May 28, 1998
University Gazette


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Building a Baidarka at Weld Boathouse

A baidarka is a traditional Aleutian kayak thousands of years old in design. The unusual features of the boat, which appear fanciful on first inspection, are actually highly sophisticated ways of providing speed, stability, and durability in an ocean environment.

Dan Boyne, director of recreational rowing at Harvard, built this single-person baidarka in his spare time: carving, lashing, and steambending all the pieces of wood in the frame. The shaping of the frame is critical, and greatly determines how the boat will perform.

Once the frame of the boat is completed, it is covered with a woven nylon material cut to size and hand-sewn into place. The fabric, or "skin," is then coated with a waterproof sealant, which also makes the outer hull suprisingly strong.

Despite being handcrafted, baidarkas are remarkably light and fast, and can match speeds with any manufactured, synthetic boat. Boyne helped paddle a double baidarka to victory in a local 20-mile race last summer.


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College