The Making of a Kayak, Right Here in My Home Town
“Going nowhere… isn’t about turning your back on the world; its about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” – Leonard Cohen
It all began because of a misunderstanding I had in the middle of the night with a fellow insomniac. Half asleep, and fully supportive, Rita said she once lived with a kayak being built in her living room. Although, that hadn’t been what I meant by staying afloat, I pressed her for more information. She told me about a company that will send a long flat box of pieces to your front door.
Coincidentally, I was driving past this very company every Monday night on my way to and from a class for regional volunteers at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The kits were also on sale and so it seemed only apt to choose the boat design named for our region for my first build. I made arrangements to pick the box up to save on the shipping cost as well and then waited a month for the kit to be assembled. (Honestly – as I was heading to Costa Rica for a month in an effort to avoid the Christmas holiday season – the boat would ensure my return.)
From day one, when I showed up in my Honda Accord, I had to start thinking more strategically about the reality of this undertaking, and the possibility that I was already in way over my head. I returned rather sheepishly in a borrowed farm truck, hoisted the eight foot long box in the back, and strapped it down before driving back over the Bay Bridge, apparently one of the most frightening bridges to drive over (who knew?), to a garage by the frozen Chester River.
The next challenge, aside from the waves of anxiety about this entire undertaking, became heating said garage to at lease 60 degrees, in the middle of winter. That didn’t become even remotely possible until February, and so while I waited, I read the instruction manual, and took a shop safety class because I hadn’t used anything more dangerous than hand tools since my Shop class in high school.
The manual mentioned cutting PVC pipe apart to make C clamps and this seemed like something I could do while waiting warmer weather. My uncle set me to work in his shop where I managed to create piles of plastic snow, jam a radial arm saw full of shattered PVC pipe (despite that safety class I might add), and eventually managed to assemble a nice pile of usable C clamps.
When the outdoor temps finally cooperated enough, I mixed up epoxy and got to work creating 16 foot long shear clamps, side, and bottom panels from the bits I yanked out of that 8 foot box; I sprinted towards becoming a pro at waiting for epoxy to dry. Which is to say, I had to learn patience, and just like the manual promised, the shape of a flimsy boat did happen rather quickly.
Before each step, I found myself, rereading the manual, and watching the accompanying Youtube videos, and then again watching the video and reading the directions yet another time, before proceeding with the next step. This went on for months of hours.
Novice mishaps of course happened, and included, an end-pour dam breach, bubbles appearing in my once perfect fiberglass, and a ridiculously misplaced deck beam. According to the boatbuilding forum I wasn’t the only one making mistakes along the way, and that made me feel slightly better about my level of craftswomanship. The whole project took me four months of consistent dedicated hours of work each week and overall I’m pleased with the results. The same uncle that witnessed the PVC cutting mishap admitted that he wasn’t sure I would end up with a waterproof product. Her name is Estrella, and she’s both gorgeous and water tight.
Now I’m able to lug her, my (slightly-heavier-than-it-should-be) boat down to the dock, and paddle in and out of a creek positioned along the Chester, by closely watching the tides change in order to do so. I adore observing the birds migrate in and out of the region (as it turns out our Osprey also head to Costa Rica to avoid Christmas). The boat I’ve built allows me to feel more a part of the natural world than a plastic kayak ever did although the difference in maneuverability has taken some getting used to.
My goal now is to eventually purchase the spray skirt that will allow me to kayak all the way across the Bay, under the Bay Bridge, and over to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation where I am now teaching yoga to the employees in thanks of the vital work that they do, and some day, make my way all the way down to Virginia Beach. Those with more experience on the water seem very concerned about these ideas, so I’ll finish getting my boating license over the winter first, and for good measure.
I also look forward to more fully utilizing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Water Trail guides and the National Park Service’s maps of Captain James Smith’s 1612 exploration of the nearly 200 Indian towns of his day. You don’t have to build your own boat to do the same (but could!) as there are several boat rental and tour companies operating in the region. Either way, see you out on the Bay in the spring!
[submitted to publication for printing and they requested the following. About the Author: Amy Genevieve Kozak, is a lifelong resident of Maryland. In addition to building a kayak with no prior experience, she has completed the Josh Billings Triathlon as an ironwoman, and did so when appropriate in a plastic kayak. Amy invites you to visit her website, and her blog.]