Troop 582: Scouts Build Their Own Kayaks and Paddle 65 Miles in 8 Days

My Pygmy Experience
By Joshua Howland, Eagle Scout

Above: Scout removing wire placeholders.

Most weeks for the past few years, a dedicated Scouting family, Rich and Katy Wilkens, have hosted a kayak building workshop in their basement.  I attended for several years, during which time we built two full Pygmy “stitch and glue” wooden kayaks.  We crafted these boats from ground up, purchasing the unassembled kit and assembling and glassing it.  Although this may sound simple, it is quite the process.  One does not simply put the boat together like an unassembled puzzle, you have to be precise, follow the instructions step by step and be willing to put a good amount of time into each phase.  During the years I worked on the boats, I developed many skills with my hands, from drilling to crude fiberglassing, sanding, applying large decals and working as a team.

Above: Adult Leaders and Scouts drilling connection holes

After working on the boats all winter, every summer the Wilkens lead 10 scouts on a week-long, 50 miler High Adventure trip with these kayaks. In past years I always seemed to have a schedule conflict, but this, my final year of Scouting, I made the decision to attend this unforgettable trip!  At the end of July, we began our trip by driving to Washington Park near Anacortes where we spent the night. Because of the tides, at 3 AM the next morning, we launched the kayaks into a thick, heavy fog that hid both the hourly ferry and a 3+ knot current.  This was a crucial travel day, as we planned to complete the necessary 3 mile Rosario Strait crossing quickly to avoid the shift in tide that would have impeded our forward progress.  Although at many points in the trip the paddling was strenuous, knowing that we had put many hours into building these boats and that they were our personal creations gave us that extra push to get through.

Above: Paddling across a strait in the San Juan Islands

The second day we made a shorter paddle to Blind Island, which is one of the smallest State Parks: literally a rock sticking out of the water with 4 campsites.  The 360 degree view of  water showcased one of the best sunsets of the trip.  The following day we proceeded to Jones Island where we spent the afternoon exploring, bushwhacking and scrambling down cliffs.  Stays at the Orcas Island Nature Preserve, in a Cascade Marine Trail campsite at Point Doughty and Sucia and Matia Island campsites followed over the next few days.  At all these locations, we explored, paddled to nearby towns, fished and played cards.

Above: Two Hand Built Pygmy Boats

 We paddled about 65 miles in 8 days, during which all Scouts earned their Kayaking merit badge,  two Scouts earned their Bird Study merit badges, and one earned Mammal Study.  The highlight of the trip for me was at Sucia Island, on a night paddle when I experienced the phenomenon of phosphorescence.  Seeing the bio-luminescence emitted by organisms at the surface when stimulated by moving water from our paddles was truly amazing; it was like paddling in the stars.

Above: Eagle Scout Josh Howland is now a Freshman at UC Berkeley

One of the largest advantages of a trip by water was the added space and weight the kayaks could carry for us.  Unlike backpacking, the kayaks enabled us to bring two days worth of water, a Dutch oven for cooking, gourmet food and ample gear.  This is something that is truly unique about high adventure kayak trips, and we saw many people along the way that took advantage of this as we did.

What really differentiated our experience from the other kayakers that we saw, however, was the story behind our boats.  We came in boats that had been hand crafted, repaired and paddled with our own blood, sweat and tears. People often stopped to talk to us about our boats, and we met one fellow Pygmy owner who came along on the night paddle with us. Because of this connection through the boats, the trip was much more meaningful to me.  We were not simply on a week long trip, we were continuing a years long experience of building, testing, repairing and using Pygmy Kayaks.

Joshua Howland, Eagle Scout
Troop 582

Read more about the kit construction process.

Left to right: Rich, Douglas, Katy, Nolan, Josh, Neil and Conner

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