The Story of a Photo
or How Kenozero Men Put Their Neighbors to Shame
It happened back in 1927. News spread in the village of Vershinino on the eve of St. Peter and Paul Day that tradesmen arrived from Karelia's Vodlozero Lake, their boats moored at Tyr-Navolok and full of merchandise and that there would be Peter and Paul Fair in the village of Pogost on the following Sunday. The villagers liked that news. The event like that became rare in the area as the Soviet government continued to display distrust to Kenozero men and women because of their belief in God. But how could they possibly exist without God? Without the chapel calendar, the prayers, the church holidays and fairs they would all have been reduced to a beast. The Day of Peter and Paul is still a big holiday and the fair a tradition. Those tradesmen brought with them not only gingerbread but also beautiful fabrics for the Kenozero women to make clothing from.

The Kenozero men were curious. In the evening, they got to their boats and sailed all the way to Tyr-Navolok. The boats they saw there – vodlozerka boats – were a different design, even though Kenozero and Vodlozero were two neighboring areas.

They went inside the hut to get acquainted with Vodlozero tradesmen. The latter turned out cheerful people. When asked about life in their home area, they sighed and said they were hoping for the best. One thing led to another, and the men soon found themselves arguing about which of the two boat designs was the fastest and most robust. Banging their fists on the table, the Vodlozero men swore their boats would handle the fastest of the rapids because they were deep bodied and had an elongated shape. The Kenozero men stood their ground: no boat was better than kenozerka!

Here's how they explained it. Kenozerka boats are sewn, not built. Older generations used to sew them without nails, unlike today, but current masters use nails as skillfully as needles. The material for kenozerka boats is spruce. Its trunks should be bent naturally at 90 degrees to be used as compass timber. The spruce boards for the sides, each of its own size and shape, are called naboi. Design-wise, kenozerka is lower and wider than vodlozerka. Its rear post is directed upward and its nose has a tighter bent radius.

"Kenozerka has better buoyancy. Extra load can't cause it to capsize. She's fast and beautiful," argued the Vershinino men.

Finally, they decided to have a competition. The Vodlozero men were to start from Tyr-Navolok and the Kenozero ones from Glushchevа to meet in the village of Pogost, where the fair was. The Vodlozero men went loaded, while Glushchevа was a way farther from the meeting point, so the competition was fair.

"Start when agreed and go at normal speed. Let us not get ahead of ourselves on a holiday," said the Kenozero men.

And so they did. On Sunday, many poured out into the street to see the long, imposing vodlozerkas and the low, elegant kenozerkas start from the opposite sides of the lake. Waves rolled high, sending vodlozerkas sideways and having no effect on kenozerkas. The latter came first.

A rare photo has survived until our days. It shows the village of Pogost and Peter and Paul Fair at the Assumption Church. Moored to the shore is a row of kenozerka boats, with the gangly boats of the visiting merchants approaching them on the right.

"The locals outperformed their visitors – simple as that," explained one meticulous expert.

The Kenozero area was no stranger to sailing regattas, as it turns out!

One might suppose that with the spread of motorboats in the 20th century in many rural areas, the technique of making wooden boats has been forgotten. But not in Kenozero. Here, the old boat-making secrets continue to be passed onto younger generations. The main thing to be remembered is that "boat building" and "boat sewing" are two different things, the former being a trade and the latter an art.