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24 July 2011

Sled Maintenance

Today’s Greenlandic dog sled is a masterpiece of over one thousand years of design ingenuity that has been handed down through the generations to create what amounts to a work of art. In those days dog men used whale bones and caribou antlers with drift wood lashed together using walrus hide. It must have been a painstaking process. Who these men were nobody knows. Only their legacy remains where dogs continue to run the way they did long, long ago.

Where I live the Greenlandic word for a sled is a kaatuuli. The sled prow (front end) is a narsi. The uprights are called napaajar. The upright crossbar is called a nuluular and the cross slats that are lashed to the runners (usually 12 per sled) are igaangili. The Greenlandic dialect spoken in Ittoqqortoormiit is unique to only the 400 people who live here.

To me, not looking after my working sleds feels disrespectful to all those long gone dog drivers responsible for the design genius that remains ingrained into the techniques that continue to be used to build Greenlandic sleds today.

Since the weather was pleasant and daylight hours were long, I laid out the power cable and set about the repair and maintenance work that had to be done on two of my sleds. Long since pensioned off sleds I used as a worktop.

My journey sled is four metres long with a 90 cm by four metre packing surface. This I sanded down and gave a couple of licks with the clear stuff that preserves the wooden houses here.

The sled next to my journey sled is my heavy training sled, built in my first Greenland winter. This sled was built with old-fashioned iron runners. The ironwork on my training sled in the video is being shod with new slick high-density plastic.

Even with modern tools and materials, sled building and maintenance still require skill and patience.

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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