Dick has commissioned a kayak from Lodro Dawa of Monkcraft Kayaks. This isn't just any old Greenland skin-on-frame though. The design is really going to be unique. Lodro happens to be the only builder Dick approached who was willing to take on the project. He grew up around boats and has been building things all his life. Before he became a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition,
he did some professional design work making AK-47s kill more efficiently or something of that nature*. So he's up to the challenge. By the way, Dick doesn't want me to give away even the slightest clue as to what the secret design might be. Let's just say for now that this experiment pushes the limits of skin-on-frame technology and is going to make a big splash when it finally hits the water at SSTIKS 2008!
Lodro is relatively new to the traditional kayaking scene. Even though he started in this business only a couple years ago he's completed about 40 kayaks, each one custom fit to the individual paddler. That's a lot of boats in a short amount of time, so I suspect he's got the formula down.
The Monkcraft shop is located in the heart of Portland, just across the bridge from the commercial center and a few blocks from the Willamette River. It's actually a corner in a large community shop where all kinds of crafts people and artists rent workspace. On street level is a coffee shop where some of the artists have items for sale -- sculpture, paintings and jewelry. Downstairs in the shop there is an amazing amount of activity going on. The air is electric with creative energy! Lodru says the trick to making this place work has been to price the rent high enough so that people can't afford to let projects sit idle.
He takes three kayaks down from the ceiling for Dick to try and takes measurements. They discuss fit and dimensions and construction in painstaking detail. Lodro's choice of nontraditional features (keyhole cockpits, stitching along the side of the gunwale, elastic bungees) might offend the sensibilities of those ubertraditional graybeard types who prefer tight cockpits, Frankenstein's monster stitching down the center and leather deck lines. Minor details. Lodro builds for real people -- not ghosts of the Inuit. Besides, his woodwork is too polished to look like it was hewn out of driftwood on a desolate arctic beach.
When it finally comes time to try out the kayaks on the water, we take them to the car, drive a few blocks, then carry them down a steep ramp to a public dock on the Willamette. We start losing sunlight rapidly as I get into Lodro's personal boat, a sporty, low volume model with a twisty pig tail, and paddle away. It feels remarkably comfortable -- not common for a skin-on-frame that was made for someone else (there's usually a rib or deckbeam pressing in a tender spot). It tracks well and turns easily. It rolls easily too (damn that's cold!) An all-around good boat. Well, that's about all I can say after trying it out for five minutes anyway.
*[ADDENDUM: Lodro recently clarified the details regarding his work in the rifle accessory business. He took that job right out of college. All he did was design the sales brochure and a few drawings. His work before he became a monk could be more accurately described as designing and building water monitoring systems and customizing river gauges.]