Umiak Stories : email@example.com
This was told to me by a woman who taught in a remote Alaskan village in the 1950's. She went off on a week-long berry picking- fishing trip with an umiak-full of eskimo women one fall. When one woman wanted to talk to another, she would get up, and walk along the gunwale until she reached her friend's place, where she would sit down for a visit. Each time this happened the boat would heel wildly to one side or another, although no one seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The teacher said it took a while before she actually believed they wouldn't capsize outright. She even tried the gunwale walking out for herself after a while.
One morning they woke up and there was a skim of ice on the river they had paddled up. In a great bustle camp was abandoned that day, for if winter was setting in, it would be fatal to be snowed or iced in at the remote lake. Two men that travelled with them had to hold something ( their arms or sticks) in the water just ahead of the bow to break up the skim ice, which would otherwise cut the skin. It was a long, painful day.
When they arrived back at their home village, a thaw set in, and the skim ice melted.The suffering and caution of the day before became a source of vast amusment - but no one doubted the imperative survival wisdom that lay behind it.
I heard this story third or fourth-hand ( which virtually guarantees accuracy ) from some friends who were up on St. Paul island, in the Pribiloffs, working in the Aleut community there. Lack of a natural harbor made it necessary to lighter off all cargoes coming on the island, and all the skins and goods going off. For years the skin umiaks called Baidars were used. Some of these boats were 40 feet in length. One time, a mid-sized school bus was delivered. The People lashed a pair of baidars together as a catamaran, the load was winched down onto timbers layed across the gunwales, and the bus was safely brought ashore. Details about the actual disembarking procedure are lacking. In more recent times wooden dories did the lightering, and then a harbor was blasted into the rock. But Marc Daniels says that interest in restoring some old baidars, and in building new ones is in the air...
There is this guy who has a habit that drives his wife crazy. He picks up clothes that he finds disgarded in the street. You know, to wear. One time, in Santa Cruz he finds a tee shirt, on top of a garbage can.
It features a design of an umiak in the icefloes, with the words"Point Barrow Whalers", in a circle around it. This is among his most bizzare and valuable finds.
I was under my 13' mini umiak, like a turtle in a shell, threading skin lacings when he wandered down my driveway with a 12 foot wood and canvas canoe on his car top, in search of "they guy who builds boats". Almost before we exchange names, the little umi has drawn the shirt-find story out of him.
This story may suffer from a lack of drama, but there are webs of connection here that defy analysis. They deserve attention anyway... .
Oh yeah, he always washes these clothes before he wears them. His wife would prefer a much stronger form of exorcism, say fire or smudging. As it is, it's down to the corner laundromat for the first run-through...
In June of 1787, on an extremely clear day, a man on the high cliffs
Both from Slaves of the Harvest
Published on St. Paul Island
In part by the Tanadgusix Corp and
Pribilof Islands School District
...When the harp seal appeared at the end of May or beginning of June, it was time to head for Sydost Bay...
“People had gathered at Sydost Bay long before the Danish Colonization. Many came from wither settlerments along the southern part of Disko Bay and Kangaatsiaq areas...the harp seal and ammassat (capelin )drew them. The hunting area itself covered 40x35 km with Tussaaq Island at its center. In the high season it was teeming with people and umiaks.
Once, they say, when many people had gathered at the mouth of the fiord, someone got the idea of lining up the umiaks in a row, horn to horn, to see how far they would reach. The umiak chain stretched over the entire 3-km-long mouth of the fiord.
...At the end of August the family prepared for another hunting trip to Qallu.
The umiak sailed along the coast, towing the kayak behind it.L
When they approached the north coast of the headland Angunnaguaq took
his binnoculars out."Yes, there they are, on the mountain looking down on us
. One, two, three... they are all there." They sailed on. At the next place,where
the dogs were expected to sit and wait, Angunnaguaq would tie the dogs to
the umiak if the weather was good and the sea calm
He left the steering oar to another and sat at the next to front thwart with a line
for the dog traces tied loosely around the thwart. He gave the signal and the
dogs pulled away along the the flat sand beach. He made sure the steersman
maintained the proper distance from the shore. He watched for rocks and checked
that the dogs did not run too far inland. When he met an obstacle he would immediatly
loosen the line and steer the boat around it. The dogs were happy, the boat shot
along at a good pace, and the water foamed at the bow. Everyone enjoyed the trip.
Both stories from Skin Boats of Greenland
by H.C. Petersen
In their woman-boats, the Greenlanders used to move from one hunting
ground to another all through the summer. For one or two
months they always went far up the fiords in search of reindeer, and there
they lived on the fat of the land.
From Watkins last Expedition
by Spencer F. Chapman