Which kit built kayak is right?

We have short recreational kayaks that we enjoy. We now want to built two kayaks for use on the Great Lakes. Also would like to do some overnight touring as our skills grow. We initially thought a big double might be nice…but have given that idea up. The two models we have found that we think would work are: CLC Chesapeake 17 or the Pygmy Coho Hi. Also thought about the new Pygmy Borealis XL. I am 6’1 and wt. 200# shoe size 12 and my wife is 5’9 and wt. 160# shoe size 10. We are fit but not small.

Any ideas? Thanks.

or adequate

– Last Updated: Oct-02-09 11:46 AM EST –

I've built about 14s&g kayaks, CLC, Pygmy and Shearwater(Eric Schade). They're all made out of 4mm ply glass and epoxy. How you make them almost matters as much as the design.

Start with www.kayakforum.com for the most experienced answers. That is Nick Schades Guillemot forum. For some reason I haven't figured out the new password process and haven't been able to post recently.

Without getting into details and going from your descriptions the CohoHi is not necessary unless you have size 14ft and can't rotate your knees out, the regular Coho would be a fine choice for you. The Borealis XL would make sense if you put on another 100lbs. It's a high volume hull. An excellent alternative to the Chesapeake 18. I wouldn't bother with any of the old Chesapeake designs as there are better designs considering weight,durability and handling. I could break it down in chapter and verse but basically they are freighters and not particularly responsive in wind/waves. Some designs can be paddled in a range of conditions without rudder/skeg, some can benefit and some require it. I'm guessing you have yet to discern where some designs require tracking/turning aids but the thing to keep in mind is that paddling on flat water in a 5mph breeze is entirely different than paddling on 2' waves in 15mph breeze.

There is absolutely no reason for your wife to build/paddle a kayak suited for someone your size. A 17 Shearwater Merganser or CLC Shearwater 16 or 17 would be fine. The Chesapeake 17 is just plain huge and the "LT" version is huge on the water even though the freeboard is less.

Both of those kayaks, the Coho (for you) and CLCShearwater16/17/ShearwaterMerganser17(for her) are stable enough for you two that needing to learn how to roll wouldn't be an immediate skill but should be learned eventually for rougher conditions.

misc. ideas: round over the inside of the coaming a LOT, you will glass it anyway and your body will appreciate not having sharp edges to climb over.

Cut off 1"-1 1/2" off the ends before glassing. Nearly 95% of the s&g kayaks I've seen are dangerously sharp in the ends. If you are rescueing someone or being rescued you do NOT want a pencil tip bow to spear your head, hands or boat. There is no reason for sharp ends on a kayak, if not for safety then at least for repair as the sharp ends chip so easily. Check out any s&g kayak you come across. If it's got a pointy bow it's chipped and there's water staining into the wood. I'll round mine over and lay on a small pile of light glass so that walking into a wall while carrying the kayak doesn't result in immediate exposure of the underlying wood.

There's no reason to make the bow/stern edge at and below the waterline as sharp as the resulting corner of two pieces of 4mm ply. All you do is concentrate wear so that material(or wood) gets abraded off sooner. Look at how the CLCArctic Hawk kit and Pygmy kits finish the ends. It's a thick putty of dense epoxy.

Don't get fixated on the name or kit, once it's built you still have to paddle it.

Having a garage with steady temps will help tremendously, don't bother trying to build unless you can get the temp above 60degrees because it'll be more viscous at cold temps and you'll end up wasting epoxy. Above 80 and you better find the slowest epoxy around or things will cure while you're working with it.

You can't have enough gloves. 1 1/2 boxes per person is about right. Double gloving.

If you put three coats of epoxy on flat surfaces put six on edges as sanding will naturally cut those away quicker and the coats are thinner on the edges than flat areas.

There's 100's of people you can tap in on for hints and suggestions.

regarding sharp pointy bows:


I'd cut that bow off midway back to the grab loop hole. Look around for some photos of kayaks in 2' waves, then imagine being in the water with your eyes/head/hands near that bow. Likewise look around for photos of people doing t-rescues in waves, and imagine pulling that bow across your lap and it slip/spears into your sprayskirt/thigh.



look at the close up photos of the bow. If that's cut/rounded over and glassed it'll handle running into things without chipping through the glass into the underlying wood. As it is if you pick the kayak up and the ends hit the ground that's going to chip. The major reason for looking at those close up photos is to point out that the inside edge of the coaming is TOO sharp. In a t-rescue you drag another boat across your lap which will concentrate wear on that coaming edge but more important when YOU re-enter the cockpit your skinny little body is sliding across that edge. Look at production kayaks. The inside edge of the coaming is not a sharp edge. Sharp edges in those areas is a consequence of not finishing the construction IMHO.

Call the manufacturers

– Last Updated: Oct-02-09 12:25 PM EST –

The kit manufacturers can give you contact information for owners/builders in your area. Most builders are happy to show off their boats to interested paddlers.

As Lee said, the Pygmys are fine boats but tend to "run large." I'm 5'9", 160 and can comfortably fit in a Tern 14. A Coho or Tern 17 feels huge.

I haven't been impressed by the Chesapeakes I've tried.

A boat that's too big is no fun in wind and waves.

I’m a petite 200lbs at 5’9"(something happened in the last ten years) and paddled the Borealis and Penguino. The Borealis is more stable than the Penguino. The Borealis is a shade smaller than a Necky Pinta.

Made a Coho eight years ago for a friend your size and it was just too big. It took a couple attempts to make thigh/knee braces to fit someone with 31" inseam. It was a perfect boat for a trip in Maine with 80lbs of water and gear.

For some reason Lockwood keeps making big boats and shys away from the designs where rolling is a necesary skill. A skinnier low volume Tern or Coho would make sense for the 175lb paddler than higher freeboard Coho and Tern.

I just finished making a Penguino and configured a recessed coaming with integral knee/thigh braces like the Shearwater Merganser. Someday Pygmy might continue the coaming recess that was developed for the aft edge of the coaming and continue it forward.

I liked the Coho and Tern 17 I demoed, but they were obviously too big for me to paddle empty. A scaled-down Coho – maybe 16’ x 21-22"? – would be a nice addition to the Pygmy fleet. Something similar on the Tern side might make a great playboat with a bit more speed than the 14.

I’m still tempted to build a Tern 14 – I think it’d be a great “rec boat” for all those after-work lake paddles where my Avocet seems like overkill.

Good suggestion on rounding the ends. I wish I had done more of that on my S&G canoe, but as a first-time builder I didn’t feel confident enough to improvise. I’ll be braver next time.

That is the lovely thing about home-builts; even from a kit you can make modifications to them to suit your own style of use and body size. I built my Coho with the seatback mounted 1" further rearward than spec and the footbraces 2.5" further forward than spec. I also rounded off the inside/front bottom of the cockpit opening. As I have a 36" inseam those mods are barely sufficient and the one I build next spring will definitely have a modified cockpit which will allow me to enter a bit more gracefully and without taking the skin off my shins (or having to do a handstand while I slip my feet in…almost guaranteed to end up giving me a dunking in any kind of water other than dead flat!) I’ll be asking Pygmy if they can send me the pieces for the Borealis cockpit instead of the stock 17" X 33" one.

Lee’s idea about rounding off the inside/top edge of the coaming is also a very good one…I think I’ll steal that for Coho #2 as well (and maybe even modify #1 this winter).

Pygmy have you build your boat with a 1/2" dia. rounded edge along the keel line from tip to tail (just about the same thickness of the 2 plys of plywood plus glass). Although I see the point about cutting the bow back further be aware that it is going to expose some of the inner plys of the wood and that might result in a bit of unsightliness (unless you are only concerned about function). Some of the pictures posted make it look as though the builders tried to create “knife edges” along the keel around the stem and stern…but maybe that’s just the lighting or angle of the photograph.

At 215# I find the empty Coho to handle fairly well: it’s balanced well enough that wind isn’t a problem but a following sea does force you to be a bit more careful about your bracing (I didn’t bother with a rudder). I haven’t tried it with any load but that could resolve the tendency for it to be a bit “tender” in primary stability.

You could always try building a Coho for yourself and should you like it, build a stock Osprey for your wife. Then you have the ability to “switch out” from time to time and enjoy the features of either.

it’s ply

– Last Updated: Oct-03-09 10:41 AM EST –

personally I don't find the edge grain unsightly, it's ply after all. When you cover the ends with thickened epoxy it covers the exposed edge anyway.


go down to the picture of the toggle with a closeup of the bow. That dark cream color is epoxy putty. If you use walnut powder and cabosil it'll make for a tough dark layer. Walnut powder seems to make smoother fillets although dark than the regular stuff you get.

re. rudder and the Coho. For day paddling and a skilled 180lb-250lb paddler the Coho is controllable enough to correct for weathercocking but it seems to me that it emphasizes straight line efficiency/speed (low wetted area and long enough waterline) and load carrying over maneuverability that one might as well put a rudder on if long distance efficiency with a load is a goal. When I took it on a week long trip it took about 30minutes to get my stroke figured out for beam winds and managed better than a friend in an unskegged low volume Caribou but a heavily loaded boat isn't going to be thrown around anyway so one might as well save the energy for forward effort and install a rudder.

CLC added TWO INCHES to the beam!
Eric Schade’s Shearwater Merganser 16 is 21" beam, not 23"! What a huge increase. I’m glad I built mine from his kit, not CLC’s. Actually, I would not have bought theirs because it is way too wide.

Yeah, round off the inner edges of the coaming. I rounded mine but not a lot, and it still feels more sharp-edged than the coamings on my other sea kayaks.

Study as much of www.kayakforum’s archives as you can digest. You can avoid making some common mistakes by learning from others’ oopses.

Biggest thing to avoid: rushing. Don’t even think about hurrying the process. That tends to come back and bite you in the butt later, meaning you end up spending more time than you would have by proceeding methodically and carefully in the first place.

Just a couple things . . .
I built a couple of Pygmy Arctic Tern 14s and my wife and I are very happy with them. When I was making a choice of boats, I got - and relied heavily on - a lot of excellent advice by LeeG.

His feedback was very valuable, but I didn’t take his advice on cutting back the bow and stern, preferring to maintain the design features of the original boat. Also, I am glad that I rounded the inside edge of the coaming - a great but minor modification for comfort. I found the building instructions by Pygmy to be straight and to the point, while thorough. And, if you have questions (you will), a call to their number will result in excellent support.

Finally, the sense of accomplishment that comes with building your own custom boat cannot be adequately put into words.

tennis ball?
I know, I’ve my my issues. But if you’re ever up for something different during rescue practice get a tennis ball and cut a small triangular hole in it with two tiny punch holes for an 1/8" line to tie the ball on the bow. It makes for an easy grab in rescues and you can put on different colored balls depending on the season.

I like my Pygmy’s
I’ve build a couple of Pygmy’s and very much like them – they’re awesome boats that handle well, and look great.

You can view build journals of Pygmy’s (and a couple of other stitch and glue kits) on my website at:


There are also many discussions about various kayak kits in our forums:


Building your own kayak is a great experience and well worth the effort. Whatever you decide to build, have fun with it and paddle safely.



KBBS Password
:That is Nick Schades Guillemot forum. For some reason I

:haven’t figured out the new password process and haven’t

:been able to post recently.

FWIW, the password system is the same as it has always been, it is strictly optional. If you have trouble posting, choose a different name. You can then choose to use a password if you are worried someone may post under your name.

Thanks Lee, I’ll have blue balls
for most of the year and get red balls to celebrate the holidays.

More good advice and a safety feature not just for rescue practice. I admit, one time we were paddling down the Ichetucknee river, passing tubers, when some smart a$$ budding sociopath jumped right into the path of my boat! For a moment, I thought he would spear himself on my bow, but fortunately his timing was off and he slid harmlessly under the keel, while the other kids called him a dope.

eek, kids
I remember teaching a rolling class and one of the exercises was developing hip range of motion (hip snap)by doing eskimo rescues off a partners bow. For some reason one fellow would snap/throw himself upright then let go of his friends bow. I kept telling him to not let go of the bow. So he comes up, has a bit of vertigo and insufficient hip snap and falls back down hitting the side of his head right on the bow of assisting kayak. Grazed right across his temple/forhead. Glad he wasn’t facing down and the kayak was a round bowed plastic boat.

Another time we were trying to roll a big Chesapeake double with unglassed deck and one of the helping kayaks was a Chesapeake with pointy bow. When the big double went over the assisting boat didn’t back way quick enough and the wide deck whacked the bow on the way down punching a 1" hole in the deck.

During a game of kayak football one kid is paddling in a big Ch18 that is hard to turn, t-boned another paddler in the ribs. Pfd took the point but still left a bruise.

wow, good resource

Look at a skin on frame
Lots of resources here and online. A friend builds a skin on frame first and then builds a hull as strip built if she likes it a lot. Skin on frames are inexpensive to build and faster to build than many kits. Plus there is no epoxy to make you allergic.

my personal choices
would be the CLC Arctic Hawk and the Pygmy Arctic Tern (full size). I like the sharper-chined Greenland style hulls.

The Arctic Tern would be the higher volume boat and I think it would fit you well. The Hawk would have a bit less volume. Both would be relatively fast, certainly much faster than you are used to.

I have built S&G kits from both Pygmy and CLC. There are things that I liked and disliked about both.

I haven’t had a problem with the bows of the boats being too sharp. I didn’t miter the hull panels to a 45 degree scarf. I just radiused the edges and put three layers of glass over the cutwater. The bows on my S&G boats are no sharper than that on my production fiberglass Wilderness Systems Arctic Hawk (I just checked to confirm this). Of course, if you wanted the stems blunter you could do as LeeG suggests.

thx, I’ll try that
I couldn’t figure out why it worked one week and not another.

Merganser 16 is a good size
I’m guessing the 23" wide Shearwater makes for a more marketable design for non-rollers but it kinda blows out the whole idea of a low displacement kayak for light people who can paddle at a brisk pace and want a 16’ kayak.

Thanks LeeG. What do you think of about a CLC Arctic Hawk or Pygmy Arctic Tern?. One fellow told me “Why build a bus when you can build a porshe.” Would these boats be too advanced for us…or grow as our skills grew?