Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Simply the Best, part two: Sister's

Ok. I asked for reader help in deciding what to enter for Tillerman's competition Simply the Best, but on very short notice. No response so I'm going ahead with my favorite. This post was "simply the best because it featured two exquisite small, light displacement boats, one of which, I feel sure, influenced the other. Both great achievers, both by brilliant designers. Evolution."

On the other hand, I also really liked the post on the Mary Whalen and portside NY because Carolina's doing some good work and the Mary is  a sweet thing. Guess it's too late to change as I've already posted my info w/ tillerman and it's almost 10pm. New Years eve and I must go to dogsit and party and cook etc. But I really like the Mary post too. Happy New Year/Solstice etc. to any pagans out there.

Simply the Best

photograph courtesy Pär Björfjäl, Wetstuff

!Last minute!

Help me with this. Tillerman over at Proper Course has a competition for the best blog post of the year. Entries have  to be in by today. Any readers out there who would like to make a suggestion to me for what I should enter please leave a comment here. Soon! thanks, 

Monday, December 22, 2008

the Greenlanders, Jane Smiley

Eriks homestead at Brattahlid courtesy.

courtesy Amazon

photograph courtesy © Gerald Zinnecker all rights reserved

While doing my research on the eastern Arctic boats I was reminded of a novel I read two summers ago by author Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders. It's the story of the Norse settlements on Groenland and their demise. An 'epic' novel, it's a gripping story and full of light and darkness. This book is historical fiction, well and meticulously researched, an informed guess about a dimly recorded effort at colonization by the Norse Vikings. It is, to say the least, gripping. Inspired by the Icelandic Sagas (click title bar) , I couldn't put it down. Jane Smiley has done an amazing job of re-creating this world and it's eventual decline. Worth your time, and then some.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kayak part 1.2 The Historians: The Russians

Aleut model of a two-man baidarka (or kayak) from the Commander Islands, Russia, collected in 1891 by N.M. Tilman. Made of wood, gutskin, bone, fabric, and glass beads. Vladivostok Maritime Museum, Russia, #2305. 49 cm. Courtesy Smithsonian Institute.

Three Siberian Skin-Kayak types: (Front to back) Koryak, Maritime Chukchi, and the Inland Chukchi. 
Replicas built by Harvey Golden.

Waldemar Jochelson, courtesy American Museum of Natural History

Russian involvement in the history and documentation of the kayak is a rich and deep story. Indeed, it is almost certain that the kayak's birthplace was Siberia. The Russians also had a long history in Alaska.  establishing trade and missionary outposts and building churches, many of which are still in evidence today such as this one in Juneau. George Dyson has a great overview of the Russian presence in North America in his book Baidarka. A great number of Russian ethnologists were to study kayak and their surrounding culture both in Siberia and North America. Three of the more interesting Russian ethnographers who studied kayak as part of their field work both in Siberia and North America were Waldemar Jochelson, Vladimir Bogorav and Lev Sternberg. All three were members of a revolutionary and terrorist group in Czarist Russia called the Peoples Will. All three were exiled to Siberia where they began to study the indigenous population. Their work was impressive enough to land them places in the Sibirakov Expedition of 1894-95 to the Yakut Provinces of northeastern Siberia. Jochelson and Bogoras also took part in the Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902),doing fieldwork in Siberia. Each eventually emigrated to the US. 
The Jesup expedition was a major anthropological undertaking on both sides of the North Pacific. Sponsored by Morris Jesup, then president of the American Museum of Natural History, and planned and directed by Franz Boaz, and pursuing fieldwork all around the Bering Straits, it goal was to explore the relationship between the Siberian and North American indigenous peoples of this entire region. Many prominent anthropologists of the day were active in the expedition which produced a great number of ethnologies, collected material culture and photographic records.
This was the period of great exploration and study of cultures around the globe. The period from around 1800 to 1920 saw  huge efforts to explore,  study, catalogue and colonize the rest of world by the Western powers. Fortunately, the rise of the museum and the collections that fill them means we have great access to indigenous skin on frame kayaks of this period. Those of you who would like to dig deeper can find two great jumping off places in the aforementioned annotated bibliography by David Zimmerly and Harvey Golden's Kayak Data page which locates the source of every replica he's built. You might also enjoy this piece by French anthropologist Joelle Robert-Lamblin on the Aluet boats. Concerning the relationship of boat to man he states "in the Aleut oral tradition, the kayak is not an object; it is a living being, male, a hunting partner which attempts to identify itself with its master and would like to share his married life. Their fates, indeed, are bound up together, and their lives end at the same time: they disappear at sea together or, on land, share the same grave."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kayak part 1.1 the Historians: Alaskan Digital Archives

Eskimo Hunter, Nome, C.1913 photograph George A. Parks courtesy Alaska State Library.

Eskimo boy with kayak, photographer undocumented, courtesy Alaska State Library.

Hunter with seal and kayak, c.1913, unattributed photographer, courtesy Anchorage Museum at Rasmusen Center

Kayak and fish drying racks, Unakaleet.  1938, Ray B. Dames, Ickes Collection, courtesy Rasmusen Center.

 Tents, Inuit working, c. 1867-1896, Ooglaamie, Point Barrow.  Patrick Henry Ray, Elmer E. Rasmusen Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Kayak making, Mekorkuk, Nunivak Island, March 1943, George D. Allen.  courtesy, Alaska State Library.

Nome, Alaska, Nomen Bros. c. 1913-1939 John Zug collection, Elmer E. Rasmusen Library, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Kukokwim River, c. 1930-1959, Kay J. Kennedy Aviation photograph Collection, Elmer E. Ramasusen Library, Unversity of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Brother John the archivist sent me this link and I couldn't resist. These images all come the Alaska Digital Archives and I have taken them without permission. Because permission  from large institutions can take a long time, and sometimes, money. I have done my best to credit the photogapher, where it was possible, and the libraries, always. This is an ethical issue, and my brother would probably argue the other side, not to put words into his mouth. If you have an opinion, please weigh in. Otherwise just enjoy these fine photographs of Alaskan Inuit doing their thing. And be sure to visit the archives.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kayak, part 1.0, the Historians: Preface, Franz Boaz

Franz Boas dressed in traditional Groenland hunting costume, courtesy the American Philosophical Society.

 On a trip to the Arctic,photo Franz Boas, courtesy American Philosophical Society


Franz Boas is referred to as the father of American Anthropology. There is a collection of his papers at the American Philosophical Society. My brother, John worked there in the past and so I am familiar with the organization, and have "borrowed" some photographs from their collection. In 1883 he journeyed from Germany to Baffin Island and spent the next year living with and studying the Inuit of Cumberland Bay. The results of his research are published inFranz Boas among the Inuit of Baffin Island, 1883-1884: Journals and Letters. His research includes information on the indigenous boats he found in use by the Baffin Islanders. His studies, quite interestingly in such a harsh environment, led him to believe that cultural factors were dominant over enviromental ones in shaping the be havior of human societies. More kayak gathering is included in another book, The Central Eskimo.


Kayak, part 1, the Historians:Preface

Portrait of James Cook courtesy Wikipedia, Nathaniel Dance, c. 1775

Unagen hunters demonstrate spear throwing technique.
Photo from History, Ethnology and Anthropology of the Aleut (fig. 17) by Waldemar Jochelson, 1933.

Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalamar Johanson sailing their makeshift 'catamaran',two kayak tied together, photo courtesy

Five members of Nansen's Expedition across 
Greenland 1888 to1889, Nansen is closest to shore. Photo courtesy The National Library of Norway

Edward S. Curtis,photo courtesy Northwestern University Library

Edward S. Curtis, Noatak Kayaks courtesy Northwestern UniversityLibrary

This post will initiate a new series on Quajaj, or Kayak. It is a vast subject and I plan to deal with it in several parts. First I would like to write about the explorers and ethnographers who contributed to our earliest understanding of this boat type and then to contemporary historian/builders who all seem to back their research with empirical investigations into building replicas and/ or innovative craft based on historical models. It's my intention to focus mainly, but not exclusively, on skin on frame boats.

This, as I said, is a large subject and not meant to be exhaustive, but rather an outline to engender personal research. I will leave out many important figures. If you know of such an omission, use the comment box, please. There is a very rich annotated bibliography of Arctic Kayak by David Zimmerly here.

One of the earliest chroniclers of the kayak was none other than Captain James Cook  'A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean', published in 1785,  contains several references to kayak. Nearly a century later, Norwegian Arctic  explorer and academic Fridtjof Nansen documented Inuit life extensively, built his own kayak of bamboo based on research in Greenland, and was responsible for some of our earliest photographic records of both Inuit life in general and kayak specifically. Another key figure was photographer/artistEdward S. Curtis who was offered $75000 in 1906 by J.P. Morgan to produce a series  on the North American Indian.He did so, with over 40,000 photos and over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native American music and language. Volume 20 of the series has extensive material on kayak, especially from Nunivak Island.

 The real giants here, however, are the Inuit people. From Greenland to the Aleutians, these amazing peoples adapted to and succeeded in forging technologies to deal with the vicious Arctic environment. Their achievement is great. Unparalleled in the record of human life on our planet. One elegant issue of their genius are the boats they built in a land of scant resources, using the materials at hand, bone, sinew, fish gut, hides. The kayak and baidarka allowed them to harvest the rich seas around them. Today their existence is imperilled not by the Arctic cold, but by the Arctic warm. They , more than any other group on earth, including the Sami, are threatened by global warming in a direct and tangible way.  There are many groups attempting to help the Inuit. Start here. and also go here, and here and here.


Monday, December 8, 2008

On the Waterfront

The Mary A. Whalen is an oil tanker built by Mathis Shipyard in Camden, NJ in 1938, 172', 613 gross tonnage. She operated out of the port of New York between 1938 and 1994, plying her trade between Maryland and Maine along the Atlantic Seaboard.  This Saturday her 70th birthday was celebrated in Red Hook, Brooklyn NY, where she now resides and serves as home and ambassador to the waterfront advocacy group PortSide New York.  


Perched beneath the pink beret is Carolina Saliguero, Director of PortSide NewYork. And the waterfront in Red Hook, and New York, could hope for no more potent advocate. You can read her testimony before various governmental councils and committees here.


Mary's galley was warm, cosy and inviting, a refuge from the bitter cold outside. In spite of the weather, about 500 hardy souls showed up for the celebration.


Port Berth, just below the wheelhouse

That's Will Van Dorp, who writes about and photographs New York's harbours and waterborne community on his waterblog tugster.

We knew the party was about to break up when tug Pegasus departed with a crew of revelers who had come over from Manhatten (?).

German transplant to NYC Stefan Falke captured this stunning image of the Mary A Whalen being sandblasted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He's an (exceptional) photographer and has a weblog here.

Last Saturday I kidnapped my brother John who lives in Philadelphia and we drove to Red Hook, Brooklyn, NYC, Pier 11 at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. On a whim I'd decided to do a spur of the moment road trip to join in a celebration of a 70th. birthday. The Mary A Whalen was turning 70.  John is at present a sort of journeyman archivist and had recently surveyed the collections at the Independence Seaport Museum and was very familiar with the Mathis Shipyard of Camden, NJ, who had built the Mary A.
An interesting crowd had gathered, braving the somewhat raw weather, to join PortSide New York and celebrate this ship and more importantly, the work of founder and director of this not for profit waterfront advocacy organization, Carolina Saliguero.
Carolina is a pugnacious visionary. Or at least that's my impression based on a very brief meeting. But it seems to also be the observation of photographer Stefan Falke, who occasionally meets folks who are " following a goal with amazing determination", as he puts it. He counts Carolina as one of these.
In a way she was born to it. Her uncle is Ross Gannon, co-founder of Gannon Benjamin. Carolina has been involved with boats and the water most of her life, rowing, sailing, paddling Kayak and power boating. So she has an understanding based on experience. She's currently deeply involved in the urban planning issues facing New York City's harbors and waterfront, as well as those of NJ. I will write about those issues and the vision Carolina has for the revitalization of these waterfronts in the future, after I've had a chance to speak to her at length. For now I'd like to leave you with a proclamation read out at the ceremonies by Roberta Weisbord,  in that great gusto political convention style, for the Working Harbor Committee:

Proclamation for the Seventieth Birthday of the Mary Whalen


by the Working Harbor Committee


Whereas the Mary Whalen has worked in harbors delivering petroleum products along the coast from Maine to Maryland, including New York harbor during most of her life from 1938 to 1994; and


Whereas the Mary Whalen now looks forward to her new life supporting the educational mission of Portside New York; and


Whereas the mission of the Working Harbor Committee is to educate the public about the working harbor by direct contact with the working harbor by tours on the water and visits to classrooms, by speakers who are themselves working directly in the working harbor; and


Whereas Portside New York is today DEC 6 hosting the 70th birthday of the Mary Whalen that grand dame who spent a lifetime of working the coast and now looks forward to introducing residents of the harbor metropolitan area about the nitty gritty of how the harbor has worked and is working for the betterment of the citizens of the greater New York-New Jersey area, center of the known world;


Now therefore we of the Working Harbor Committee declare rousing good wishes and reach out to all in good fellowship for the birthday and rebirth of the Mary Whalen!

Needless to say it was a great day for John and I, PortSide NY. and the Mary A. Stay tuned as I will dig into the political and planning issues in the near future. Visit the website and Mary A Whalens weblog as well as Carolina's weblog here. You'll find rust and diamonds.

Friday, December 5, 2008

tugster, a waterblog

Kristin Poling, 1934
Mary Whalen, 1938 & June K
Onsust, 16th C. replica
Nissan Ocean Spirit, right
John B Caddell, 1941
all photographs courtesy Will Van Dorp

Will Van Dorp is a denizen of the NYC waterfront with a special passion for tugboats. He weblogs about the waterfront surrounding New york City, which he calls the sixth borough, and besides tugs he writes about and photographs all kinds of working watercraft, often with stunning portraits of the industrial maritime. Not strictly limited to these craft he also features working sail from the 19th C. and replicas of even older boats and ships, building projects and restorations. Viewing  his work one understands his interest and passion to the point of contagion. If you don't already have an interest in these vessels I challenge you to spend some time with his site and not come away with an altered viewpoint.  His blog also has a prodigious number of links to maritime sites.  The Mary Whalen (second photo from top) is celebrating her 70th tomorrow! in New York. She is the home of PortSide New York which endeavors to bring about a cross fertilization between landbased New York and the maritime community to the benefit of both. Come to the celebration, RSVP. Come smell the diesel.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


the Henry Bonneaud
the Peter P
the Paddy
Lambros L

Creed O'Hanlon has suggested I rename my weblog "Minimalist Cruising". I realize that has been my recent focus, and will remain so in the forseeable future, but I do have shifting interests and named my weblog to allow myself the freedom to go anywhere I want. To wit, I bought this book on the shrinking world of the tramp frieghter recently, at a library sale I've already mentioned. Titled simply TRAMP, it's now out of print. Published in 1986 by Chronicle Books of San Francisco, it was written by Michael Krieger with photographs by Judy Howard. It's a really beautiful book, large format and crisp photography. My scans don't really do it justice. The book documents 19 boats which are probably no longer with us. Stories, interior shots, crew photos and some documentation take it from a coffee table book to a maritime document and dramatic documentary. Well worth the $1.00 I spent. If you can find it at a used bookstore and the man wants $15.00, give it to him. Second market copies range from $35.00 to over $100. If I'm not mistaken, many of todays cruising sailors gained their sealegs on just these kind of craft. R.Knox-Johnston and Mr. O'Hanlon, himself, come to mind. These boats are certainly an endangered species and their combination of utility and a strange , industrial aesthetic, plus their rugged, ragged, decaying features make them sheer beauty in my eye.