When we first heard from Richard Nissen, in June 2017, he shared one of the boats he had built and added to his small fleet at his home west of London on the River Thames. It was a s’ciopon, a Venetian boat rowed standing up and facing forward. With his newest boat, he’s still facing forward, but he’s taken a seat. It’s a skin-on-frame kayak, built to the plans and instructions in George Putz’s 1990 book, Wood and Canvas Kayak Building. Putz took his inspiration from a how-to article by about the Walrus kayak by Norman Skene in the June 1923 issue of the now defunct magazine, The Rudder. And Skene took his inspiration from a Southwest Greenland kayak he measured in 1921 in the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Howard Chapelle drew the lines for that kayak and included it in his chapter of Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

Richard Nissen

The frame's many elements are screwed and glued together. When it was finished, Richard had to decide what to skin it with.

The kayak has undergone quite a few changes from its origin as a sealskin-covered driftwood frame to Skene’s adaptation. To simplify construction for readers of The Rudder, Skene did away with steam-bent frames and lashings and switched to a frame made of sawn pieces, glued and screwed together. He felt at liberty to assume that his readers had tools and woodworking experience; his article occupied two-and-a-half pages of the magazine. Putz, publishing in 1990, took 124 pages to coach readers through the build.

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