Sunday, September 25, 2011

Where it all began . . .

In the "About Me" section to the right of this post, you'll see that I mention making a skin on frame (SOF) kayak at the age of 13. For years (perhaps 30) this little boat has languished in the crawlspace under my uncle's log house. I knew it was there but never really bothered to look at it - until this weekend.

With the completion of my new SOF, the Disko Bay, I experienced a new desire to see the boat where it all began, i.e., my interest in kayaking and kayak construction. I decided to dig out the old boat and see how I made out with the build.

Before moving onto the pictures, there are a number of things you must take into consideration:

a) I was only thirteen,
b) I had never laid eyes on a real kayak other than in pictures,
c) I built this without any adult help whatsoever. My Dad worked at Horwood Lumber and provided me with the materials but everything else was done solo, 
d) I did not have a workshop. I built in the kitchen at first and later in a makeshift shelter outside and
e) I did not have a plan. I simply drew it up and went from there.

For 30 years in a damp, unheated, dirt-floored crawlspace, the boat has held up remarkably well. There is no rot in the wood and only one section of canvas has shown deterioration.

The boat measures 13' feet long by 21" wide with a foredeck height of 11". Initially the foredeck was flat with a very small opening for the legs. I found this too hard to enter so I raised the foredeck by adding a curved piece onto the existing frame. I then stitched in a new piece of canvas to accommodate the structural changes. This added piece of canvas is the only one showing significant damage.

When I raised the foredeck, I added two pieces of plywood to either side to give the cockpit a more oval shape than the initial fully open rectangle.  I added a backrest but I'm not sure why I made it pointy!?!?!? Not the best boat for doing layback rolls, what??

Cockpit looking fwd.

Showing the raised foredeck.
I'm not sure how I came to know about how to build a SOF but my construction techniques are not a whole lot different than those used on the Disko Bay.

You will notice that I screwed up on the stringer placements. Instead of placing the middle stringers at the chine, I put them in the middle. This resulted in the ribs/frames poking out the canvas. I did not notice this until I had the thing skinned and as the paint dried, it pulled the fabric taut and my mistake became painfully obvious. I always thought that is made the hull look like a starving cow!!

Looking fwd.

Port bow. Can't remember if the rocker was intentional or not.

Certainly not fancy but a good first try for a 13 yr old!!
If you are to paddle, then, obviously, you need a paddle. If you can build a boat, then you can build a paddle, I figured. My Dad gave me a piece of handrail and I fastened two plywood blades - and voila, an unfeathered kayak paddle. I re-found the paddle a couple of years ago in the woods and saved it from the elements by putting it in the shed. This weekend is the first time in 30 years that they've been reunited.

Boat and paddle - reunited and it feels so good.
I'm thinking that I'll put this boat in my basement now. It's dry and free of bugs or any other creatures who'd do it harm. It'll never hit the water again but it will hold it's place with my other boats.

As I was revisiting the past with this old boat, my Disko Bay was close by getting a new coat of paint. While these two boats are world's apart in finesse and craftsmanship, they are basically the same concept. It's just that one was built by a 13 year old boy with no knowledge of kayak design and/or construction. The other was built by a 45 year old man with a wealth of information found on the Internet and in books, with all the necessary tools and a workspace and with firsthand knowledge on how to actually paddle a kayak. All things considered, that 13 year old boy did alright, don't you think?

SOF - the latest iteration.

Hmm, this one doesn't look like a starved cow.

Thanks for dropping by and reliving a little history with me.



  1. Sean, based on this, you have a longer pedigree in kayaking than anyone else I know of in the club. A lot of memories tied up in that first boat. Next post you'll have to tell us your memories of paddling it and where you went.

    Tony :-)

  2. You could always re-skin it...

  3. The lack of stability created by the hull shape was a deciding factor in how much this boat was used. I have clearer memories of the build than of the paddling. There are some old slide pictures around of me on Healey's Pond but they'd be hard to find.

    Re-skinning is not even on the agenda. This one will remain a museum piece, I believe.