It all started with a beat up old copy
of WoodenBoat Magazine.
I had been carrying it around for a few years, and after some great kayaking
in Kauai, I started thinking about finally building one. I just couldn't
get the image of all that gleaming varnish out of my mind. After
a little research, I decided on a design by Chris Kulczycki of Chesapeake
Light Craft. By Thanksgiving of 1997, I had unpacked the giant
box of plywood parts and started work. Here, I am epoxying spruce
shearclamps onto the side panels after scarfing the side panels together.
The okoume mahogany plywood panels
are stitched together with copper wire, and the seams are filled from the
inside with epoxy fillets. Fiberglass tape is bonded on top of the
fillet to create a stiff stringer along the seam. Curiously enough,
the technique is called stitch-and-glue. No frames or strongbacks
are used to shape the hull. Instead the panels are bent, persuaded,
cursed, forced or otherwise encouraged to assume the fine, curved shapes
shown on the blueprints. The side panels are joined stem and stern,
then the bottom panels are wired together along the keel. Finally,
the bottom panels are stitched to the chines with the boat upside down.
After about a day of measuring, adjusting the alignment, remeasuring and
readjusting, the hull was ready to take its permanent shape.
This picture was taken at around 2
a.m. after applying the final brush strokes of epoxy to the inside of the
boat. It always takes longer than you think it will. As you
can see, the only internal framing is a temporary spreader stick at the
wide point. The bulkheads and deckbeams are added later on.
I hung the boat from its shearclamps to glue and tape the seams and 'glass
the cockpit. This ensured that the weight of the hull would not cause
it to sag or deform before the epoxy set. I hung some gallon jugs
filled with water from the keel wires to achieve the amount of rocker I
wanted. I used double layers of glass tape along the keel and chines
for added stiffness. This kayak will be paddled in rough ocean conditions,
and I was willing to add a little bit of weight to make sure the kayak
was I-beam stiff.
When the cockpit was done, I turned
over the hull and trimmed the copper wires flush. The exterior of
the seems were filled with epoxy, and the keel and chines are shaped by
hand with a block plane. Then round one of the sand-a-thon began.
The hull is sheathed in a single layer of 6 oz. 'glass cloth and epoxy.
I laid the cloth out over the hull, and gently worked it until it laid
flat over every contour. Wetting out the cloth is the scariest part
of boat building. You only get one chance to get it right.
Mix up a big old vat of epoxy, take a deep breath through your respirator,
then dump it on. The epoxy is spread with a plastic squeegee, and
has to be softly worked into the cloth to saturate the weave. This
has to be done without allowing air bubbles to form between the wood and
the cloth. In this picture, I make it look easy.
This is what it looks like if you get
it right. It took three more thin coats of epoxy to completely fill
out the weave of the cloth. Round two of the sand-a-thon lasted a
couple of weeks as low spots were filled with thickened epoxy and faired
smooth. By this time the weather was cold and the epoxy dried slowly.
Nancy treated me to a new Makita sander after I blew up my old Craftsman.
I appeared from the garage only for quick meals and to go to work at my
When the hull was finally done (it
wasn't really, I just couldn't sand anymore), it was time to put the deck
on. First the bulkheads were fitted into place and glued in with
fillets and 'glass tape. Again, I added the tape to make the joints
completely bombproof. The laminated deckbeams were fitted, glued
and screwed in place. Next, I planed the shear clamps to match the radius
of the deckbeams. I worked every night for about a week and a half
doing this, and I'm still finding curly little wood shavings around the
house a year later. The deck is glued to the shear clamps and tacked
in place with bronze ring nails. Nancy helped me bend it into place,
and we used strap clamps to help bend the deck as I nailed it on.
This technique worked really well.
The next several weeks were spent epoxying
and sanding the deck. The boat finally started looking like a kayak,
and I began to think I'd actually paddle it some day.
It took just about every clamp I own
to bond the cockpit coaming to the deck. The plans suggested stacking
all three layers at the same time and gluing them all at once. This
is clearly some sort of cruel joke and should not be attempted. Fortunately,
I have never been one to follow directions and elected to bond the rings
one at a time. This was hard enough. Without question, this
was the most frustrating part of the project. After about a week of evenings
working on it, the result was beautiful.
I have skipped ahead to the final stages
because sanding painting and varnishing are just plain boring. Tedious
and time consuming, but boring. After many more weeks of sanding,
the kayak was ready for finishing. The hull has 3 coats of polyurethane
paint, wet sanded between coats. The deck boasts 6 coats of varnish,
also wet sanded between each coat. Ah, look at that shine.
I made a custom mount for the compass out
of redwood and spruce. Click on it for some detail pictures.
Here is another look at the deck after
fitting out. Note the plastic "clean room" which was the only way
to control dust while painting and varnishing. It worked really well,
and also allowed me to preheat a smaller workspace before applying each
coat of paint or varnish.
This is what makes it all worthwhile:
Launching day. Click on the image for a better view.
Dockside, Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor,
December 5, 1998. A little over a year after mixing that first pot
of epoxy, it was time to go paddling. I worked on the boat on and
off, whenever I had the time and the ambition. I went on a few big
benders when I became obsessed with the kayak and thought of little else.
Overall, it was really an enjoyable project, and I discovered that a few
dust covered hours in the shop after a hard day at the salt mines was pretty
therapeutic, even relaxing. I am extremely pleased with the kayak
in terms of aesthetics and performance. Having paddled it in 6 foot
Pacific swells I have found it a fast, stable and dry craft. Click
on the picture then go build one for yourself. Click
here for the Holiday Special.