Part 2: Paddling the Baidarka
It is now three months since Sharon Betteridge and I launched our new Shearwater Baidarkas.
The launching party went without a hitch – no unexpected sinkings – and the intrepid Editor has written his impressions in another article in this issue.
Since I wrote Building the Baidarka in Issue 43 of NSW Sea Kayaker, the memories of how hard parts of the process were have dimmed and I can look back with pleasure on the building process. Not everything went well and some of the faults only show up now, after some use. The Hoop Pine marine ply didn’t perform as expected – in the last month I have seen several wooden kayaks made of the same materials, where the Hoop Pine has behaved a lot better. The varnish was incorrectly formulated and has necessitated re-sanding and re-varnishing. We have tried several different hatch sealing materials, with some success on Hatch Seal Mark IV. These are minor glitches.
All the sea trials have been a great success; these kayaks have exceeded our expectations in every aspect! They have delivered excellent compromises in performance – speed, handling, sailing, safety and more.
Both of our Baidarkas are sized to suit our body weight and dimensions. Sharon’s Baidarka is 5.0 m by 49 cm – a small kayak by commercial standards – and has proven that it is well suited to a 47 kg paddler from day tips to a week-long tour (Sharon’s story of the paddle to Jervis Bay is printed elsewhere in this issue). My Baidarka, at 5.3 m by 53 cm, is very well suited to my 64 kg weight.
The footrest bulkheads limit cockpit volume and minimise pumping. The downside is that giants can’t fit in these kayaks, so you’ll just have to accept our assessment of how these kayaks perform! The up-side is that these kayaks are remarkably stable with the cockpit partially or fully flooded. It is easy to re-enter, replace the spray skirt and roll up nearly dry, ready to paddle out of trouble – the ultimate in self-rescue! It is even possible to stand up and scan the horizon, well, sort of possible.
Both kayaks are stellar performers in following and quartering seas, whether under sail or not, whether towing or not. Despite their exceptionally low bows, they both handle a head sea very well. The bow rises well and the steeply canted foredeck sheds water before it has a chance to reach the cockpit. They do give a wet ride in a beam sea – an unavoidable result of having so little freeboard. They haven’t had enough surf time to make any judgement on their surfing abilities (though the possibility of deep water ‘enders’ is already proven to be very real). [Supplementary note: I’m ambivalent about the Baidarkas’ surfing abilities – they catch waves well and are so fast that they will commonly outrun the wave, only to slow down and be pummelled by the same wave as it catches up! They do catch swells very well – it is not uncommon to travel 15 kmh or more in a following sea, with a sail up. I have recorded a genuine 22.8 kmh (12.3 knots) over a short distance! The worst point is that they tend to dive on steep waves, so you have to lean waaayyyy back. I have done more than one spectacular ‘ender’, but so far no ‘pirouettes’.]
Despite our worries that these skinny kayaks would be ‘expert’s boats’ requiring constant attention to stay upright, these Baidarkas have proven to be exceptionally stable. My Arctic Raider is a bigger boat, in comparison, but requires more attention – especially when sailing and in a following sea.
Both of our Baidarkas are more manoeuvrable than we expected. Early reports from Americans, who had already paddled the design prototypes, suggested that the design would be a hard-tracking one with limited turning ability. On the contrary, these kayaks track well but they also steer well, with subtle shifts of the hips. On more vigourous edging, these hulls are superbly manoeuvrable, equalling the Arctic Raider and other ‘playful’ designs.
Because they are relatively small kayaks, there is only limited room for gear – this just means that one must pack light, encouraging good discipline!
On the whole, building our own kayaks has been a very rewarding experience. It was more work than anticipated (I have spent 360 hours so far, with some finishing work still to go) and we have made some mistakes. We have also learned a lot – ready to apply to the next (!!) wooden kayak – and have finished up with better kayaks than we could find in the retail market. All this comes for about $1,400.00 each in materials, fully fitted out.
If you are considering building a sea kayak for yourself, I’d say “go for it”. You’ll get more out of it than just a kayak!