Sea Trials

Wcsksday2Now that I'm done building boats for the year (yeah, RIGHT) it's time to enjoy and get to know the kayaks I have.  That means more paddling, measuring and getting quantitative with the GPS.  I've learned so much already.  For instance, The Jewel performs a lot better than Moonlight Dancer in the wind.  The wind had been blowing all night before the second day of the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium.  It whipped up the waves enough that they closed the Demo Beach.  A handful of paddlers were messing around that afternoon and a few on-water classes were still going on as the vendors were packing up their tents to escape the rain and go home.  Moonlight Dancer leecocked badly.  It was a struggle to point upwind.  The Jewel however turned around very easily and didn't weathercock at all.  Her upturned bow rides over the waves without punching through them, so despite the flat foredeck she really isn't a wet ride.  She also surfs the waves smoothly, without the bow digging into the water.   She could be a very nice boat for rough conditions.  More study is needed.

SheerlineI've always wondered if the hull shape of a skin-on-frame kayak changes when it's loaded.  We know that the skin gets pushed in when it's on the water, so the surfaces between the keelson and chine stringers are actually concave.  From what I can tell from pictures and video, the kayak is stiff enough so that the rocker does NOT change when a paddler gets in. 

RollsniceAs I expected, The Jewel rolls very easily.  I can balance brace without a paddle, and hand roll both sides. But why?  I knew the hull shape, with it's flat bottom and flared guwales combined with the moderate beam, would provide plenty of initial and secondary stability.  What I didn't know is that the extreme rocker helps lower the center of gravity, and the upturned ends of the bow and stern help to resist capsize and provide buoyancy that assists with the righting motion of the roll (I am reminded of the upturned ends of the NDK Romany). 

Check out this video clip of my handroll.  I'm trying to keep my head on the back deck the whole time, but at the end it gets a little sloppy. 

Kayak Jewelry

Toggles_1Chapelle 208 is ready for the water.  I installed rub strips yesterday afternoon, long pieces of oak which I glued onto the hull with Marine Goop and pegged into place.  East Greenland Kayak hulls tended to be heavily armored against the ice. One specimen described in Eastern Arctic Kayaks even had a big tin plate over the forefoot. 

Here is a picture of some of the deck toggles (sliders and beads) I carved last night.  I am forever grateful to Woody Woodside for the caribou antler.  It really gives it that authentic look, and is amazing stuff to work with -- so much stronger than wood and lighter than resin.  It has a distinctive odor.  It's like the smell of a dog, the oily smell of burnt hair, burnt flesh.  It's reminds me of being in dog lab or a major orthopedic procedure -- smokey cauterized bone. 

What is the secret to working with antler?  The Dremel Tool, of course!  Just a touch with that high speed bit and the surface vaporizes leaving a cloud of antler dust in your face.  I highly recommend wearing a face shield, respirator, and ear plugs. 

EndknobHere is a pic of the protective end knob on the stern.  It is a single piece of antler with the cancellous (spongy) center hollowed out.  The decorative grooves and pits are not traditional: They are what I could do with the Dremel Tool attachments.  Maybe later I'll try carving some seals or whales like John Petersen, but right now I'm just trying to get the kayak ready for the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium in Port Townsend this weekend.   See you there!


FuglyI have to change my standards when I look at a skinboat.   Coated nylon can't compare to a perfectly smooth shiny varnished wood surface, especally when it's held together with a Frankenstein's Monster sewing job.   I'm telling myself to just embrace the ugliness.   (Sorry, no "full body" kayak pictures from now on until it's done.)

CoatedcoamingI've been working hard on "Chapelle 208" but haven't posted in a while because of my frustration trying to get the color and the waterproofing right.  The guy at Spirit Line told me that the dye would darken after it was coated with the urethane, but I didn't expect it to turn from a yellow ochre to a chocolate brown!  The first lesson is that unless you try it on a test strip you can't tell what color it will be when you are done.  Plus every day it seems to change slightly, or maybe I'm just getting used to it.  The second lesson is that two-part urethane is awful stuff.  I will never use it again.  It sags and drips, even several hours after you think it has cured.  It's difficult to sand smooth.  One putative advantage is that is goes on quickly so you can waterproof a boat in two days.  However, it stays tacky for several days afterwards.  This is my third time using it so I can't blame it on not having enough experience with it.  I think the trick is to work the surface smooth continously with a spreader for a couple hours until the urethane has cured enough that it won't move anymore. I'm planning to apply a coat or two of a matte finish oil based polyurethane to smooth out the surface and get rid of the glossy sheen.

More on the Skin Job

Coamingstitch_1I completed the skin stitching and laced the coaming in today.  Six hours of work.  I neglected to go over the coaming details earlier: It's a 1/4 in x 3/4 in band of oak, with two 1/4 in x 1/4 in bands for the lip, glued together with Titebond II and pegged with 1/8 in pegs every inch after the glue had dried.  My previous coamings were yellow cedar epoxied together -- did that ever make a mess!  It was a real pain to try not to get epoxy over all the clamps and the form.  Back then I covered the form in parchment paper, which doesn't stick to anything and therefore is difficult to keep in place.   All that epoxy required a lot of scraping and sanding too.  Morris says that carpenter's glue works fine so this time I used Titebond II.   

To review, here are some things I think are not necessary when making a skin on frame replica kayak:

•  a warm, dry and dustless workshop
•  lofting (just work from the drawing)
•  mortise and tenon joints for the deck beams (as opposed to pegged joints)
•  sandpaper
•  epoxy
•  green oak (kiln dried oak is OK for bending)
•  straight seams
•  tung or linseed oil on the frame (it will not prevent rot, and linseed oil promotes mold)
•  any color other than brown or black.  I don't understand how builders, especially those who pride themselves on building exclusively replicas, will still condescend to dye their kayaks blue, green, and even pink. 

On my desk I have four books open to their stitching chapters.  Everyone has their own way of stitching.  You can tell a Robert Morris kayak from a Chris Cunningham or a Corey Freedman kayak from the stitch used.  I used a simple overhand stitch.  It lies flat but leaves holes around the stitching where I pulled hard on the skin.  I don't think it matters if you used a surgical stitch used for closing intestines.  It's all going to be saturated and sealed in polyurethane anyway. 

Wetshrink_1After stitching the skin and lacing the coaming in I wet it all down with a garden hose.  The nylon gets slack when wet.  It also looses its "memory" and all the wrinkles disappear.  When it dries it smooths out and tightens up like a drum.  For now you can see the naked frame underneath.  Doesn't it remind you of a wet t-shirt contest?  I'm drooling!


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. 

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.

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]