Building My Skin On Frame Kayak

At the Wodden Boat School in Maine

skin on frame west greenland kayak, kayak, ocean, maine, sof, skin on frame, sea kayak

Its been about a month since I went to the wooden boat school in Maine to build my replica of the 1931 Disco Bay skin on frame kayak. I was very excited at the prospects of taking a week off from work for the first time in 9 years, especially considering the fact I was coming home with not only a kayak but a high performance kayak built in similar fashion to how they were a thousand years ago. After eagerly anticipating the vacation like a kid waiting for christmas it finally came. I left from Nashua NH and after sitting through hours of traffic along route one in Maine 8.5 hours later I finally arrived at the school just in time for bed. I was shown to my room where I tossed and turned all night eagerly awaiting the next morning.
I woke up a couple hours before class was scheduled and decided to take a walk to familiarize myself with my surroundings. I was greeted by a sea fog that was spilling over from the ocean, I thought it was beautiful so I entertained myself for the next hour by taking pictures.
When I was a little kid I loved making things out of wood. I didn't have much skill or good tools to work with. I would find some junk wood lying around the back yard or scrap wood used from other projects, for example we had a pool that we had torn down and I used some of the old plywood to build a pitchers mound and a big target for me to throw a baseball against, I would use old shingles that fell off the house to build little drawers that could store pencils or other small items, or popsicle sticks to build a small box. Some days I would wake up in the morning and say to myself "im gonna build something out of wood today" and I would come up with an idea for something to build although the measurements were usually off the lines were not cut straight, the wood was splintered I would end up with a working finished project. Suddenly when I was a preteen (a tween) I completely lost my interest in wood working. I no longer would come up with projects to work on, if I needed a small drawer to store stuff in I (my mother) bought it, if i needed a box or a table we bought it. from the age of twelve until a month ago (27) I could count on one hand things that I have built or done repairs on. Such a long lull without any woodworking experience had me feeling a bit nervous about how well I would do in class.
At the start of the course my inexperience showed I was immediately nervous right from the get go when we had to use blueprints to make measurements on the kayak. The instructor Mark Kaufman recognised my lack of experience but ironically decided to use me as the helper in order to build my confidence. He would show me how to do the next step of the project and would tell me to help out the other students if they were having trouble. The strategy worked, my woodworking confidence slowly came back suddenly I remember being the resourceful child that could take a couple shingles that had fallen from the house and make a (crappy looking) jewelry box out of it. by the end of the week I gained significant confidence in my wood working ability enough to inspire me to buy some tools and to attempt some projects of my own.
The instructor made the observation that this was the youngest class he had ever had. There were a couple students in their very early 30s and I was 27, I believe he told me I was the youngest student he ever had in a skin on frame greenland kayak class, perhaps these boats are making a come back !
By the end of the fist day the boat was nothing more than some long lengths of wood held together with nylon cords, beginning stage of kayak construction
but as time went on after rushing to put in 12 hour and even 14 hour days (I felt like a Chinese kid in a sweat shop at times) the boat slowly started taking form and by day three with the ribs and the keel in place it started to resemble a kayak. west green skin on frame kayak ribs building how to
I was ahead of the group in the build process because of a combination of the instructor doing some of the demoing on my boat and the fact that Im a fast worker who can't stand to leave things unfinished, I also put in more time than anyone else, waking up early to start working several hours before class and staying later as well. At the end of day four the skeleton was completely done, and boy was it a thing of beauty I almost didn't want to put a skin on it because it would ruin the beauty of the wood, there I am all the way on the right !.
skeleton west greenland skin on frame sof kayak
When I entered the shop for the first day I was so eager to get this thing finished but on the last day of building when I realised the boat I had worked so hard on The boat that literally had some of my blood and sweat in it was almost done I began to feel a bit sad. I didn't want to finish because that meant I would have to leave this wonderful place and return to the grind in NH. Its such a rarity for me to actually like everyone I work with for I am not a people person but I felt sad knowing that when the boat was finally finished my classmates and I would return to our normal lives and since we all lived so far away we would likely never see each other again. After spending hours a day for a week working on a common goal I actually grew to like these people and was really hoping to maintain contact with a couple of them, for the most part I have but just through email. I also loved the peaceful, quite, serene atmosphere that surrounds maine. I no longer missed not having a television or the internet, to pass time I took walks at night enjoying nature and with my camera I took some beautiful deep space pictures of the sky, growing up in the city I've never seen so many stars and have never seen the milky way but there they were right above me in the dark skies of Maine gleaming with beauty.
milky way dark skies of maineI also grew to love waking up early in the morning to go to wood shop I loved working long 12 sometimes 14 hour days and knew I would miss it. I sadly knew the moment would come when I finished the final step and it would soon all be over, back to the grind in NH and away from the beauty of Maine.
I and another student stayed up until 3am to finish painting our boats, the next day we would drill holes and run the deck lines, and that was it, they were finished. When the boat was finished I stepped back in awe, I couldn't believe this master piece was created by the two hands I held in front of my face. This wonderful creation sat there and reminded me of how much I loved wood working and it proved to me I still have what it takes to build great things, my love of wood working has been rekindle.
Picture time ensued, we lined the boats up outside, the students took pictures, the instructor took pictures, students taking other classes flocked to out boats and began asking questions and also taking pictures, we were the big draw of the whole school. Our skin on frame kayaks captured the attention of everyone on campus, this of course only heightened my appreciation for what I had accomplished, I couldn't be prouder!
finished west greenland skin on frame sof kayaks
The paint was still sticky but we all got in our kayaking gear anyway and eagerly took the boats to the water for our maiden voyage. My previous boat was a recreational plastic kayak with a keyhole cockpit and a 24 inch beam. plopping my but in the seat and folding in my legs wouldn't work for this kayak so step one was a lesson from the instructor about how to get in this thing. After getting in the boat and moving a few feet I immediately felt uneasy. this boat was very tippy as compared to the one I was use to paddling. I gingerly followed the gang further from shore when I noticed my foot was fast falling asleep. I wanted to lift myself up in the kayak to alleviate pressure on my legs but feared tipping over, things began to get urgent when my foot went completely numb, I told Will one of my classmates a very experienced probably level five paddler that I had to go back to shore, but by this time I was somewhat far from land and didn't know if I could make it without having some real circulation problems with my foot. Will and another student came over to help. At this point I was a bit panicked, the boat I had just built was scary to paddle and my foot was completely numb. Will leaned on my kayak and held it in place, he told me to sit up on the deck. I refused to do it at first because I felt like I would flip over, but Will ensured me he wouldn't let that happen. After some coaxing I sat up on the deck and began working on my foot. After several minutes the feeling in my foot began to return and I could move and wiggle my toes again. After I sat back in the kayak, Will immediately discovered a problem I was sitting all the way back so I hitting the back of the cockpit, he held my kayak again and told me to scoot forward until my knees reached a point in front of the masik. After adjusting my seating position the kayak immediately felt better. It was still a bit tippy but not nearly as much, I felt comfortable and no more numb feet. We all went on our way continuing seaward. At first I was still a bit uncomfortable with the tippiness of the boat and was paddling gingerly, but after about 25 minutes all the feelings of uneasiness went away, suddenly my full paddling ability was unleashed. The tippy feeling began to fade, I was using powerful paddle strokes that I wouldn't have dared used early for fear of tipping over and was cruising through the water faster than I ever had before, the same guy who was petrified 20 minutes earlier was suddenly leaning turns, and when I got tired I would lay down on the back deck and look up at the clouds. Earlier in the day I royally hated this boat, I was afraid to paddle it, felt like my foot was going to be amputated, wondered if I had made a huge mistake by investing so much money and time into this thing but by the end of the day I absolutely loved this boat and couldn't ever imagine paddling anything else. I haven't paddle many boats before so I am not an expert on this but the 1931 Disco bay West Greenland kayak has got to be one of the best all around kayak designs of all time. this thing is very fast, with a slight lean it turns on a dime, and you know what, after all my whining earlier about how tippy it was, it's really not that bad, I can take both hands off the paddle to take pictures, i can rock back and forth in small waves without holding the paddle and it doesn't flip over, for a boat that's only 20.5 inches wide it seems pretty stable.
paddling my west greenland skin on frame sof kayaks
By the end of the day I was so proud of myself and my classmates for the awesome boats we built, and couldn't be happier with the experience. that night we all celebrated by going out to dinner where I had way to much wine luckily I wasn't driving. In the morning I awoke to the bitter sweet feeling of being finished and having an awesome kayak to take home, but also with the sad realization that the best vacation I had ever taken was coming to and end. That morning at breakfast was likely the last time I would ever see my classmates again, I stayed and ate some cereal with with everyone for an hour or so, and then got in my car and made the long drive back home.
I took a leap of faith by signing up for this class because I live in a small second floor apartment and wasn't even sure I'd be able to get the kayak into my place, but I just had to try I'd been without a real kayak since moving out of my mothers house in Lynn Massachusetts about a year ago and just could't continue to live life without a capable kayak. I arrived at home after 8 hours of driving, and was now faced with the real moment of truth, am I going to be able to get this thing into my apartment ? My balcony is only about 10 feet above the ground and the sliding glass doors are plenty wide enough to get the kayak through. I leaned the kayak up against the balcony, went up the stares into my apartment, opened the sliding doors, I reached down over the railing as far as I could to try to grab the kayak at the middle, I picked it up and straighten it out in the air and began to walk backwards through the sliding doors. WOW! I couldn't believe how easy it was, the light weight of this kayak really came in handy, which is a big reason I decided to get a skin on frame in the first place. So that was it the kayak sat on the floor of my apartment, a few days later I got some wall mounts and now it takes up no space at all and looks really nice hanging on the wall above my couch !
my west greenland skin on frame sof kayak on wall above couch
At first I was skeptical of the durability of the SOF kayak but after watching some youtube videos and reading articles my fears began to waver, after taking the class and building one myself I now have absolutely no worries about the durability of these boats. I LOVE THIS KAYAK ! I wish I needed another one and had the room for it so I could head to the wooden boat school again to build another !

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