Thursday, May 9, 2013

Master and Apprentice: An Introduction to Inuit Style Kayaks with Anders Thygesen

Norweigan forest near Vestfossen
For the next few months, I`ll have a new home in Vestfossen, Norway as I apprentice with Anders Thygesen, builder of traditional Inuit style kayaks from Greenland to the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast. I`ve already spent a week with Anders and it is obvious he is meant to be a mentor and friend to me in many ways. He will teach me to design a build these frame on skin (though now we use canvas) vessels, along with many other traditional ways of making things, by using intuition, experience, and the surroundings as allies.

Kayakspecilisten, our workshop in a renovated church.
The environment of the Inuit is one of ice and large mammals, the seals, caribou and sea lion all providing skins for the kayaks out shell, while sinew and bones from whales and the treasured driftwood composing the frame. While seemingly far from me as I overlook the gorgeous blue waters and forest hills of Norway, that experience radiates from Anders, who has made a seal skin kayak and paddles in various parts of the Arctic.

Sticking the cockpit on
We start backwards, by learning to finish kayaks first. Anders taught me to sew on the hatches, for storage, and the cockpit, or manhole where the paddler sits.

Cockpit and hatches on an Aleutian style kayak

Once the cockpits  are on, we paint the canvas, sanding in between some six times, until it is smooth and ready to go on the water. It has been great, waking up in the morning to say hello these new kayaks and give them a fresh coat of paint.

Painting the kayaks
Between time in the workshop I explore the Norweigan hills and have paddled with Anders in the water but meters away. Anders just completed a 3000km journey in his kayak and will teach me to paddle these kayaks as one with the body. The kayaks, built like bones, tendons and skin all together, feel like an extension to oneself.

A sunny Norweigan day
My first few days with Anders fit perfectly. I`m already working on a kayak from scratch (to be continued)  and we are truly in the flow. They are unique vessels, each one with its personality, born from the eye of its maker. We will see what sort of eye I may develop and what adventures are to be had in this intensive time of master and apprentice.

Removing old canvas to repair a kayak

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