Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harpooning class - one look back to the Hudson River Greenland Festival

 No aquatic mammals were harmed in the making of this video, although I do hear that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pool Noodles is circulating a petition. 

Gosh, July's just flying. Very busy time at work plus many, many weekend activities - not much time for futzing around onlineHowever, I found a few minutes in the evening on Sunday to finally get my video snippets from Adam Hansen's harpooning class at the Hudson River Greenland festival strung together and posted to YouTube (I'd had several unsuccessful tries before I remembered that you have to export an edited QuickTime movie to a new version before YouTube will pick up the whole thing). Our instructor is the last thrower of the set. The second to throw on the first clip, on shore, and the second on-water harpooner is Noah Nochasak, an Inuit from Labrador who is working to reclaim the cultural heritage of the qajaqs that had belonged to his grandparents but largely lost to the people of his father's generation.

It was a privilege to get to be in this class as Greenlander Adam Hansen taught Noah to use the norsaq. I signed up for this class because a) I don't get much chance to do it in NYC but I actually enjoy target practice when I get the opportunity - remember how the first thing I did in Estonia was archery? - and b) I wanted to do something totally different after spending all of the first day fighting to get back the forward-finishing rolls I used to have but lost through lack of practice, and I had a great time, but when it comes right down to it I would have to admit that it was really just for fun. For Noah, it was much more personal; I particularly saw that when he looked at the norsaq and spear in his hand right at the beginning of the class and said, "My grandfather fed my father this way".

It made for a great experience.

A few  photos to help with how this works, since the throws happen very fast in the video and it's not the best quality either- 

First off - here is a norsaq that I have here at home (a trophy from the FIRST Hudson River Greenland Festival, if I can brag just a teeny bit). This one isn't quite a functional implement for throwing a spear, it's really just for rolling practice, but it does give you the general idea. The harpoon shaft rests on the groove down the center while the notches give you a good secure grip. What a working norsaq would have that this one doesn't is a couple of holes at either end, into which you would slot corresponding pegs that are built into the shaft of the harpoon, midway down so that the harpoon balances nicely on the norsaq as the paddler winds up for the throw.

Here is Adam showing us how to set the harpoon on the norsaq. The pegs fit just snugly enough to hold the norsaq to the shaft as it rests on the deck of the qajaq and as the paddler picks it up, but loosely enough that the harpoon readily parts company with the norsaq when thrown. 

Here, Adam is explaining the layout of the gear you would have on deck for hunting. 

Here is an incredible model qajaq crafted by Ole Karlsen of Aasiaat, Greenland and brought along by Adam for the silent auction that helps fund the event, letting the organizers bring in such good people without setting a prohibitively expensive entry fee. The model is fully outfitted for hunting. The bow of the qajaq is facing the camera; on the forward deck there is a bird spear (note the small pegs on the shaft, those are the pegs that would hold the spear to the norsaq) and a coiled line held in a tray to ensure that it runs freely. That line would be attached to the harpoon, which you can see is supported on rests on the starboard side of the craft (would be port for a left-handed hunter).  The point faces aft, and the norsaq is attached to the shaft and just at the right place for the hunter's hand to reach down and pick it up; the motion of the paddler's arm as the norsaq and spear are lifted from the deck brings the business end forward. On the aft deck, there is an avataq (a sealskin float that is also attached to the harpoon line to keep the quarry from diving or at least help the hunter keep track of it) and then another short lance that I believe Adam said that the hunter would use to finish off the quarry if the initial harpoon strike failed to do so. Permission to use photo kindly given by Ed Lamon III, one of the terrific mentors at the event and the happy winner of this beautiful little model. 

Here's Adam demonstrating the throw - he started up on dry land so that we could get the feel for it without having to handle boats as well. I like this shot because it really shows the way the norsaq acts as an extension of the arm, increasing the leverage by a lot.  

Once we'd practiced on land and gotten comfortable with the motion, we got in the boats and went after that poor pool noodle with a vengeance. Adam had us practice as though we were actually hunting - that you could see in the video, you would approach quickly and quietly and then as you got within range, you would allow your boat to glide as you picked up the norsaq and harpoon from your deck and made your throw. 

There's one of the few pictures of me from the festival this year - thanks John T!

and I'm putting up this one, taken by the event photographer at a Sweetwater Kayaks Greenland week many years ago in St. Petersburg, FL, just because it's fun and beside, Google actually gave it to me when I was googling images for "Norsaq" before I remembered that I have one here.


Anonymous said...

i'm going to give you much wider berth now that i see you've figured out how to create a battle kayak!!

Joe Rousé said...

What a brilliant idea! Power Boaters will think twice before tangling with you.

bonnie said...

Yeah, those stinkpotters better make sure they don't mess with the wrong paddler. Heh heh heh.

Will, where is my Brazilian kayaker? :D