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Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Launching Moonlight Dancer

As the last flap on the after-deck is sewn, after the frame is shoved into the completed covering, the now naked owner, accompanied by all the men present, sings his childbirth song to his new kaiak. The owner washes the cover with urine to remove any oil that may adhere to the surface, and rinses it in salt water. He then hauls his craft through the smoke-hole of the house and rests it on the snow, which will absorb dampness from its surface.  Later he puts the kaiak on its rack and drapes over it his talismans, strung on belts, which are later to be kept in the kaiak... [From David W. Zimmerly, Qayaq: Kayaks of Alaska and Siberia]


After getting home from work early I spend the afternoon on the final touches to the Shooting Star. My fingers are sore from pulling knots on bungee cord, undoing them, then doing them again to get it right.  After dinner we walk to the beach. The sky is drizzling and overcast. The wind is building. I set the kayak down by the water. I hold a bottle of champagne in one hand, and pop the cork. "I hereby name you... Moonlight Dancer!"  A generous splash on the bow and a little sip for myself. I squeeze in and secure my tuilik. The coaming has a very low profile. The fit is pleasantly tight around my thighs, but I have an inch or two extra footroom. She speeds me away. I put her on edge and bow rudder -- so smooth! Then a standard Greenland roll. She rolls easily and is stable on recovery. A few more rolls: reverse sweep, shoulder, butterfly, masikkut aalatsineq -- simply awesome! I've reached the end. She is finished.

See you at SSTIKS!


Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Racing to Finish

Isn't it amazing how you can spend an entire day working on a kayak and time just flies by?  I'm almost done with my Shooting Star. On this beautiful sunny day I had to resist the urge to try it out on the water. I will launch it either tomorrow or the next day. Of course it's typical that builders are never really "done" with their kayaks because they are always tweaking them, adjusting the seat, changing the rigging or hatches, or revarnishing. "Done" for me means that it is equipped with everything I need for an overnight trip. I wish I had another couple months to really finish it the way I want to but then I would never go out paddling. I guess I'll just have to live the imperfections for a while. Some recent developments:


I finished making all the beads and sliders for the deck rigging after all. I made them out of the artificial ivory I had left over from building Necromancer. 

I stopped at 4 coats of varnish. That's all the 1 L can will cover. The last coat was the worst -- dust all over, and a couple sags. I don't think the "Clean Room" really worked, because I had to take it down between coats to sand the kayak. It might have been better to just wet down the floor and walls between coats instead. Unless you look very closely though the finish looks good. I'll probably put on another 4 coats in the winter when I'm not in a hurry and paddling slows down.

The hatch covers are secured with internal bungees. The bungees make a loop through carbon fiber tubes attached to the inside where the deck meets the hull right next to the hatch, then loop around wooden hooks on the underside of the hatch cover. Another cord keeps the hatch cover attached to the deck so it doesn't get lost when the hatch is off or if the bungees fail.


I had a problem with the hatches gaskets. The gasket that came with the kit is a strip of adhesive 3/16 in foam that is supposed to be applied to the inside of the hatch cover. When I did this the hatch wouldn't sit flush with the deck. So I spent half the day worrying about this and trying to figure out when I would get the chance to rebuild the hatch lips. Fortunately while I was at West Marine getting some supplies I found a roll of 1/8 in weatherstripping. It is very compressible and will let the hatch sit reasonably flush. Although I haven't tested it I'm sure it will give a watertight seal, at least for rolling. When touring I plan to use float bags for back up floatation. My experience has been that designing and building watertight flush hatches is one of the most problematic parts of wooden kayak construction.

I installed the Joe Greenley's soft padeyes. Like other builders, I modified his design by adding a small plywood backing to the nylon webbing. I was a little uncomfortable with how small the lip was on the webbing made according to his instructions (even though he says that it will hold 300 lbs). With the plywood epoxied to the webbing there is no question that it will hold and provide a good seal. I installed the padeyes by running a line through holes drilled through the deck, through the webbing loop formed by the padeye, then out again through the hole in the deck. A bead of silicone sealer is applied to the plywood and the padeye is pulled up through the deck with the line. It is possible to remove the padeyes when the time comes to revarnish.

Next post will be the launching ceremony (maybe). I better go out and get some champagne. Three more days until SSTIKS.



Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Deck Rigging


As I'm finishing up the last few coats of varnish I've started thinking about deck rigging. Some wooden kayak builders omit it completely. Who really wants to spoil the clean lines and distract from the beauty of a wooden deck? The kayaker in the picture told me he's had his Pygmy Coho for 4 or 5 years and he still doesn't have any rigging!  Depending on the conditions in which you paddle in that could be a big mistake.  It's not just about having a few bungees to hold your camera or water bottle. Picture yourself as the rescuer or victim in a deep water rescue, with waves pushing you against the rocks or a steep cliff. It's important to have perimeter lines to grab onto if you're swimming, and strong enough so that a rescuer can grab hold of your flooded kayak that's packed with gear and pull it half out of the water, without the padeyes coming off the deck like buttons popping off a shirt. It helps if the perimeter lines are raised above the deck, so you can grab hold of them easily with a gloved hand that's numb from being in cold water too long. 


When we were practicing rescues in the 4-star training in I kept running into problems stowing my paddle as the rescuer. It would either take me way too long or I ended up with the paddle swinging loose under the lines. It would have helped to either have a proper paddle park or have the cross deck bungees raised so I could slip the paddle under them in a second. Leon Sommé added a little blue ball to the right perimeter line on his NDK Romany so he could quickly stow his paddle. I thought it resembled the bone and ivory beads that raised lines up off the deck on traditional boats (To be accurate, traditional boats don’t have perimeter lines. Of course the Inuit never considered wet exits and T rescues an option). Brian Nystrom illustrates some good ideas for modifying rigging on production kayaks to be more functional on his website.


I think modern kayak manufacturers can learn something from ancient design. Think about how easy or difficult is it to take out or stow away your gear when you are underway. The beads of ivory on traditional boats function to  keep the lines from freezing to the deck but also make it easier to slip a spare paddle, harpoon, norsaq or whatever under them. Since the lines were made out of strips of inelastic leather, sliders were used to adjust the tension on them. I find sliders useful to keep gear in place, so I still plan to use them even though I’ll be using bungee for my cross deck lines (over time bungees can get a little frayed from the sliders though).


Pictured above is one of Mark Wade's kayaks, with antler beads and sliders, and below a baidarka by John Petersen, with caribou antler beads and sliders carved into sea mammal shapes --really works of art by themselves.  So far I've played with making beads out of HDPE (easy to carve but difficult to sand smooth), artificial ivory (easy to sand but difficult to carve), and wood. Another possibility is making them out of bone (bones for dogs sold in pet stores are a good source), but because  HDPE or artificial ivory are less likely to scratch the deck I think are my first choices. I'm going to have to postpone making any beads and sliders until later though because there are only 5 more days until SSTIKS!




It's not my qajaq that's leaking: I got rumors to share. This year's SSTIKS is going to be packed with big talent.  In addition to the stars already listed on the program, Chris Cunningham, Freya Hoffmeister, and Wolfgang Brinck (baidarka expert and author of The Aleutian Kayak) may show up!  So if you had decided you weren't going to go this year because there is a 60% chance of rain, gas is up to $3.25 a gallon, and the Twanoh State Park campground is closed you might want to think again.  Make your plans now because there are only 7 days left!

I need to remember to bring my copy of The Aleutian Kayak for Wolfgang to sign.  (On second thought, I could just have him sign my Shooting Star!)

A couple autographs: Derek Hutchinson and Chris Cunningham (I'm such a fool for celebrity and prone to hero worship).


Fetish: The Superior Kayaks Carbon Fiber Paddle


OK, I did it.  I got one of those carbon fiber Greenland Paddles from Superior Kayaks. Ain't it sweet?  So smooth and hard. Incredibly strong, yet light as a feather. Perfectly symmetric and precise, like it was made by a machine. But so cold.  It lacks any personality. Absent is the spirit of the craftsman you will find in a handmade wooden paddle. I call it "Crazy 88".


My Beale #127 was starting to get a little beat up and frayed around the edges. I'll spend some time refinishing it later, but ever since I renounced the Euroblade for all eternity I decided I should have another GP. Ironic that I would get a carbon paddle when I'm so big into the "natural beauty of wood", huh?  Well, I got it for paddling in "conditions", so it's got to be tough! I personally know of a couple people who have broken their homemade wooden GPs: a student in a rolling class I was taking from Dubside, and Leon Sommé in the same rolling class the next day. Leon broke the GP that he had carved when he was a grad student. I didn't know Greenland style even existed back then! Oh yeah, it's a thousand year old tradition, isn't it?

Carbon paddles are not indestructable. Probably the most famous example is when Greg Stamer broke one

Performance of the Superior carbon paddle is what you might expect. It's light and rigid. The finish is smooth and slippery. The edges are thinner than my Beale so it slices through the water and sculls more smoothly, but it's not as comfortable when holding it extended. It has more bite than the Beale, but it is also wider. The paddles are manufactured with a standard 3.5 in width and 20 in loom. Beale #127 is 3.25 in wide and also has a 20 in loom. 

Here is what I found out about the Superior carbon paddle from searching through the Qajaq USA forum:

  • After taking abuse in rocks and surf the finish holds up very well. 
  • It weighs less than most wooden paddles.
  • The shape is excellent. After using the Superior paddle, people will attempt to achieve the same design in the next wooden paddle they carve. 
  • It's noiser than wooden paddles because the smooth finish squeeks in your hands and it resonates if your bump it on the boat.
  • Mark Molina was not allowed to use one at the Greenland National Championships.

Some quotes:

Don Beale:

"The Superior carbon is a really nice paddle. Very stiff. If you like the flexibility of wood, then carbon will feel too stiff. But its light weight helps make up for that…"

"The Superior I tried weighed about 750 grams, if I remember right. My lightest laminated paddes were 725. Most solid cedar ones are in the 800 range, and hollow cored laminated in the 850-900 range…"

Ralph Johnson:

"…I can bang up my cedar paddles in a month or so, with my Superior, I still don't have a single serious dent after 10K miles of open Pacific coast paddling including rock gardening, surf landings, and various portage accidents…"

"…I have two, a regular and a storm, and have used them for nearly 2 years. They are very light, very smooth and scull very well. Most people who have carved their own go back and try again after using the paddle. They find it more powerful and comfortable than their effort. I surf, rock garden, and open coast paddle with it extensively (thousands of mile per year). Despite the pounding, it has no dents and only cosmetic scratches. While not as shiny at the moment, it is still as good as new…"

"…I will agree with the the noise comments. I find it more a friction squeaking with my hands as I paddle than banging things. I do notice it from time to time, but it is rarely distracting and is only when I am cranking along never under casual conditions…"

Brian Nystrom:

"It's stiff, but also has a very smooth feel in the water. As Greg has mentioned in the past, it can be a bit noisy if you bump it into your boat or another object, as sound seems to resonate in the paddle."

Kris Buttermore:

"If you appreciate efficiency and covering distance at speed you will love it."

"I've had my Superior Carbon GP 3 years - 2000 miles - no dings. No scratches that aren't extremely superficial..."

"I have dropped it many times - on rock and cement a couple (makes a heck of a racket when you do!)  I've used it to push off from rock/coral/oyster mix bottoms here. I've hit submerged rocks with it at cruising pace. I like wood GPs too, but I'd trust the carbon more for durability."


"…I closed the car door on mine twice, and the door just bounced back open, leaving no evident damage…"

"…Its tips have a little sharp spot which scratches the deck pretty badly when slipped under the decklines…"

"…It's a great paddle, but I don't use it unless I'm racing--the rest of the time I prefer wood's flex and softness."


A couple of my own homemade GPs: a storm and a paddle I made for Joel, with maple ends.  Both are western red cedar, carved according to Chuck Holst's instructions. It helps to have a finished paddle for comparison while carving. Paddle carving is a great way to satisfy that urge to make something between building boats. You can laminate them out of scraps of wood, they don't take up a lot of room, and make great presents if you've made too many.



Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Varnish Cycle


Just some building notes today. I'm a couple coats into the varnish cycle. The HMG Coma Berenice clear spar varnish that came with the kit is slow drying and they recommend at least two days between coats. The advantage of being slow is that it smooths itself out after application without any brush marks (thinned with 5% Coma Berenice thinner). Good stuff.

So far I've learned a couple things: 

Varnish the hull and deck in one step, deck first.  Do the deck while the varnish and brush are fresh.  No one is really going to look closely at the hull anyway.

Varnish the kayak upside down.  This significantly reduces the amount of dust on the deck.  I had planned to varnish the deck with the kayak right side up, and then have someone help me turn it over so I could varnish the hull, but I'd rather be able to work alone.  It's probably a good idea to avoid any manipulations during varnishing anyway, because they could stir up dust or smear the fresh varnish. On your hands and knees looking up at the deck is not the optimal position to varnish the most visible part of the kayak.  It's easier to miss spots. But there will always be dust no matter how much you attempt to clean the shop.  Between coats I take the kayak outside and wet sand it, so the plastic walls of the Clean Room are pulled back just enough to open the garage door and get the kayak out, and then all the activity that goes on while varnishing stirs up more dust. It's better to let it fall on the hull than the deck.


It was a little cool and rainy yesterday so I let the finish dry another day while I worked on the bulkheads. Although I glassed the bulkheads into the hull prior to joining the hull and deck the bulkheads were still not attached to the deck. By the way, I highly recommend attaching the bulkheads while the deck and hull are still separated. It's not easy to crouch under an upside down kayak and make fillets and lay down fiberglass with your head and one arm stuck in the cockpit or hatch opening, so it's good to minimize that as much as possible. It helps if you have really long arms.


The moon face came through OK.  I subjected it to the heat of the sun oven for several hours, brushed on a final thick layer of epoxy, then heat cured it again under the lamps overnight.  No more evidence of delamination.

Sneak Peak

Since Alex asked, here is a little treat for all the faithful readers of The Dash Point Pirate: the inside scoop on the Greenland Rolling with Dubside Volume One DVD, about to be released any day now.  Just remember you saw it here first!

The rolls and maneuvers he covers include (in English):

Side Scull
Balance Brace
Standard Greenland Roll
Crook of the Elbow
Behind the Neck
Avataq Roll
Speed Standard Roll
Throwing Stick
Chest Scull
Reverse Sweep
Reverse Sweep behind the Neck
Speed Storm Roll
Cross Arm
Behind the Back
Forward Forward Throwing Stick


I mentioned earlier that there is an alternate soundtrack in which Dubside talks about the rolls with competition in mind. It includes the names of the rolls in Greenlandic, the point values for each roll, the standards by which the rolls are judged, tips on doing the rolls in competition, as well as general information about the Greenland Championships. So the DVD has something for paddlers new to Greenland style as well as those with advanced skills who have mastered several rolls. Like Qajaasaarneq, it is a real pleasure to watch, packed with information and delivered in high quality video. 

Dubside Watch: Puget Sound Kayak Symposium 2006


Today I dragged the kids to the Puget Sound Kayak Symposium at Point Defiance in Tacoma. I had the triple loaded up on the roof of the van but in the end we decided not to bring it because the wind picked up and it looked like it was going to rain. Wayne Horodowich from University of Sea Kayaking was there.  My first year kayaking I learned a lot from his videos, Capsize Recoveries & Rescue Procedures, Beyond the Cockpit - featuring Derek Hutchinson, and Performance Sea Kayaking. I let some friends borrow them and never got them back. Recently Wayne moved from California to the Puget Sound area just north of Seattle. I asked him if he has any new DVDs coming out and he said he is working on one about paddling on moving water that was shot at Deception Pass (of course). I'm looking forward to seeing it. He said I should take a look at this new DVD called Qajaasaarneq about Inuit rope gymnastics featuring Dubside and, in fact, Dubside has his ropes set up right back over by the trees.


We worked our way passed the Redfish Kayaks and Pygmy booths and walked among the kayaks on the beach. Dubside and Tom Sharp were showing some other instructors the ropes. Tom said their long-anticipated Greenland Rolling Video Volume One is done. They had hoped to have it available for this symposium but ran into some technical problems authoring the DVD, related to it having two separate soundtracks. There was a copy of it sitting right there on the table. Actually, Tom had sent me an advance copy a few months ago, but since then they had added more footage of Greenland. The final product is going to be really, really good!




Alki Point to Fauntleroy Cove


Seattle's very own Statue of Liberty, Alki Beach.

Got the day off from work today so I took the chance to get out and paddle. I packed up my gear as the kids were getting ready for school and I headed out right after I dropped them off. I didn't actually know to where though. North or south? I hadn't made up my mind until I was on the road a few minutes. I decided on north, to Alki Point in Seattle. I could launch from there and head south at least as far as Lincoln Park and the Fauntleroy ferry terminal. It's a new route for me. 

The weather: Partly cloudy with a chance of rain. South wind at 5 mph. High of 70. The only reason I knew this was because my daughter asked me earlier what the weather was going to be like and didn't accept my answer of "cooler".  She insisted that I look it up.


Homemade plywood rowboat abandoned on Alki Beach.

Once interesting thing about paddling in Elliot Bay is that the boat traffic and Washington State Ferries can create some exciting waves, but today it was totally calm. 


My Greenland skin-on-frame kayak, Misterie, at Fauntleroy Cove

I paddled close to shore going south, admiring the waterfront mansions and condos, and just enjoying the scenery. At Lincoln Park I stopped and had the two Odwalla Bars I still had in my PFD, leftover from my Neah Bay trip. Yummy! I especially like the "Superfood" variety.


Alki Point Light Station

Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Welcome to the Clean Room


It was a perfect day for paddling but I spent the afternoon in an insane sanding session. Started out with random orbital sander and dry 120 grit, then hand sanded wet with 220 grit, then scrubbed it with a Scotchbrite pad and dish soap. It's oh soooo smooth! There are a couple spots where I sanded to the glass and where the weave shows but oh well I can't do anything about it now.

So after all that sanding the next thing you're supposed to do is find an absolutely dustless area for varnishing. I cleaned a few things out of the shop, brought in the garden hose and washed the floor and walls down, at least as much as I could without electrocuting myself.


Then I strung up some cord and built a clean room out of 1 mil plastic sheeting, by hanging the plastic over the cords and clamping it to whatever I could. So here I am in a room lined in plastic, with hot halogen lights, all exits blocked off, about to be saturated with flammable varnish fumes. Does this make anyone else besides me nervous? I've seen other people do it this way, but I wonder if the plastic sheeting can be counterproductive, because it moves with every little movement in the room, probably just stirring up more dust. I also left a portable air filter unit in the room overnight turned on high. I'll probably let it sit all day tomorrow before I actually start varnishing.

More intensive care on my moon face: drilled three more holes and injected more epoxy. It's getting better but I want to be absolutely sure it's not going to fall apart on me.

Now for the countdown:  17 more days until SSTIKS!  Will I be done in time?