Kayaks in the Living Room

  • Maiden voyage of Heather's Arctic Tern 14 on the Willamette River in Oregon Maiden voyage of Heather's Arctic Tern 14 on the Willamette River in Oregon
  • Heather in her Arctic Tern 14 at Potlach State Park Heather in her Arctic Tern 14 at Potlach State Park
  • Heather in her Arctic Tern 14 on Hood Canal Heather in her Arctic Tern 14 on Hood Canal
  • Heather with the Coho and Arctic Tern 14 on Hope Island, Washington Heather with the Coho and Arctic Tern 14 on Hope Island, Washington
  • The three of us The three of us
  • Erin in her Osprey 13. Erin in her Osprey 13.

Although a life-long canoeist I had never seriously considered the sea kayak until given a copy of Joel Roger’s Watertrail for Christmas two years ago. After reading about his month-long solitary trip through Puget Sound, I began to toy with the thought that a long trip on water did not really have to begin with a 2,000 mile drive to Minnesota or Ontario.

I began to collect catalogs and to peruse the pages of Sea Kayaker Magazine trying to make sense of the huge array of kayak options along with all the mysterious accessories that appeared necessary to safely take one on the water.  More than once I found myself staring at the Pygmy ads thinking, hmmm…

When Heather and I decided to marry I suggested Port Townsend might be a good place to honeymoon.  “It’s a nice town and besides,” I added, “We could take a few minutes to stop by Pygmy, just to look at their boats.”  And so we did.  Heather, her daughter Erin, then twelve, and I.  Just to look.

Well, the boats were beautiful, the prices certainly reasonable, and after admiring the Coho for a while, a more than helpful employee said, “Why don’t you take it on the water?” Oh, no says I.  I’ve never even been in a kayak.  “I want to go,” says Erin.  She’d been eyeing the Osprey 13.  “Come on, mom, you go too,” she pleaded.  To make a long story shorter, when we left several hours later we took with us a 17 ½ foot Coho kit which I carried to our third floor hotel room rather than leave in the car overnight.

This was in March, 2004.  Beginning in April the hardwood floor in our family room disappeared under a large sheet of black plastic, and I began construction with the help of the excellent instructions that come with the kit.  In no time my project began to look like a kayak.  A few weeks later, another trip to Port Townsend and this time we returned with kits for an Arctic Tern 14 and an Osprey 13.  People ask how long it takes to build a boat and I tell them I really don’t know because part of the time I had all three in progress. I can tell them that the finishing steps take longer than the construction steps.

I finished the Coho in November, the Arctic Tern 14 just before Christmas and the Osprey 13 in January. I did all the work in the house except sanding.  This took place on the driveway outside so weather became a factor in the construction schedule.

As I learned over time, the cost of the boats is only half or less the cost of the total necessary equipment in sea kayaking.  So another important consideration for us was that I could build three Pygmy boats for the cost of one good fiberglass boat (to make this assumption work, you have to assign a low hourly rate for your labor.  For a labor of love, that is not so hard to do).  I had previously made several cedar-strip canoes from scratch which involves a lot of woodworking as well as the application of fiberglass cloth and resin, so the idea of building our sea kayaks had great appeal, especially since the finished boats are so beautiful.  One of the appealing features of the Pygmy boats is that most of the skilled woodworking is already done.  A wood shop and vast array of tools is simply not necessary.

Not only are the boats beautiful, but we have found them to handle superbly on the water.  We took some classes, joined a club, took more classes and continued reading.  My kayaking library that started with the Joel Rogers book has grown to about 50 volumes (okay, so I’m a book junkie).  And a decision to collect the complete set of Sea Kayaker magazine is now only three volumes short of the goal.

Our spare bedroom is now filled with wetsuits, booties, spray skirts, paddles, rescue floats, paddling apparel, tow ropes, dry bags, deck compasses, PFD’s… you get the picture.  Three of almost everything.  Building the boats gave us time to spread out the acquisition of all the other stuff which would have been overwhelming all at once.

We began paddling with trepidation on local lakes and on the Willamette River (in Portland, a river runs through it).  But with expanding comfort and skill levels we have added Oregon’s coastal bays, the Columbia River, waters in Puget Sound and on Hood Canal, and a few areas around Vancouver, BC.

I made a rewarding solo trip in June on the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to Astoria, retracing part of the arduous Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The Coho swallowed my gear and food for a week with scarcely a burp although I would plan better for a longer trip.  We have our sights set next year on Johnstone Strait to see the orcas, and on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  We are also thinking a winter getaway to the Sea of Cortez might be worth some serious consideration as part of a general mental health regime.

Anyway, that’s our story so far.  We want particularly to thank John Lockwood, who we had the pleasure to meet at the 2004 West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium, for giving all of us the opportunity to build and use boats that take no back seat in any company.  It is a continuing source of pleasure when people stop to say, “Wow, did you build those?”

We are always happy to talk boats with other enthusiasts, especially in our area.  I am also happy to offer advice from my own experience (and mistakes) to other builders.

By Ken Durbin
Portland, Oregon


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