Which wooden kayak kit?

Tern 14 Rocks
I built one for my wife, a 50-something fairly fit but slow paddler. She transitioned from a Perception Acadia 12’ with a 26" beam. The change went just fine, and she quickly realized how much easier she was moving with the Tern. This boat has a nice combination of tracking and turning, and has been a good confidence-builder for her in rough waters.

The design is a bit more complex to build than the CLC Chesapeake that I did earlier, but I like the Tern much better. It has a lower coaming that lends itself to learning more advanced paddling techniques.

One warning - these beautiful wooden boats are often hard to get launched - people stop you almost everywhere you go and want to know all about the boat! You can’t beat them for a conversation starter…

Cheers, Alan

Kit Boats
Since I went through all of this when selecting a boat for my wife (5’1", 105#), I will give you my thoughts. First off, I do not think a 16’ boat is out of the question for you if it is a narrow boat. The speed question has come up in other posts so I think it may be helpful for you to think of speed in two ways; top end speed and cruising speed. The Pygmy Osprey 13 has the fastest cruising speed of all the Pygmy boats; it also has the lowest top end speed of their boats. The Osprey 13 is the boat I built for my wife and it has been an excellent choice for her. With this boat, she can keep up with me and other stronger paddlers without exhausting herself. I think this would be a good starter boat for you; note that I said ‘starter’ boat. Given your size and paddling desires you may want to start with a longer boat; especially for ocean kayaking. One thing that was touched upon in an earlier post was front deck height. Be sure to take this into consideration, it is very important for a smaller paddler. I would say about an 11” maximum deck height for some one your size. Much over that and you will find it more difficult to brace with your knees and it may even interfere with your paddling when using a low stroke technique. Larger cockpits can be customized for a smaller paddler but starting smaller usually works better. So in summary I would say something like the Cirrus LT would be a good choice as the type of boat you could ‘grow’ with. It is 16’ long, 21.5” overall beam, 19” water line beam and a front deck height of 11.5”.

As far as quality of kits goes, I think all of major companies offer good quality kits. Be sure to check what is included in the kit because there are significant differences between the companies. I have built several Pygmy boats and one Waters Dancing boat. I have also visited CLC’s boat shop and all have excellent quality kits. One Ocean Kayaks is fairly new to kit manufactures although his designs have been around for some time and are highly regarded. I am very impressed with the tight tolerances of his kits and the finger joint used to join the panels is probably the nicest and most functional offered by anyone.

Good luck and let us know what you decide.


Longer May (Or May Not) Be Faster…

– Last Updated: Dec-05-07 10:38 PM EST –

...as a lot of other factors come into play.
For example, a boat's hull speed is affected by its beam - the wider the boat, generally, the slower it will be. You also got to remember that length, in speed terms, is waterline length, not length overall - a 15' boat with plumb bow and stern can have a longer waterline length than a 17' hull with upswept ends. And finally, the overall underwater shape also plays a major role.

Longer may also simply have more volume - which may not be a good thing, given your size. My 17' VOLKSKAYAK S&G is 25" on the beam, which suits my 165 lbs. plus gear just fine, but smaller paddlers just don't 'sink' enough hull into the water to have it perform well. A friend who is about your size just finished hers this summer - it floats real high in the water to my eye, showing a lot more chine than mine does. She hasn't had it out in high winds yet, but I'm betting she'll finding tracking and carving turns harder than I do.

It also helps to remember the old sailors' adage about building boats - always plan to build three. The first is the boat you think you want; the second the boat you actually want; and the last, the boat you need!

A 16’ boat is not necessarily too big for you, but it won’t automatically make you faster than a shorter boat.

One issue is that very few kayaks – kits or production – are truly designed for short, light people. Too much volume will give you too much freeboard and make the boat difficult to handle in wind. A boat that’s too wide and/or too deep makes paddling awkward and inefficient, and makes the boat difficult to edge. A cockpit that’s too big makes it very difficult to make the boat respond to your movements.

The other speed issue is more complicated because there are two distinct sources of hyrodynamic drag on a kayak. The result is that the boat that’s easier for a strong paddler to paddle fast may not be easiest boat to paddle at a relaxed cruising pace. A longer boat will not necessarily be faster than a shorter one for a small paddler.

My petite wife became a much faster, happier paddler when she sold her 16’ x 22" kayak and bought something shorter, narrower and lighter. Other small paddlers here have had similar experiences. Many reported being frustrated by boats that were too big until they found one that fit.

Lots of small folks do happily paddle 16-18’ kayaks, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no universal “right” answer. I’d certainly encourage you to try a few sit-in kayaks before committing to a kit.

My perception is that width, depth, volume and cockpit fit are more important for comfortable “normal” paddling than length.

From one small paddler to another:

– Last Updated: Dec-04-07 12:19 PM EST –

Please rent some kayaks in the 16 to 17 ft length. Don't get hung up on whether they are wood, glass, or plastic. The length, width, and height matter more than what they are made of. If you've never paddled anything longer than 13' or 14', you could be in for either a pleasant or a disappointing surprise.

While 16' is not necessarily too long for you to propel, there is no way for any of us to really know that. It depends not only on your experience/skill but also your overall fitness and strength. Also on what conditions you will paddle.

I went from paddling twice a month with a 12'9" long 26" beam rec kayak to paddling 2 to 3 times a week with a 16.5' long 22" beam CD Squall. The transition was NO BIG DEAL. Your experience may or may not be the same. Later, I got two narrower kayaks of similar length; frankly, I would have been better off just going directly to them (the Merganser 16 and the Tempest 165). I had demoed and rented a bunch of kayaks before getting the Tempest and was better able to hone in on what I liked (it's still my favorite boat, though a bit small for carrying 2 wks of camping gear).

The problem with building a wood boat is that (as Melissa stated), it's a large commitment of time and work. You'd be smart to at least decide FOR YOURSELF if 16' or 17' is too much boat to handle, before taking on the task.

To give one example of what you might discover: I was paddling the CD Squall and used to it. When I visited Florida and rented a 13'6" Wilderness Systems Piccolo (short, narrow, and low), it felt noticeably easier to cruise along at about 4 mph. Super easy to accelerate. BUT when I tried to bring it up to about 6 mph (to keep up with some dolphins that came along)--something I could do in the Squall for short distances--it just bogged and wouldn't go fast even with a much faster stroke cadence. Caveat is that I had no trouble keeping up with others in either short boats or 16' ones, so (again) this is something you have to determine for yourself.

A collective thank you to everyone who responded. I had no idea there was so much more to consider beyond length and width. And I have decided to demo as many different sit-inside boats as I can to get a sense of what the heck I’m doing and might be experiencing before we commit to any of the kits.

But mark my words, I’ll be back! I am definitely going to a closed deck, and we want the wood, so it’s just a matter of time now.

Thank you much.

why is the Tempest 165 almost always
directed toward smaller paddlers?

I’m a hair over 6’ (thanks to gravity) and 192ish pounds and enjoy the T-165.

Because it works very, very well for us
For someone my size, the T165 functions as both a daytripper and a camping boat.

The outfitting is such that it can accommodate a fairly large size range, assuming that a) the larger paddlers don’t load it up with lots of gear and b) the smaller paddlers take pains to adjust the fittings. In my case, that meant glueing in 1/2" minicell foam underneath the seat cover, in addition to setting the thigh braces and hip pads to fit me.

Larger paddlers have two more Tempest sizes to choose from. We small paddlers do not; hence the frequent recommendations to try the T165.

it’s outfitting can fit a smaller person but primarily its made by a company that puts a lot into marketing and it’s been kind of alone in the market for a few years.

Personally I think 60lb plastic boat makes no sense for a 120#person. But if it fits and it’s one of a few major brands on the show room floor…tada!

Until the Eliza showed up Neckys skegged boats really weren’t that good for small people. The Chatham isn’t a small persons boat. It’s an average sized persons boat with a narrow coaming.

The problem is that in plastic the Eliza is a ruddered kayak.

The outfitting on Current Designs Squamish doesn’t fit some folks and it’s not exactly a responsive design. But now they’ve gone to town with small composite boats. Suka, Willow,Raven.

That leaves the Tempest 165 with the super adjustable cockpit…which is a perfect displacement for 175lb day paddler.

Your impressions of the Piccolo match what my wife likes about her Tchaika – it feels more responsive than her bigger boat(s) did. Top-end speed doesn’t matter to her. She stops a lot to look at things, so she enjoys the quick acceleration from a standstill and the easy paddling at a relaxed pace.

One more

Might be worth seeing how the Elf is progressing.

My wife is about the same size as you. She had a lot of trouble with boats being too big for her. Unless you are planning to expedition, look for lower volume. My wife is currently paddling a Guillemot which is 17’x21" but the cockpit and thigh braces have been lowered and is sized for her. this boat only has a 14’6" water line length. She loves the maneuverability but it is not exceptionally fast. It is not a slug either. Really comes alive in textured water. The Guillemot plans are available in a smaller S version. Other boats to consider are Chesapeake 16LT along with the smaller Pygmy boats. Chesapeake also carries some kits by Eric Shade (or is it Nick) and he will adjust plans for sizing if you go to his website.


– Last Updated: Dec-05-07 10:13 AM EST –

Based on a short demo paddle, I think the 16LT is still a fairly high-volume boat. I haven't been impressed by the Chesapeakes as day-paddling boats. In the CLC line I'd be more tempted by one of the Shearwaters, which are essentially Mergansers with a different deck.


Look at their photo -- there's a ton of freeboard, and the paddler's elbows are practically on the coaming.

For your size, the 14ft Tern would be ideal.

Hey, if Ginny Callahan paddles one it has to be good.

Pygmy Terns are on sale…
I just got an ad in the mail…

You are right.
That is a lot of freeboard. I could not think of Mergansers at the time of posting. The Guillemot S would be a sweet boat if they were willing to build a stripper.

I noticed that, also.
Thank you for the heads up though.

I gotta say, the husband and I are leaning strongly in the direction of the Tern 14 for a variety of reasons. I’m hoping to get on the phone with them before this week is out for further questions before committing.

Everyone here has been of immense help and we appreciate it.

Now if only I can talk him into doing some nice wood inlay on the deck!

Decorating …
I’ve seen some beautiful work done with a wood burning tool… do it before glassing.

The best was a top view of three or four dolphins swimming done on the deck of a AT14.

When you call
Ask them about Tern 14 builders near you.

Nice build sequence:


Coho looks nice
Maybe I’ll look into a kit boat one of these days – sounds like serious work.