Build or buy, help a new guy

First off, this is a cool place, I am glad to be here lurking (until now) and learning. And please forgive if this has been asked before.

So I want to be able to travel quickly up a series of relatively calm Midwestern and eastern rivers. No rapids. Mostly day outings with occasional overnight trips. So long as the craft has at least marginal stability, I only really care about speed.

I’m 5’11”, 190 right now and 170 or less when I’m in reasonable shape. With a wingspan that far exceeds my height. A former D1 track guy looking to do something that doesn’t beat me up as bad as running. My experience is limited to canoes and cheap short kayaks. My longest trip has been 100 miles. Amateur might be generous. I think I want a 14-18 foot boat that is narrow. But am open to persuasion.

There are no outfitters in my area. The inter webs have me looking at things along the lines of eddyline fathom and Sitka lt.

I do have experience with fiberglass construction (raft, canoe, and hovercraft) and access to the appropriate tools to built a kayak.

  1. what plans should I consider building from?

  2. buy once cry once. What one and done touring boat do I get? If I go this route it might spend a week or two in the Gulf of Mexico each year.

Thanks, and I look forward to becoming a part of this community.

It depends.

Will you be driving, or flying to the Gulf of Mexico?

I don’t have any good info for you on the building plans, though there are even some wood-hulled kits which you might consider.

If flying, a folding kayak from Feathercraft, Klepper, Folbot, Nautiraid, Long Haul, or others might be a consideration.

Sorry, I’m not up to speed on current, in-production, kayaks, but generally, I suspect you’d want one with a 24" or so beam, and 16’ - 18’ long, for decent touring hull volume. You could go with a narrower, 22" model too, though you’ll have less internal volume for storage.

I hope that helps.

There are lots of nice fiberglass and plastic sea kayaks that will fit your needs, so I suggest looking at photos to see what you like, and doing a bit of reading and on-line research.

Hopefully, others will be able to point you to more specific models that you might want to consider. Best of luck in your search for a new kayak.

There is big difference in speed going from 14 to 18 feet.
At 190 lbs. I would go with 18’…
I would buy a few before you decide to build.

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Thank you both. I would be driving, so no need for folding.

I would say don’t build until you know exactly what you want. For now, buy used, sell for what you paid (+/-) if you don’t like it, moving on and learning as you go. It’s a lot of fun actually. First serious purchase should be an awesome lightweight paddle - I picked up a featherweight carbon paddle before anything else and still use it all the time - it’s a real joy. And get a comfortable pfd.

PS I bet the fathom is a great boat, but have no experience myself…

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There are gorgeous wood boat plans from Pygmy if they are still around. Chesapeake if around had plans for wooden boats as well, my recall is easier build than the Pygmy boats. There are plans to be dug up for building a true Greenland boat, but l would not recommend that ethic for a first long boat. Quirky.

But apparently wood is one of the current materials facing shortages, and these builds end up being very time consuming. Better love it once you are done.

I like an idea above for your situation, get any sea kayak you can used right now even if a beater and spend time messing around there. As long as the bulkhead can be sealed up with a touch of Lexel, common maintenance on plastic boats, you replace old deck rigging and it floats call it done.

You want two bulkheaded areas and a full run of static line around the edge of the boat. Dry bags for your stuff in case of leaky hatch covers.

I get that these suggestions to find a used boat are way, way harder to execute now than. pre-pandemic. I was in a kayak shop a couple of days ago Where virtually every incoming sea kayak was already spoken for. Where are you beyond the Midwest, in case someone on this board can throw you suggestions?

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Try to find an Arctic Hawk, Kevlar ones pop up, they are light, 18’ and fast. Enough room to carry a weeks gear easy. Probably cheaper then building right now.

Nick Shade designs boats, sells plans and components , and builds boats for clients. CLC Boats sells kits of this boats.

You will find the stitch and glue plywood boats easier and faster to build. Note all of these are composition boats. Wood core epoxy/fiberglass encased.

Your weight is right there on many of the 16-18ft designs. I’m currently doing a stripper Petrel Play for Qruiser.

PS…kit prices went up recently but price increase was modest. Wood shortage in the news is for house framing type. The stuff these are built from has always been in short supply.

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Touring boats …the Chesapeake boats make good first time boats. They tend to go straight and hold a lot. …ie touring

I have a 17. I feel the rear deck is a little high and gives me a back ache. A little more of a low deck like greenland boats work fit me better. It is though, a good starter boat. I’ve paddled it on many places between south Florida to Lake Superior.

I have been looking at a Shearwater, an Eric Shade designs. Nick’s brother.

CLC is thinking about starting up their demonstration events. They used to do them in several places across the US.

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I hope so.
I’d like to try a Petrel.
There’s a rumor that there may be a composite one in the not too distant future.
(for the ‘building challenged’ type person)

“So long as the craft has at least marginal stability, I only really care about speed.”
Hi OddDuck! I’m 6’, 195 lbs give or take, a former marathoner who still runs each morning before work, and an avid sea kayaker.
You’re athletic, you care about speed, and you’ve already done a 100 mile trip.
I agree with grayhawk here. A 14’ kayak will likely be quite slow for you. It’s pretty tough to figure how any individual might experience kayak stability, but that usually comes into play. Kayaks like the Epic 18x and Stellar S18 are going to be your faster touring kayaks, so if you’re comfortable paddling one, those should be great for you. Honestly, for a one and done myself considering the Gulf of Mexico and conditions you could potentially enjoy there, distances, speed, camping, comfort, and comfortable stability, I love my Current Designs Extreme/Unity. I understand they just discontinued making them. Another that would be great as a one-and-done for everything for someone like yourself would be the Seaward Nigel Foster Legend. Some folks can’t get comfortable with the initial stability in Nigel Foster’s kayaks, but the Legend truly has really solid secondary stability. I’ve never had any problem relaxing in my Legend, but these things are very individual, and a lot comes with developing boat balance. And the arch in the hull that makes the primary stability seem tender is what allows it such good speed. An Epic surf ski dealer and local successful racer and I switched out one day, me in his surf ski and he in the Legend, and he couldn’t get over how fast he was able to go in the Legend. I won my division in a local race once paddling the Legend (it fit within the 18’ length limit). The hull shape also allows for pretty exceptional maneuverability, and it’s a lot of fun in the ocean waves.
And I have to bring up the Current Designs Prana (or Prana LV depending upon how you fit.) It’s a really efficient kayak, and the cockpit design allows for a strong and comfortable forward stroke. It’s very maneuverable, and the one of the bunch I would favor for any fun surf days at the Gulf.
For myself personally, maxing out the efficiency of a 14’ kayak doesn’t take much. If I’m going for a solid pace, I feel the limitations of my 16’ kayaks fairly easily. I recommend 17’ + for your purposes, and there is a whole world of stability ranges and designs in 17’+ kayaks.
Good luck in your search.


Pygmy is not in production at this time but haven’t fully called it quite:

UPDATE: Our Showroom is CLOSED. Kit production has been temporarily suspended. If you are interested in a boat kit you may place an order via our website. We will not charge your credit card until production has resumed and we have confirmed you would still like the kit at that time. By placing an order before then your order will be put in the queue for when production resumes.

CLC, especially the Nick Shade designs are very much worth looking at.

There is a Betsie Bay Aral for sale in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but that’s probably a bit too small for you.

And yes, where in the Mid West - Mid East are you. There may be some dealers around that you are not aware of. I do know of a couple of sea kayaks that are in stock in Lansing Michigan. It also looks like Riverside Kayak Connection in Wyandotte Michigan has sea kayaks in stock.

Yes, in one of this videos a year or more ago we heard that Turning Point was building a wood Petrel to make a mold from. Of course when he worked on the play it took a long time to get the mold done.

Re building : CLC makes great kits as does( did?) Pygmy. I may have said this, but I’ve helped build a sea kayak from each.
The CNC kits go together very nicely IF you follow the instructions and understand how epoxy works. If you don’t , you’ll learn.
I’ve built two boats from plans and they were interesting. No matter how skilled you are, your hands will never come close to the accuracy of a CNC driven saw.
They are great winter projects if you have an enclosed, heated space.
I also built a Yost SOF mostly in the living room.
I have no desire to build again.

Thanks everyone, I feel like there is lots of solid advice here. Starting with something used would be ideal and in-line with my approach to other hobbies. I’ll continue looking on that front. I am confident that what I think I want now probably isn’t what i really want in the end, but that’s half the fun.

I am in southwest Indiana but willing to travel to a competent and well-stocked outfitter. My company has relationships with craters and shippers all over the US, so I could conceivably buy a boat from just about anywhere…assuming the price justified the expense of shipping.

Reading these comments has reinforced what I should have known; no point to building when I don’t yet know exactly what I need/want/like. I will check out some of the suggestions in detail and focus on longer boats.

I certainly appreciate each of you taking the time to weigh in.

And another journey begins! Happy paddling!

You will have a good time in the journey. Thanks for mulling these suggestions over.

I would get out and try to paddle a few boats while you have the weather to do so.

Compare the boats you have paddled and look at the CLC boats. When the fall rolls around order a kit and build it over the winter.

I say to buy a kit because the plywood in the kits is of a better quality than you can probably get locally.

Remember that the epoxy is the heaviest part of the boat, use it somewhat sparingly. CLC calls for end pours of thickened epoxy. Serious weight can be save by carving a block of cedar or cypress and gluing that into the ends (bow and stern).

Have fun

Cloth and epoxy are an adventure by themselves.
I did an end pour in a canoe because I wanted to run a bow line through it. Worked great until the epoxy kicked.
???“Why is my boat smoking???”
Epoxy in a mass is not cool , literally.
Works great in thin layers applied thoroughly and quickly.
Those were the days! I’ve still got tools with bits of epoxy on them. Along with my garage floor.

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As someone that designed a built a boat (not a kayak), I have a few things to say about it.
One, paddling something you built yourself is very satisfying and it means you can repair it yourself.
But building a boat is a big, messy, long project. Many people that start a boat don’t finish. There are garages and basements all over the country with unfinished boats in them.
Epoxy is nasty stuff. You can get sensitized to it. You have to be very careful not to get it on your bare skin. Always use gloves and a barrier cream. I used System 3 products. Good source for everything you’d need. West System is the other big company.
If you go with plans, rather than a kit, there are companies that will cut out the parts on a CNC machine. I used a company in Port Townsend Washington. Can’t remember the name. They have a selection of boat building plywoods to choose from. I used African Mahogany.