Danish-Estonian dugout voyage underway from Pärnu to Tallinn

Thomas Frank (stern) and Jevgeni Dernovoi (bow) in the hand-made dugout wooden kayak, paddling the Pärnu river.
Thomas Frank (stern) and Jevgeni Dernovoi (bow) in the hand-made dugout wooden kayak, paddling the Pärnu river. Source: ERR

Two kayaking enthusiasts, one Dane and one Estonian, are testing a hypothesis that the Scandinavian peoples learned to build dug-out wooden boats from the Finno-Ugric peoples on the eastern shore of the Baltic, using this as a basis for long trade routes, stretching, via rivers, far into Russia, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Monday.

The two men, Thomas Frank, a Danish scientist and researcher, and Jevgeni Dernovoi, an adventure sports instructor from Estonia, started their trip in the Soomaa national park in southwest Estonia, traveling down the Pärnu river to the town of the same name, and hope to reach Tallinn, by paddling up the coast, in a few days.

The type of vessel they are using is a specialty of the Soomaa region and was added to a UNESCO list late last year.

The boat is made by hollowing out a single tree, usually aspen, along with expanded sides and a shallow base. In Estonian it is known as a haabja boat.

Frank told AK that: "It's been a very great day, and the banks of the river and the nature has been very nice. Estonia is a very beautiful country when viewed from the banks of the river.

"I talked to [haabja boat craftsman] Aivar Ruukel, and then we got this idea to try to use one of these Estonian boats, which has been accepted by UNESCO, so it has been very interesting so far, and we have to see if this boat also can manage the sea."

Jevgeni Dernovoi said that he had gotten involved in the project as a kayaking and canoeing instructor and after finding about the project online.

"I know a little bit. But this is the first time I am sitting in this type of a boat today," he said.

After making the trip from Soomaa to Pärnu on Sunday, the pair will continue round to Tallinn through the course of this week.

Next year, they plan to travel all the way from Estonia to Denmark by the same means of transport and across the Baltic.

Aivar Ruukel said that both participants were experienced, adding that Frank had experience with wooden boats. specifically, including along the Volga river in Russia, both to the Caspian Sea and, via the Black Sea, to Istanbul, making the trip from Tallinn to the Danish coast relatively achievable.

The haabja boat was added to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding list last December.

The original AK report (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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