The first boat I built was a kayak that I designed after looking at the drawings of Arctic kayaks in The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. The kayak got me afloat, but more importantly, taught me how little I knew about boats. The unremarkable appearance, construction, and performance of my kayak set me on a path to see what traditional boats could teach me. Those with a long history, refined by generations of watermen whose livelihoods and very lives depended upon them, interested me most.Greenland kayaks taught me about the seakeeping abilities of slender, low-profile hulls. They might make for a wet ride but they were hardly bothered by high winds. On stormy days when I saw no other boats venturing out on Puget Sound, I could paddle with confidence through steep breaking waves and stinging spray. My baidarkas, both single and double, showed me how a flexible hull can maintain speed in rough water by yielding to waves. The ancient design of a Gokstad faering proved that a hull formed by only three strakes could be so sleek in the water that its wake could be almost invisible in water scuffed by a light breeze. My sprit-rigged sneakbox may have been designed for waterfowling, but showed it could jump on plane and fly.I pushed those boats and others hard to see what they could do, and at the same time I was discovering what I was capable of. They helped me come to terms with self-doubt, fear, discomfort, and, on the long cruises, even loneliness.

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