The original kayaks were built by Eskimos using seal or other animal skins stretched over wood or whalebone-skeleton frames. The speedy boats were used for hunting in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions and have been around for 4,000 years.
Yet according to a team of kayak adventurers, kayaking and the art of building kayaks have been in decline over the past century in northern Canada.
So a team from Pittarak Expeditions is setting out to change the trend and revive this “diminishing tradition” of Inuit kayak building by showing young people how it is done.
The name of the expedition is Qajaqtuqtut, an Inuit word meaning “they kayak,” and it will take the four-member team on a 620-mile, two-month journey through Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, traveling in kayaks they build themselves.
The Pittarak Expedition website explains the journey:
Our aim is to learn and document the skills of traditional kayak building in the hopes of aiding the revival of this diminishing tradition. Working closely with young people in Nunavut, we will handcraft our kayaks in an open forum allowing for interactive workshops and hands-on learning for the local community.
Once our kayaks are constructed, the adventure will begin. We will put our newly built boats to the test. … Setting out in 24-hour sunlight from Qikiqtarjuaq, we will travel through Auyuittuq National Park, home of the world’s tallest uninterrupted cliff face. From here, our team will follow traditional hunting routes linking lakes and wild rivers through the interior of Baffin Island leading us back to the Arctic Ocean, and eventually to the small hamlet of Cape Dorset.
Shifting sea ice, tides, polar bears, and the harsh Arctic environment will put our team and our handcrafted traditional kayaks to the ultimate test.
Members of the team are Eric McNair-Landry, Katherine Breen, Sarah McNair-Landry, and Erik Boomer, seen in this order in the above photo (courtesy of Boomer via Canoe & Kayak magazine).
Canoe & Kayak adds color about the expedition with the adventurers talking about the journey, including the dangers they’ll encounter.
“We’ll be in polar bear and walrus territory—dangerous animals will be a recurring theme,” Boomer told Canoe & Kayak. “There’s the risk of crevasses on the ice cap, the uncertainties of the Weasel River, and paddling on the Arctic Ocean. The sea can go from placid to scary windy very quickly. Then there are issues of being hungry and grumpy, and so many other hazards.”
The journey is scheduled to begin sometime this month, as soon as they build their kayaks.