Flotsam & Jetsam Special Report [52]

Brief Past History of Some Rotationally Moulded Polymer Kayaks and Canoes

Revealed With Julian Smith

It has long been believed by experts that Rotationally Moulded Polymer Kayaks (RTMKs) first appeared during the early 17th century, made by the Inuit people of Greenland.

These were made using two huge long hollow mould stones joined together and heated in massive whale oil ovens; these moulds were rotated by hand. Huge stones believed to be these moulds can still be seen lying along the Greenland coast.

Sea kayak legend and creator of the Pittarak Larry Gray was almost killed when trapped in freezing water beneath one of these moulds when it fell from a melting iceberg during his Greenland expedition. This is thought to be where the Pittarak shape was derived from.

As whale oil became scarce both for fuel and the base for polymer the Faddor Qwarf (pronounced Feathercraft) people began using whalebone and sealskin to make kayaks.

Around a similar time in Australia the Aboriginals were moulding linear polyethylene canoes using moulds made from large Gum trees (canoe trees), which still stand today. These mould halves were bound with turtle gut and heated by burning mould over camp fires.

However, due to a lack of UV inhibitors and harsh Australian sun, these canoes perished quickly, explaining why no complete example has ever been uncovered, although several Melbourne canoe shops have things on their racks which resemble these 300 year old canoes.

Evolving later was the process based on the ancient ‘stick and goo’ technique (pronounced ‘stitch and glue’) where sheets of paperbark are formed over a mandril and stitched together with hemp (the leftover stuff you can’t smoke) and covered in goo-like substance, then covered with a rich ochre-based white pigment, some having tribal markings.

This skill is still in use today by the Anglo Saxon Robinson tribe of Mt Eliza — examples can occasionally be seen around Canadian Bay at night when they are most prevalent, however approaching them requires courage and speed as they are propelled by an imposing hooded beast said to be in excess of seven feet, often dragging large salmon on shiny lures attached to the craft by thin web-like material.

Special Note: Literature relating to this subject may be difficult to acquire.