About twenty years ago, I was living in Portland, Oregon, attending college (for the third time) to earn a degree in architecture. Someone told me I should grow up and have a career. Having tried this path before, I knew the lure of building and adventuring in boats was my true love and would be difficult to abandon.
So, I was thrilled one night, at dinner with a friend, to be asked to build a lapstake tender for his old catboat. Since moving to the Portland area, I had not built any boats, so when it came time to make a mast and sprit, a search was on for some adequate spruce lumber. I stopped into Cross-Cut, the local specialty wood warehouse and immediately fell into conversation with a young salesman named Harvey who was even more excited about my project than I was.
It turned out, the warehouse, which sold every type of wood imaginable, had an empty storage loft upstairs. Harvey was teaching himself to build kayaks up there. I didn't know then and perhaps he didn't either, that he would pursue his hobby with a passion until he became the world's preeminent expert on arctic kayaks. Over the years, his friends have watched in wonder as he filled his home (in a re-purposed neighborhood store) with authentic kayak replicas. It was a museum in the making, with boats in every corner and hanging from the ceiling, nearly forcing the family out on the street.
Well, Harvey has now opened a true museum a few blocks from his home, in yet another old store. Yesterday afternoon, I joined my friends, the Coots, for an organized visit. Oh, my! It was a wonder of the world!
I couldn't begin to describe it here. If you are anywhere near Portland, OR, you must visit. Harvey is a quiet, unassuming, walking encyclopedia of ancient traditional boatbuilding methods. He built most of his replicas himself (70 or 80? we're not sure), true in every detail, with contextual adjustments made when substituting synthetic materials for animal hides. He has made every effort to make these replicas appear and most importantly, perform like the originals. He has tested each design, in personal voyages of discovery.
Harvey is also aesthetical:
" In a more abstract sense, kayak replicas have a great appeal to my imagination and intellect. Their forms and construct inspire awe and genuine wonderment--especially when one considers the harsh context of their origin, and the phenomenal diversity of their forms. Launching a replica kayak is much like stepping into a time machine: It drops you into a different time, culture, and experience as you leave the shore-- you realize that the original kayak, now gathering dust in the backrooms of some museum, once gave somebody much the same feel on the water that you are now experiencing."
I encourage you to contact Harvey on his museum website. The history and construction methods, with photos, of all known arctic kayaks can be found there. He has also written a book with descriptions of each type, augmented with detailed line drawings.
He's about to publish another and we're looking forward to that.
His collection is the largest and most diverse of traditional kayak forms in the world, representing the Koryak, Chukchi, Unangan (Aleut), Yup'ik, plus Inupiaq/Inuit and Kalaallit (Greenland) cultures.
The lighting in the museum was a challenge, but I got a few decent photos, which I've uploaded to the Doryman Flickr site, with descriptions (as best I could from a short visit). Needless to say, I will be going back.
Here's the slideshow: