Sunday, June 30, 2013

Farewell Norway

My complete set of ribs
My time with Anders and kayaks is over. Traditions of South East Asia are calling me. My final week with kayaks culminated perfectly as began building my second kayak from scratch. One of the most important parts of that process was steaming the ribs myself. It is no easy task, bending the hot and wet oak ribs to the perfect curve, height, aesthetic, all quickly before they cool and snap. It is working with a material in its finest, knowing its nature while simultaneously asking it to conform to yours.

My kayak has eighteen ribs and one by one I worked them, ending with only a few perfect ribs, I will need to revisit the perfect ones with a fresh mind next time we work together. Seeing Anders do it so quickly and naturally is a true lesson to me in the peace and joy that comes from working hard to perfect an art, whatever it may be. Anders has taught me a great many things, not the least of which is a high standard and commitment to doing ones best. As I leave Norway, and put aside my kayak and this tradition for a bit, I can feel that our work is just beginning.

I painted my first Greenlandic style kayak blue. I finished it with the deck ropes for holding paddles and other gear have wooden toggles which tighten on the paddle when pushed apart. I found two blue painted toggles from the front of another old kayak, put aside to be reused another day. It is a nice idea to think the bones, so to speak, of a dead kayak, will be brought to life again in this one. Such is the way of keeping a traditional alive.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Greenlandic Paddle

Mads with a paddle in the workshop
Part of my apprenticeship learning the traditional kayak with Anders  is spent learning to make and to use the paddles of these different traditions. The style from Greenland has been in my hands constantly. The paddle is thin, no longer than the "C" between your thumb and your second knuckle on your index finger.The paddle is usually about the length of your toes to the second knuckle of your extended arm above your head. Such a thin design throughout a long blade can be gripped anywhere so as to function like an easy extension of the arm when paddling, rolling, sculling or using it as a balance.

Getting the shape right
Many wonder, are the Greenlandic paddles (or Inuit paddles for that matter) too skinny to be fast and effective.In truth, the were made skinny for a reason, not for lack of enough wood. Ergonomically, the Greenlandic style paddle is better for ones body than the large, shoulder intensive paddles you see many modern sea kayak paddlers using. With a long blade, the force of the stroke is spread throughout evenly, using ones entire body.
Spokeshaving the blade
The form of the paddle is simple, but in woodworking, as in making anything, simple is often the hardest. For a perfect paddle, Anders is constantly looking for symmetry and strength. Our spruce blanks are quite fun  to work using hand tools into something uniform and organic. After paddling often with the Greenlandic paddle a certain rhythm can be found. The uniformity from the paddle shape and the way you use it is a lesson in a constant, whole, pace. Its a type of paddling less focused on speed and more focused on movement.

Knifing the shaft and shoulders

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ander`s Kayak Class: Part 2

Finishing frames

For the first time in nearly twenty years of teaching kayak building courses, Anders` students were able to paddle their own hand-made kayaks during the course.It was a beautiful sight to see eight previous strangers come together and create so well in our little chapel workshop. "One week ago, we hadn't even started build" Anders said to close the course "now we all have kayaks".

Oiling frames
 Each person in the course, when their frame was done, came into the sunshine to oil their kayaks with me. They unfolded their story, interests, and backgrounds with me as we brought to life their creation. Some came out of simple joy of working with their hands, some for spiritual aspects, some because they wanted something nice to paddle. I felt it an honor to take part in building them and befriending these great architects, lawyers, geophysicists, Buddhists, artists, teachers, and now kayak builders.

Nearly finished
For two days, the eight students worked their hands until their fingers would barely move, sewing with bees waxed string kayaks that would take them to adventure for decades to come.

Sewing the kayaks
 At night we would sit down to a meal together, alternating chefs. We were tired, filled with new things learned, hungry, but we were happy and in the moment. It was a truly great experience.

A kajak family

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ander`s Kayak Class Part 1

The beginning of eight kajaks
 For eight days, eight students are assembled here in Vestfossen for an intensive class to build, from scratch, traditional skin on frame kayaks that each can paddle themselves. Anders gathers us at eight in the morning and calmly instructs us what the day will be like - joy full work and the eventual birth of a vessel to take on many fun trips. We work until eight at night when we share a meal. We are American, Danish, Norwegian, Bulgarian, all learning an Inuit art.

Hand planing
To see the meditative and intensive experience that is this class, please see a very nice and artistic video made by a previous student t All the materials are raw and ready, each person gets there own tool box and as soon as Anders has spoken everyone gets to work, starting with the frame.

Frames being born
The students work in teams and the entire class works together to keep everyone on pace. For the first two days our goal was to design the kayak based on each students body, needs and impressions. Blood was split onto the kayaks, mistakes made, but over all by day three, eight almost finished kayak frames rest in our chapel workshop.
 I was amazed in how quickly all of the students learned, how calm everyone was, and how hard working the general ethic of the class was. Making something in this manner can be very peaceful, becoming quite a learning process within and without.

Music makes the work sweeter
We work together to set the keels, put on bow and stern pieces and do design details while each students takes a one on one visit with Anders at the steam box. As steam calmly rises with a smell of wet spruce, the ribs for each kayak are bent one by one. Each student talks with Anders, observing the way he works, both keeping their eye on the kayak taking shape. Saying only what is necessary, the teach and student share a moment of experience in the art of the kayak.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Birth of a Kayak

Touching the water for the first time today, the kayak I've been learning to build with Anders over the last month is finished. Enjoy these moments from the process of turning simple pieces of wood into a functional beauty.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Old and New: Learning with Two Very Different Kayaks

Inside the finished 1841 Replica
 Anders and I have just finished a replica of an 1841 racing baidarka from the Aleutian Islands, now housed in Petersburg, Russia. This kayak is truly a master piece, thin and sleek with an extremely long water line to give it quite fast personality with the right paddler. While finishing such a beauty, Anders and I start a Southern Greenlandic style Kayak with which I will learn the entire kayak building process from start to finish.
Setting the gunnels.
The first steps of our new begin with finding the right length gunnels, adding height for curved ends, and twisting them onto temporary deck beams to give it rocker. Bit by bit Anders shows me the tricks to designing a kayak by eye, body measurement, and rough guides for length.

Anders looking over the racing baidarka, ready for paint.
There is a certain balance in the mind that I have noticed in learning something new like building a kayak. On one hand you need to totally trust your teacher. Anders shows me how to do something, making a lashing between the gunnel and deck beams for example, and it is my duty to try to do it as best as I can. Yet I must also constantly think for myself and check that things look right in my own eye. This has applied to other things Anders has been teaching me, such as steaming wood, making paddles and general craftsmanship.

Bending steamed wood onto a cockpit form.

Bit by bit our kayaks come to life. One of my favorite things about the 1841 replica are a few unique artistic or shamanistic additions made by the man, identity lost to time, who put them there. One is a small carved otter on the frame below a deck beam, where only he would ever look. The other are blue lines along the masik or the curved deck beams near the cockpit that had sea lion whiskers in them. We used blue whale baleen. These could have been strong spiritual symbols for the kayaker, or simply personal designs for fun. Who knows what unique symbols will be born within my own kayak.

Sewing the bow of the 1841 replica.