon. F. Oliver, Canada. Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys/ Library and Archives Canada/PA-019470 https://www.facebook.com/inuvialuithistory


Boat 7.  Nattilingmiut (Netslik)


This is a replica of a caribou hunting kayak made by Nattilingmiut (also referred to as “Netsilik”). This boat is a replica of the Danish National Museum’s
Nattilingmiut Kayak (P.29.550)  Original collected by Knud Rasmussen, ca. 1923, during the Fifth Thule Expedition.

This kayak, like other kayaks from North Alaska, is specialized for hunting caribou on lakes and rivers. The great length and extremely narrow hull give it great speed; caribou aren’t especially fast swimmers, but it was a matter of prestige to be the first to lance a caribou during the hunt. Thus this kayak could very well be considered a ‘racing’ kayak.

Netsilik hunter chases down a swimming caribou

Netsilik hunter chases down a swimming caribou

Boat 8.  Baffin Island kayak. 


Replica ca. 1830s Baffin/Labrador Kayak.  This is a replica of a 20’11-3/8″ long and 24-11/16″ wide kayak collected by Sir
John Ross, and brought to Hull, England. The original is in the Hull Maritime Museum.

This replica kayak is from South Baffin Island . Capt. Sir John Ross of the Victory likely collected it in the early 1830s. The Inuit of Baffin Island used these kayaks for seal, walrus, and whale hunting. The paddles used by Eastern Canadian Inuit were some of the longest in the arctic tradition, being roughly one-half a kayak’s length, which easily amounts to paddles over eleven feet long. The paddle in the South Baffin kayak has armored tips (plastic on the replica; ivory on the original). These tips would prevent the paddle from getting damaged in icy seas and could also be used to dispatch wounded whales. The South Baffin kayak measures 21 feet long and 24-3/4” wide.


Baffin Island hunter early 20th century. Note the extreme length of the paddle.


Boat 9.  West Greenland Kayak.


The original kayak, now at Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, was commissioned by Kenneth Taylor during his visit to Illorsuit in 1959. Taylor’s kayak was built by Emanuel Korneliussen– an experienced kayak hunter. Duncan Winning surveyed the kayak in the early 1960s, and this replica is built to the lines of his drawing. Kenneth Taylor has written a report about his trip to Illorsuit, and in it he talks about kayak hunters and their equipment as well as his own experiences with his Greenland kayak. You must follow this link (http://kayakgreenland1959.wordpress.com/) to Kenneth Taylor’s excellent writings and photographs on latter day kayak builders and hunters of Greenland.


Taylor’s kayak being skinned in Greenland. From “Kayak hunting in Illorsuit, Greenland 1959.”


Boat 10.  South greenland. 

Harvey Golden paddling South Greenlan d Nanortalik kayak off Cape Falcon. Photo Brian Schulz

Harvey Golden paddling South Greenland Nanortalik kayak off Cape Falcon. Photo Brian Schulz.

A replica of a Nanortalik kayak from ca. 1928.The original at the Danish National Museum was collected by Knud Rassmussen.
The ends of the kayaks is very low, and in the case of the Nanortalik kayak, gracefully curved in at the cutwater and very symmetrical bow-to-stern. Note the extensive deck rigging on the Nanortalik kayak—compare to the much more austere rigging found on the replicas of earlier Greenland kayaks.



The hunt continues. Seal hunters near Ilulissat, Greenland.      http://www.grida.no/photolib/detail/seal-hunters-near-ilulissat-greenland_f068 Photo by Lawerence Hislop.



More on Harvey Golden

HarveyG-300x290Harvey has been building replicas of kayaks from the Arctic tradition since 1993. Having seen the remarkable variety of kayak forms in
The Bark Canoes and Skinboats of North America,” Harvey immediately set out to build and use replicas of every type. In this pursuit, he realized that many more kayaks were still in museums around the world, and that most had never been properly surveyed: In 1998 he set out to look at and document kayaks in Dutch, English, and Scottish museums, and this very quickly turned into the foundations for a large book Kayaks of Greenland (2006)

As of 2011, Harvey has surveyed over 200 kayaks—some 400 years old, and others being sub-types or historically significant kayaks never studied before. Books on Alaskan kayaks and Canadian kayaks are presently in the works. Golden lives and builds in Portland, Oregon and has recently opened the Lincoln Street Kayak & Canoe Museum featuring replica kayaks and canoes as well as models and original craft.

Harvey is currently readying his new book, Kayaks of Alaska for publication



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