Home | Traditional Kayaks | Nansen's Kayak
a crude drawing of Nansen's kayak. I used a better drawing from Sea Kayaker
Magazine to replicate Johansen's kayak which was somewhat deeper and higher
volume. The bamboo is rock hard and splits and splinters. The bamboo that I
used is bone dry, but I would guess that the bamboo that Nansen used was
also bone dry from the low humidity of the arctic cold. I used similar lashing
techniques as they did and generally followed their plan form. The
frame turned out remarkably symmetrical and pleasing to look at.
This was the plan
from Sea Kayaker Magazine that I used to build the Johansen replica. The
dimensional estimates. The bamboo grew and shrank though the frame building,
but the over-
are pretty close, within an inch or less overall.
Nansen used bamboo of several different diameters, I used bamboo of
and inch to and inch as it was readily available at a garden center
near me. The bamboo proved to
be a challenge to work with as it split and twisted when bent to
shape. I eventually learned a few
techniques to deal with it's idiosyncrasies.
I bent the
gunnels, which were the largest diameter pieces that I had, by tying them
and inserting a
spreader to get the desired dimension at the cockpit area.
I then went fore
and aft with the deck beams. I carved the forward slightly raised deck beam
a 2X4. That and
the bow and stern piece are the only material other than bamboo used in the
That is confirmed
by several people that have viewed the original frames. In order to
joints, I drilled
a hole in the deck beams and the frames as Nansen and his associates did,
lashed them up. I
also relieved the ends of the lashed pieces in a curve that fit the gunnels
or the chine.
That kept the
lashed piece in place and helped make a secure joint.
I lashed and
relashed the bow and stern post several times. The gunnel material twisted
as it was drawn together
and made the bow and stern joints a project to get right and secure. Once I
had them in place, I
lashed up the keelson and aligned it with a couple of small cords.
The hardest part
of the project was installing the chines. I started with two pieces of
bamboo that were about six
inches longer than the bow and stern post. I loosely lashed them
together at the two ends and secured
them to the bow and stern posts at the correct location from the gunnels. I then inserted a
spreader at the cockpit area and temporarily tied them in place. Starting at
the middle, I worked forward and aft,
installing the frames. It was very wobbly at first, but as I got more frames installed, I was able to get
more of the desired shape. When I had the middle four frames installed, I
lashed the bow and stern
securely. After doing that, the shape came easier and by the time I had the
last frames installed, I was
able to bend and push the frame to get a nice overall symmetrical
It was easier to
lash the frames if they didn't meet the deck beams, but I laid it out as in
the drawings. Some of them met
and some didn't. You can see the holes that were drilled to get the lashings
to work. They made a surprisingly strong joint.
finished frame. Only a few frames left to install.
The finished frame without the cockpit. For all of the difficulty
working with the
bamboo, it came out pretty good.
Another view of the finished frame. It's very light and seems fairly stable.
The next step is to steam bend the coaming. Then it's ready to be covered.
Here is a good look at the lashings. They made remarkably strong joints.
Nansen's lasted two long hard years.
I made a form out of glued up 2x6's to steam bend the
This is the coaming before being glued together.
finished kayak. Nansen covered theirs with sail cloth and water proofed the
paint and whatever
else they had. I used cotton duck and sealed it with varnish. Close enough.
Another view of
Johansen's kayak showing the cargo hatches which I sewed into the deck.
One more of the
same. The cargo hatches were round with a cloth sleeve sewn onto the deck
These could be
rolled up and secured after loading and would provide some protection from
elements. I doubt
that these were used in any kind of big water and probably didn't have to be
Here is a better
view of the cockpit and the aft cargo hatches.
The vee is not as
pronounced as it appears here, although the kayak ended up an inch deeper
chine to keelson
than the drawing. The bamboo kind of went where it wanted sometimes and it
continued to move
around after it was completed. I suspect that it has to be loaded with a
amount of gear to
be comfortable on the water. When the ice goes out here, I'll give it a try.
Johansen carried everything they had in their kayaks. Johansen made his with
Vee than Nansen to
carry more gear. I ballasted the replica of Johansen's kayak with eight
of water and
two tents. Not much compared to what they had but it totaled about eighty
I had an old bear
skin in the attic and for a little authentic touch, brought it to the lake
and sat on it.
It worked great! I
know the boys sat on their furs.
the kayak would just roll over, but once it was loaded, it was stable. There
loading hatches sewn into the deck. The ones in the bow were about a foot
The stern hatch
was the first one that I sewed in and it got too small. The hatches worked
well in loading
the gear in the kayak and would have made it easy to fill it up.
Once loaded and
seated on my plush bear skin, the paddling was easy and comfortable. Even
the ballast and
the paddler in place, it looks like there was a foot of freeboard. I'd guess
little kayak could
float another two hundred pounds of gear.
Another view of me
and the war club paddle. I used that paddle because it was big and long. The
kayak is very
beamy and you need a big paddle to reach the water. It it sat lower, it
would be easier
to paddle. The
paddle is a replica of the one that goes with the Lowie Baidarka.
Another view on
the water. The kayak was very stable. It was like sitting in an easy chair.
that the boys used
a single blade paddle at times. I know that they rafted their kayaks
and did as much
sailing as possible.
The kayak was as
slow as it was stable. It was like paddling a bale of hay around the lake.
straight and was not affected by the wind, but it was slow hard work to get
it to go anywhere.
All in all, a huge
success. These kayaks were built to be durable, heavy haulers. The boys knew
they were doing.
If you wanted something that would carry all your gear, your furs and ammo,
butchered seal or
walrus and work in the ice pack or the open ocean, this fit the bill. Nice
This is a picture
from the Fram Museum showing Nansen and Johansen somewhere near the edge
of the ice. Who
took the picture and where it was taken is not known to me. Perhaps this was
when they got to
Franz Joseph Land and a ride home. That's a lot of gear on the deck.
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