My Strip-Built Sea Kayak

Part 4: Finishing Touches

The coaling and aft deck hatch with seat brace (under coaming) and aft deck cord loops

My kayak was actually looking like a kayak.

In Photo 9 I have sanded the outside of the fibre-glassed kayak with wet-and-dry emery-paper. All the trimmings are attached including: the bow and stern handles, the loops and locks for the rudder (right of coaming), the fore and aft cargo and panic-rope loops, the cheek-plates (inside the coaming, where the seat back is to be attached, the cable and mount for the rudder, and the aft bulkhead (the stainless steel rudder cables can be seen coiled in the cockpit). I fashioned most these fixings out of scraps of Tasmanian blackwood I had lying around in my garage (but you could just as easily bolt stainless steel fittings to your kayak).

Tip: It is worth investing some thought in the design process about what trimmings and extras you might like to add, but don’t lose any sleep over such facets. You may find during the build that your skills develop, and that which you might have thought impossible at the start becomes more than possible whence near the completion. The rudder on my kayak, for example, was a late inclusion.

The coaling and aft deck hatch with seat brace (under coaming) and aft deck cord loops

This photo shows the foot-pegs mounted inside the cockpit. The black nylon straps extend from the pegs to the rudder cables and are adjusted via a buckle near the hip. I manufactured the pegs out of various pieces of aluminium extrusions pop-riveted together, after visiting several kayak retailers and examining how those in factory-built kayaks are constructed (although most kayak accessories these days are easily purchased online).

The last stage finally beckoned, for my vessel was ready to be varnished. I applied eight coats of marine varnish with a light sanding in between.

All my beautiful boat needed was a name. I called her Little Witch II after the plywood fishing boat my grandfather made called Little Witch after my mum. I never saw Little Witch but heard plenty of stories about her. Even though the craftsmanship of my grandfather’s boat building was never passed down to me in a practical sense, maybe it somehow flowed down in my blood.

I painted Little Witch II in gold and black paint onto the hatch lid.

Funnily enough, with my impatience boiling to the surface once more, I had totally overlooked how I was going to transport my new kayak. So I hit the streets again, and found an abandoned forklift pallet which I fashioned into a makeshift rack and secured it to my car’s roof-racks.

Once that last job was done, I took my new kayak out. I tipped the contents of a little bottle of bubbly over her deck and had a swig myself in celebration of our maiden voyage. Then I pushed Little Witch II off the beach and into the water, and in front of a small gathering of friends and family, proceeded to sit in the thing only to topple out the other side into the water. Clearly I needed a lot of training before the Hawkesbury Classic a mere two and a half months away.

As Katharine Hepburn’s character Tracy Lord says in Philadelphia Story: “My she was yar … easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.” Little Witch II has her fair share of scratches and the fibre-glass has lifted in a couple of spots on the deck, but my strip-built kayak still goes as good as ever. She was most pleasing to paddle in the Hawkesbury Classic, she has been on numerous adventures since, and she definitely has many good sea hours to come.

Tip: To complete the kayak building experience, by all means, you could make a wooden paddle. Maybe one day I will, but as yet I haven’t got around to it. No I won’t, who am I kidding? I’d rather be out on the water.


"Little Witch II" on the day of her maiden voyage

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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