Songs of Experience

Children of the future Age,
Reading this indignant page:
Know that in a former time,
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime – blake

Yesterday I wrote about 10 sea kayaks that everyone should at least test paddle before they invest in a brand new sea kayak.  One reader commented that I should have included at least one of the great traditional or Greenland kayak in the group. I got his point. Today I’ll talk about that a bit and explain why no Greenland style kayaks made the list and tell you which ones would have if they, well, would have.. 

Why did I leave traditional kayaks off?  Well, for the same reason I left the best surf, racing or play boats off the list.  They’re specialists.  These are the kayaks for people who are looking to up the ante.  They are rarely your first composite kayak. Even more “friendly” hard chined kayaks tend to be a step up from more forgiving expedition boats.  Racing hulls, hard chines, Greenland rolling, boat building, whitewater, surf, etc.. are rarely our first boats, but are where we go when we realize we want to keep stretching out in the sport. Many paddlers never venture past the one old faithful kayak in the garage. As addicts we tend to forget that getting your hand-roll is not part of kayak mainstream.

That said, Let’s have a look at composite Greenland style kayaks. (Especially since I’m shopping for one myself!!)

Composite Greenland Kayaks?

1. The Anas Acuta by Valley Sea Kayaks is a great boat.  High performance, well made, nice roller.  If there was a “bridge” kayak between standard sea kayaks and true “Greenland” style boats, this is probably the one. I owned one for years and was really silly to have sold it in the first place. The Valley Anas Acuta is a great Greenland style composite kayak. When it comes to rolling however, the Acuta does have its limits.

2. Betsie Bay Kayaks in Michigan makes some fantastic traditional style boats.  You’d be hard pressed to do better than Betsie Bay. ‘Nuff said.

3. The Tahe Marine Greenland may be the most accessible, composite rolling kayak available today. Great reviews from all over the map.

4. Water Field Kayaks of Japan also offers a nice rolling boat.. but getting one??

5. Update 1: Arrow Ivalu is a Danish Greenland style boat.

6. Update 2: Sea Bird Designs Black Pearl – based on the classic….

To my knowledge these are the only quasi-mass produced kayaks that can respectably be called “Greenland” style. Did I miss one?

Sea Kayaking UK's Greenlander

Yeah, I know what your thinking… I left off some obvious choices right?  Well, it’s all personal opinion of course, but to me things start to get weedy from here: The Seakayaking UK Greenlander has the roots, but “high volume” is an understatement! Valley’s Q-Boat is a monster as well. Impex makes the Outer Island which is a sweet boat based on West Greenland elements. P&H offers some interesting twists with the Bahiya (which I’ve reviewed by the way) or Vela. CD would like to think the Caribou qualifies as “Greenland Style”. (Go fig..) There are many other mass produced, hard chined kayaks available, but to call them “traditional” would be a reach. More to the point, they are all specialists. Great boats, but for select users.

Skin Boats, Wood Boats & Homemade

This is where sea kayaking enters another world.  In the world of traditional rolling it’s almost a rite to build your own boat.  There are kit boats, skin boats and weekend classes.  If you want to build your own, there’s plenty of opportunity. Not everyone (like me) can do it, and there are builders out there to  do it for you. I envy someone who can build their own kayak.  What an amazing talent!  Rather dig too deeply here, I’ll simply send you off to QajaqUSA. From here you can learn more about every aspect of traditional Greenland paddling from strokes, to rolling to boat building. You may also enjoy Traditional Kayaks by Harvey Golden. His kayak Replicas section has lots of pictures of traditional handmade kayaks.

The Voice of the Ancient Bard

These days I see very little difference between “sea kayaking” and “traditional kayaking” in my world.  I keep blending everything I learn from every discipline. But that’s certainly not where things started.  Learning is little more than stumbling all night over bones of the dead”. Had I not bought a recreational boat, I’d not have bought a 17 foot expedition kayak. Without it, I’d never learned to roll.  Had I not learned to roll, I’d never thought seriously about Greenland style paddling…  The first time you buy a brand new composite sea kayak, you probably won’t have any idea where you’re headed.  But one thing is sure.. you’ll be committed.. :)

*Photo Tahe Marine Greenland

20 Responses to Songs of Experience

  • Carin says:

    How about the Ivalu from Arrow Kayaks? http://www.arrowkayaks.com/english/?ivalu,61

  • derrick says:

    Good Call Carin. That’s why I need you all out there too. :)

  • eriksjos says:
  • Bryan says:

    You forgot SeaBird Designs’ Black Pearl, which comes in both a low volume version and high volume version. Before becoming a composite, it was built as a cedar, s&g and skin-on-frame.

  • derrick says:

    Thanks for pointing out the SeaBird as well. Do they have US distribution?

  • Bryan says:

    I’m not sure of U.S., but I think Joe O’Blenis might be importing some into Thunder Bay: http://www.joeoblenis.com/joeopaddles.htm

  • Bryan says:
  • Haris says:

    In what sense is a traditional kayak a specialist boat? Is it the low volume? Is it the hull shape? Both? Something else? I’ve only ever paddled Anas Acuta a couple of SOFs briefly. Can’t say that I noticed any categorical differences from the other Brit boats. Curious.

    • derrick says:

      Hey Haris, I call them “specialist” for lack of a better term. Traditional kayaks tend (There’s exceptions to every rule of course!!) to be hard chined, low or very low volume, and require some skill to maneuver well. Again, there’s a wide variety of Greenland Style kayaks out there, but most people would define them simply as low volume rolling boats. A clue to the “specialized” nature of these boats is that very few shops carry them. They just can’t sell enough to warrant it. For what it’s worth the skin boat I have is very high volume but it has no bulkheads.. It wouldn’t be your first choice for an expedition. Fun for a day paddle though!

  • Marius says:

    Interesting picture – no pfd, no floatation anything ( except beanie), no sprayskirt, oh … is that a wing paddle?

  • derrick says:

    I wondered how long it would be before someone said something. LOL! Yeah, this is a promo shot from Tahe’s website. Shows off the boat nicely though. :)

  • deborah says:

    Barry Buchanan would like a word w. you about the Caribou :)

    The original Buchanan design was wooden hull w. steep hard chined angles. Very similar to certain styles of boat in the high arctic. The Caribou (as produced by Current Designs for 10 years til 2009, when the license expired) is a fiberglass version which reduced the angle & maintained the hard chine, and the center-located cockpit (neither Swede nor Fishform) characteristic of greenland boats.

    I must be dullwitted after staying up til 5 am this morning. Someone explain why the Anas Acuta is included, but the Caribou is dismissed w. “go fig” (sic).

    Not all greenland kayaks are narrow and low volume. See Russian baidarkas. Excluding the Q-boat and the Greenlander on this basis doesn’t make sense to me.

    Excluding the Outer Island is a puzzle. It has all the attributes of the others.

    We have here “the List 2″ w. similar biases :)

    I now think, more than ever, there is an equal amount of dogma among proponents of Greenland and British seakayakers as to what constitutes the “true” seakayak of that style. Two churches.

    Happily I paddle one of each, w. Euro & traditional blades, and I am a pagan ‘-)

    • derrick says:

      Thank you again for your counter points. ;) BTW I’d be interested to see the original Caribou…

      • deborah says:

        About seeing the old (original) Caribou – the wooden prototype.

        It is online somewhere, I saw it – very, very angular, dark wood, very much a prototype. Of course the decks were not the smooth “cigar shape” of the composite Caribou, esp. w. the flush hatches. (I confess my biased love of the look of flush fiberglass hatches).

        Ken Ring knows Barry Buchanan quite well including the time he (BB) was negotiating the intellectual license w. Current Designs. Ken was kind enough to talk to me at length about the development of the Caribou and the role that CD provided when he (KR) was at the WMCKA symposium a couple of years ago. It was during the midnight bull session in honor of Jeff Allen. :-)

        I believe Ken may have a photo. Almost certainly Brian Henry the original CD owner, has pix since he kayaked the wooden version in New England w. Barry Buchanan which was far afield from British Colombia. It was Brian’s direct request to BB than led to the production of the Caribou. This was all related to me one on one from Ken Ring at WMCKA’s symposium in May 2009.

        I was esp. interested since I had earlier that month purchased a rep’s demo CD Suka, a custom in glass/kevlar w. an enhanced coaming and an H channel seam.

        Many (including me) thought of the Suka as the small person’s Caribou. It is actually identical as to deck (corrected for proportions) but radically different in hull and chine. That I discovered in March 2008 at the Jersey Paddler show in chatting one on one w. CD’s former Sales Manager, Bill Kueper, who was part of the Suka’s design team. Bill said words close to this “The Caribou has chines like a dime, the Suka’s like a nickel.” He went on to explain that by moderating the transition curve of the chine in the Suka, it lessened what he called the “digital effect” of wave action slapping on the chines.

        BK also went on to say that the Caribou was a wildly popular almost cult boat for CD which is why it was in its 9th year of production when we spoke. The Suka, he said, was designed from the get as a niche boat, an intermediate boat for truly small paddlers. (unlike some LV versions of other boats). He smiled when he said the design team held to that and would not let the design be redirected.

        I use the full names, places and dates just for credibility and have been very faithful in words use and tone. It was a great opportunity to talk to these gentlemen.

  • Ann says:

    I read with interest your first list as well as this post and the comments:

    “Why did I leave traditional kayaks off? Well, for the same reason I left the best surf, racing or play boats off the list. They’re specialists. These are the kayaks for people who are looking to up the ante. They are rarely your first composite kayak. Even more “friendly” hard chined kayaks tend to be a step up from more forgiving expedition boats.”

    Many years ago, when I was in the market for my first fiberglass boat, after demoing lots of “forgiving expedition boats”, I got a chance to try a skeg-less Seaward Endeavour. I don’t speak the language of boat design, but I must say, paddling that boat is what made me truly fall in love with kayaking. For me it was the difference of being “on” a boat, protected “from” the water, to being “one with the boat and the ocean”. (wish I could put it in more logical terms about chines, tracking, etc., sorry!) Anyway, I married the kayak’s owner so I got the boat, and after 13 years, many coastal ocean miles, and some challenging conditions, the boat has never failed me.
    And the quality of the boat… can’t say enough good things about Seaward.

    • derrick says:

      Hi Ann,

      Yeah I hear ya. As always you simply have to find the one that “sings” to you. I’ve never paddled the Endeavour, but it’s not easy finding a Seaward boat around here. I’m glad you found the boat you love. :)



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