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The author's freshly finished kayak on Swan Lake, Vernon, BC.

The author’s freshly finished kayak on Swan Lake, Vernon, BC.

After some 400 hours of pleasurable work, I launched my kayak on August 3rd. I’m very happy to report that my new boat meets all of my expectations. She is fast and capable and when I get back to the ocean I’m sure she will also pack a good expedition load.

Rainbird, the 33’ wooden Bill Garden sloop which had been in my life for 5 years was sold at the end of June. As my home is in the BC Okanagan, keeping a boat on Vancouver Island was becoming a strain. Getting there involved a 550km road trip and an expensive 2 hour ferry ride – typically 11 hours door to dock. I was also spending way more time on maintenance than sailing. Besides, Rainbird was as much Jilly’s boat as mine and after she passed away in 2012 my whole world changed.

I certainly haven’t lost my love for sailing and wooden sailboats, but it’s time to try something different, especially as the cost of keeping a boat on BC’s coast makes it tough for budget conscious sailors.

I will continue posting kayak building tips. The process wasn’t difficult but then I have 30 years of building experience to draw on. Hopefully I can help new builders save themselves a little time and money.

Finally I would like to thank Vaclav Stejskal of One Ocean Designs for his beautiful Storm LT design and excellent plans and manuals. Armed with these you can’t go wrong and my comments are only intended to show other slightly different ways of achieving the same ends with the tools, materials and experience you have at hand.

Kayak Launch-0017

Kayak Launch-0023

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The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The hull is progressing well with few problems. I haven’t used the traditional bead and cove method but instead used plain strips and beveled one edge of each strip to achieve a good fit. I used polyurethane glue rather than white glue making final clean up very easy.

You might think that beveling one edge of each strip is difficult and time consuming. In fact it isn’t. Although the angle constantly changes with the form of the hull I found a simple method to get a reasonable fit.

  1. Hold the new strip in place and check the gap along the outer edge of the plank. The bigger the gap the bigger the bevel that needs planing.
  2. Estimate the size of the gap; I used an arbitary scale of zero to three, zero for no gap and three for the big gaps that occur as the planks bend at the soft chines. I marked the numbers on the plank as I worked along it.
  3. Transfer the plank to a vice and start planning the bevel. I did it purely by eye, changing the angle according to the adjacent number and making sure the bevel transitions smoothly along the plank. I found it takes about five minutes to do an eight-foot strip.
  4. Refit and adjust if necessary.

It really is that easy and perfection isn’t necessary as the real strength in the structure will come from the glass cloth. Strips are less fragile and easier to handle this way. I haven’t used bead and cove on this small scale so I can’t comment on overall speed.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

My strips were ¼” thick and ¾” wide except those that made a tighter turn at the chines where I used strips a little over ½” wide.

To handle the upswept bow and stern, I cut the strips down the middle, length ways with a utility knife – effectively laminating using narrower strips.

The compound curvature at the stern was challenging but I found that careful use of a heat gun would allow me to set some twist and bend in the strips making the final gluing, clamping and stapling easier.

Staples would secure most strips but I needed clamps at the bow and stern too. I used a maple keel and mahogany sheer strip – great for bracing clamps as red cedar is just too soft for repeated clamping.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

Aligning stations with a simple laser-level is easy.

Aligning stations with a simple laser-level is easy.

A friend introduced me to kayaking last year and quickly got me hooked. I decided to build one over the winter and I will report progress from time-to-time and pass on any useful building tips.

A few trips on local lakes convinced me that I wanted my own kayak and subsequent research revealed that choosing one wasn’t as easy as it first seemed. There are always design compromises and in an ideal world one would have a selection of kayaks and chose according to the whim of the moment or the task in hand. I wanted it all; speed, stability, lightness, durability, seaworthiness and carrying capacity all in the same boat but as with other areas of life, compromises would be needed.

I got off to a false start when I purchased plans for a simple, 16’ stitch and glue design from a well known supplier. I soon realized that I had chosen a design which I would quickly outgrow. Although stable and predictable, it was probably going to be slow, so I set aside the plans and resumed my search, eventually settling on the Storm LT by One Ocean Kayaks. It is narrow (21.5” beam) and has a 16’ 3” L.O.A. with graceful, upswept ends. The Storm LT is actually a smaller version of the designer Vaclav Stejskal’s Cape Ann Storm and should be a good match for my 150 lb weight. For a novice its narrow beam may be a bit of a challenge and I hope that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Fortunately, the designer claims good secondary stability which is comforting for someone who loves being on the water not in it.

The plans and manual for this strip-planked boat were beautifully done and there seems to be a plethora of advice available on-line with step-by-step building photographs and tips. There is also a wealth of hydrodynamic data which instills confidence.

So why build when there are plenty of production boats available, some little more expensive than the cost of materials for this strip-planked design? Well, it quickly became clear that a kayak is a boat that you slip-on and wear. It has to be a good fit, in terms of body weight and size, otherwise performance and comfort will suffer. Production boats are available in limited sizes.

In selecting a custom design, I felt that I could get close to the optimum boat for my weight and build. Not only that, I would have the lightest possible boat – important when loading onto a roof-rack or carrying up a beach. Indeed, the Storm LT should weigh less than a carbon-fiber production boat of similar size. Aesthetically, the strip-plank boat also wins hands-down.

I was once helped build a 36’ strip-cedar catamaran. I haven’t used this technique since and wanted to give it another try.

Building the mould was fairly straight forward, except that the plywood spine, built as a box beam, wasn’t perfectly true. I used an inexpensive laser level to check the alignment against convenient datum lines on the stations and made the appropriate adjustments using wedges and other methods of persuasion. The plans suggest using saw horses to support the mold but I opted for a couple of inexpensive metal stands designed for chop-saws or drill presses. These were “ballasted” with heavy items to keep them firmly in position. Now I have a fair mould.

I’m using ¼” red cedar, sawn from clear 16’ boards. I’m not using bead and cove molding but will use a block plane to fit each strip individually. I am using Titebond Polyurethane glue because the squeeze-out turns to foam, making clean-up really easy.

All well and good in theory but I will let you know how it works in practice. Stay tuned!