Building a Coho Hi Kayak Kit: Part 3

About the Author: Leif Whittaker is a writer and adventurer based in the Pacific Northwest. His love of the wilderness and wild places has led him to the summit of Mt. Everest twice, once in 2010 and again in 2012, and many places across the globe. Leif also has a great love of the water and we’re excited to share his story of building his Coho Hi here.

As far as I can tell, there are two ways to build a boat. One can either fully immerse themselves in the project, working on a daily basis to complete the task as efficiently as possible. Or he/she can build the boat in free moments when other, more pressing matters are not occupying the day. It could be a few hours after dinner and before sleep. Maybe a long lunch will provide enough time to add a coat of epoxy. The work must get done one way or another and either strategy will produce a wonderfully beautiful kayak, at least eventually.


John Lockwood and I looking at the wired hull.

With the incredible amounts of snowfall that have been salting our local mountains, Freya and I have favored the latter approach this winter. Essentially, we were working on the Coho between ski trips. While our gloves were drying and our legs were resting, we were sanding, filing, wiring, epoxying and fiberglassing. However slowly, the boat began to take shape. I was satisfied with our progress, but I was so preoccupied with slicing my track through heaps of powder that I failed to realize how much work we still had left.


Bow seam with tight wires.

A few weeks ago the Pacific Northwest received a day of warmth and sunshine that was highly anticipated and long overdue. The streets and parks came alive with young, vibrant, scantily dressed individuals who had been hiding in their shadowy abodes all winter. It was an incredible sight. Apparently there was some sort of chemical reaction occurring that made people appear out of thin air. Parking lots were overflowing with cars; shrimp shacks had lines out the door; country roads were clogged with photographers pointing bulky lenses at blooming flowers. Clearly, it was spring and although it was pouring rain a few days later, the verve and excitement would last for weeks.


John and I truing the stern seam.

            I immediately realized that, unless we wanted to spend the entire summer cooped up in a dusty garage, we better start putting some real work into the boats. In a previous post, I wrote that building the kayaks in the calm moments between storms would force me to take my time; it would force me to be meticulous. That was true, but what I failed to realize was that it is possible to be meticulous without being anal-retentive. Following that rationale, I also realized that it is possible to be meticulous without being downright slow. Before, we were building the boat between storms. Now, we decided to build the boat by storm.


Tightening wires on stern seam.

            The process began with drilling and wiring together hull panels. We were soon forced to buy more wire because I had broken so much of it by twisting it too tight. Next, we inserted the temporary frames and wired them to the hull. Our hull now had its finished shape and, seeing it, I felt the strong desire to plop it in the sound and start paddling right away. Luckily, I was able to overcome that particular urge. Once we had filled all the hull seams with regular and then thickened epoxy, we allowed it to dry overnight. Much sanding and filing followed. Freya used the “I have to work on the website” excuse to explain her absence, but I was happy to grind away at the hardened epoxy while listening to the Mariners lose yet another game to the Texas Ranger. Freya decided to return and help with the fiberglass—thank God!—which we laid over the hull and smoothed with our hands before saturating with epoxy. After applying two fill-coats to the hull over the course of the next two days, we were ready to wire the deck together. Warm rays flooded into the garage windows as we twisted the seams tight and straightened them with a razor knife. Low blood sugar would occasionally necessitate a raid on my parent’s refrigerator and we were caught red handed more than once when Mom returned home to find that the shelves were empty of what she had been planning to eat for lunch. Amongst dust masks, disposable gloves, stir sticks, mixing cups, syringes and sandpaper, we performed our work, and visible changes were happening every single day.

Unthickened epoxy on seams.


Thickened epoxy on seams with pin holding seam straight.

            I had nightmares about honey-thick epoxy dripping down my hull, about enormous bubbles forming beneath the fiberglass. After breakfast, I would walk up to my parent’s house and discover, to my relief, that my visions were not prescient.


Applying epoxy that is the consistency of honey using dental syringe.


Making sure I did it right.

            Another surprising thing happened. I found that the building process was rekindling some of the passion that I once had for carpentry. I organized a delivery of spruce car decking to my family’s cabin on the coast so that I could sheet the loft, a project that had been left unfinished for a year due to my procrastination. Freya and I spent five days on the coast, visiting with friends and putting some solid work into the Pentagon. Upon returning, I continued to make the kayak a daily priority.


Applying fillet to deck reinforcement plate.


Working on the deck with hull stored beneath.

            This afternoon, we will fiberglass the inside of the hull and after that we will be ready to sandwich the deck and hull together. There are only a few pages left in the instruction manual, but there are still many hours of work and we have another boat to build after we are done with this one. Still, the Mariners have won seven out of the last ten games; sunshine is gracing our shores more frequently; and the glassy water is beginning to look more and more inviting. Soon, I hope, my kayak’s hull will feel the buoyant clutch of the ocean. Until then, I better get back to work.
Click Here to Read Part 4 of “Building a Coho Hi”.

Story by Leif Whittaker
Photography by Freya Fennwood

For more stories about Leif’s adventures, see his blog:

For more photos from Freya see her website:

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