Search Amazon for books on sea kayaks and sea kayaking, Inuit life, and modern-day kayaking in Alaska. A handful of samples below plus the above image which comes from the Alaska State Library's historical collection.
The island presented everything short
of failure. The casino had burned down. The hotel had been razed. The
water table in the freshwater cistern lay below sea level so the
drinking water well was fouled with salt water. The walls and floor of the
saltwater swimming pool had collapsed; all that was left were twisted
iron pipes, a few spigots, some broken-down granite
stairs descending to the shore. The woods were cut by walking
trails which wound through the abandoned fruit-tree groves and past the terrace
between the foundation of the big dining room and the staff
quarters, the formal gardens and the broken steps up the hill into the nightclub and the
The field where the golf course stood had reverted to the empty sloped contours and hollows of the grassy drumlin.
The grass and shrubs hadn't been mowed since last summer. The granite columns that supported the ballroom and dance
floor, a big-windowed palace on the side of the hill with views of the the bay and the jagged profile of the sound's offshore islands, were chipped and broken. The nearby twin island lay a few scant yards from the gravel bar where the barge had burned and foundered and bspilled its cargo.
This bedrock island gives way to soft
sandy sea bottom one side, deep narrow channels marked by day
beacons and green cans and red nuns, on the other. Some of the markers designate a boating channel. Others, the transit for
the barges delivering coal to the power plant by the water
treatment plant where the condemned houses and public park and seasonal penny arcade and carnival lay fallow.
We landed on the island. The caretaker cottage was boarded up. With the wind blowing
hard, we'd have the island to ourselves for as long as we
wanted. We'd launched from the corporate beach for the most direct
route to the island, and because we were on the water so late in
autumn fall, we could leave the car in the parking lot for as long as
we needed to. This is the state's gold coast. The yacht clubs in the
adjacent coastal towns are expensive, elegant, exclusive. Staff wear
vaguely military uniforms. Rules committees meet often to discuss
infractions of clubhouse and yacht-racing rules. The downtowns of the
nearby ports have evolved into blocks of expensive preserved antique
charm. The nearest summer cottage island patrols its dock and shores
to repel intruders who don't have permission to land.
To the east, beyond the shipping
channel and the liquified natural gas offload platform, the big
submerged ledge where the freighter and the pilot boat sank and
settled, in the big winter storm, and far beyond the inshore fishing
grounds, and the submerged bank of the terminal moraine of the
remnants of the ice shelf...
...beyond all this lay the vast
shallows of the offshore fishing grounds, that wispy curve of the
last twist of the Gulf Stream where it collided with the Labrador
Current. And finally the continental shelf and the depths of the open
The glacial erratics tumbled from the
bluff and headlands east of the village.
They and the scarp and point are all
that remain of the moraine that once reached the continental shelf.
We walked the ramparts to the
lighthouse. The coast guard moved the light from the crumbling
embankment a decade ago, razed the gunnery tower, then turned over
the property to the local conservation trust.
The fishing village and the salt hay
farm are gone.
The narrow dirt road to the point is
busy, during summer, with the comings and goings of cottage owners.
They litter the brush with discarded beer bottles until autumn, when
they close up their houses.
Robins overwinter here. They feed on
staghorn sumac and take shelter in the plum bushes during the
The martens had already bored holes
into the face of the cliff. The air was cold and damp. The forecast
called for snow. It would melt quickly. This barrier beach is warmed
by the ocean, and lies far from the mainland and its colder forests.
Inland of here lie coastal bogs and
scrub pines hollows. The falling snow will accumulate the already
thick snowpack, and won't melt until April.
We pried open the hatches of the kayaks
and unloaded the tent and and dry bags and stoves. After we set up
camp in the dunes, we used the handheld compass the to mark ranges
between High Pines Ledge and Standish Point, between the Gurnet and
the Pilgrim monument, between the Bug Light and the Saquish mooring
field, where the rip was forming. So began the first of our five
nights on this narrow remote point.
A New England spit barrier beach in late winter. Nothing ever happens here. That's why I go here once a week to hike, fish, or paddle. Bluefish, striped bass, flounder, snowy owls, migratory shore birds.
A blog for sea kayakers everywhere...
Here Dee removes from the still-rough paddle the bridge forms which guided the router along the paddle's various contours: flat and thin at the paddle's tip; higher, thicker, and more rounded towards the shoulder of the blade and the shaft.
It's at this step, removing the bridges, that the utility of doweled bridge forms becomes obvious. Not only do dowels and moorings make the bridge forms easy to remove by hand or with a hammer, they also allow the builder to use the same jig and forms for as many paddles as he or she has time, interest, or energy to build.
Moreover, by carefully controlling the depth of the router bit, a shaper can roughcut a paddle to the extent one chooses: chunkier and less refined for custom shaping later with hand tools, or as close to spec as you like if you are certain the jig holds your perfect paddle's shape.
Factory-made paddles are designed and cut according to broad generalities around length, torque, angle. But build your own paddle and you can customize it to your particular needs around shaft thickness, blade thickness, etc.
Once Dee has removed the bridge forms that guide the router through its cuts, it's time to work and shape the paddle by hand with a variety of handtools: rasps, files, block planes, a SurForm tool. To speed matters up, Dee will use a random orbital sander and 80 grit discs to remove excess wood. Doing so will smooth the blank for better laminar flow but also smooth the paddle shaft so that it won't cause blisters.
Above: the tip sanded smooth as a baby's bottom using sandpaper grits progressing from 80 grit to 200 grit. Note the wood's open grain. Tung oil will seal the grain and close it. Brian Nystrom photo.
In the bottom photo, see Dee making her initial passes with a SureForm tool to bring down the ridges and high spots left behind by the rapid cutting with the router. The router chops in the paddle's fundamental shape: rounder and flatter near the blade, more peaked, etc., towards the shoulder.
Note the wood chips on either side of the jig. Note, too, that the blank is firmly clamped to the jig and to the table, so Dee gets plenty of purchase to pull her hand tools against.
At this point Dee is working by eye, checking to be sure that her SurForm cutting is even and symmetrical. She needs to be sure that the SureForm's cutting screen is sharp, and its gutter clear, so she won't tear the wood. After about an hour's sanding through progressively smoother grits from 80 to as high as 220 or higher, the paddle will be ready for first use.
Above: the freshly-sanded tip brought down to 220 grit smoothness with sandpaper and coated with its first layer of tung oil. Cedar is porous and really soaks up the tung oil. Apply subsequent coasts on successive days. Brian Nystrom photo.
Once Dee has tested the paddle in the local lake, she'll bring it back to the workshop to rinse and dry. She'll then coat it with numerous layers of tung oil wiped on with a rag. Perhaps she'll mask off the bottom six inches of the blades to prevent tung oil from entering the grain there. This allows her the option of epoxying the paddle tips for added strength, or of dabbing on fiberglass cloth after adding, if she wants, colored tint to the epoxy.
Above:Silbs, in a skin-on-frame, slips from the bullrushes, propelled by a laminated Greenland paddle from Mitchell. Hardcore Greenland style aficionados can be a prickly bunch. While they often insist on such historical authenticity as throwing sticks, etc., they also tend to eschew such modern-day safety basics as decklines. (Greg Fojtik photo.) Dee is a source-hunter if ever there was one; likely she'll add to the epoxy at the blade tips either a light reflective compound for night paddling or day-glo paint for better daytime visibility. While color additives may put a Greenland purist's knickers in a twist (many of the type eschew such accepted standards as decklines and watertight bulkheads), warning colors on a paddle's tips are nice to have on those hot summer afternoons when Dee leads a pod from her local paddling club through a busy harbor. copyright 2008/North American Kayak Fishing
Above: the business end of a Porter-Cable random orbital sander. Random orbital sanders are excellent tools. Their discs are easy to switch from one grit to another. But be sure to buy your sanding discs, in grits from 80 to 220, on mail order from places like Ohio Supergrit, because opping in to pick up discs from your local hardware store is a good way to go broke. Here's a couple of overviews of the next-to-the last steps before refining the blades and shaft with a random orbital power sander, draw knife, block plane or rasp. Doubleclick the images to enlarge them.
In the top photo, Dee works with a surform tool to bring down the high spots left over after routing. In a small pile on the left side of the photo you can see the dowel bridges which she has removed to clear the blank for further shaping. You can also clearly see in the jig plate itself the series of round moorings Dee drilled into the jig to hold the bridges.
Look carefully at the removed bridges in the left of the top photo. (Doubleclick to enlarge.) You'll note that the dowels are long and thick, for strength. Routers are heavy. Dee didn't want her bridge channels to snap under the router's weight.
The photo below shows the paddle blank at an earlier stage of the initial router rough cuts. You'll note that, at this stage, the blank is still rather thick -- the blank has only been shaped on one side. The blank needs to be turned over and the bridge channels put back in their moorings. Dee will then shape the other side.
Simplicity and symmetry are the truest utility, in the end, of Greenland paddles. The paddle is symmetrical on all four faces. The symmetry not only facilitates fast paddle making, it also makes the paddle simpler to use. There's no power face to look for when rolling, sculling, bracing, bow or stern ruddering.
Of course, the paddle feels strange first time you use it. It's as if there is nothing in the water to provide speed, propulsion, or stability. Yet, over time, most Greenland paddlers are just as fast as other paddlers. Typically they also suffer fewer stress injuries to their wrists, elbows, and shoulders. And often they find rolling with a Greenland paddle to be effortless.
Above we see Dee Hall getting down to work with her router (a Porter-Cable, one of many manufacturers of high quality power woodworking tools). You will note that the rough cut paddle blank Dee made is firmly encased within the channel jig she meticulously designed.
How Dee's channel jig works should be clear now: the peaks and angles of the wooden bridges mimic the shape and taper of a Greenland paddle's blades and shaft.
Dee sets the router bit to an appropriate depth, so that it won't cut deeper than the bridges allow, then turns on the router just before she places the router onto two adjacent bridges. The router assumes the correct angles for carving by virtue of the router's base plate gliding smoothly up and down the bridges.
By working slowly and carefully, and being sure to wear safety glasses, Dee lets the router glide up and down slopes of the bridges. The router cuts all the while. The chips fly fast and kick up a fair amount of dust. It's very noisy work, machine-shop level, so Dee is sure to wear hearing protection, as did the photographer.
Another paddle-maker, Brian Nystrom, points out that cedar dust, like most wood dusts, is mildly toxic. Wear a dust mask, or a VOC respirator if your intolerance to dust is high. Similarly, if your plans include mass production, the Greenland paddle builder would be wise to work in a well-ventilated shop. Ratios of fresh air exchange per square foot of shop space are readily available on the internet.
The two photos show two distinct processes. In the top photo, you'll note that the router lies nearly flat on the flatter bridges at the paddle blade's thinner, flatter ends and tips. (Move your curser over the photos and right-click to enlarge them.)
Dee calculated these tapered angles, from flat to steep, on graph paper, then glued the graph-paper templates to plywood, whereupon she cut the plywood templates with a bandsaw. This method is closely-related to the process Nick Schade currently or in the past used to provide form stations for his strip-built designs.
Above: Where it all began. Members of a recent expedition to Greenland pose on the top eighth of an iceberg. The Inuit built their paddles from driftwood.
In the lower photo you'll note that the router is angled steeply uphill. And by looking carefully at either photo, you'll notice that the bridge rails change, progressively, from bottom left of the photos to top center, from quite steep to much flatter. This is where a paddle-maker using Dee's method needs to exercise the greatest care. Routers are heavy, and if yours slips too fast downhill, it could fall off the jig and onto your leg.
There are a number of tools scattered on the table: leather work gloves, a pair of hammers, numerous clamps, a sanding block. All get put to good use: the hammers for removing and replacing the dowelled bridge jigs, the clamps for securing the jig and paddle to one another and to the workbench, the sanding block for later refining the router cuts, the gloves for avoiding splinters.
Above: three Greenland strokes: the sliding stroke; vertical racing stroke; horizontal cruising stroke.
Several readers have written to ask whether Dee can make plans available for her jig. The short answer is maybe. The long answer is that she needs to find time to boot up some CAD software to reproduce the measurements and angles she intuited first time around. Many other readers have made comments that relate to refining the technique to make it more efficient. One writer suggested replacing the wooden bridges with steel rails; another posited the use of a power planer instead of a router. I encourage everyone to post their similar comments on the blog so we can all read them. Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 The jig