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George Dyson's monstrous kayak finds new home in Bellingham

Forty years ago, when he was a brash 21-year-old living in some woods near Vancouver, B.C., George Dyson pushed his interest in building kayaks to new lengths by constructing a six-person, 48-footer adorned with a dragon's head on the bow.

The monster craft - possibly the largest kayak ever built - figured prominently in the 1978 book "The Starship and The Canoe," Kenneth Brower's popular account of Dyson, whose interests were rooted in Northwest lands and waters, and of Dyson's father, Freeman, a famous astrophysicist interested in exploring the stars.

For many years now, Dyson has been too busy writing books about technology and science history to find the time to build more kayaks, although he still sells materials for people who want to build their own. He moved to Bellingham in the late '80s, leaving the giant kayak behind in the woods.

Now the kayak has a new home in the basement of his business, Dyson, Baidarka & Company, in the former Dick's Tavern building in Old Town. The seagoing craft is a reminder of Dyson's youth, back when he thought kayaking might become a routine means of nautical travel.

"It's a crazy artifact," Dyson said. "I was young and ambitious, and a little crazy."

Dyson moved to British Columbia when he was 17. He worked odd jobs and lived in what is now Belcarra Park, on Burrard Inlet, across from Vancouver.

“I could paddle downtown in an hour,” he said.

Vancouver officials let Dyson and other tenants stay in their small cluster of waterfront cabins, a lodge, and the treehouse.

Dyson had built a few smaller kayaks when he decided to outdo the 30-footers built by early Russians exploring the Northwest. While his 48-footer, when rigged with sails, moved well downwind, it was difficult to maneuver at other times.

"It's just unwieldy," Dyson said. "Going from 30 to 48 didn't seem such a big jump, but it was."

Still, the kayak was special enough to him to be the only one he ever christened. Its name is "Mount Fairweather," for the 15,325-foot B.C. coastal peak Dyson gazed at while working in Southeast Alaska.

The kayak is made of windfall spruce, fiberglass and aluminum. When Dyson moved to Bellingham, he left it in the woods up on a cradle, but the cradle rotted and the kayak fell to the ground, where it provided shelter for a stinky otter. Otherwise, it was in good shape.

"It was amazing how well it held up," Dyson said.

The kayak might still be there, but Metro Vancouver recently moved to evict the cabins' occupants so the park could be expanded and beach access improved. When Dyson returned to the park in June to ready the kayak for its transfer, the cabin residents were moved to tears, he said.

"The boat had become the icon of the community," he said.

Dyson returned to B.C. two weeks ago in his motorized boat to tow the kayak back to Bellingham. He moored it temporarily at Squalicum Harbor until the morning of Thursday, Aug. 7, when he and some friends maneuvered it to the shoreline of Whatcom Creek inside Maritime Heritage Park. That afternoon, Dyson and 17 other people carried the kayak through the park, across Holly Street and into Dyson's business.

Dyson hopes to find a museum, boating center or other locale willing to properly care for and display the kayak. Until then, it's safe and dry in his basement.

In his first book, "Baidarka: The Kayak," Dyson called the kayak his "necessary monster," something he felt compelled to create.

"I had to do this thing to prove it was possible," he said.