A history of modern boat designs

October 3, 2006

Another part of the same source. but interesting in that both ‘paths’ have a Scottish root.

What is the history of the development of the modern kayaks?

The modern sea kayaks can trace their ancestry via two paths. The first type are those kayaks that are close copies of the Southwest Greenland kayaks.

In the summer of 1959, Ken Taylor made a private one-man expedition to Western Greenland and brought a kayak back to Scotland. This particular kayak excited special interest because it was a more moderate example of the West Greenland type.

This kayak has been copied a number of times, most noted being the kayak built by Geoff Blackford in 1971. Blackford redesigned the boat to fit his own particular dimensions, retaining the upturned stern, and ending up with a plywood model 17 ft (5.2 m) long with a 21 in. (533 mm) beam. In all other respects the craft was identical to Ken Taylor’s boat.

Blackford’s craft was used as the plug for a fiberglass mould and eventually found its way to Frank Goodman of Valley Products who went into commercial production under the name ‘Anas Acuta’.

A noted British mountaineer and exponent of outdoor education, Colin Mortlock, proposed an expedition along the Arctic fiords of Norway to Nordkapp, the northern-most cape of Europe. Mortlock and his team paddled the Anas Acuta kayaks around the Isle of Skye but believed that a new sort of boat would be needed, one that could take huge quantities of supplies without losing too much manoeuvreability and seaworthiness.

Eventually Frank Goodman came up with a kayak design, having a basis in the West Greenland kayaks, but incorporating elements of standard boat design, with a round bilge capable of the extra payload required, and the ‘Nordkapp’ was born. Many modern boats can trace their design lineage from this root.

The second line of descent for modern kayaks is that of the ‘Rob Roy’ kayaks.

The McGregor “canoe” was built in 1865 to resemble what John McGregor thought he had seen when looking at sketches of Eskimo kayaks. In shape and size it is fairly similar to a Coaster. The Kleppers were also of a similar style. Many of the kayaks designed in the Pacific Northwest of North America have their roots in this basic shape.

If the designs of the Greenland and Alaskan kayaks are studied, it is obvious that there are a wide range of designs. Each has evolved as suitable for the region that it comes from. From this one can see why some designs are popular in one region and not in another, the Nordkapp style in Britain and New Zealand and the beamier, flatter boats in northwestern North America. Even in a country as small as New Zealand there can be regional preferences, a highly rockered boat in the north and flatter, lower windage boats in the South Island, for example.

Wood and wood/fabric were common up until 1950’s when fiberglass was introduced. This was followed by plastic in 1984, the Chinook being the first of the rotomolded boats.

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