Part 1: Design
It is imperative to select a design which suits the application of the kayak and the ability of the paddler. Will the kayak be paddled on calm or open waters? Is it for short adventures or long distances and camping trips? Is straight-line speed or manoeuvrability the priority? There is a lot to weigh up, often with significant trade-offs and compromises. For example: a kayak which is fast through the water tends to be less stable; a lightweight kayak may be apt on flat water but vulnerable to failure in rough seas; a bigger boat may have extra carrying capacity but make for troublesome paddling in windy conditions.
Once the idea to build a sea kayak was lodged in my head – and after the pursuant internet searches – I settled on a wooden strip-built kayak over equivalent skin-on-frame or plywood designs, drawn mainly by the organic beauty of wood, but also because I hoped to create the lovely smooth lines and contours that the strip-building process allows.
I ordered Nick Schade’s book “The Strip-Built Sea Kayak” (Ragged Mountain Press). The author clearly knows his craft and his book reflects this, walking the kayak builder through the various processes with photos and illustrations, and offering a choice of three different sea kayak designs based on those of tried-and-tested Inuit kayaks.
I opted for Schade’s “Great Auk” design because of its sleek length and long waterline – with the Hawkesbury Classic in mind I wanted a fast kayak which was also versatile and matched my intermediate paddling skills.
Tip: If you have an upcoming birthday or Christmas, instead of presents, drop subtle hints about receiving gift vouchers for reputable hardware stores. That way you will cut costs on the purchasing of tools and/or materials for building your dream kayak.
It required a lot of brain-power before I got my head around the all-important lofting chart but the process became relatively painless once I understood how to plot numbers from a table on to graph paper. And the reality of my kayak taking shape, if abstract and conceptual, was quite exciting even at this early stage.
I chose to add one extra inch to the beam (where the kayak is at its widest) to give my boat extra secondary stability. The right half of the chart in the photo 1 shows the forms of the bow at the narrowest point progressing to the beam (the faint numbers: 1-8 are written along the gunwales), and the left side shows stern to beam (numbers: 9-16). These shapes were then transferred onto butcher’s paper and thence to panels of wood which were cut out to act like a mould for my kayak.
Tip: Become familiar with the extensive glossary of terms related to boat building – it makes life easier when wading through the design process. Become familiar, also, with ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ stability – these terms relate to how your boat ultimately handles and performs on the water.
A suitable location is needed to undertake a sea kayak building project. As illustrated in Photo 2 I was lucky enough to have a roomy garage, but a backyard, cellar or even a lounge room would have sufficed.
Photo 2 shows the forms (like ribs) mounted on the ‘strongback’ (or spine) and I had just begun the process of gluing and stapling the strips from the gunwales and down around the hull. My kayak sits lengthways and upside-down on stands I knocked together which were adapted several times as the build progressed.
I loved the idea that every piece of wood I added was individually sculpted and shaped. Which might seem time-consuming and boring. But once immersed, the stripping progressed at a considerable rate, and I found this process quite meditative.
Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for odds and ends dumped about your neighbourhood. The forms and stands were built out of scrap wood scavenged from a pile of dumped building material. The seat-back (seen in photos of the completed kayak) was a random piece of plywood pre-bent perfectly into shape, which was pulled out of a random dumpster. Cost and sustainability were at the forefront of this project.