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Local woodworkers building their own kayaks

August 10, 2012
Sam Shawver ( , The Marietta Times

For many people the term kayaking likely conjures up visions of maneuvering long, brightly-colored molded plastic vessels through narrow canyons of whitewater.

But for some members of Marietta's Rowing and Cycling Club, kayaking is piloting a sleek 17-foot wooden work of art along the Muskingum and Ohio rivers or on the open seas.

On Wednesday evening three club members were building their own wooden kayaks out of kits at Marietta's old Lock 1 lockhouse. The kits are produced by Townsend, Wash.-based Pygmy Boats, Inc.

Article Photos

Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club member Nancy Miller gets some advice on building her first wooden kayak from club president Dan Jones at the Lock 1 lockhouse in Marietta Wednesday evening.

"This is my first attempt at building any kind of boat, but I've always been interested in kayaks and canoes," said Dave Paskawych of Marietta as he prepared to open the long cardboard box containing his kayak kit.

He has fond childhood memories of his parents' 16-foot Old Town wooden kayak, and canoing and kayaking through the lakes of New York's Adirondacks back country.

As Paskawych began sorting out and sanding the wooden strips of his soon-to-be mahogany masterpiece, fellow club member Nancy Miller of Belpre was into the 59th day of working on her 17-foot vessel.

Fact Box

To learn more about construction of wooden kayaks, follow Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club member Nancy Miller's step-by-step kayak-building experience online at

"I've been keeping a step-by-step log of my work and have put more than 100 hours into it by now," she said.

As vice president of Woodcraft in Parkersburg, Miller has had the advantage of being able to test some of the company's specialty woodworking tools on her boat-building project.

The plywood panels that form the boat's hull had been joined, stitched and glued together, fiberglassed, and given several coats of epoxy.

On Wednesday Miller was using mini-clamps to help install a "coaming," a curved strip of molding around the kayak's cockpit opening.

"I'm hoping to complete the boat in about two weeks," she said. "My goal was to have it done by Sept. 1."

Miller said Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club president Dan Jones was instrumental in getting her started on building the kayak and has provided invaluable expert assistance throughout the project.

Jones said he's built at least 11 of the wooden boats.

"I started building in the early 1990s when I lived in Maine," he said. "I had canoed, but never kayaked in my life, and I wanted to get into ocean kayaking. But I didn't want to use a plastic or fiberglass kayak. So I started with a wooden kit boat."

He said kayaks have a lower center of gravity than canoes and are therefore more stable in the water.

"In a canoe you're sitting above the waterline, but your rear end is actually below the waterline in a kayak," Jones explained.

His first test of that initial kayak was in a nearby ocean bay. But a year or so later he would get into long-distance kayak racing.

"My first race was from Chicago to Manhattan-about 1,000 miles," he said, adding that race included a trip on several lakes and rivers and along the full length of the Erie Canal.

A year ago Jones told a group of rowing and cycling club members if anyone wanted to build a wooden kayak from a kit, he would help out.

"As a club we had decided we could use the old lockhouse to build boats, but this is the first time I've ever helped anyone with a kit boat," he said. "The whole idea is to get more people out on the rivers. It's a nice way to spend some time on the water."

Jones and rowing and cycling club member Gary Murphy are planning a trip in 2013 that will follow Gen. Rufus Putnam's route from Ipswich, Mass., to the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers where Marietta was founded in 1788.

Murphy, who was sanding down the hull of his kit-built wooden kayak Wednesday, said the trek will commemorate the city's founding as well as be a fundraiser to benefit the new Harmar Community Center.

"We're going to start on bikes from Ipswich to Pittsburgh-about 650 miles, then put our kayaks in and paddle down the Ohio to Marietta," he said. "We'll begin in mid-May and hope to reach Marietta on June 8."

Murphy initially told Jones he would rent a kayak for the venture.

"But Dan said no, I should build one," he said. "So I'm building this Borealis XL, which is a fairly big boat, but it's also sturdy, lightweight and fast."

Murphy hopes to take his kayak on its maiden voyage by Labor Day weekend.



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