A Scottish invention

June 28, 2006

I was reading about the sport of sea kayaking, its history and heritage and wondering about why Scots weren’t involved. The Scots of the 18th and 19th Centuries were ‘involved’ in almost every developing science, technology, sport, literature and event of the times. (Read this book which cronicles the Scots’ inventive history).

But so far no trace of the Scots. An Inuit or Eskimo invention, perfected in Greenland, observed by some Englishmen and Danes, studied by an Austrian and a few Germans…

Then I stumbled upon John MacGregor in the list of top 10 sea kayak expeditions in Paddler magazine.

“John MacGregor’s Rob Roy Expeditions, 1860s

While John MacGregor is also claimed by the canoe crowd, he was the first to take the traditional form of a native kayak and turn it into a recreation tool. And while MacGregor navigated his famed craft Rob Roy down rivers and open waters alike, the boat’s form influenced modern sea kayaks and their use as a recreational craft.

MacGregor made several journeys in his custom-built, cedar-and-oak kayaks in the 1860s. In 1865 he began by paddling down the Thames, ferrying across the English Channel, and then paddling the rivers and lakes of Europe. In 1868 one of his most famous expeditions took him through the Middle East. Despite several modifications to his boat’s design, such as sail riggings and a canopy that opened to a mosquito net-covered sleeping bay, the Rob Roy bore measurements common to modern-day sea kayaks: 15 feet long, 28 inches wide, nine inches deep, and 80 pounds in weight. MacGregor was a hundred years ahead of his time… were it not for MacGregor and his Rob Roy, it might not have occurred to anyone to pick up traditionally structured boats and paddle them for fun.”

I knew it, there had to be a Scot in there somewhere! And so now I rightfully claim the sport of modern sea kayaking, and canoeing it seems, as A Scottish invention! (Tenuous? You should see our other claims!)

In 1866 his best-selling book ‘A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on Rivers and Lakes of Europe’ popularised the sport. You can read more about him here.

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