SOF it is... One question:

Thanks to all who replied to my “kayak financing” thread. After much deliberation I have decided to build two SOFs. I have the Robert Morris book on order, and already have a good bit put away for the first boat.

One question that is plaguing me, and though it may be answered in the book, I was wondering if anyone has built or seen a keyhole cockpit SOF? I have to say, and traditionalist SOFers probably think I’m nuts, but I really don’t like the ocean cockpits. I sat in an Anas Acuta once, and it was enough. And I KNOW my fiancée will be quite hesitant in a more restrictive cockpit. So, can a keyhole cockpit reasonably be installed in a SOF? I assume it just means a more complicated coaming bend and cockpit reinforcement, but I’m not sure. Also, if anyone knows of any sites or books with directions and tips for making a keyhole cockpit, it would be appreciated. Thanks again.

You Can…
measure the size of the keyhole cockpit you like and then steam the wood for the coaming accordingly. The main issue is that in a glass or plastic boat, the the material is stiff in enough to allow for a knee/thigh brace. In an SOF, the beam that supports the front of the coaming, the “masik”, acts similarly to thighbraces in making contact and effecting control. With a longer coaming, you would be bracing, at best, the skin between the gunwales and the coaming. I’m sure you can tie a wood plate underneath, from gunwales to the support beam for the coaming if you really wanted to. I’ve thought of this since I am building an SOF for a friend. I would not want her to be in an ocean cockpit since she’s a newbie.


Thanks for the reply. I have a pretty good idea what you are talking about, but I’ll have to read the book to get a better grasp of exactly how to go about it. I saw an elongated “egg shaped” cockpit while googling, which should suffice if the keyhole proves too hard. Adding in some support for bracing sounds like a good idea, hopefully I can integrate that without too much trouble. I’m just glad to have it pointed out before hand! Again, thanks.

Newbies in ocean cockpit
The Pintail I got Kim has ocean cockpit. She was really hesitant to go to a sit in at all! Took some twisted logic to get her in, but shortly there after she was sold. So much more control that her wide open SOT had.

She is small and has good balance so I knew it would not be a physical problem. Her first time getting in she did unassisted with boat floating and paddle not braced on bottom. Basically did a cowboy and didn’t know it.

Of course, if I compare relative size between her and I (small and in decent shape vs. big middle aged gut), and her ocean cockpit and my keyhole (20" vs. 30" long) she probably has more room to get in and out than I do L.

Actually I really like the ocean cockpit too. If only the Pintail had another 1/2 width between the seat posts! A bit too snug for me. Guess some better eating/exercise habits would fix that!

I would love to build a SOF - but a bit short on space. At least when I do I’ll not be as concerned about the differences in opening size and masik vs thigh braces - as I would have been without trying the ocean cockpit.

Yes, well
I’ll bet that any sink would have felt snug compared to her SOT! The problem is, my fiancee doesn’t even have real experience in a SOT, so getting her into an ocean cockpit would be a real accomplishment. And I might add, I don’t think either of us would have felt safe. So her boat will be relatively wide (for her petite size) and feature a large enough cockpit she won’t have to think twice about a wet exit.

I don’t know your fiancee, but…

– Last Updated: Oct-22-04 10:30 AM EST – seems like you may be making some assumptions that might not be true. If she has no real kayaking experience, how do you know that she wouldn't like a small cockpit? If she doesn't know the difference, she'll only know what you tell her. Unfortunately, it seems that you've already made up your mind against ocean cockpits.

You say that you "sat" in an Anas Acuta "once". Did you actually paddle it? If not, you're judging it strictly by an intial dry-land impression that says nothing about how it works on the water. This seems to be a common reaction from people who've never tried one and it tends to foster the common misconceptions about ocean cockpits.

If you paddle an ocean cockpit equipped boat, you'll find that it feels very secure and you have outstanding control, moreso than in a larger cockpit. You have a wider variety of useable leg positions, since you can use the full width of the deck to brace against. Although it's nearly impossible to slip or fall out of an ocean cockpit, wet exiting is easy. Try it once or twice and any trepidation you have about it will disappear.

Although it's possible to build SOF's with keyhole cockpits, it really eliminates the essence of what an SOF is, a close fitting, high performance kayak. Obviously, the choice is up to you, but you may be cheating yourself by not giving the small cockpit a try.

There is no doubt in my mind that if more people actually tried ocean cockpits, there would be a much greater demand for them. Their advantages on the water are substantial and their alleged drawbacks are mostly assumed and fictitious.

Understand your logic…
…on the more open thing for a beginner. I was of similar mind before, and if I’d have a choice of cockpit’s I’d have probably gotten her a keyhole. Glad I didn’t.

As Brian pointed out, when 95% of the time in the boat is paddling - not getting in and out - more open is not necessarily safer.

Kim had only paddled her SOT maybe a half dozen time. So had no “experience”. She really didn’t want a SINK at all - despite my talking mine up ALL the time. She didn’t want to be confined, or have to do more complicated recoveries - and had no interest in rolling.

Like I said, Kim was concerned about not just the cockpit, but closed boats in general (she’s also a bit afraid of the water) - but after initial reservations - she not only liked the SINK better than the SOT, she also liked the ocean cockpit better than my larger keyhole.

The first day with the Pintail she saw me hit my first rolls - in HER boat. Then do it in mine. Something clicked for her. She was tired from paddling, and dry from watching me mess about, and didn’t want to get wet again. I got her to wet exit anyway (I told her it’s mandatory for first paddles in new boats. She had done one in my kayak before, but that doesn’t count). Once she was already wet she figured she’d try some more. She managed cowboy rescues pretty easily (she didn’t know any better!) and even ASKED for rolling help - and wanted to try my Greenland paddle for that as she (rightly) figured it had something to do with my successes.

In all, a GIGANTIC 180 turn in interest and opinion in one afternoon. I credit much of that to her new kayak - once she tried it!

Don’t forget the rather substantial advantage women have with lower center of gravity and generally better flexibility. For Kim to feel like I do in my 21" beam kayak I’d have to put her in an 18" beam. Skinny sea kayaks can feel as stable to many women as intermediate and rec boat feel to some guys. Kim’s glass SOT was more like a surf ski, not the stable plastic variety. Quite hard for me to manage - a snap for her as a newbie. Again, she didn’t know any better.

Anyway, don’t go too wide on her SOF, or too big on that cockpit, based on how boats feel to you.

If I remember your in Lansing
Give me a shout and you can come by and see my SOF and S&G boats.


Yup, what bnystrom said…

Thanks Again
I thought the more traditional SOFers would have something to say about that!

Look, I’m not making this judgment based upon her paddling preferences, you’re right… because she doesn’t have any. Before she met me she’d never even been in a canoe. She was worried about going out in a canoe with a 39" beam. It took her a good long while in the canoe before she got over what she described as the “tipsy” feeling. Trust me, canoes don’t get much more stable than the one we were in. The point is, I’m making this judgment based upon what I know about my fiancée after living with her for four years. I just don’t want to spend 50 hours or so building a kayak for her that she will be afraid to use.

The general idea of a SOF may be a close fitting, high performance kayak, but that’s really not why I am building this for her. She’s not confident enough even in the water in general for a high performance kayak. I’m not talking about a 25" beam boat with a cockpit big enough to store a cooler. I’m just talking about a boat wide enough to have good initial stability, so she doesn’t get stressed out having to correct all the time. And I’m just talking about a cockpit size and shape that will let her feel confident in her ability to get out. You have to trust me when I say these things are important to her. I have talked to her about the whole thing at length. Besides, she only weighs a hundred pounds, so even with the things factored in she should still have a very, very capable boat.

As for me, I just prefer the keyhole, what can I say? I did paddle the Anas, albeit shortly and in secluded waters, and I wasn’t digging the ocean cockpit. It’s a personal preference, and I just prefer the keyhole. Maybe if I was primarily interested in the traditional aspect of the sport or spent a great deal of time on the open water with one I would change my mind… or maybe not. The point is, if I am going to build myself a custom boat, I want to do it with the features I know I like, not the ones I might end up liking. I hope all you traditional SOFers and hardcore ocean cockpit aficionados can respect that, and won’t laugh at me when you see me paddling!

Oh we won’t laugh (might snicker)
I’ve seen this sort of thing time and again: Jack likes to paddle, Jack wants Jill to paddle too, Jill doesn’t want to paddle but likes being with Jack. Jack spends tons of money or lots of time buying/building kayak for Jill. Jill goes out once.

I think Jacks should always build boats for Jack unless Jill shows a real interest.

My Jill and I get out together twice a year and we both enjoy it. I get out 50x more often than my wife does.

I don’t mean to assume this is your case but it’s something to keep in mind.

That’s exactly my point
That’s why I’m intent on making her first boat one that won’t scare her away from the sport. She’s got real interest, and also real reservations. The key, I find, is to make first experiences with endevours like this as comfortable and non-stressful as possible.

Take backpacking or camping for example. If you introduce somebody to it, they’re not going to come away with a favorable impression if their first trip includes a cheap tent that soaks them in condesation and a sleeping bag that wasn’t warm enough. Likewise they won’t be happy if you push them into a fast and light trip their first time: too strenuous for the uninitiated. I don’t really care if I have to build her another boat in a year that’s higher performance, just as long as I smoothly slide her into the sport, rather than trying to thrust her into it.

Do What You Think Best
The friend I am building for is not interested in seakayaking at all. She uses an IK right now for ponds and slow rivers. She has no interest whatsoever in a “high performance” boat. What she wants is a boat she can easily carry by herself and go gunking around at a leisurely pace. She is a good friend (and a mentor from work) of over 20 years. I am not interested in second guessing her or making her a boat she won’t use. The boat I am making will be about 14’ x 23" with little deadrise (angle from keel line to chine to ensure a very good primary stability.


My wife said…
“Aw, he’s a good husband”, Then she slapped me in the back of the head. ??

If I may make another suggestion; consider building two identical kayaks. This will make the building process fly and neither of you will be at a disadvantage when paddling together.

Two identical, or maybe not
I’d consider two different kayaks (of same construction, just modified). One more of a touring boat (your main kayak), one a lower volume playboat. The smaller one can have removable padding to give her decent fit.

This give you two option when soloing (should be MOST paddles by my experience) and have boats for both.

This is part of why I got Kim her Pintail. Gives me two very different boats, one being an occasional use only for me, and a very decent kayak for her when we both paddle.

Well that’s the other technique
tell the wife you’re building her a kayak but it’s really for you. My wife has caught on to that one tho.

Yeah, I might have tried that, except for the fact I’m twice her size. If she paddled anything that fit me, she may well be blown off the water in a moderate breeze! I think I’m going to make her frame first, then my frame, and then sew em up and finish them at the same time.

There I go again
I’ve had 4 posts on this thread and haven’t even attempted to answer the question.

Yes, you can have a keyhole cockpit in an SOF. I still agree with Brian Nystrom’s points, but hey the reason you’re building your own is to get exactly what YOU (or she) want so go for it.

You may already know this but I’m going to explain it anyway; On a SOF the cockpit must bridge the backrest and masik. This bridge can be as far apart as you like but should be built in the same manner you’d build it to anthropometric.

First you’ll have to decide the cockpit size, depending on whether you’ll buy or make the skirt. Second, I think you’ll need to lash the rim to the masik and backrest. You could get creative with thigh braces but you may get a good connection with knees or thighs bracing on the skin alone. I guess I envision a long narrow egg-shaped rim that’s not exactly a keyhole.

Coaming Attachment
is just held in place by the tautness of the skin, pulling it down onto the backrest beam and the masik. For thight braces on a larger egg shaped coaming, my thought is the you can lash a piece diagnonal from the gunwales to the masik, right under the skin of where the knees/thighs will touch. Will need pad it out with foam.