TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Kayak Customization & Repairs

Special thanks to John C. Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft & Matt Langenfeld of JEM for use of images and copy.

JEM SabaloThere is something about the look of beautifully crafted wood on a boat that stirs the soul of any sea-goer. Nowhere does this phenomenon tug more at the heart than coastal Maine. Often during our attempts to explore its 3,000+ miles of tidal coastline we happen upon seakayakers who have invested in that siren's call to build their own boat. Sleek, light beautiful wooden kayaks. They love and paddle them with great satisfaction.

For the sit-on-top paddler this has been a yearning often unfulfilled. Happily, in recent years, some attempts have been made to offer the perfect plans or kits to match the sit-on-top paddler's love for the sport and investment of time and talents; but the verdict is still out on whether sit-on-top stitch & glue built kayaks will ever rank with their sea worthy cousins in appearance and performance. Here are some leads that our combined experience here at TopKayaker.net have shown to be reputable to work with for the adventurous sit-on-top kayak builder. We welcome updates on our forum and new insights that we may keep this article current. We also offer a challenge to kayak designer-builders everywhere to continue in the quest of inspired, beautiful sit-on-top seakayak plans and kits. For a current list of available sit-on-top kayak plans and kits use our Interactive Kayak Search Tool here at Topkayaker.net.

Chesapeake Light Craft & Guillemot Kayaks - Wooden Kayak Kits

The Sea Island Sport Sit-on-top Wood Kayak Kit

Started in an Arlington, Virginia basement in 1991, Chesapeake Light Craft supplied plans for kayaks at first, followed by complete kits with a mission to offer high-performance kayaks for beginner builders. John C. Harris joined the company and in 1995 set up CLC's first kit manufacturing facility at its current location on George Ave. in Annapolis, Maryland. Embracing computer technology in the mid-1990's, their line of boat kits expanded quickly. In 1997 a custom-built industrial-scale computer numerical controlled cutter was installed; the first kit company to be so equipped.

The Sea Island Sport

BackrestAt Tom's TopKayaker Shop: Backrests or Seat Backs for your kayak. We also carry thigh-braces for sit-on-tops and all the hardware you could hope to find to outfit and customize your hand-crafted kayak.
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As the new owner in 1999, Harris embarked on a successful expansion program that included pursuing alliances with other companies, including Guillemot Kayaks. The Sea Island Sport design by Guillemot's founder, Nick Schade, is an attractive stitch-and-glue sit-on-top. "Nick's a sculptor,"says Harris. "Nick is dedicated to performance, but he's also an artist of the first order."

"I originally designed this stitch and glue sit on top for a friend with muscular dystrophy." explains Nick. "Although still a strong paddler, he has difficulty getting in and out of a closed deck kayak. I wanted a wooden sit on top kayak design that performed well and was relatively easy to build. This design has sponsons above the waterline which provide a lot of stability while still allowing an efficient shape. The cockpit is completely self bailing so any water that does find its way in will drain directly out. After I built the prototype of this design, I got bogged down writing instructions for building. As a result I never got around to releasing the design. Then along came Chesapeake Light Craft in the market for a sit on top kayak design. They put together a complete kit for this kayak including instructions."

The Sea Island Sport is 15 feet 6 inches long and features a nice shape, attractive from every angle, with a contrasting deck made out of Sapele plywood. The reddish Sapele contrasts with the more honey-colored BS 1088 Okoume in the hull. Note the similarity to Nick's brother Eric Schade's Shearwater sit-in line, which have a similar cambered Sapele deck and tumbled-home sides.

The Sea Island's cockpit will fit almost anyone under 275 pounds. You can see pictures of finished boats and purchase kits at CLCboats.com. If you are simply interested in the plans, visit Gillemot Kayaks to learn more details and purchase.

Sabalo outfitter for fishingJEM Watercraft - Wooden Kayak Plans & Kits

Matt Langenfeld, founder of JEM Watercraft, is an old friend of TopKayaker.net and developed The Cape Fear, his first sit-on-top design, with assistance from our forum members. This kayak measures 15 feet 6 inches in length. Matt has gone on to develop plans for several shorter models since that spring of 2004.

Included in the lineup is a Wilderness System's Tarpon inspired kayak called Sabalo designed with fishing in mind.

JEM's Wadefish and Wadefish 15-32, boasting a peaked cockpit for leg support, are also 15 feet in length.

The Wadefish 15-32

JEM explains it conducts Surface Curvature Analysis - a term to be sure from Matt's own engineering background - to ensure twists and bends are well within the ability of common plywood and flowing lines that produce good performance and appearance. This is also to help the designs come out easy to build by an amateur builder using the stitch and glue method, however, they caution all first time kayak builders to practice building technique before attempting their dream kayak.

All of JEM Watercraft's plans are now available as plywood kits. JEM maintains an active customer service forum with a gallery of images by kayakers that have used both. Here you can read the blogs of members and see kayaks come together step by step.


For a current list of available sit-on-top kayak plans and kits use our Interactive Kayak Search Tool here at Topkayaker.net.

Article: Designer Matt Langenfeld

TopKayaker.net's Forum - Search through many discussions on building sit-on-top kayaks with plans and/or kits. We welcome your posts of reviews or comments about your own experiences with kayak plans and kits.

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