The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [47]

By Norm Sanders

The Old Sea Dog sat down at his computer to write his usual cogent comments about sea kayak gear and then sat, and sat, and sat.

Nothing flowed from his mind to the keyboard. Nada. Nichevo, Niente, Nix. The muse remained stubbornly silent.

He tugged at his beard in frustration. Normally, the OSD has something boiling in his brain, just waiting for the opportunity to emerge. This time, however, he realized that he had finally exhausted all the available topics. Over the years he had written about a dazzling array of gear and techniques. The website is full of the OSD’s wit and wisdom. He has been told that the Gear Locker gets the most hits of any of the NSWSKC items. [Bollocks, Crap, Not at all – Webmaster]

What to do? Start revisiting the old stuff, hoping that nobody would notice? Not the honourable thing to do, old boy. The problem was solved during a conversation with our hard working and wise President. Mr Mercer observed that there was a rapidly growing interest in building plywood sea kayaks. As is well known, the OSD has long been a champion of these sleek, organic craft. There is great satisfaction in paddling a kayak, which has been lovingly fabricated by the paddler, him or herself, rather than just thrashing about in some fibreglass or plastic clone.

These feelings were embellished very recently when the OSD was paddling up the Brunswick River in northern New South Wales. As he was just about to approach the Pacific Highway bridge he spied a sea kayak on top of a southbound vehicle. His thought processes went like this: Sea kayak. Yellow. Inuit Classic!! Wooden Deck!!!! TAKU!!!!!! All this in the space of a millisecond. It was an amazing coincidence that Robyn Graham was driving south just at that moment after a stay in Brisbane. She had bought TAKU some years before.

The OSD paddled upstream, thinking of how he had designed and built TAKU as his first plywood kayak. How the plywood, a patently two-dimensional material, became a beautiful three-dimensional kayak. He remembered when he first launched TAKU with a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. How relieved and full of pride he was when TAKU performed so beautifully. And there she was, still looking good and giving pleasure to her new owner.

So, the OSD has decided to test the demand for a place for wooden boat builders to discuss their problems and successes. For openers, he would like to throw the subject of plywood into the ring.

The OSD has always used the el cheapo plywood (about $20.00 per sheet) available at the BBC hardware shop in Moruya. This is called ‘brace ply’ and is generally about 3 mm in thickness. It is three ply, with one good side and a thick, punky core. The OSD has never been able to pin anybody down about how waterproof this stuff is. He ran his own tests, which included soaking a piece of plywood for a month and then boiling it for 12 hours. The glue held. Since the OSD doesn’t intend to boil his kayaks for more than a few minutes, he feels the glue is more than adequate.

It seems that, in the old days, the cheaper ‘interior’ plywood used inexpensive casein glues while ‘exterior’ and ‘marine’ grades used expensive Resorcinol. Now, casein has disappeared and the glues used for plywood are apparently all waterproof.

The Yanks build their strip-planked kayaks and canoes using non-waterproof PVA glue. They claim that once the craft is epoxied and glassed, no water reaches the wood and its glue, so there is no need to use more exotic bonding materials.

Anyway, the OSD feels that there is no need to spend a whole bunch of money on marine quality plywood to simply provide a core for fibreglassing. Of course, the plywood does have strength on its own and the marine grade, with its lack of voids and 5 plies, is stronger. However, ANY plywood, fibreglass clad, makes a more robust kayak than the usual all fibreglass types which tend to unzip as the fibreglass tears under stress. The wood-fibreglass combination, with its plies and glass weaves running in different directions, resists such tearing.

Of course, all this is just the OSD’s (considered and correct) opinion. If anyone has the temerity to question him, or seeks other information, they are welcome to contact him on email or send a letter to his alter ego, Norm Sanders, at 73 Trafalgar Road, Tuross Head NSW 2537.

Happy nail pounding.