One of a Kind
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by Etienne Muller
After years of building various types of wooden kayaks, I came across George Dyson’s book, “Baidarka,” and I became intrigued by the evolution of this type of craft. These buoyant boats evolved as multiple chine vessels and are good load carrying craft with particularly good rough water stability and speed. I decided I had to have one, but I like working in wood, so a search brought me to Rob Macs: laughingloon.com. I built my first Baidarka: “North Star.”
I was so impressed by the North Star that I wanted to try another. I wanted to build a Baidarka along the lines of my North Star but with less rocker, and I still had George Dyson’s book in my head, so I asked him to send me the plans for his skin-on-aluminum frame “Dyson 17.”
The “Pole Dancer” project is the result of converting a George Dyson 17′ Baidarka from a skin-on-frame to a cedar strip construction. I am bigger than George Dyson, so I lengthened the boat by fifteen inches and raised the fore deck to get more foot-room. To aid construction I also rounded the chines.
The result is a fast hull with really great rough water stability that suits the seas we have here in South Kerry, Ireland.
My thanks to Rob Macs for cracking the ends of this style of construction and to George Dyson for encouraging me to mutilate his plans for the sake of curiosity, he is a great man.
For a full Photographic build log of Pole Dancer:
2.5 Kayak Retrofit
The 2.5 kayak was strip constructed and home built originally as a single, for accessing wade fishing in the salt marshes of Galveston Bay in Texas. Grandchildren precipitated a refit to accommodate one or two adults with a small child. The deck was removed and a new 2.5 deck (black) insert was fabricated and retrofitted. The kayak is 18′ 6″ long, and 25″ at the max beam. Rules for kayaking with children: learn to swim and tread water, wear PFDs and plan kayaking in calm water and clear weather. Our trips to date have been to observe nature: sea birds, turtles, small alligators and other wild life, in Armand Bayou nature preserve.
I built Persephone under the mentorship of Mark Reuten of Nomad Boatbuilding, a very talented boat-builder, artist and craftsman. She is built almost entirely of clear Alaskan yellow cedar. Wonderfully fragrant wood, even after three months of travel she still smells delicious when I put my head inside her. The only other wood used is uniquely pink and yellow-marbled western red cedar for the slats that run full length for seating and to make loading and unloading gear easier.
Persephone is a replica of an 1845 collected specimen held in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in Leningrad cataloged as MAE 953-76. We lofted the dimensions up from the line drawings made by David W. Zimmerly in 1975. The rib bending, and stringer placement and curve was done by eye. The tools used were quite simple, a saw, hand-plane, angle finder, hammer, and a needle. I found myself reaching for a tape measure more out of insecurity than real need. I chose to lower the rear deck to enable easier layback rolls, a choice I now regret as it reduced the capacity of the baidarka substantially in the only place a larger drybag could be fit. I shouldn’t have second-guessed the Aleutian Inuit of Akun Island’s wisdom of design.
The skin is 12-ounce nylon from George Dyson, the seam along the deck is made with a furniture upholstery type of seam. The material is sewn over two pieces of plastic cording and drawn together by stitches underneath. It is sealed with five coats of slightly thinned polyurethane, satin finish varnish. All joints are pegged, and lashed with artificial sinew. I believe there were over 300 individual joints in her to be lashed.
Her dimensions are quite extreme at a Length of 19′ 9″, and a Beam of 17.1″. Her dry weight is around 45 lbs. One thing about this replica baidarka that makes it very different from most baidarka designs is the extremely deep keelson, which gives the craft a very sharp V profile on the lower hull – which transitions into a more typical rounded baidarka hull higher up. This makes her quite unstable feeling with very low initial stability, and fairly good secondary or primary stability. This is an uncompromised hull designed for speed and efficiency over long distances. The other benefit of such a narrow and steeply V-shaped hull can be seen in ancient storm kayak hulls. The less flat bottom a kayak presents to the rough seas, the less it is tipped about by them. I’ve had this baidarka in 12′ seas whipped up by prolonged, long-fetch, 30+ knot winds and it’s every bit as stable as it is in 2′ wind waves. I have been maintaining a 4 knot cruising speed in all but the worst conditions for ten hour stretches. I can hold her comfortably at 4.5+ knots on flat water and can sprint her to fairly extreme speeds.
The reason I chose such an unlikely craft was not for its beauty but for function. It fitted my needs and body in a way that a commercial composite boat couldn’t, was very cost efficient, and it was a very quick process building her—less than three weeks. I’m currently paddling her south along the coast of North America from Canada, and have crossed the Columbia River and it’s bar into Oregon. This is an extended expedition, and I need a craft that will take the extremes of exposed coastal weather and seas, as well as provide predictability, efficiency and speed. If I break anything, it can be quickly repaired on the fly, and as I built it I know how to do these things. A punctured skin can be quickly sealed with a wrap of duct-tape while on the water, later it can be sewn up or covered with an air mattress patch. Ribs and stringers are plentiful enough to be redundant so I can still paddle with substantial internal damage.
We’ve been bounced across reefs, barnacles, and beds of razor sharp mussels, pitchpoled forwards and backwards in formidable surf, and relentlessly and mercilessly rolled by dumping waves. The nylon is strong, abrasion resistant and still 100% intact, and the frame has an amazing capacity to absorb blows by flexing. The only repairs I’ve needed to make so far have been a cosmetic touch-up of chipped and abraded varnish, a replaced screw on a deck line, and the routine reapplication of sacrificial duct-tape to the keel.
If anyone would like to follow my travels in Persephone, I’m writing about them and posting them as I can here- http://www.longboatshortboat.blogspot.com
This is a Nick Schade design, the Guillemot, which I lofted from his book The Strip-Built Sea Kayak. It took me 1 1/2 years to make. It is a cedar-strip kayak; the inlaid areas are walnut, curly maple, redwood and some white oak. The bow and stern pieces are cherry. I avoided using staples since I didn’t like the look of the holes left behind, so I had to use a lot of clamps and a hot-glue gun to hold the strips temporarily onto the forms. I built the hull in the basement (there’s no decoration on hull, who sees it?), then built the deck and finished it in the garage.
It performs well—you have to get used to the boat and use body “English” and it tracks well. Wind is a problem since it rides so high in the water—I weigh 165 pounds and most sea kayaks I’ve seen ride lower.
Weight is 40 lbs., 17 feet long with a 21-inch beam.
Shearwater 17 Hybrid
Bamboo is amazing stuff. Renewable in 5 years, it’s used for everything from scaffolding to my granddaughter’s diapers. I built this Eric Schade designed Shearwater 17 Hybrid using the stitch-and-glue process for the hull, and strip-built the deck with 7/8″ x 1/8″ bamboo strips. I found the bamboo to be much stronger and only slightly harder to work with than western red cedar (which renews in about 25 years).
The finished boat is 17′ x 22″ and weighs 36 lbs.—and thanks to Eric’s design, it paddles beautifully. I inlaid the foredeck with burled walnut, ash and bird’s-eye maple in a yin-yang design to speak to the connectedness of our lives to how we use the things in our environment. My kayak was awarded “Best Of Show” at last year’s Chesapeake Light Craft Okoumefest, largely due to my choice of material. It is always the center of attention at put-ins. I first paddled my bamboo boat on Earth Day 2009. I urge everyone to incorporate the use of bamboo in their lives. Every little bit helps.
Here’s my latest strip-built kayak, a Petrel designed by Nick Schade of Guillemot kayaks.
I have built a few of Nick’s designs and this is by far the best. The Petrel is described as a rough-water kayak, and I love rough-water kayaking. For surfing it’s outstanding, very easy to catch a wave, great handling and control while surfing and it punches through the swell and waves with ease. Everybody who tries this kayak is amazed at how good it feels.
If anyone wants to contact me, I’d be happy to talk to them.
Modified Guillemot Double
My wife and I have done a lot of canoeing over the years, and decided that we would like to try kayaking to do more lake travel in our area, which has over 50 lakes within a 60 kilometer radius from our home near Perth, Ontario, Canada. We wanted a double kayak that was as light as possible for loading on our car, yet strong and reasonably fast for easy paddling.
I took every possible means to lighten the kayak and so all the fastenings were fabricated out of carbon fiber. For strength, the section below the waterline has a layer of 5 ounce Kevlar over the 1/4 inch Core-cell core, and then a layer of 4 ounce fiberglass over that. The interior of that section below the waterline consists of 5 ounce carbon fiber laid on the Core-cell. So, the portion of the kayak below the waterline has a total of 14 ounces of cloth over the Core-cell. The upper hull also consists of a Core-cell core, but this is only covered with 4 ounce fiberglass inside and out, and only one coat of just enough epoxy to attach the cloth. The cockpit coaming is molded from carbon fiber, as is the rudder mechanism. There are three watertight compartments. A short section of the hull is expanded into a box-like configuration for the rear paddler’s feet, because I found the design did not provide enough space for the steering mechanism and my feet. This box-like extension also serves as a handy “table” for the rear paddler. A removable lid provides access to the steering mechanism that consists of a rotating Core-cell and carbon fiber foot brace that I designed because the commercially available steering mechanisms were too heavy.
The seats were formed by making a custom mold for each paddler, by sitting in the kayak on a heavy-duty garbage bag filled with fast hardening Plaster of Paris. Each Plaster of Paris mold was then trimmed and used to lay up a carbon fibre seat that fits the paddler exactly.
I had hoped that the weight would come out at the 39 pounds I had originally estimated, because that sounds a lot more dramatic than 40, but alas the final weight was almost exactly 40 pounds. My experience is that usually when one attempts new directions on a project like this, the result is somewhat less than perfect. However, this project worked out pretty much perfectly. The boat is strong where it needs to be, comfortable, stable, fast and light—if perhaps one pound heavier than I had hoped!
My baidarka is a reproduction of one in the collection of Berkeley’s Hearst (formerly Lowie) Museum of Anthropology. The un-skinned frame had beautifully carved bow and stern pieces. David Zimmerly described the baidarka and its construction in a couple of issues of the long-defunct Small Boat Journal. I also used notes and drawings from John Heath to get the best representation of the original frame.
I used locally collected saplings for the ribs. Gathered in the summer and bent cold with the bark still on, they easily took the curves. After bending each sapling, I stripped the bark and spoke-shaved it to the proper diameter. The curved bow piece and deck beams are cut from yellow cedar crooks. The skin is nylon with a two-part urethane coating obtained from the Skin Boat School http://www.skinboats.org/skinboats/home.html.
The deck lines are latigo (leather) with antler fittings. It’s a tight squeeze getting into the cockpit, but on the water the baidarka is comfortable and fast—I can get close to 7 knots in a sprint. In a following sea the full stern seems to give me a boost to catch the waves. 17’ long, 21.5” wide, 40 pounds.