Umiaqs Through The Ages

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In Arctic water, (photo at left) umiaqs are built with marine mammal skins stretched and sewn over a frame. CWB’s umiaqs (right) are built with waterproofed ballistic nylon, also stretched and sewn over a frame. – photos courtesy of Lee Bjorklund

For more than four decades, each month CWB has presented a speaker of wit and experience to talk about his or her special knowledge. It is also an opportunity for CWB members to meet one another and the staff. The program is held in the Boathouse Gallery and runs from 7pm to 9pm, with opportunities to ask questions. Light refreshments are available. September’s 3rd Friday presentation will be held on September 15th.

People often ask why there are two distinctly non-wooden boats at The Center for Wooden Boats’ docks north of the Boathouse. We sometimes tease out the answer by pointing out that these boats do have wooden frames before we identify them as umiaqs, the cargo canoes of the north. The umiaqs, which were built by CWB classes and are maintained by our volunteers, are the workhorses of our field trip programs where thousands of kids have been introduced to the wonderful world of paddling.

Skin-on-frame boats have been around for a looooong time and are the progenitors of modern kayaks and canoes. They originated in Arctic waters where boat-building materials are in very short supply.

CWB Board of Trustees member Lee Bjorklund has amassed a most interesting body of knowledge about umiaqs, baidarkas and qayaqs (kayaks) for our 3rd Friday audience. He’s even planning some participatory activities to start off the evening. Weather permitting, the audience will be able to participate in or just watch a “Poor Man’s Umiaq Race”. (You’ll just have to show up to find out what that is!)

Lee’s a paddling expert. He’s the past-president of the Seattle dragon boat organization and a frequent instructor/paddler for the umiaq adventures that are a part of many of our year-round field trips. And he’s been known to set up shop on the docks next to a sign inviting visitors to “Learn to row and paddle. Free.”

If you can’t wait until Friday to find out what a baidarka is, stop by CWB’s Pavilion during the week where our latest class of baidarka-builders are busy at work creating their custom craft, led by long-time instructor Corey Freedman.



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