Often called a kayak so attuned to its environment, so highly evolved, so sturdily elegant as to be beyond improvement, the Greenland kayak is also considered by many to be the pinnacle of design for sleekness, speed, beauty.
Almost flat bottomed, usually hardchined, always rudderless, Greenland kayaks are easy to roll and require less effort to paddle than modern kayaks. Their hulls are light and have excellent seagoing qualities. To many their sleek lines, low swooping profile and shearlines embody seaworthiness and grace. Yet Greenland kayaks were designed for conditions and tasks no less brutal than hunting walruses and seals and transporting them home.
Greenland kayaks have a lot in common with the clipper ships of the 19th and early 20th-centuries and with Gloucester fishing schooners — two classes of fast yet delicate, beautiful yet no-nonsense working craft whose combination of speed, beauty, and raw utility are matched in modern era only by offshore racing multihulls.
They are also, whether kit, custom, or scratch-built, a good choice for a paddler or first-timer looking to build a fast kayak with decent cargo room. Many consider them the pinnacle of kayak design for their sleekness, speed, and aesthetics – timeless qualities that always appeal.
They typical Greenland kayak is low-volume. Originally built by hunters who could not compromise on speed and seaworthiness, the original kayak had to serve as both hunting tool and working boat viable in waters far removed from hope of rescue. Their light weight, whether wood or skin built, is useful for the quarter to half-mile portages so common to hunting above the Arctic Circle.
It’s the Greenland kayak’s modern adaptation, however, which most appeals: it’s an increasingly popular choice among paddlers who appreciate rolling performance and the premium a Greenland kayak places upon a less effortful, more versatile paddling style.
Typically 18’10” by 16 and 3/4″ to 19’6″ by 20″ when built skin-on-frame by Inuits in the Arctic Circle, the modern adaptation of Greenland kayaks embraces modern-day readily available boat-building materials. They’re commonly home-built from fabric and frames or from sheets of marine plywood, 6 oz. fiberglass cloth, and low-viscosity epoxy with the building technique known as stitch and glue.
The length and width of the boat is usually modified to accommodate the larger physique of the European or North American builder, and tends to make a nod towards the current trend of less lengthy, more maneuverable boats.
The building technique is easy to grasp and straightforward
If built from plywood, a Greenland kayak is essentially stitched together first from five pieces of thin and flexible plywood — two gunwales, two sides of the bottom and deck —- with copper wire.
The seams are then strengthened and sealed with fiberglass tape which runs the length of the boat and is saturated with epoxy.
The result is a monocoque, or frameless boat, which derives its strength and stiffness from its outer shell.
These are materials and building techniques which transformed boatbuilding from strongbacks, ribs, steambending, and framebuilding to stitching, shaping, gluing.
Once the stitched-and-glued shell is build, the hull is fiberglassed and epoxied via a process known as wetting out, or soaking the panels inside and out to protect the wood with a layer of fiberglass and epoxy. In particular the bottom of the hull is covered with a layer of fiberglass sanded smooth, making for a hydrodynamic hull which takes coats of paint well. The end result is typically a boat that weights 38 to 45 pounds and which is stiffer, faster, and inexpensive relative to costlier fiberglass production boats, and yet just as rugged and durable.
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