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Boat Building Tradition Still Strong in US Northwest

Humans have been making boats for thousands of years. Archeologists have found evidence of boat building by early human beings all over the world. They say early humans used the boats to both hunt and explore.

Some of the earliest boats have been found in the Aleutian Islands, in the northwestern United States. People who lived there long ago ate sea mammals to survive. They used a small, quick kayak to hunt the animals. Russians would later name the kayak a “baidarka.” This kind of boat is only built in the Aleutian Islands.

Corey Freedman works at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, Washington. He teaches students how to build baidarkas using methods that are respectful of the culture.

“We use very, very little materials, thus our boats are the lightest in the world.”

Students make the boats the same way boat builders made them hundreds of years ago, except they do not use animal skins. The boats are built without detailed technical plans or drawings or modern tools -- except electric-powered tools.

“They’re all done, built like sculptures, freehand. So it’s more of an art than a science.”

A student named Jim has been interested in boating for about 40 years. He puts different pieces together without using nails.

He is building his fourth kayak.

He says the people of the Aleutian Islands, called “Aleuts,” used the baidarka to hunt sea animals.

“The, the Aleuts would, would chase down seals and sea lions in this boat, so it’s a very, very fast boat. I, I’ve heard that there’s evidence that, that when the Russians showed up in the area, they found the, the natives paddling along at six, seven, eight, 10 knots (per hour) chasing, chasing seals.”

The boats are built in about nine days. Corey Freedman says the boats may look the same, but they have differences.

“And the boats are shaped actually to their personality. Sounds hokey, but if one person is more competitive than another, we’re gonna have different-shaped boats. All those things are taken advantage of.”

The students at the Center for Wooden Boats are adults. But Mr. Freedman also teaches boat building to young people in Alaska. They are from 12 to 14 years of age, and come from villages throughout the large state.

“It’s a leadership program, and the boatbuilding that we do is one facet of what they learn there. And at the end of camp, for about 10 days or two weeks, they actually go on an expedition using the boats that they built.”

Mr. Freedman says he has loved boat building since he was a child. And he loves sharing his passion with children who live in an area where the boats were first made.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Rebecca Ward reported this story from the U.S. Northwest. Christopher Cruise wrote the story in VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

archeologist – n. someone who explores past human life and activities by studying the bones and tools of ancient people

kayak – n. a long narrow boat

sculpture – n. a piece of art that is made from clay, marble, stone or metal

freehand – adj. done without special tools or instruments

nail – n. a long, thin piece of metal that is sharp at one end and flat at the other end

paddle – v. to move a boat forward through water with a long, usually wooden pole

knotn. a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per hour (one nautical mile is a unit of distance equal to 1,852 meters or 1.15 miles; this measurement is used for sea and air travel)

hokey – adj. funny; silly

facet – n. a part of something

expedition – n. a group of people who travel together, often to a distant place

Do fishermen in your country build their own small boats? If so, do they use plans or do they build the boats using their own memory and experience? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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