Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Coho Kayak back for Repair and Refinishing

I built this Coho sea kayak from a kit by Pygmy Boats back in 1999 for my personal use. At about the same time, I also built the Pygmy Arctic Tern model, which is a hard-chined design, for my nephew Brian Nobles. I ended up selling the Coho in 2001 while I was off cruising in the Florida Keys aboard Intensity, the lucky buyer getting a great deal on a custom built wooden sea kayak because I needed cash at the time.

Brian eventually decided kayaking wasn't for him, so I bought the Arctic Tern back from him in 2003 and used it on trips such as the headwaters to the sea trip down the Pascagoula River that I did with Ernest Herndon. (For the book we wrote about this trip, go here:, the Arctic Tern is even on the cover.)

I never expected to see the Coho again, but last week the guy that bought it from me brought it over for repairs to a busted cockpit rim and general refinishing. I was glad to see that this boat has been used hard, as I built it extra strong for expedition paddling.

The cockpit damage was caused by driving into a too-low garage door opening with the boat on a roof rack. The owner ordered replacement parts in 4mm Okoume plywood from Pygmy Boats, so the repair would not involve fabricating any parts. I used a laminate trimming router with a panel-pilot bit to rip off the old coaming, and the new one has already been laminated on with epoxy. Next, I'll shape and glass it, then revarnish the decks and paint the hull from the sheer down. This boat has been scratched and gouged way too much for a decent varnish job on the hull, hence the paint. I think it will still look good, and will be ready for many more years of hard service.

The Coho and the Arctic Tern are both great boats, each weighing only 39 lbs., which is way lighter than any fiberglass or plastic kayak in the size range. They paddle exceptionally well, and track well without rudders, though having owned both I prefer the Arctic Tern for overall handling and tracking ability, especially in big waves or surf.

You can see my Arctic Tern here:

Or go to the Pygmy website and look at all the models they offer here:

You can buy the kit and build your own or hire a boatbuilder to do it for you. Pygmy boats are by far the best of the wooden kayak kits on the market, and all these kayaks are designed by John Lockwood, a serious kayaker with decades of experience who uses these boats on real expeditions.


amy z said...

Hi there, I own a kit made pigmy sea kayak as well, and was going to begin refinishing it today. There appears to be a bit of surface dry rot through the top varnish. I began by sanding the top with a corse (100) papaer, but found that it gummed with the varnish within a minute or two. I decided I would go buy a stripper, and strip the varnish and then sand it again after that. What do you think? I have never finished a boat, but have finished stripped and finished antique furniture in the past, can't be much different, can it? thanks for any advice! Amy

Scott B. Williams said...

Hi Amy,

In addition to the varnish, there should be a layer of fiberglass laminated with epoxy over the wood. Your sandpaper could be gumming up with epoxy. If there is indeed dry rot in the wood or discoloration in the wood, you can't refinish it without getting down to bare wood and then re-laminting fiberglass and epoxy over. I would be careful with strippers, as some could attack the epoxy. If you could send me some photos of the damage I could probably tell what would be the best way to repair it. Send them to scott (at)


Matilde L Brewer said...

Hi Scott!
I would like to send you a picture of our Pygmy sea kayak and see what you think, if it is possible to repair ir, and if not, if it can be converted to a 2 seat kayak.
My email is
The kayak is broken by the first front seat, and the back of it.