The homebuilt-kayak project

[ final kayak picture ]

My homebuilt sea-kayak project began when I first lived in New Hampshire. I attended an 80-hour workshop class at Newfound Woodworks, in Bristol N.H. in 1999 or 2000. I was the second-person of a two-person team, building an open boat...a design called the Rangeley Boat, which was to be owned by my classmate for his use. Here is Newfound's webpage describing that design. This webpage is from Newfound Woodworks and you can find info there on their various kits, etc. Note that they no longer teach such extensive complete boat-building classes. Instead, they now offer many shorter workshops (approx 5 hours each) on the various phases of wooden canoe and kayak construction. Also note that they host a one-day 'Rendezvous' once each year in early September in northern New Hampshire, where previous builders and designers and fabricators congregate. Many prospective builders first attend this event, to help them decide whether to tackle such a homebuilt project. They also sell a video (tape or DVD) covering the fiberglassing and epoxying phases, which I highly recommend. I've watched my tape numerous times...typically, I re-watched each section again just prior to the day when I began each of the major fiberglassing/epoxying sessions.

I chose to build a standard single-person sea kayak...a model named the Georgian Bay. Newfound no longer offers a kit for this design, but the actual designer of this kayak, Rob Macks, has his own LaughingLoon website, where he describes this and other models that he designs, builds, and sells.

Before moving from NH to Sarasota Florida, I had completed the stripping of about three-quarters of the hull. (That work was done in my basement in NH, shortly after attending the 80-hour class at Newfound Woodworks.) I do not have any digital photos from that early part of the project.

After moving to Sarasota,Florida, I continued again in November of 2003, and completed the stripping of the hull before the end of the year. Here is a photo showing completion of that stage.

I then removed it from the stongback (i.e. the long wooden support box that holds the station forms) and placed it upright, so that I could begin the strips for the top-deck. This phase started in about January of 2004. Here is a photo showing it resting on the two upright supports, just before I cut the wells in those supports to properly support the hull for this next phase. Notice that you can see each of the station forms protruding up inside the hull. They were needed to fasten the strips to during the stripping of the hull, and they will be needed again to fasten the deck strips to. They give the hull and deck their needed shapes. This photo is taken from the stern (back) of the kayak...notice the extra elevation of the forms starting in the middle going forward, which is the area where there needs to be extra room for the paddler's knees.

By March 2004, I had completed both the stripping and the fiberglassing of the top deck. Here is a photo after that, showing a topview of the finished top-deck. The separate small deck end-plate for the bow is also shown in this photo. Note that I actually fiberglassed the top deck before I fiberglassed the hull. Well, actually, I first did some minor fiberglassing of the two internal bulkheads, followed by fiberglassing the two small bow and stern deck end-plates. Then, I tackled the large top-deck section, and finished by fiberglassing the hull, both outside and inside. As I mentioned earlier, the video-tape from Newfound Woodworks was a crucial aid during this major fiberglassing/epoxy phases.

So, before the end of May 2004, I had completed that fiberglassing of both the outside and inside of the hull. Here is a photo of the inside of the hull, with the fiberglass cloth smoothed into place and fastened with clothes pins, which hold it in position for application of the epoxy. The epoxy 'wets out' the fiberglass, turning it totally transparent, which allows the underlying wooden strips to be seen again, in all their lustre. Ok, so here is a photo of all the pieces, after the fiberglass and epoxy has been applied. And, here's another topview of the finished hull, with the bulkheads standing in place. Note also the separate bow deck end-plate in both photographs.

In January 2005, I got back at it again. The cockpit lip (combing) was constructed and glassed. The hatchwork was completed, including a round day-hatch, which required installation of a third bulkhead. (I recommend to other builders to strongly consider adding a day-hatch...they are a nice feature!) Here is a photo showing that work.

The foot braces were then installed in the cockpit. (No rudder is needed, which is good as I'm not an advocate of rudders on kayaks.) I've purchased and installed a foot-operated pump...I chose a Bosworth Model 450-S. There was an excellent detailed installation/testing article on kayak footpumps in Sea Kayaker magazine. You can reach Bosworth via their website here. The 'strum box' (filter) mentioned in the article initially confused me. I finally figured out that in this implementation, it is not a 'box' at all. It is a slotted hose-connector positioned as shown in one of their photos so that water can enter the hose-inlet only thru the slots cut around the connector rim. It's function is to keep debris out of the pump and is superior to just using a piece of screen.

Joining the deck to the hull is a major task. I first attached the bow and stern deck end-plates to the hull which is easy. Then I tackled the dreaded task of attaching the maindeck assembly, which requires working thru the cockpit-opening and the hatch openings while again wearing the safety epoxy-filter facemask. The front-hatch section was the most tedious, as that opening only allowed me to get one arm inside and did require me to use a push-stick to position the epoxy-soaked fiberglass along the seam. More about that later.

The whole boat then received about five coats of marine varnish, to block out the ultra-violet rays of the sun (necessary to protect the underlying fiberglass/epoxy). And, finally, various deck rigging lines and hatch-straps were fitted and the seat and backrest-strap were installed. Here are two pictures of the completed kayak, a photo from the stern and another photo from the bow. The completed boat weighs about 49 pounds, which is almost exactly the same weight of a commercially-built fiberglass boat of the same length.

Even before the kayak was quite completed, I found myself speculating whether I'd ever consider building another one and thinking about what I would do differently if I could start over again from scratch, with the benefit of my experience from this one. My answer was that although I currently have no plans to build another one for myself, I can certainly picture myself getting involved helping some other friend or local-club member who wanted to purchase plans and a kit to build one of their own. I have an extensive collection of 'special purpose' tools that are only useful for strip-boat building that I'll sell very cheaply, and I'd thoroughly enjoy over-seeing someone else's project and providing them the hand-holding that often makes the difference in deciding to tackle such a construction decision. So, anyone in either the Sarasota Florida or southern New Hampshire area that might be interested, please feel free to contact me about that.

As for what I'd do differently, I came up with many ideas. So here's my outline of ideas and tips with some details that might benefit other builders.