New Directions for ancient boats


Skin boats are funny beasts, they have one foot firmly planted in the past, but the other is stepping right into the future. Long lasting skins and coatings have made modern skin boats as practical as any other type of construction. They are thought to be fragile and flimsy by much of the public, but in fact, they are incredibly resilient, strong and durable. As boat grade lumber becomes expensively endangered, skin boats make more and more sense.


Umiaks are proabaly the most versatile and adaptive of all the skin boat forms. Their load carrying capacity and toughness is legendary, and moving groups of people, small and large, is what they were created for. They offer incredible promise as working and recreational smallcraft, in the same way that 'longshore boats from the European and American tradtions do. And the best way to fufill this potential is to combine both these skin and wood boat tradtions.

New wine, Old bottle

Although we are accustomed to thinking about skin boats in only their traditional form of kayaq or umiaq, the fact is you can build skin in just about any hull form you want, so long as it doesn't involve hollow waterlines. These are a little tricky with skin, because cloth in tension doesn't want to lie in concavities. But for any number of dories, skiffs and round-bottomed hulls, skin construction is well suited.

You can't do that !

Some people think this isn't a good idea, mostly for two reasons:

Any other objections?

Or can you ?

Well, in the first place it depends on whose tradition you are talking about. And what tradtions you are taking on. As a boatbuilder, I like to think that all the traditions of the maritime world are available for me to browse upon, as I see fit.

As to the second objection, there are two points. First, flexibility is part of the umiak heritage, but so are nails, bolts and the like, with all they imply. I'm afraid the worm has been in the apple for a while already, and umi's haven't been really clear about their nature since the white brothers first came upon the scene. Second remove some of the historical constraints such as the need to be beached, or to travel in ice, and new variants are bound to appear.

Why not a keel and a bigger rig? Power? Considering the wholesale love affair with internal combustion by all cultures, the idea of an inboard powered umiak is really more inevitable than it is strange.

By now the idea was throughly out of hand...More detail <