Today I took my handmade kayak to the water for the very first time.
It was the one thing I chose to spend my energy on. We carried it to the stream and I had a 10 minute paddle. The first bit was Very Wobbly since my kayak has a flat hull. It’s an East Greenland type: fast, small, swift and excellent for cutting through waves. It lies high on the water, with little gravity to stabilize it.
On a flat Dutch canal, with a kayaker who’s been severely wobbly for some time now, it was quite an experience! I trip over sunshine beams on a good day so you can imagine how non-co-ordinate I was, kayaking for the first time in 7 years in a high performance and skittish boat I had never paddled before.
Just 30 seconds out on the water and I had to row back ashore. I was trembling and close to tears with excitement and with the trouble of keeping the kayak from tipping over. But after a little breather it went better.
When kayakking these kind of boats you somehow have to detach your torso from your lower limbs. Your legs are for locking the kayak and making it an extension of your body. This is really how it will feel: your lower limbs will have the shape of a kayak. Walking is forgotten, you are now all about slicing through waves, surface tension, setting a course and undercurrents. A different language with different references. And you won’t think twice about it.
Your torso is for paddling and looking ahead and for calm breathing. When you paddle correct your torso turns, from left to right, and it’s a wonderful motioned rythm. I didn’t get to experience that today but I will later. I remember it from the fjords around Bergen, Norway, and it’s a most wonderful rythm. It connects the spirit.
I did find the calm breathing. And as soon as I “detached” the torso from the legs, the kayak became stable.
This kayak I made back in 2007, in a course in Norway under supervision of Anders Thygesen, the Kayakspecialist.
He has various ‘patterns’ for specific uses: long daytrip-kayaks or swift cutting through the surf-kayaks and many more.
They are all tailormade: first length is determined, based on desired main use of the kayak and your length.
Then you sit in a “toile” and exact notes are made of where your feet should be met by a beam (this is where you put pressure when you use your paddle) and how far back the entrance should be and how wide. Then it’s noted where your knees are supposed to meet a support beam (this is how you keep a kayak stable, you lock in. This is how you can roll a kayak back up when you’ve gone under).
My support beam is made of a vintage piece of oak from the forest the Danish King planted to make tall ships centuries ago. I love a bit of peculiarities in any handmade thing. Anders promotes this too. He invites you to name your vessel too.
You can just see a bit of that characteristic oak beam, in the roof of the entrance.
No screws or pins where used. They are all handmade wooden dowels.
The “ribs” were bend using steam (after laying in a Norwegian stream nearby for a night). This is the bit Anders does for you, he does this by eye and the whole hull has to be one whole, shapewise.
The fabric is regular heavy canvas, painted with some weatherproof paint. It’s the last bit to go on. First you make it into some sort of glove by sewing shut the sides and then it is pulled tightly over the frame. This takes about 5 blokes, all pulling.
Then you sew shut the last flaps and shape it properly around the tips. The seam stitches vary from flat fell and various others.
In the end a hole is cut in the middle and the entrance is made: placing the round wooden ring (this is the only bit that is glued, this and the paddle. All other wood parts are held together by dowels) and attaching the canvas to it.
Then the canvas is treated with linseed. That’s the reddish colour you see on the canvas at the inside of the wooden ring. The outside is painted with paint. (white) and I put a green coat over when I got the kayak back to Holland.
These are all traditional Inuit methods and skills. Only the canvas is not original, it would have been seal skin. Using the same stitches though.
It was a wonderful experience, building it. I so much like materials and hand skills.
I hope later on this year to make a little trip up the canal with the kayak. I’ll clean it a bit. Put in the waxed ropes that lay over the deck and that hold the paddle (and the reserve! Never get lost on the water without any paddle)
It was lovely, having it out again.
In the city I have a full fjord gear: clothes and tools to deal with paddling in life threatening cold waters of the north. But in these Dutch waters I won’t need them. I run more of a risk of botulism than of hypothermia here.
I would love to make and attach a “skirt” to it: a piece of cloth that is attached to your waist and goes around the wooden entrance hoop. This will be a watertight seal and when you tip over your kayak will not fill with water.
You could tip it back, upright again. But this requires a special “flip of the hips” that I have not mastered yet.
So when I flip over I’ll have to swim out of the kayak, turn it back up, try and empty as much water as I can, crawl on the deck, empty more water, get inside, get to shore, dry myself, change clothes, empty it and have a lie down.
It has been a couple of hours since I took it to the canal this morning.
Of course, when I got back home I crashed. This is called PEM. Post Extorion Exhasution (I’m so tired I can never remember where PEM stands for). It’s when ME or CFS people crash (long) after they’ve been physical active. This has to do with the mitochondria not working properly and not being able to replenish energy after it has been used.
I’m happy to report that after two hours of laying flat and only being able to hum or moan I was able to eat something and spend the last hour writing this (a cognitive activity).
An illustration how my resilience os growing.
I might even be able to go outside and enjoy the Spring day for a bit.
Either way: I spend all my spoons on kayaking today and I am chuffed!