A year-long project to study and build a traditional Aleut kayak from scratch culminated in a successful launch on the final day of school for students at Kennedy High School. Before most students got into canoes, all attention was turned to the double kayak, as it had not yet been tested in water. While an onlooker wondered if it would be water tight, students Tim Dizick and Zack Fix confidently slipped into the cockpits of the double sea kayak and pushed off from shore. The maiden voyage took students more than a mile up Coyote Creek, a flat-water creek that is navigable for several miles due to spring runoff.
The project began after students were introduced to canoeing on a three-day field study on the Willamette River last fall. Tim Dizick, a participant on that first trip where he was “turned on to boating,” returned to school and, with the help of several kayaking books, drew an Aleutian sea kayak to scale. With help from his classmates he turned the two-dimensional sketch into reality. “Help from others reminded me of all the people quietly cheering me on,” Dizick said. “It was nice to have this support.”
Students finished completion of the boat the day before summer break. Tara McKinnon was one of the students lending a hand to make this project a success.
While she stayed after school on several occasions to sew the final stitches into the boat, she ended up preferring paddling a single kayak instead of the double. “I don’t like being in a boat controlled by the boys” she said as she quickly darted around them in a single kayak. Zack Fix also helped to build the boat and enjoyed learning of the boat’s history, which date back thousands of years.
“Archaeologists have found evidence that shows that these kayaks go back over 2,000 years, but trying to find evidence is hard because they were skin-covered , sinew lashed, and wood framed so they don’t last very long,” Zack noted. “I didn’t know that there was so much history in these boats, but they are amazing crafts.”
“The traditional boats were built with whale bones and walrus skin,” Tim added. The Kennedy students used materials more readily available , including Douglas fir for the gunwales, oak for the ribs, and nylon for the skin. The entire boat frame is lashed together, using no glue or metal fasteners, and the skin is sewn over the frame.
Zack and Tim, perhaps jealous of Tara’s maneuverability, are already planning to build single kayaks next year.