Wooden Kayak Makeovers

If I ever forget where I parked the car it is easy to find due to two things, one my wooden kayak is resting on the roof racks, and two there will most likely be one, two, three or more middle-aged guys circling. I once had to ask a fellow to get off the front of my car as he was trying to get a better photograph of the deck of my kayak, by standing on my car. When I helped him back to firmer ground the questions begin and usually with, “Is it more fragile than a fibreglass kayak?” and the next question is, “Must take a lot of work to maintain, I wouldn’t want to do all that extra work all the time…”

The kayak makeover of the 'Raven'. Photo by Dave Barnes

The kayak makeover of the ‘Raven’.
Photo by Dave Barnes

As a matter of fact, other than one collision that left a nasty dent in the side of my kayak, the woodie has held up for nearly a decade of hardcore use, rough landings and wintering on the backyard rack without much maintenance other than an annual scrubbing and perhaps a new coat of varnish. A recent makeover and some brand new deck rigging has given her a ‘looking like new’ appearance and another decade of life at sea. This leads more to the second question of does a wooden kayak require more upkeep than any other kayak on the market? Usually, as with my own boat the answer is no, but as with any kayak, a good going over from stem to stern once a year is a smart practice to get into. The wooden kayak does need attention. A new coat of marine varnish once a year will protect it from damaging UV and bring new life to the wood tones. However, I don’t do much other than that.

Left on her side on the ground for some time this wooden kayak needed some drastic measures during restoration. Photo by Dave Barnes

Left on her side on the ground for some time this wooden kayak needed some drastic measures during restoration.
Photo by Dave Barnes

Not all wooden kayaks that have been in my backyard have fared as well. The second wooden kayak I built was for a friend who didn’t want to tackle the project herself. I was happy to put it together and gave it some personalized touches. Alas, the kayak got little used and was left directly on the ground on one side for a year and a half. The results were almost unrecoverable. It came back to me in a state and I took a few drastic measures to restore the kayak, not to its original beauty but with an entirely new look to mask the damage.

Thinking that I could get my wife out on the water with me, I built her a kayak. Initially, she used it often but found kayaking to be challenging. Her kayak sat on the rack for the next couple of years and neglected due to time, and energy. No excuses really, and the results are a kayak that looks older than my ten-year-old boat. With some time on my hands and the idea of possibly selling it to add to our ‘tandem kayak’ fund jar (I have permission to build a double) her kayak is my next makeover project! The task begins with a wash and then a few hours going over every inch of the hull with an orbital sander, then the deck as well. The hatch covers have always leaked so they will get a rethinking as well as an upgrade on the artwork.

A lot of sanding ahead before the fun part of refinishing the kayak begins. Photo by Dave Barnes

A lot of sanding ahead before the fun part of refinishing the kayak begins.
Photo by Dave Barnes

Does owning wooden kayaks take more effort. Yes, and no. In the end, you are working and paddling in something made of organic living material that adds greatly to the enjoyment and feel of gliding through the water. That being said, no lunch is ever entirely free. It is time like these, covered in dust and contemplating the costs of refitting the kayak that I remember the words from the Wind in the Willows. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

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