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Jim Rutzick, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1943

I was born in 1943 and raised in St. Paul, growing up in an urban household. I played sports all of my life and continue to get a regular shift on a couple of senior men’s hockey teams. I received a BSME at the University of Minnesota in 1966 and attended graduate school at Minnesota from 1968 to 1972 where I studied heat transfer and thermodynamics. Leaving graduate school, I went to work in the family business after our two children were born. Sandy and I met in grade school and were married in 1966. We have had a wonderful life together and have two grown children. Jessica is a trial lawyer and runs a solo practice in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Aaron is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota and practices at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

I started canoeing in high school, learning outdoor skills by trial and error, mostly error. Hard lessons in the out of doors tend to stick with you as there is usually an unpleasant element involved in the event. I camped, hiked and canoed and considered myself proficient in these activities until my first trip to the Arctic. My friend and I could not have been greener. We did not have the right gear or experience and that made the trip hard but very eventful. Our subsequent trips were better organized and over time we developed a routine that made paddling in the Arctic pleasant and much more interesting. We have paddled seven Arctic rivers while on five long trips.

In 1991 my college age son suggested that “we build a canoe” which I interpreted to mean, “Dad, build me a canoe”. I was apparently not only interested but ready as I bought several books on canoe building, chose the Strippers Guide, picked a pattern and built a very pretty 18 foot tripper that has had regular use on the City Lakes and the North Woods. I liked the result but I didn’t like the mess of the fiber glass and the rather obnoxious process of sanding and fairing the epoxy. So for my next boat I chose a hard chined plywood knock-off of a Greenland kayak and built it from plans that I found in Wooden Boat magazine. That kayak still used epoxy and there was sanding and fairing to do but it was much less than the canoe. This process was more appealing so I built several more kayaks using the stitch and glue and the tortured plywood techniques which are very nicely spelled out in The Kayak Shop.

Looking for something else to build I happened upon Wolfgang Brinck’s book, The Aleutian Kayak. For those of you who have not seen this, it is a step by step explanation of how to build a replica of an Aleut skin on frame kayak. I followed his instructions and over the winter built a very nice skin-on frame kayak. I was totally enthralled with the result and have not looked back since, building numerous replicas and similes of various types and styles of skin on frame boats. These beautiful, elegant little boats that the people of the far North built and used in their pursuit of food and transportation are excellent examples of a minimalist approach to problem solving. These people had little wood and scarce raw materials and built their kayaks from scavenged and found materials, making the most of what they had available. The results are fascinating and very instructive. If the need exists, people can find solutions to complex problems using available resources. We can surely learn something from what these people accomplished.

These boats change shape from one locale to another as you travel around the north, meeting the demands and needs of the local area, the people that built them and the waters they traversed.
As I continued to build, I studied not only the kayaks themselves but the people of the North and their histories. I build one or two kayaks a winter, trying to keep in mind how these boats were built, where they were built and what they were used for. If you build one, I’m sure that you will be very pleased with the result.


 © 2009 Jim Rutzick