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July 2006
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September 2006


Skinning0Skinning1Skinning3Skinning4I dug out the skin I've been saving for over a year, 8.9 oz junior ballistic nylon from Spirit Line.  It was in a dusty cardboard box in the corner of the garage.  See the "18" on it?  That means it's for an 18 ft kayak -- a little short for my new frame.  So I had to cut a little piece off the side and stitch it on the end to make it work. 

I'm using a variation of Brian Schulz's skinning method.  He stitches a pocket on the bow, then takes the pocket off and moves it about 4 inches aft, stitches a pocket on the stern, then lies on the ground and putting both feet on the first deck beam pulls and stretches the skin so that the bow pops back into the pocket.  That gives the skin longitudinal tension.  He stitches a cord in a zig zag along the length of the deck to tension the skin before closing it with a "whip stitch" along the center of the deck.  It really works well!  The only thing different about my method is that my seam will be crooked. That way I don't have to worry about pinning the skin to the keelson and trying to keep everything even and straight.  The paradox with these replicas is that the messier the job you do on them, the more beautiful and authentic they look.  I call it "crude beauty". 


CoamingCoamingform_1This Labor Day weekend John is hosting the annual Greenland Days party at his waterfront estate on Liberty Bay.  It's a get together for the regional SSTIKS crowd.   People bring their boats, mess around on the water, and camp out on the lawn.  One of the highlights is the night paddle to stir up the biolumenescence in the Bay.  It is rumored that Dubside and Tom Sharp might show up, hopefully to show some footage of the 2006 Greenland National Championships!   (Then again, you know how accurate those rumors are.)  When I went last year I counted a couple dozen kayaks (I think) parked on the lawn.  It could have been three dozen -- I don't really remember, but there were a lot.  When people don't have room for their kayaks anymore I think they just leave them at John's. 

So now I'm trying to get my kayak skinned before the weekend.  Tonight I steam bent the coaming.  I had the oak strips soaking in a PVC tube for the last couple weeks (you can see it there next to the steam box).  The opening will be 21 in x 16 in. 

Completed Frame -- and Plastic Wrap Test

Frame2Frame3ComparisonHere it is -- the completed frame!  These pictures are a little distorted because they are composits made up of two or three pics stitched together.  The third one is a comparison with the Chapelle line drawing.  It looks like the sheer is a bit more pronounced on my version.  I just followed what the wood wanted to do.   But like I said, the pictures are probably distorted.  Notice the minimalist construction: just enough deck beams and absence of a ajaaq seeqqortarfik ("knee brace").
PlasticwrapOnce the frame is completed it is common to do the "Saran Wrap Test", which involves wrapping the frame in plastic wrap and paddling it to see if you need to make any major changes.  I actually think the plastic wrap test is of limited usefulness.  I have never made any changes after my plastic wrap tests.  I figured that today I would do it anyway because I already spent the $6 on plastic and duct tape. 

When you do a plastic wrap test just be sure you don't use actual Saran Wrap or any other grocery store plastic wrap.  Plasticwraptest2That stuff is useless.  I used it on the Necromancer frame and it sank immediately.  Today I used a 20 x 10 ft sheet of 1 mil plastic painters "drop cloth" from the local big box hardware store.  I tightened it up like I would a regular skin and duct taped it along the gunwale, then cut a hole for the cockpit.  The plastic is very fragile so it is very important not to set it on the ground.  Also be sure to bring a knife so you can cut the skin off when it gets totally flooded.

Even though it was one sheet of plastic I still took on plenty of water after a few minutes, probably from the open cockpit.  What did I learn?  It is very comfortable.  Easy to get into, very maneuverable but (surprise!) tracks well.  I had hoped to have some video but Joel got scared by a dog and ran away with the video camera. 

Gig Harbor Heritage Row

Heritagerow_1_2Heritagerow_2_2Heritagerow_4_2Heritagerow_5_2Heritagerow_3_1Heritagerow_6_1Heritagerow_7_1Heritagerow_8_2A hundred years ago the people who lived around Gig Harbor got to Tacoma in rowboats.  There were no roads or bridges.  The Gig Harbor Heritage Row celebrates this Puget Sound tradition.  It's not a race but more of a personal challenge.  Anyone in a human powered boat can join in on a 7-8 mile trip across the Narrows  from Gig Harbor to Point Defiance and back.  Last year they had 120 boats.  I don't know how many boats joined in this year.  Most of them were sea kayaks. There were a handful of rowboats, rowing shells, and even one guy on a surfboard.  I joined a few Qajaq USA friends for the trip in our collection of funny wooden kayaks: Mike in his stitch-and-glue Night Heron, Dick in his three-piece Pygmy Artic Tern 14, Henry and the other Dick in Greenland skin-on-frames, and me in Moonlight Dancer. 

The crossing happened to coincide with a 3.1 knot ebb through the Narrows.  We started late and left the shelter of the Harbor to see the kayaks and row boats ahead of us scattered all over the passage.  Some had been set far north and way off course by the current.  That big boat with the 12 people in it?  It was all over the place and one of the slowest.  After making it across the Narrows we were fighting the eddy to the halfway point, the tugboat Joe.  Once around the tugboat it was easier going back along Point Defiance, but the rips in the middle of the Narrows had grown.  It's pretty impressive watching a little rowboat get swept away by that current.   It seemed like most people didn't even bother setting a ferry angle.  By the way, this was the first real trip for Dick's white skinboat, which is about 20 ft long and incredibly tough.  He put in 40 pounds of water ballast using cleverly placed PVC tubes.  Congratulations, Dick, for making it through those rips!

Drysuit Repair

Drysuitrepair2Drysuitrepair1The unusually cool weather this week made me start thinking about fixing that torn drysuit neck gasket.  I ordered a new gasket from Kayak Academy some time ago.  I decided against purchasing the entire "repair kit", thinking that I already had a tube of Aquaseal and I could figure the rest out on my own.  It turns out that the repair kit would have made things easier, but eventually I was able to quickly put my own kit together.  The steps are:

1.  Cut the torn neck gasket out, leaving the inch that overlaps the fabric in place.  In my case, since the old gasket was already a replacement gasket that had been glued onto the original gasket, I just pealed the torn gasket cleanly off and sanded the remaining 1 inch of the neck with 120 grit sandpaper.

2.  Cut out a DISC and RING that will be used to clamp the new gasket in place.  The disc is about 9.5 in in diameter.  To determine the diameter I just placed the new neck gasket on a surface and traced the edges.  I cut an old plastic cutting board with a saber saw to make the disc and ring.  I thought about using plywood but Aquaseal doesn't stick to the plastic.  The ring is the same diameter as the disc but 1 inch wide. 

3.  Place the disc inside the drysuit and tape the remaining neck edges to the edges of the disc so that they lie flat.  You can use double-sided tape.  I used duct tape folded over.

4.  Use double sided tape to stick the ring to the outside border of the new neck gasket. Again I used small pieces of duct tape folded over.  You have to be careful of duct tape though because after clamping overnight it can be difficult to get the duct tape off without stressing the new bond between the new gasket and suit.

5.  Clean the mating surfaces of the neck and new gasket with rubbing alcohol.  This removes any oils from the neck and traces of mold release compound from the new gasket.  Allow to dry.

5.  Spread a generous bead of Aquaseal around the remaining 1 inch of the old neck gasket.  Use a gloved finger.  By the way, between uses Aquaseal is best stored in the freezer.

6.  Place the new neck gasket carefully over the old neck gasket.  The plastic ring helps the new neck gasket in place and flat against the neck of the drysuit.  After carefully adjusting the position so the new gasket lies flat against the suit, and making sure that there are absolutely no wrinkles, clamp the ring and disc together with several clamps.

7.  Allow to cure overnight. 

8.  Unclamp and peal off any excess Aquaseal.  Trim the new gasket to size.

A more detailed version of these instructions comes with the gaskets supplied by Kayak Academy. 

Breast Plates

BreastplateFloorboardsI'm working on the "breast plates" now.  I don't know why they are called that, but they are the pieces of wood that help join the gunwales to the stems.  Which part of the kayak is the "breast" anyway?  This part takes quite a bit of carving time, because they have to fit tightly on the gunwales and the stems, and maintain a fair line from the gunwales to the ends.  I can't say that I got it perfect, but I kept my promise not to use any sandpaper.  I rubbed it vigorously with a fine rasp though, because it's too tempting to give it that "finished" look. 

Also I installed some floorboards.  I'm losing track of my building times because I forget to write them down.  I'm somewhere around 45 hours.


Oar2Oar1Do these paddles look familiar?  They are gondola oars.  I think they look a lot like very large Greenland paddles.  Isn't it interesting how over a thousand years of gondola evolution the business end of the oar took on the same shape as a Greenland paddle?

I love Venice.  It was by far my favorite stop on our Europe tour.  Of course I was overcome with fantasies  of exploring all the canals and islands by kayak. I know people have done it before and written about it, although I think it might be illegal or at least very difficult to pay off the right officials to get permission.  I've read that gondoliers give dirty looks to foreigners messing around in kayaks and getting in their way.

Gondola2Gondola design fascinated me.  Why do they have such high upturned ends?  Is it just "wasted length", as Corey Freedman said about Greenland kayaks?  What is the big metal piece on the bow for?  And how can one person paddle (row?) a gondola from one side only? 

Gondole have asymmetric hulls.   Look at an empty gondola head on and you'll see that they lean to the right.  They are about 5 ft wide but the left side is 1 ft wider than the right.  That acts to balance the weight of the gondolier who stands on the left side at the stern.    The stern is high to give the gondolier better visibility.  The high bow with the iron bowpiece (ferro) acts to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier.  When you see these boats in action you realize quickly why the waterline length is relatively short for an 11 m long boat.  They can make incredibly tight turns in small canals.   The ferro protects the bow as it scrapes against those old brick buildings.

Gondola1They are not all the same design.  I saw some that had flat ends also (and maybe symmetric hulls?).  But they are ALL painted black.   I was never able to figure out why until I read this article.

Chine Stringers

StringersStringerlashingDeadriseAlthough I've been cutting some corners to save time on this kayak, at this stage I actually slowed down and put more work than usual into building.  The keelson and chine stringers are typically lashed to the ribs with one long piece of artificial sinew that wraps around the ribs and down the length of the kayak.  This time I've decided to use individual lashings because on my last two skin boats I've noticed that the lashings have come loose, and some have even broken from abrasion against my sandy neoprene booties over time.  I've drilled holes through the keelson and chine stringers for the lashings.  One big advantage of doing this, other than avoiding having the lashings protrude from under the skin, is that you can position the stringers first and plane the edges and continue to shape them after they are installed.  If the lashings went around the stringers you have to do all the final shaping before installation. 

Some measurements so far:

Beam: 21 in
Length overall: 19.5 ft
Gunwale angle: 34 degrees
Deadrise: 7 degrees (I was aiming for less than 5)
Rocker at bow (3 ft from end): 5 in
Rocker at stern (3 ft from end): 2.25 in
Depth at masik (predicted): 7 in from top of keelson
Depth at backrest: 5 in from top of keelson (5.75 in from bottom of keelson)

It still seems a little high at the backrest!  I've been in kayaks that feel very comfortable without any backband or padding on the backrest.  I think it's because the backrest is so low that it rests against your sacrum.  Once it starts touching your lumbar spinous processes than it starts to hurt.  Now I need to make some comparisons with Dick's East Greenland replica.

[Total build time: 33.5 hours]

Stems and Ribs

SternstemRibsSome Greenland kayak stems are constructed out of two or three pieces.  I've always wondered why and now I know.  If you don't have a big enough piece of wood to make it out of one piece you can make it out of two or three.  Also it's easier to get a couple pieces to fit around the end of the gunwale rather than carving a notch in one big piece.  Building in a traditional way makes these little discoveries possible. 

I like to determine the rib length and cut the ribs to size and trim the ends to fit before I steam them. The easiest way to determine rib length is to use Romex or heavy wire to mock up the hull shape.  This hull is easy to shape because it is flat on the bottom and the sides follow the gunwale angle.

SteamerLet me put to rest any lingering doubt that kiln-dried red oak from the Home Depot or the local lumber yard will work as steam bending stock.  It works!  I ripped the ribs 1/4 in thick x 1.5 in wide and started soaking them 7 days ago.  Why 1.5 in and not 1 in wide?  Because I cut the ribs from an oak "2x4" which measures 1.5 in wide.  Plus my routing jig left over from the last two skin kayaks was set up for 1.5 in.  I steamed the ribs one at a time for about 8-10 minutes, then bent them in a jig with a leather backing band, then stepped on them with both feet in the middle while pulling the ends up, the same way Maligiaq does it.  The oak bends smoothly, not like rubber and with a lot of "springback", but it's a LOT stronger than yellow cedar which is my usual bending stock.  I only broke one rib, the tiny one on the end, and that was because the steamer ran out of steam before it was fully cooked. 

FrameThis kayak is going to have a sweeping sheerline.  That's because of the severe gunwale angle.  It's also going to have quite a bit of rocker.  I figure it's easier to fix too much rocker by adding a skeg or keelstrip than not enough rocker.

[Total build time so far: 28.5 hours]