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Aleut Ikyak (Baidarka) Building Class at CWB

May 31, 2010

The Aleut Ikyak, also widely known as the Baidarka, has been used for thousands of years as the primary method of transportation in the Aleutian Islands. It is the acme of Arctic Native design. A prominent feature of a baidarka is its forked bow (bifurcated bow). Very lightweight and maneuverable, it was made out of seal skin sewed only by Aleut women, over a frame made strictly of driftwood (since no trees grow in the Aleutian Islands), bone and sinew. It was treated as a living being by Aleut men (it was taboo for women to handle them).

Aleut ikyak frames were designed to be light, fast, and flexible, tying together the wooden parts with intricate and spiritual knots braided from tough animal sinew. Native women prepared sea lion skins which they sewed onto the frames with bone needles, using a waterproof stitch. While out at sea, men carried with them emergency repair kits. For the Native Aleutian people, these sea kayaks lived as spiritual beings and were essential for their survival.

In modern times, George Dyson is often credited with the revival of the baidarka, through his company Dyson, Baidarka & Company. Dyson and his boats were the subject of Kenneth Brower’s book The Starship and the Canoe, and Dyson himself wrote the book Baidarka: The Kayak in 1986. Dyson’s Baidarkas are made from modern materials such as aluminium for the frame and coated polyester fabric for the skin.

In the Aleut Ikayk class at CWB, you will build your very own boat, designed to fit your skill level and body type. The boats are built primarily of yellow and red cedar with all joinery pegged and lashed – no metal fastenings or glues. The skin is made from 10 – 14 oz. ballistic nylon cloth with a resin coating that provides waterproofing and translucence. You do not need woodworking experience; just come equipped with enthusiasm!

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