The Arctic skin boat known to Inuitas the kayak was protected from waves, spray and the elements by a watertight, covered deck. Low and slender in shape, the speedy kayak was admirably designed for its primary function: the pursuit of sea mammals, waterfowl and caribou. These hunting boats, quiet in use, were found all over the North, as far west as Siberia, among the Chukchi and Koryak; and as far east as Greenland and Labrador, among the Inuit.
There are many types of kayak -- most are extremely lightweight and manoeuvrable, yet differing from one another in a number of details. In fact, each Inuit group in North America (with the exception of those living inland, or where the sea is rarely open), seems to have had a distinctive kind of kayak which was carefully built to meet local conditions of hunting, sea, and land or ice portaging. As a result, some types are far more seaworthy than others, and the weight of the hull varies, even within a basic design. Usually kayaks are long (varying between 3 metres and 9 metres), narrow (38 cm to 82 cm across), and low (17 cm to 39 cm).
Kayakers enter their boats along the shore, sliding down into the manhole and extending their legs beneath the deck. Inuit hunters, who usually propelled their kayaks with double-bladed paddles, sometimes wore watertight jackets that were fastened to the rim of the opening in which they sat. Fastened to the deck, under thongs stretched across it, were the hunter's weapons, including harpoon (the most important) and lance. The Inuit invented many ingenious devices for lashing weapons to their kayaks.
|Model of a Baffin Island kayak outfitted with harpoon and float for the hunting of sea mammals
In most regions the kayak was so light that a man could carry it on his head without much effort. In this way he was able to wander over the ice out to the open water or overland from fjord to fjord, often saving himself an extremely long journey. When not in use the kayaks were removed from the water and taken to the village where they were stored upside down on high racks to prevent the dogs from eating the skin covers.
Although long replaced by power craft in the subsistence economy of most Inuit and other Arctic peoples, the kayak has now been adopted for recreational use by paddlers in warmer climes.
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