Shearwater Build

This blog is about the build in the Fall of 2014 of a CLC Shearwater 17 stitch & glue kayak.  I picked up the kit on September 12 and got right to work.  The beauty of these kits is that all the parts are cut out of Okuome plywood by a CNC machine, and for the longer pieces which come in sections due to the limitations presented by the dimensions of a sheet of plywood, the machine cuts puzzle joints.  These joints fit very snugly and ensure that the pieces are lined up perfectly.  The first image shows the length of the kayak (and yes, it’s a 17 foot kayak and my garage is a little over 18 feet long…).



I used epoxy and short strips of fiberglass tape to glue the sections together.  Once this had been done and the epoxy cured, I beveled the edges for a better fit with my trusty old Stanley block plane.  Once the edge beveling had been completed, I began to stitch the hull sections together, using temporary forms to give the hull its shape.  The hull sections were stitched together using short pieces of copper wire, which was twisted to tighten up the sections.




The construction used two fixed bulkheads (the second and third from front in the picture above) as well as two temporary bulkheads (first) to help shape the hull. Once the sides were in place (see below), I began to put together the deck pieces.  The deck consisted of beautiful Sapele plywood for the center sections, and Okuome plywood for the shear panels.




After the deck pieces were stitched together, I started with the glassing of the cockpit, which received one layer of fiberglass on the side and floor panels, and I also added a layer of glass to the forward bulkhead for good measure, as I would be pressing against this with my feet.   I also added fiberglass tape to the hull panel seams in the bow and stern, and put down some coats of epoxy to waterproof.  With a coat of epoxy, the grain of the wood really begins to stand out.



I cut the hatch openings with a keyhole handsaw, and the cutouts were used as the actual hatch covers.  I then assembled the hatch spacers and sills, and epoxied these in place.  To facilitate the subsequent glassing of the inside of the deck, I built up the epoxy to create a nice ramp transition from deck to sill.  I used a hand saw as the deck pieces were merely tacked together at this point and I didn’t want to damage the wood with the vibrations of a saber saw.  Besides, I prefer to use hand tools for projects like this!




With the hatch sills in place, I then prepped the inside of the deck for the layer of fiberglass.   This involved debarring any areas where the the thickened epoxy, which I had used around the hatch spacer/sill construction, and removing the temporary pieces used to shape the deck (as can be seen at the top of the picture above).  I then layer down the fiberglass and coated it with a saturation coat of epoxy – this was then followed by two more coats to make it nice and waterproof.  In the space between the cockpit and rear hatch, I added two additional layers of glass cloth – this served to strengthen the deck as this is where I would be putting my weight in the event that I had to exit and re-enter the kayak.  I then drilled the bow and stern and inserted 1″ PVC pipe, which would provide the passthrough for the bow and stern loops, and using cardboard and tape as temporary forms, did the end pours.  These add both strength to the ends of the boats, as well as completely sealing around the holes that I had drilled.




Once the epoxy was dry, I cut the excess glass out of the cockpit and hatch openings.  With both the deck and hull having received their glass layers and epoxy coats, I put a layer of epoxy along the hull/deck joint, stitched the two parts together and wrapped them with stretch wrap so that they could memorize their shape. Once the epoxy had dried, I took the hull outside and sanded it smooth, getting rid of all the epoxy stains and rounding over the edges.  The sanding also got rid of any little points from the copper wires that I cut down to the hull after removing the stretch wrap.  With the hull sanded down, the beautiful lines of the boat really began to stand out.  It also highlighted the CNC cut finger joints where the panel sections came together.  Jake made sure that everything was put together to the highest standards 🙂





With the hull now together, I began the process of cutting the fiberglass sheets to fit the hull.  For the bottom and sides, one long piece was draped over the hull and then rubbed so that it conformed snugly to the shape of the boat.  A second layer was then layed on the bottom, as well as reinforcing strips at the bow and stern.  These were then saturated with epoxy, followed by several fill coats to hide the weave as well as build up a nice protective layer.





With the hull glassed and a few fill coats added, it was now time to glass the deck.  Again, I draped a long sheet of glass cloth over the boat.  I trimmed the cloth so that it only overhung the deck by about two inches.  The transition to the hull was then feathered by the subsequent layers of epoxy fill coat.    In the first picture, the contrast between the Sapele and Okuome plywoods really begins to be apparent.  Once the deck had dried, I assembled and installed the cockpit coaming.  One can never have enough spring clamps…

Once the cockpit epoxy had dried, I used a rasp and some files to smooth the edges of excess epoxy in preparation for the glass cloth that would reinforce the coaming.





At the same time that I was working on the various hull components and finishing steps, I was also working on the construction of a kayak paddle.  For this, I created a blade laminated from maple, cherry and bubinga, which was then attached to a cherry paddle shaft.  While I used my power tools (table saw, planer, jointer, and band saw) to cut and shape the blade pieces, the shaft was shaved down entirely with a spokeshave and block plane.




I also took the time to make a few custom pieces which would be epoxied to the hull.  These included the attachment points for the deck bungees, hatch handles, as well as a paddle park to be placed just in front of the cockpit.  For these pieces, I used hard maple, which I protected with several layers of epoxy.  Before installing them, I applied the final fill coats of epoxy and sanded down the hull with progressive grits, starting with 60 and working my way up to 180.  The second picture shows the attachment points for the bungees and the paddle park installed.  I also installed the custom maple pieces for the hidden hatch bungies – these pull the hatch flush with the hull from the inside using wooden hooks.  The idea behind all these pieces was that having spent so much time building the kayak, the last thing I wanted to do was start drilling holes into the boat and attaching nylon webbing with screws.  It just didn’t seem right to me.






With the custom pieces installed, I then began the laborious process of applying several coats of marine varnish with a UV inhibitor, with wet sanding in between each coat.  I started with 150 grit and worked my way up to 400 grit wet paper to get a really smooth glass-like finish.  Once this was dry, I installed the deck bungies.  The last picture shows how the paddle park works.  The forward deck bungie wraps over the paddle shaft and hooks under the lip.  All within reach and easy to use.





With everything completed, it was time for a photo shoot in the back yard – it was a beautiful fall day, and Jake came out with me to make sure that everything was in good order.  Here are a few pictures of the finished kayak, along with the paddle that I made for it.







That afternoon, I took my kayak for its maiden voyage on Lake Roland in Robert E. Lee Park.  As far as I’m concerned, nothing makes a Jeep look better than a custom, self built, kayak strapped to the roof.  She handled beautifully and really moves through the water.  A little shaky at first, I quickly got the hang of it and spent a nice hour paddling around the lake.







This was an incredibly fun, challenging, and rewarding project.  I had never used epoxy on this scale before, nor had I worked with fiberglass cloth (outside of a small patch on my cedar canoe).  The stitch and glue construction was straight forward, yet a lot of attention to detail had to be paid to getting the parts to line up correctly prior to tacking and then assembling the hull components.  Patience is critical and a project like this should not be rushed.  I started on September 12, and the pictures of the finished kayak in my back yard were taken on November 7.  The driver for getting it completed was the fact that my workspace is not heated and with the onset of colder weather, I did not want to run into problems with epoxy drying and curing properly.  After my first outing on the lake, I got ahold of a nice piece of western red cedar and shaved it down to a greenland style paddle.  It is very light, and to my surprise, it was very smooth and efficient out on the water.



Next up is a pair of skin on frame kayaks – one for the kids, and of course, one for me.

Stay tuned!!







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