I've started working towards a goal I've had ever since reading George Dyson's 1992 Scientific American article on the Aleut Baidarka. I've been building and paddling strip built kayaks for ten years now--it's time to build a skin boat.
Here's where I am as a paddler. I launch about once a week, more now that I'm on summer break, paddling the Santa Monica Bay. Conditions are usually quite calm--this ain't the Bering Sea. My current 'yak is a Guillemot Mystery with a modified deck. This is a very narrow racing kayak, 20 feet long about 18" beam, Swede form design.
I thought that the calm conditions of the Santa Monica Bay and my general courses being straight lines for long distances that I'd quickly get used to the minimal stability. This wasn't the case. Another critical factor, is I paddle solo. Last summer I had two incidents serious enough to cause me to carefully consider what changes I needed to make before heading back out to sea. I added outriggers. Looks terrible, works great.
Even before I added the outriggers I don't think I gained any significant speed (over distance) than I was getting with the 17'6" (23" beam) Great Auk design. The Great Auk is a pretty fast kayak for it's dimensions, over the years, when I had a GPS, I clocked a consistent 4.3 knots. Not doing much better with the Mystery hull is probably more about my paddling than it is about the hull. With the outriggers I'm a bit low in the stern--which is a factor. I think I have a strong consistent stroke--but I'm an old man...so....
Which leads me to building an Aleut Iqyax. I'm after speed. I'd like to learn more about how the Aleuts were so frequently observed, by reliable and trained observers (Captain Cook's navigator) at 10+ knots. These are Olympic 1000 and 2000 meter paddling speeds.
For me two issues immediately are raised. First, I wasn't able to get a racing kayak up to any significant speed, and second, I'm not good in a narrow hull. Do I build a wide Baidarka? I'm not after faking it. I don't want to build something that looks like an Iqyax, I want to build an Iqyax as close to those historically fast 'yaks as I can.
Of course I'll test what I build as built. I won't go too far out to sea.
But I'm also building a craft I can use ever week hammering out a 3 hour run. Unless the Iqyax is somehow significantly more stable than the Mystery, I'll have to (again) carefully consider stability and safety.
I intend to use a traditional paddle, wood with some buoyancy in the blades. This will help. I intend to try a very long paddle. This should give me more stability and better bracing.
But I intend to once again use outriggers. Ideally a single outrigger like a Polynesian canoe. I just don't think I know enough to be able to hang a couple of pounds off one side.
My current outriggers are supported by ~8' aluminum poles, so removing one side wouldn't be easy. Also the large turning radius of a 20' hull with no rocker is an issue.
For the Iqyax I'll need to make very lightweight outriggers, and I want to make them independently deployable, and adjustable. They will swing down, being adjustable to three positions. 1. high up, to clear the launching dock. 2. All the way down, so they just touch the water (the standard outrigger mode) and 3. just above the water, so they are more like secondary stability. In this third position I'm hoping to have the safety margin and the stability, but also be able to improve my balance through practice. If I'm balanced, the outrigger amas won't be touching the water.
After paddling for many months with the outriggers I think there's a place for them on kayaks. They add a significant safety margin. I see the day when lightweight easily deployable outriggers are an option for all kayaks. Right now with the exception of Polynesian outrigger designs, outriggers are clunky stuff, not very practical.
So what Iqyax do I want to make? Anyone who knows about this subject can probably already guess. Two basic choices, (I've already said I go solo) are the upturned bifid bow design in Wolfgang Brinck's book and courses, and the MAE 593 design that has the straight bifid bow--the seaweed catcher. It's this design I want to build.
First, I think it is closer to the Iqyaxs of legend. The Russians when they invaded the Aleutians banned the super fast kayak designs. As far as I know there are no extent examples of these super fast designs. Historians and historical engineers (us), can only extrapolate backwards, squint at drawings and read and re-read accounts of these craft.
My current thinking about Iqyax design:
1. I'm bigger than they were. I'm 5'8 and 177 pounds. I might not be taller, but I'm a lot heavier. I think the Robert Morris modified design of MAE 593 (it's longer 19'3" and slightly wider by about 5%)
2. What I understand of the flexibility is this: I think the two parts of the bifid bow could slide past each other to some degree. This may also be true at the stern. The keelson is in three parts. I think they 'hinge' at the two curved joints-but otherwise their height makes them rigid.
I think the long deck beams flexed a bit. I think the lashings on the two bow parts and possibly the stern plate are meant to be parallel so the two bow plates can slide little. The stern plate would slide against the keelson. The ribs might slide against the keelson--but I don't know enough to even speculate on this. The side to side flexibility indicated by the bow and aft cross pieces, I also don't know enough about.
I'm going to try to build it so the bow and stern can move up and down a bit, but the other movements I don't know enough to attempt anything.
(I feel confident about the two bow pieces. I think the best argument is that if these didn't move, then there's no reason not to have stitched through the gap instead of all the extra sewing required by the gap.)
3. I'm building it cheap. #3 pine. In some of the instructions for constructing a baidarka, it says to try to get the angles right, but they might not quite work. It also recommends using clear lumber so the flex and curves will match side to side. I'm an old carpenter, I know that most 2x4s aren't perfectly straight, but that the wall will be. So far what I've done proves this to be a reasonable assumption. The Aleuts didn't have lumberyards or table saws, they had to split their gunwales out of logs. Splitting and knots are incompatible. With a table saw knots aren't an issue.
4. My basic premise is that if I can build a very light, very narrow, very shallow iqyax, make an adjustable length paddle that can be from 6' to 14' long, that testing it using a gps, in the same water/wind (basically stay inside the seawall) I should be able to get some numbers indicating which paddle length, technique is close to what the Aleuts once did.