John Heath’s writings

Here is the complete list of what John has published, or been involved in, as far as I know at this moment. Please correct and add to it if you can. The Links are old and may be broken. I have a Hotmail address that begins svalegria, then at and so on.

I think that I have digital copies of many of these except:

Climbing a Liquid Hill, the Physics of Hull Speed,

Canoe 15 (1):30 (Now Canoe & Kayak Magazine) Kirkland, WA

Could someone please scan or photocopy that article and send it to me? Just his article.


FYI: I have also included copies of some obituaries that you may not have seen.

Heath, John D.

1961 THE KAYAK OF THE ESKIMO. American White Water 7(2):3-11.

A description of kayak construction & delineation of various kayak types & their characteristics. With a brief discussion of paddles & paddling & rescue techniques.

Taylor, Kenneth I.

1962        A GREENLAND SUMMER.  American White Water Spring: 18-24.

A letter from Taylor to John Heath describing his summer field trip in Greenland with special emphasis on kayaking.


Adney, Edwin Tappan & Howard I. Chapelle


Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

A major work on kayaks including a discussion & scale drawings of many types, pp. 174-211.  Appendix by John Heath on the kayak roll, pp. 223-229.


Byde, Alan

1966        THE KAYAK HUNTER.  American Whitewater 12(1):5-9.

A general article on a Greenland kayak hunter and his equipment & methods. Includes comments by John Heath on kayak fear & on kayak equipment.


1968 THE KING ISLAND ROLL. American White Water 13(4):11.

Drawing & caption explain how the roll was performed with a single paddle.


1968 THE WORLD’S (ONETIME) BEST: Eskimo Kayakers of King Island. American White Water 13(4):7-12.

Description of the construction & use of the King Island type kayak including a single-bladed paddle roll technique for recovery from a capsize.


1969 COMPARATIVE STUDY OF KAYAKS. Unpublished manuscript No. 1084.1 (23 typescript pages). Archives of the Canadian Ethnology Service, National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

Description of Arctic kayaks from Greenland to Siberia comparing features of form & construction.


1972 THE KING ISLAND KAYAK. Unpublished manuscript No. 1084.2 (35 typescript pages of text, 54 pages of photos with captions). Archives of the Canadian Ethnology Service, National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

A field & museum specimen study of the traditional King Island kayak detailing construction & use.


1977 SOME COMPARATIVE NOTES ON KAYAK FORM AND CONSTRUCTION. In Contextual Studies of Material Culture. David W. Zimmerly, ed.Pp. 19-26, Paper No. 43, Canadian Ethnology Service, Mercury Series.Ottawa: National Museum of Man.

Kayaks from North & East of Seward Peninsula are compared with those to the south with the similarities & differences related to various theories of Eskimo migration & contact.


Laughlin, William S., J. Heath & E. Arima
1991 “TWO NIKOLSKI ALEUT KAYAKS: Iqyax and Uluxtax from Umnak Is.”  In John Heath, et al., “Contributions to Kayak Studies,” Canadian Museum of Civilization Mercury Series, Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No. 122:163-210. Ottawa.
— This article details a single & a double hole Aleut kayaks currently in the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology.  Photographs & two scale drawings accompany.

Arima, Eugene Y.
1991        CONTRIBUTIONS TO KAYAK STUDIES.  Edited by Eugene Y. Arima, John D. Heath, Guy Mary-Rousseliere, Kenneth I. Taylor, William S. Laughlin, Knut Bergssland, John Brand, Joseph Lubisher, George Dyson & Gert Nooter. Canadian Ethnology Service, Mercury Series, Paper 122.  Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization.  The Canadian Museum of Civilization has been active in kayak studies since the 1960s. This volume of collected papers continues this involvement & reflects the Museum’s major kayak collection. The first two papers describe King Island & North Baffin kayaks, their construction & other details, & includes line drawings. Other articles, also illustrated with line drawings, are on kayak design variation; Greenland kayaks; “kayak fear”; Canadian revival; & the fascinating Aleut designs. Although all the studies are kayak-related, they vary in specific focus & approach.

1991 KAJAKKER by the Vikingeskibshallen I Roskilde

Den grønlandske kajak og dens canadiske forbindelse   In Danish with photos & drawings. It appears to show the variation of the kayak from the Mackenzie Delta to Ammassalik, East Greenland.

Which I believe translates to: “Greenland kayak and its Canadian connection”

The scale drawing appears in “Contributions to Kayak Studies” (1991)– survey by John Heath.


17 Sea-Kayaker Articles by John Heath & a review

Issue 8, Spring 1986, page 62: “Kajakangst” by John Heath: History, Kajakangst, Balance, Health, Psychology

Issue 9, Summer 1986, page 13: “The Narrow Paddle (sic): Theory and Practice” by John Heath: Paddles, Narrow blades theory, Traditional equipment, Greenland (The correct title was “The Narrow Blade: Theory and Practice)

Issue 10, Fall 1986, page 11: “Three Braces From Grønland” by John Heath: Bracing, Three Greenland techniques, Traditional kayaks

Issue 11, Winter 1986, page 12: “Alaskan Eskimo Rolls” by John Heath: Rolling, Alaskan Eskimo techniques

Issue 12, Spring 1987, page 15: “The Greenland Kayak Club” by John Heath: Greenland, Kayak club, Rolling, Greenland storm roll, rescue, Traditional Techniques

Issue 13, Summer 1987, page 15: “The Phantom Kayakers, A Scottish Mystery” by John Heath: History, Greenlanders paddle to Scotland?

Issue 14, Fall 1987, page 13: “The Greenland Kayak and the Canadian Connection” by John Heath: Greenland, Traditional kayak types, Kayaks

Issue 15, Winter 1987, page 58: “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Greenland Paddle” by John Heath: Do-It-Yourself, Greenland paddle, Traditional Equipment

Issue 17, Summer 1988, page 72: “Hull Breathing” by John Heath: Hull breathing, Techniques & equipment, Capsize

Issue 22, Fall 1989, page 65: “Skin Boats of Antiquities Conference” by John Heath: Kayaks, Conference on traditional

Issue 24, Spring 1990, page 10: “Manasse” by John Heath: Biography, Manasse Mathaeussen, Greenland, Manasse Mathaeussen biography

Issue 25, Summer 1990, page 53: “Please Remain Seated” by John Heath: Techniques, Alternatives to rolling

Review not article
Issue 25, Summer 1990, page 64:Reviews (video), John Heath: Greenlanders at Kodiak, Greenland, Technique video reviewed, Rolling, Greenland techniques video reviewed

Issue 30, Fall 1991, page 39: “Digging for Clues” by John Heath: History, Aleut artifacts discovered, Aleuts, Artifacts discovered

Issue 32, Spring 1992, page 56: “The Balance Brace” by John Heath: Braces, Greenland balance brace, Greenland, Balance brace technique, History, Greenland balance brace

Issue 58, June 1997, page 54: “Eskimo Rescue Technique” by John Heath: Technique, Eskimo rescues, History, Eskimo rescue techniques, Greenland, Rescue techniques

Issue 76, June 2000, page 55: “Maligiaq Makes Waves on Visit to U.S.” by John Heath: Traditional Paddling, Maligiaq Padilla, Greenland’s Kayaking Champion, Greenland

Issue 90, Oct. 2002, page 14: “Forward sweeping roll” by John Heath: History, Greenland, Technique, Roll


2 thoughts on “John Heath’s writings

  1. Did you ever get copy of Climbing a liquid hill? I’m writing articles for the Masik deconstructing Greenland Kayaks, working on hull design, and I’ve been told Heath’s article is a must read. Thanks,

    • Dear Mr. Young, or Ralph, if I may,

      I do not believe that anyone has yet sent me a copy of, “Climbing a Liquid Hill”. I am doing a search of a backup hard drive that I have. But it is a very big drive and will take a while to complete.

      But I am pretty sure that I do not have the article. You might try Harvey Golden or Greg Stamer.

      I would love to get a copy for my records if you find a copy in your travels.

      In addition to family loyalty, I believe that my dad wrote a lot of very good articles and I would like to find that one, and would be happy to send you a copy, if and when I do.

      You probably already know all you need to know about the effects my father was describing. But, if not, I will say that there are many complex and interactive things going on when an object moves through water. However, this particular basic idea is fairly intuitive, and is a large factor in the difficulty of moving something through water. Therefore, the analogy of climbing a liquid Hill, is, in my opinion, very useful for understanding kayaks.

      I just did a quick search on the web and found many webpages that discuss the subject. I would assume that some of them are quite good. Feel free to poke around and see what you find. I would suggest looking for, “waterline length,” “hull speed,” “transverse wave,” “displacement hull,” and “squat.”

      Here is one:

      About halfway down the page it says in part, “A bow wave forms in front of the hull due to water being an uncompressible material. As the water starts to move around the hull, the pressure drops and water speeds up forming a trough which drops below the normal waterline. Waves also form behind the trough towards the stern of the boat.”

      I suggest that you read the rest of that paragraph. And probably a lot more of that page. And look for other similar postings. If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, email me, and I will try to help.

      If you have the good fortune to watch a kayak moving quickly through very flat water, you will notice that at the bow of the kayak a hill of water builds up. On long skinny kayaks it is less noticeable than short fat kayaks, but it is always there. Sometimes, the highest part of this bow wave is significantly aft of the bow.

      This appears to be the cause of the wake that goes out in a V formation. And when you look at it more carefully you will notice that it is not a single wave going out to each side towards infinity. But is actually a series of waves. Kind of like shingles on a roof, if you’d from above.

      You will also notice that another series of waves develop. The, “transverse waves” that stretch out perpendicular to the direction of travel. By that I mean the transverse wave, is not a V but a crest that moves at the speed of the vessel. And the line along the top of the crest, is perpendicular to the travel of the kayak.

      I’m doing all this off the top of my head, from memory so I may be making some serious mistakes. If I am, I apologize and please point them out.

      The popular term ‘hull speed’ means different things to different people, but generally the kayak is considered to be moving at hull speed when the first transverse wave, is at the stern of the vessel.

      As the kayak goes faster and faster, the first transverse wave gets further and further back from the bow wave. And, when the kayak is moving slowly it is almost perfectly horizontal in the water. Again, this assumes that the water is glassy flat.

      As the kayak increases in speed and the first transverse wave moves aft of the stern, the stern of the kayak will tend to go lower. They call this squat or squatting. An all d the kayak will be in effect climbing a hill. Climbing its own bow wave.

      The important feature is here, at least for most people, that the amount of energy it takes to go little bit faster, dramatically increases.

      My sailboat has a 32 foot waterline. Back when we were designing it, we calculated how many horsepower it would take to move the boat at various speeds in flatwater. I do not remember the numbers for lower speeds. But, I do recall that at 5 kn, it required 5 hp. At 6 kn, it required 12 hp. And at 7 kn it required about 25 hp.

      I would guess that at speeds of one, two, three and 4 kn that the power would be more linear. But I’m not sure.

      There are many other factors involved. How smooth the hull is. How much area it has on its surface, and how that is distributed. These would have a lot to do with the skin friction. The energy required to cause water to move along the surface of the kayak.

      The above are all kind of logical and relatively obvious factors. But I believe that there are a vast number of subtle and non–obvious factors.

      This is how naval architects and their living. By understanding exactly what it takes to make a great boat for your particular purpose. It would seem that there is a lot of witchcraft involved. For all I know, sacrificing virgins on moonless nights.

      For example, I have often noticed that Washington State ferries have a dramatically smaller wake than similar ships going the same speed. I also think that you will find that if you study catamaran design, that they do not act like two displacement hulls. There seems to be some sort of synergy that allows them to travel at much higher speeds than they ought to be able to.

      Many years ago there was a big flap that the exact nature of the skin of a dolphin or porpoise gave it a secret ability to go much faster than it ought to. The thought was that the skin was slightly flexible. Obviously, the porpoise was not rigid, like a torpedo. It had to bend in order to accomplish anything. But I mean flexible in the sense of being padded, by something like subcutaneous fat. That allowed the water to move in harmony along it and not cause hard spots and soft spots at a macroscopic level.

      I hope that makes sense. I suspect that unless you already know what I’m talking about, it won’t make much sense. Feel free to ask me to try again.

      As a mechanical engineer, and a sailor, I have worked with Reynolds number, laminar flow, turbulent flow, and all sorts of stuff that the great minds over the centuries, have used in order to understand explain and predict how water will flow. But I’m of the strong impression that we still have a lot to learn. It is far from cut and dried.

      My dad and others felt that a skin on frame kayak had advantages that were not understood by the Orthodox Naval Architecture Community. My dad felt that skin on frame kayaks were far better than a rigid fiberglass kayak, for example. Partially because the skin could move in and out to accommodate the flow of the water.

      Also, because the kayak could bend and somewhat follow the shape of the waves beneath it.

      I think that is very likely, but I have no data, one way or the other.

      Sorry to make you wade through all of this. I am by no means the writer that my dad was.

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