east vs west: greenland kayak

Posted: March 1, 2011 by Jeff Fabiszewski in Gear Reviews, Greenland Qajaq, Kayaks

I love history, and I find comfort in nature.  That is why I backpack, camp, hike, kayak, and rock climb.  This blog is usually about kayaking.  And more and more people are asking and writing about kayaks from Greenland.

Most common misconceptions…

  • I thought all Greenland kayaks were the same.
  • Greenland style is the best type of kayak

I think these misconceptions come from romantic ideas about the history, use, or design of the qajaq.

The qajaq (kayak) in Greenland is a weapon, it’s main purpose was to safely assist the hunter in the easiest possible route to the largest amount of meat in the least amount of time.  Today, with the advent of motorized boats, snowmobiles, and guns,  the new purpose of the qajaq is to make money off of tourists while keeping true to what it means to be a native Greenlander.

I have learned how to throw a traditional style harpoon from my kayak.  And doing so has helped me to better explore the mysteries of traditional hunting  (I will expand on this in a future post).  The kayak (and canoe) is a water craft that has been refined over generations to be a silent stalker of food.  And being in one does provide a paddler with an unparalleled intimacy with the water.  The boat and the paddle technology is very advanced and well thought out  (I will expand on the paddle in a future post).

All Greenland kayaks are not the same.

EAST: The East Greenland coastline is at times hemmed in by a lot of ice.  This makes the seas frequently calm.  To efficiently hunt on calm seas men made their boats with as low of a profile as possible.  The low deck profile (deck is almost level from bow to stern) has  strong sloped sides converging on a narrow almost flat bottom and has a minimal rocker.  These features combined makes it track well; there by, the design made it easier to closely approach and kill aquatic mammals. But this design does not excel in rough water.  The low bow allows a lot of water to come up on the deck and the straight keel along the bow gives it a tendency to spear into waves unlike the style of kayaks paddled on the west side of Greenland.  The features of the low deck and minimal rocker makes this design loved by modern paddlers who like to roll.  It is a style that makes it easy to explore the degrees of wetness and relax on the edge of the water.

Pictured above look at how close the deck (front and back) is to the water.  Below is a picture of me practicing a balance brace in an East Greenland style qajaq)

WEST: With the wind and current on the west of  Greenland, the coastline rarely experiences a calm day from Baffin Bay to Davis Strait. Consequently, speed and being safe in rough water was needed in the kayak to quickly harpoon dinner, and this is evident in the boat design.  West Greenland qajaqs are  characterized by a high front deck and flat low stern deck with up sweeping ends, hard chines, and a pronounced “v” bottom.  With the heavily rockered bow and stern this style of kayak will effortlessly aid the paddler to edge the bow into the wind.  This is an asset when it comes to stalking prey in rough water.  It puts the hunter down wind and makes him less visible to their prey.  For modern paddlers the heavily rockered style and low volume makes it well suited design for playing in waves and carving in surf.  If there is too much rocker the design may not be efficient for modern paddlers needs during extended expeditions / trips .  This is dependent on the paddler’s weight and the amount of gear loaded in the kayak. Curiously, the hard chine  that helps to carve in waves  and into the wind also aids the paddler to effectively edge the  sea kayak, by shifting in their seat to the left or right, thereby experiencing  minor to no weathercocking problems.

Pictured above is a NDK Greenlander Pro.  Pictured below, Sean is sitting in a CLC Shearwater 17 West Greenland inspired style kayak

Then there is the additional variables to design.  Hunters always modify their kit according to what they perceive as what is innovative.  And that is why the picture below has so many variations of traditional qajaqs from Greenland to Alaska.

A Greenland kayak is simply a kayak made to fit the water conditions, to fit the body of the paddler, and satisfy the needs of the person in Greenland.

Greenland style is not necessarily the best type nor the only type of kayak

What?  Yes you read it correctly… The best type of kayak is the one that fits the water, fits the body, and fits the purpose of why the paddler is on the water.      – Jeff

PS.   Check out the Crowhurst’s website CNC Kayaks on some plans and advice on building your own kayak.  Nick and Christopher are enthusiastic and passionate about Greenland design and philosophy.   cnckayaks.com

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