Aleutian Kayaks
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Skin on frame design

Greenland kayak

Aleutian kayak (baidarka)


Skin on frame canoe

Paddle making

Aleutian Kayaks

Karen Winkler, contemporary Unangan builder with her baidarka on the beach in Akutan.

The Aleutian kayak, called iqyax by their Unangan builders and baidarkas by their Russian colonizers is a swift and able sea kayak. The baidarka can also built in a two seat version called uluxtax for a total length of 20 to 22 feet.

George Dyson with his book, Baidarka did much to popularize this boat and inform people of its history. His efforts have made baidarka a well recognized term among sea kayakers. His efforts have also lead to a large number of these boats being built by kayakers.

The bottom of the hull is shaped to rise to oncoming waves. Rounded sides minimize hull friction.

The baidarka is a fine sea kayak, slender hulled and yet with enough interior room to accomodate gear for trips of up to a week.

The hull of the baidarka is made up of many slender components so that the cumulative effect is a flexible boat. The bilges of the baidarka are rounded but the bottom has a pronounced vee shape in cross section, making for good tracking.

Interior of the baidarka hull. The shadows of the ribs on the skin show the pronounced vee made by the bottom on either side of the keelson. This vee gives the baidarka its ability to track well.

Given the potentially rough conditions of the North Pacific and the Bering Sea in which these boats operated they were designed to behave well in rough seas. The deck of the baidarka is peaked to shed waves breaking over the bow so that the paddle can stay reasonably dry. The only drawback of the peaked deck is that it makes rolling more difficult than a flat deck would. However, not much is written about Unangan paddlers rolling, the presumption being that they seldom if ever capsized.

The peaked deck of the baidarka sheds waves and prevents them from reaching the paddler in the cockpit except under very rough conditions.

If you are trying to make up your mind between a baidarka and a Greenland kayak, pick the baidarka if top speed or carrying capacity are among your primary concerns. The baidarka makes for a better camping and cruising boat than the Greenland kayak, but the Greenland kayak is better suited for rolling and surf play.

The Bering Sea

View of Akun from Akutan

Boat building class in Akutan

Akutan Russian Orthodox Chapel

All content copyright © 2004 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.