Help choosing a kayak kit

I’ve been playing in a 9.5’ LLBean Manatee for too many years and need to upgrade. I’ve been toying with building a kit since I’m a hardcore DIYer. I have so many questions that I can’t seem to make a decision.

First, I’m not sure the most appropriate type of kayak for me. Honestly, I don’t foresee any expeditions in my future. I’m solidly in the day-tripper camp. We camp on the ocean regularly so I’ll be paddling around the Maine coast. Some lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers. I’m tired of the barge-like Manatee and want something that tracks well and is fast, but can be maneuvered in small ponds. From all my reading, I’m thinking a long recreational kayak or short touring.

I’m 60yrs old and not as agile as I used to be. 5’8 and 175lbs with a 10 shoe size.

Another question is whether the performance of a wood kayak is as good as a plastic or fiberglass one. I can’t see building one if I can buy something better. Which is why I have second thoughts about something like the Pygmy Pinguino 145…for the price, I could buy a plastic boat with the same shape (but heavier) I was thinking of the Osprey Std, but have read that it takes an act of congress to make it turn…

Anyway, any help or advice that will get me into a new kayak this summer is appreciated

Some Thoughts
Here are a few thoughts for you from someone building a sixth kayak, 4 of them stitch&glue boats (including the current project). For performance, a wood kit boat can be every bit as good as a commercial plastic or glass boat. Every design behaves a bit differently, and we always advise people to try a number of models before making a purchase decision. This is the major hangup with a kit boat - it may be hard to find one to test paddle.

A kit boat will be lighter in weight than plastic and may be lighter than a fiberglass kayak (a kit boat is basically a fiberglass kayak that uses wood for a core, rather than more fiberglass, resin and gelcoat).

If you paddle the coast of Maine, you want a boat in the 14-16 foot range. Part of this is for safety - a long enough boat to have the floatation to do rescues.

I’d suggest checking out the Pinguino 145 models (as you have) and the Shearwater Sport 14.5’ from Chesapeake Light Craft. I’m building the Shearwater right now, and should have it ready for the water in a month or so. I also have an Arctic Tern 14 that you could try (my wife’s boat).

Building is a whole different ballgame. Your wooden boat will attract admiration and conversation wherever you go. Plan additional time to launch and land your kayak, because people will want to know all about it. The old saying: wooden kayaks are not for anyone in the witness protection program.

Alan (near Albany, NY)

Call Pygmy and CLC and talk to them
about what you want. They are the ones who can give you the best recommendations shy of paddling one.Building a boat is a great project.

stitch & glue vs. strip
There is an article in the most recent issue (Spring 2012) of California Kayaker Magazine that covers the different ways to make a boat (stitch and glue wood, strip built wood, skin on frame) and their pros and cons. May be worth a read. Can be read online for free at

My limited experience
I have built 2 wooden kayaks from kits, both stitch and glue. For the record, I am about your same weight and shoe size, although a couple of inches taller.

One happened to be a Pygmy Osprey Standard. The other was a Chesapeake Light Craft Patuxent 17.5, a model no longer offered, which had a sharp chined hull.

Yes, wooden kit-built boats can provide performance every bit as good as a composite boat, and superior to plastic, since wood and fiberglass can be built into finer shapes and sharper angles than polyethylene can be rotomolded to.

The Osprey Standard is a hard tracker, although it can be turned with a committed off-side heel. If I were to build another Pygmy solo kayak it would be an Arctic Tern, however. The Arctic Tern was not offered when I built the standard. Either of the boats I built had more than enough foot room.

Both kits were well made and thought out. I made a number of calls to both CLC and Pygmy when questions arose while I was building the kits and the folks were helpful. CLC is in different hands since I built my Pax however.

I really like the look of CLCs Arctic Hawk kit.

Arctic Tern vs Osprey
Thanks for the replies. I’ve had my eyes on the Arctic Tern…I think my main concern is the length. 17ft seems huge…although I guess it’s only a foot longer than our canoe which goes everyplace we want. Is the AT truly more maneuverable than the shorter Osprey?


– Last Updated: Apr-16-12 9:16 PM EST –

The Arctic Tern has a sharp chined hull. The hull is basically formed from 4 flat panels.

The Osprey Standard has a multi-chined hull configuration which approximates a shallow arch hull cross section, and it has little rocker.

A sharp chined hull can be maneuvered and steered by heeling the boat a bit. Heeling the boat also assists turning in a multi-chined hull but the effect is less pronounced.

The Patuxent I built was 17 1/2 feet in overall length (also a 4 panel, sharp chined hull) but it was distinctly more maneuverable than the Osprey Standard.

Pinguino 13

– Last Updated: Apr-16-12 9:44 PM EST –

Unless you plan on carrying another 100lbs you don't need the 14' Pinguino.
I've built a Patuxent 17.5-fun construction, design is a waste of time for wind/waves
Pygmy13 - good light kayak for my daughters
MillCreek13-good rec. kayak
Chesapeake 16- more fun construction, ok design
Chesapeake Northbay- more fun construction, mediocre design
Chesapeake 18- ok boat for big guys
Pygmy Coho-good touring kayak
Pinguino 13-this really is a good transitional touring design, I weigh 215lbs and it's a perfect day boat. I made it with integral thigh braces and recessed coaming. Pygmy/Lockwood only does the recess for the aft portion of the coaming.
I've also built three Shearwater Mergansers and a few other s&g.

The Pinguino is a good design. 13' version will be light.

go to for max info on building techniques

Question for those who own a wooden kayak. Since the poster camps along the Maine coast, I’ve always thought that if I had to be driven onto the rocks while making an ungraceful landing, I would not want it to be in a wooden kayak. Age and agility enter into a difficult landing. Thoughts?

Re length, I’ve paddled a 17’ wooden kayak and it performed nicely on the water. But I found it unwieldy on my car.

damage to ones body is a higher priority than the boat. I have toured on the Maine coast in a loaded 17’6" wood/glass composite kayak. It can be built to the task. With any kayak you don’t want to expose yourself to injury when landing. A 13" Pinguino is an ideal size for someone who isn’t paddling faster than 4mph. I built one up with the regular layup of 6oz on the inside and outside with another layer of 4oz s-glass on the outside.

If one was especially concerned 6oz s-glass on the inside would make for an insanely tough hull.

One of the nice things about smaller boats is that you can build them with extreme durability with little penalty in weight.

More thoughts
I’ve considered the durability issue regarding the Maine coast. Wood & glass boat owners “claim” that it’s as rugged as a composite boat, and easier to fix…since you know how it went together. I do still wonder…

When Pygmy came out with the 13 ft Pinguino, I thought it looked good but a little short for good tracking. Then they followed up with the Pinguino 145 but with a 25.5" beam, it’s still a little chunky. John Lockwood says it will “keep up” with faster boats, but it’s cruising speed is still at the bottom of the list.

The other thing that concerns me about building a “recreational” kayak is that I could probably buy a plastic one for the same price. The wood is lighter, and there’s the pride in building it. I just question whether it’s as practical a proposition (cost-wise) as building a longer boat. Still spinning my wheels here…


– Last Updated: Apr-18-12 9:01 AM EST –

Don't build just to save money. Build because you want the experience of building.

Ask the kit manufacturer for contact information for builders/owners in your area, and ask on the building forum. make the effort to find a boat to demo. You don't want to invest the time and money without being confident that you'll like the result.

You can make a very strong wood/composite boat. But if you're going to worry about it, it'll make paddling less fun.

The Tern 17 does have a lot of volume. It is surprisingly maneuverable if you're comfortable putting it on edge.

For a pure day-paddling boat, you'd be at the top of the range for the Tern 14.

you are spinning your wheels
It can be as rugged but it will weigh almost as much in order to retain cosmetic appearances. It’s not easier or harder to fix. Once you know how to fix stuff you fix it. A standard built Penguino will weigh about the same as a Current Designs Vision and less likely to develop cracks on hard landings as the Vision.

“When Pygmy came out with the 13 ft Pinguino, I thought it looked good but a little short for good tracking.”

Make up your mind, do you want a light, efficient day kayak or do you want a heavier load carrier? Beginners overrate tracking because they aren’t that skilled keeping a kayak on course. Getting a longer/bigger kayak doesn’t mean it’ll track better, it might mean you’ll get blown around more as less of it is sunk in the water.

“Then they followed up with the Pinguino 145 but with a 25.5” beam, it’s still a little chunky. John Lockwood says it will “keep up” with faster boats, but it’s cruising speed is still at the bottom of the list."

Beware evaluating kayaks on numbers. You aren’t paddling numbers. If you want a light kayak get a small kayak. If you aren’t planning on carrying 75lbs extra gear don’t get a kayak where you are carrying around extra windage and weight.

“I just question whether it’s as practical a proposition (cost-wise) as building a longer boat. Still spinning my wheels here…”

You build a kayak because you want to build one. If you want the lightest/lowest cost kayak for day paddling in Maine get a Necky Manitou 13 and put a float bag in the bow. Seriously you are not going to get a practical benefit from a longer waterline kayak if you are not paddling faster than 3.5mph. It will take you at least 3months to build a kayak and the other costs will add $400 even if you have all the tools once you go through materials, gloves, sandpaper, paint,varnish, table/saw horses for building (crawling on floor is no fun).

btw, the water in Maine is cold, whatever kayak you get get dressed for the water and go through basic rescues with an instructor or club.

I’ve owned dozens of kayaks, taught sea kayak, built about 14, the Pinguino 13 is a good design. If you don’t want to build, don’t buy a kit.