As there appears to be quite a proliferation of plywood kayak kits available now I thought it would be interesting to do a write up of one.
Mike Snoad who sells the Blue Water kits volunteered to lend me one that he had built as a demo boat.
This gave me the advantage of looking at the boat as it should be built — which may have been different if I had put it together. For this particular exercise I was looking at the boat as a finished product rather then the kit. Having seen many examples of Mike’s workmanship I know it’s well put together. It’s not worth commenting on the build quality as it’s a kit and this can vary from individual to individual. The model I tested was the Blue Water Enduro kit with no extras provided, but it does give you a boat for under $1,000.00 that you can paddle and add the other bits later.
Before going into to the test I should give some of my background. I started sea kayaking about 8 years ago after many years of flat water touring. I have done many multi-day trips in all conditions and one 650 km expedition and am comfortable in the surf. My first sea kayak was an Estuary but an unfortunate accident with the Bermagui breakwater ended its life prematurely. My next kayak was an Inuit Classic, which I still have, followed by a Nadgee Expedition in December 1999. In looking at Mike’s boat I compared it mainly with the Nadgee and with some reference to the Inuit. And as these details may be important, I weigh 84 kg and am 1.75 metres tall.
The first test was an hours paddle on a cold and windy day on Lake Burley Griffin. It was blowing around 20 knots giving me a good chance to test it on a choppy lake. For a wooden boat I found it light and easy to lift off the car and the hoop pine deck with the clear finish looks great (and it’s plantation pine too, not rainforest trees like that foreign stuff). Mike offers a choice of two cockpit coaming sizes and I had the large coaming on the demo model. I felt pretty loose in it and would prefer the smaller coaming like the Nadgee (which is Mike’s other one) though this one does make it very easy for a cowboy entry. It felt a bit hard on my knees when bracing, so some padding would be needed there as well as around the hips.
With its chined hulls it looked like a longer version of the Inuit and my initial impression was it behaved like one, which from my perspective is a compliment. We paddled around the lake taking the wind on all different sections of the boat. I notice only a very small amount of weather cocking but I was easily able to adjust my weight to compensate. If you built one of these it would only take a small amount of tuning with the seat placement to get the weight location right. I found I could bring the boat around to face any direction, particularly into the wind without any problems in strong conditions. I can still remember the huge effort needed to turn Dave’s prototype Nadgee into the wind before he took to it with a saw. The Blue Water is not a wet boat and despite the wind and chop I got no water in the face.
This boat didn’t have a rudder (though that’s optional extra) and after paddling around the lake I decided it didn’t need one. At one stage we paddled at a sustained 11 km/h with the wind right on our backs and there was no tendency to wander. I found the boat comfortable in these conditions and very stable. At the end of a few hours paddling I was quite impressed with the boat except for one thing — the seat. I didn’t find the standard seat that Mike provides very comfortable. It was an almost flat piece of semi-hard foam with no contours. Mike says it’s fine for racing but I wouldn’t like to spend all day in it. I had only a thin pair of shorts on and it was noticeable. And for a bit of wisdom on seats, the secret is the contours. My other two boats (excluding the Nadgee) have hard plastic seats but I could sit in them all day. The big difference was that the seats were moulded with nice cheek inserts and it’s this that makes them comfortable rather than the material. Mike does offer a contoured seat as an extra and my advice would be to have one. Plus a contoured seat takes away some of that loose fitting feeling.
The next trial was a day trip on the ocean. We left Durras paddling down to North Head for a photo session stopping at Myrtle Beach on the way. There was a gentle SE wind blowing on a moderate swell. The wind picked up for a short while but didn’t last long. There were some choppy conditions near the rocks but nothing really substantial. I had about 4-5 kg of gear in the boat. I missed not having a day hatch and these days would not consider having a boat without one. Again these are all extras you can order with the kit.
After paddling for a while on the open ocean it comes across as a stable sea boat and would certainly suit anyone new to paddling. It took a bit of effort to lean it right over and I felt the Nadgee was better in terms of lean turning, especially if you wanted to do it quickly. Paddling on the sea it felt like a long Inuit and was easy to maintain a course and didn’t take much to bring it back if it did wander. The Nadgee probably held its track better but it has a much deeper keel. After taking off from Myrtle beach, which had a bit of a shore dump, I found it an easier boat to launch than the Nadgee. With a shallower keel you could start paddling sooner where as the Nadgee’s keel digs into the sand taking more effort to get into the water. The other thing I noticed was it doesn’t make that awful slap sound as you go out over a big wave which is a bit disconcerting in a fibreglass boat. This may be a product of plywood rather than the boat design.
We cruised along at 7 km/h and I found this a very comfortable pace in the boat. My gut feeling was the Nadgee was a bit quicker but I didn’t carry out any tests to prove it. And for a touring kayak a fraction of a knot is neither here nor there.
Once back at the launch site I tried it out in the small surf at Durras. It picked up the waves easily but I noticed the nose buried itself easier than the Nadgee and I had to make sure my weight was well back. The Nadgee probably has more volume up front. It recovered well from the nose plant and once used to the different weight shift found it handled the surf ok. I wore my wetsuit for this trip and didn’t find the seat as uncomfortable as before but would still recommend having a contoured one.
Before hopping out I tried a few rolls and although I was a very loose fit it was easy to bring it back up, though with no padding under the deck it was a bit uncomfortable on the knees. It would need some padding inside and maybe get the smaller cockpit coaming. Though I did notice one advantage of this cockpit — out at sea I was able to take my shoe off, remove a stone and put it back on again. I certainly can’t do that in the Nadgee. The cockpit design allowed you to lean right back which is important for rolling. If you a keen supporter of the cowboy entry then the larger cockpit would suit you. The foot rests were comfortable and solid but I had trouble adjusting one after we got some sand in the boat — I believe this is common with adjustable footrests. If I was building one I would get the bulkhead in the right position and use that. Mike has a good setup with the optional backrest which gives good support while paddling. The elastic suspension system allows the backrest to spring back to the right position if you sit on it when hopping into the boat bum first.
In summary I liked the boat. It was comfortable to paddle and had plenty of room for storage and was very stable, plus it looks good. It would suit novices and experienced paddlers. I would be inclined to buy it without the rudder and paddle for a year or two like that. You would probably only use the rudder for a long trip when it’s very heavily loaded and you have lots of miles to cover. But don’t take my word on this — contact Mike for a paddle yourself. He will have several different models at the next Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend. More details can be seen on Mikes website at www.kayakits.com.