Wooden Boat Festival features ‘Year of the Kayak”

Last Saturday for Tamamta Katurlluta, the gathering of Alaska Native traditions, a small fleet of skin-on-frame kayaks and one big umiak landed at the Pier One Theatre beach on the Homer Spit (see photo, page 1). Traditional Native boats return again this weekend for the 21st annual Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Festival as it celebrates “The Year of the Kayak.”

That’s not coincidental. With Tamamta Katurlluta held this year, Wooden Boat Festival organizers decided it was time to focus on kayaks.

“We’d been wanting to do it, wanting to honor the Native tradition around here,” said Lindianne Sarno, one of the festival organizers.

Starting today at 7 p.m. at the Salty Dawg with the popular “Sea Chanteys, Tall Tales and Fisher Poets,” the heart of the festival is two days of boat building, craft demonstrations, boat displays and boat rowing on Saturday and Sunday in the Pier One Theatre lot on the Homer Spit. 

“If you’ve made a boat, bring it down. Talk to people about it,” Sarno said. “The whole idea is the process of boat building and meeting with other boat builders and talking to people about it.”

Kevin Dee of Ageya Wilderness Experience, an outdoor education school at the top of East Hill Road, will display some of the skin boats he and students have built, including the umiak  seen last weekend.

Master kayak builder and instructor, Corey Freedman of the Skin Boat School, Anacortes, Wash., also attends the festival. Freedman is the guest speaker at 7 p.m. Friday for the High Seas Movie Night at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

“Corey is probably the guy who built the most skin boats on the planet right now,” Dee said.

That night also will honor the late Norm Griffin, one of Homer’s renowned boat builders who died this year, and George Hamm, now 75, designer of the famed Hamm hull K-Bay boats.

At 6 p.m. Saturday is a live auction and fundraiser for the wooden boat society, followed at 8:30 p.m. with dancing and music by the Blues Trollers, all at Alice’s Champagne Palace.

Dee has been building traditional skin-on-frame kayaks since 1991 as well as umiaks and baidarkas. Umiaks, the boats traditionally used by Inupiaq whalers, are the large, open skin boats. Baidarkas are the two- and three-hole traveling kayaks. Dee will have all three styles of skin boat on hand at the wooden boat festival.

Through Ageya, Dee has been teaching middle school age students to build Greenland-style kayaks, with Freedman visiting occasionally to instruct.

“All our boats are built by 8th graders,” Dee said.

The skin-on-frame kayaks have their heritage in the Aleut and Inuit wooden-frame boats dating back 10,000 years. Ancient kayaks would been built of wood pegged and tied with spruce root, with seal or walrus skins stretched over them. Modern kayaks are tied together with cord with ballistic nylon stretched over it. Traditional kayaks were built around the boat’s owner, Dee said.

“Skin boats are so much a part of you,” he said of the ancient kayakers. “When you died, they basically burned your kayak. It was such a part of you.”

The wooden boat society is making a transition this year, with founding members like Dave Seaman stepping aside to encourage new leadership.

“We’re looking for the next generation of leaders as boat builder types, people who actually build boats, to get involved — charting the course of the wooden boat society in the future,” Sarno said.

Anyone with an interest in wooden boats can join the society. Membership is $10 a year or $25 a family. The wooden boat society has been seeking a permanent home on the Spit and has put forth a proposal to the city of Homer to lease a 100-foot-by-100-foot space on the Pier One Theatre lot. After the festival, the wooden boat society will have a downtown presence in a Pioneer Avenue building Sarno is renting for her music studio.

“We hope at some point we’ll have our space on the Spit,” she said. “Until we do, we can’t hold off having our headquarters anymore.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.


Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society

21st annual festival 

“Year of the Kayak”

WHEN: Sept. 5-8

WHERE: Homer Spit


7 p.m.: Sea Chanteys, Tall Tales and Fisher Poets, Salty Dawg


7 p.m.: High Seas Movie Night, Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor Center; Corey Freedman, Skin Boat School, guest speaker; $5 admission


10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Wooden Boat Festival, Pier One Theatre lot, Homer Spit. Boat rides, children’s boat building, wooden boats, kayaks and demonstrations

6 p.m.: Auction fundraiser, Alice’s Champagne Palace;
live auction at 7 p.m.; Blues Trollers at 8:30 p.m.; $5 admission


10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Wooden Boat Festival, Pier One Theatre lot, Homer Spit.


More info:

Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society, kbwbs.org

Skin Boat School, skinboats.org