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Monday, April 18, 2011

Greenland Umiak, Part II: Construction


Umiak from the Nuuk area in west Greenland. Drawing by M. Gothche. From Skinboats of Greenland, H.C. Petersen. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Continuing our earlier discussion of the Greeland umiak, the frame was built entirely of driftwood (until sawn lumber became available after European colonization), and mostly lashed together with strips of sealskin. As described by H.C. Petersen in Skinboats of Greenland (Ships and Boats of the North) , the bottom consisted of a keel and two chine stringers, connected by several floor timbers or "bottom ribs," The bottom ends of the side ribs did not match up with the floor timbers; rather, they were fastened to the chine stringers between the floors.

In addition to the three bottom longitudinals there were three longitudinal members on each side. Working from the top down, these were: the sheer stringer or gunwale, the inner stringer, and the (outer) side stringer. The gunwale was round and let into semicircular notches at the top of the side ribs. The side stringers were sized and placed so as to force the skin away from the side ribs, so that it contacted the framework along the sides only along the gunwale, the side stringer, and the chine stringer. This accomplished two functions: it made for a smoother, quieter hull, without indentations in the cover between every rib; and it minimized the surface area of skin in contact with the framework. This latter was important to aid in drying the cover and thus preventing rot.

The inner stringer supported the thwarts and provided a lashing point for the cover. The cover was stretched around the boat's bottom, around the chine stringers, and up over both gunwales. Holes were pierced in the edges of the skin, and continuous sealskin strips were led from the inner stringer, through a hole in the skins and back down to the stringer, over and over again, to stretch the skin tight. The gunwale was rounded to ease the stretching of the skin over and around the sheer.

Atop the stem and sternpost was a headboard, a small, trapezoidal platform angled slightly down inboard to match the sheerline. The gunwale ends were lashed to the sides of the headboards. In some instances, the gunwales would extend past the headboards, forming "horns" that served as handles. On other umiaks, the gunwales ended on the headboards, and horns were lashed on separately. This was especially the case where the horns were to be bent in at the ends toward each other to form a closed loop, as shown at the bow (right) of the image at the top. 

The stems were tenoned into square mortises in the headboards. In east Greenland, the inner stringers were sometimes mortised partway into the side ribs, and occasionally the ribs were pierced entirely so that the inner stringers passed through rectangular holes in the side ribs. (This would have required considerably more labor but produced a much more rigid structure.) Neither of these practices were followed in west Greenland, where the inner stringers were always placed flat on the inboard surface of the side ribs.

Another factor distinguishing west Greenland umiaks (above) from east Greenland umiaks (below) is flare, the western variety being considerably more straight-sided. Note also the conventional curved sheer of the western example, compared to the slight reverse curve of the eastern boat's sheerline.
East Greenland umiak, by A. Saelen, from Petersen. Note the hooked scarf in the keel, the substantial flare amidships, and the reverse curve of the sheer.

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