KAYAK HUNTING IN ILLORSUIT
The Kayak Race in the Village Bay
Chapter One Life in Illorsuit; Chapter Two Subsistence activities; Chapter Three Ikerasak Village and Uummannaq Town; Chapter Four Building the Kayaks; Chapter Five Variations in Kayak Design; Chapter Six: Skinning the Kayaks; Chapter Seven The Hunting Equipment; Chapter Eight The Hunting Trip to Umiamako; Chapter Nine The Kayak Race in the Village Bay; Chapter Ten The Rolling Competition; Chapter Eleven Re-encounters with the Kayak
Ken Taylor / Cameron
May 23, 2015, revised June 27, 2018
One of the several things Drever did to boost the prestige of kayaking in Illorsuit was to establish an annual kayak race to be held in the village bay together with a kayak rolling competition. He set this up in 1957 and donated a trophy on which the winners’ names would be engraved, year by year. He charged me with organizing this double event in 1959. I was more than happy to do so and several of the hunters were also keen on the idea though with the weather as cold as it then was (it was October 14th), few of the men were interested in any kayak rolling. In fact, Ludwig had reminded me of it all back when we were checking out his kayak for me to borrow (back in early September), showing me the hurricane lantern which had been his prize for winning the race in 1957.
So — The Race
The men who wanted to race had chosen an ice floe some good distance offshore and to the north as the “buoy” they would kayak to, turn around, and then return to the starting place. They had also decided, or perhaps Drever had worked this out with them, to use their kayaks with full hunting gear (except for their guns, of course) in place.
Hansi and Enoch ready and waiting
Hendrik, Hansi, Enoch behind, Ludwig and Edvard now ready
The same five, getting impatient by the looks of things.
And here you see what was for me perhaps the most interesting thing about the race that day. Here is Karl Ottosen, the man with “kayak angst” who could no longer kayak, being launched to join the others and take part in the race! He’s the man who offered to sell me his no longer of any use to him kayak when I first arrived. Evidently his was a case where the presence of other kayakers nearby protected him from an attack of the kayak angst.
You can see that he has the skeg already in place on his kayak and that’s why he needs to be “launched” in this way.
Karl, on the extreme right, with three of the others now ready to start.
All nine competitors lined up ready to start. Closest to the camera is either Jonathan or Jacob, then Algot, Enoch, Karl, Hansi, Hendrik, Jacob or Jonathan, Edvard, and Ludwig.
And they’re off!
On their way back. Some of them went all the way around the “buoy,” others just waited for the leaders and joined them as they came around!
And the winners arrive. Ludwig first, just as in 1957, Enoch second and Hendrik third. And the sun came out!
Hendrik Korneliussen fooling around. Interesting to see how Edvard’s steadying himself with his paddle across Ludwig’s kayak. And, by the way, another opportunity to see the hull of a kayak — Hendrik’s is definitely “multi-chine.”
Back to the winners — Ludwig chose a clock as first prize, an alarm clock from Copenhagen; Enoch a model schooner for his little son Valdimar as second; and Hendrik a cooking pot as third prize.
I confess that I did wonder for a while if the others had held back and allowed Ludwig, the village “headman,” to win. Not a bit of it! Speaking of Drever’s 1967 expedition to Illorsuit, Chris Hare (an English kayaker who had been on Drever’s 1966 expedition) tells of a much more ambitious kayak race that Drever arranged. This one was from Uummannaq to Illorsuit, a distance of 55 miles. Eight different kayakers took part, from all over the district, and the winner was — Ludwig Quist! And he did so in just 12 hours — 4.5 mph on average for 12 hours of paddling. Chris’ account was published in the Winter 1967 issue of American White Water, vol. XIII/3, pages 4-5, reprinted from Canoeing (England).
Ludwig Quist, winner of the 1967 Uummannaq to Illorsuit race.
The trophy that Drever gave to the village for the winner of the Uummannaq to Illorsuit race.
On 11/2/2014, Martin Nissen posted on the QajaqUSA forum website this photograph of a kayaker who had, obviously, just won a race. Carrying the winner of a race in this way, still seated in his or her kayak, is (so far as I know) a relatively recent tradition which is now used at the annual Qaannat Kattuffiat competitions. Nissen tells how the photo, taken by Drever, is from 1974 and had been sent by Drever to H. C. Petersen. The scene is apparently in Illorsuit though it seems not to be known whether this was a local (village bay) race or another Uummannaq to Illorsuit race.
photo: H. I. Drever
Drever was in Greenland again in the summer of 1975 — “to further his aim of a ‘Transcultural Centre’ [in] discussions he had arranged with Danes, Canadians and Greenlanders [which, unfortunately] were hampered by illness and other mishaps …” After a short illness he died in October 1975. (E.K.W. St. Andrews University Alumnus Chronicle, June 1976, No.67, page 53).
In 1978, Philip Gribbon of the Physics Department of the University of St Andrews published some information on the possible future of this Uummannaq to Illorsuit race in the Polar Record (volume 19, issue 118, pages 55-56). He speaks of “The Harald Drever Memorial Project, 1977” and of money being raised to guarantee the continuation of what Drever had so generously started. I’ve been unable, however, to find any other information confirming that the race was ever held again. Chris Paton, who lived in Uummannaq from approximately 2007 to 2010, and has written about his time there in his “Seven Settlements” reports (www.tss2010.blogspot.com), tells me that he heard it spoken of but was never there at the time of year when it might have happened.
I’ve asked Paninnguaq, the granddaughter of Emanuele Korneliussen who built the two kayaks in Illorsuit in 1959, for anything she could find out. She very kindly put a request online, in both Greenlandic and Danish, for any information anyone might have. All she was able to find was that her own mother, Birthe Korneliussen Petersen, born in 1956, remembers a race from Uummannaq to Illorsuit from when she was 10 or 11 years old. That must have been the race of 1967 that Chris Hare wrote about.
Back to Karl Ottosen on the day of the race
When Karl took part in the race that day he knew, of course, that he would be close to shore and that, as one of eleven participants, he would not be alone. That meant his not being exposed to the two most common possible triggers of repeat attacks of the kayak angst – being alone and being far out at sea. It must also have helped him to know that he would have these several other kayakers with him who could come to his rescue if needed. Also that he would be close enough to shore to be able to paddle there to put an end to an attack if he were unlucky enough to have one that day.
So the risk of his having an attack of the angst may have been small but nevertheless it was clear that the others were concerned about him and, as you can see in this photo, three of them carefully escorted him back to the finish line.
The three escorting Karl safely home. Edvard on the left, then Jonathan or Jacob, Karl in the middle and Algot on the right.
Karl safely back, along with his “escorts.” Ludwig and Enoch cooling off with their hands in the ice cold water …
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