Sea Trails and Sinking of ‘Project Coot’

By Jeff Horton - Birmingham, Alabama - USA

I have been working on a new kayak design for months now. I have spent hours on the computer tweaking and fine-tuning my design. I read everything on the web I could find about hull design. I learned new software to analyze the Hydrodynamics. I picked people brains and read old post on bulletin boards trying to learn from others mistakes. Finally the time came that there was nothing left I knew to do, it was time to move from electrons to lumber.

I have been calling this boat ‘Coot’ while I try to decide on a real name. Coot is built using a fuselage style frame. This is similar to aircraft construction in that you build a skeleton frame and cover it with a lightweight fabric. In my case the frame is cedar and plywood and the skin is nylon fabric. I had spent the last couple of weeks building the frame for the boat. It was basically finished and I was just waiting on UPS to deliver the nylon skin.

As with any new boat there is always concern about the first paddle. ‘What ifs’ race through your mind. To add to these concerns I had just removed two frames and remade them because I didn’t feel they were right. While I had them out I changed the floor also. With all these changes I was having second thoughts. Rather than risk a $100 skin and many hours of sewing and sealing I decided to do a ‘saran wrap’ test.

The saran wrap test consists of wrapping the hull in stretch wrap plastic. Some people literally use a roll of kitchen cling wrap but I had some of the heavier shipping wrap. So I stretch wrapped the frame with at least 3 layers of plastic, which by the way is not easy by yourself! With that done I headed for the lake.
I chose a area that had an abundance of shallow water and most importantly it was not used much during the week. I really didn’t want anyone around just in case I embarrassed myself. From what I had read 10-15 minutes float time was about as much time as I could expect before the water would leak into the boat.

Arriving at the ramp there is only one truck and no one in sight. Just what I wanted! I donned my drysuit, got my paddle and put on my PFD. I wanted everything ready before I unloaded the boat. I had all ready put one hole in the plastic wrap in the shop so I knew the skin was extremely fragile and I didn’t want to handle it anymore than I had too.

I waded out into the cold water carrying coot. I sat her in the water and she floated, somehow that surprised me a little. I put some weight on her deck and watched for leaks. Not so much as a drop of water, so far so good!

I straddled the boat and slowly put my weight on the seat and watched. Still no water coming in so I lifted my feet and put full weight on her and watched some more. Still no water came in and I could already see that my fear of the boat not being stable was unfounded. That alone was almost worth the trip.

I brought my feet aboard and started paddling. I was impressed but I was more focused looking for leaks than how she paddled. I went about 75 feet and finally relaxed and started to pay attention to how the boat paddled, then it happened….

Something didn’t feel right. I looked down and now there was some water in the boat. OK I knew it would leak. But things were changing quickly and my mind started to race!

“Captain, we are down by the stern. I think she is taking on water.”
“What ??”… confusion set in and brain to raced.

“SIR, WE ARE taking on water and the stern compartment is flooding!”
I realize we have a leak, not just seepage but a leak. This is a real leak and that funny feeling was the stern sinking due to the flooding. A quick check confirms water is coming in the cockpit rather quickly. (In other words I am sitting in water now.)

One of the crew panics and yells, “Abandon ship we are going down!!” The boat starts to be come unstable and starts to list to the Port side when I say, “Belay that order. Throw out a brace with your paddle and stop this roll now or we are going to loose this ship!”

It works and the ship is back upright. “Now, paddle her to shore as quickly as you can, man! Were sinking!”

The crew gets their wits about them and concentrates on keeping the boat upright and moving toward the shore when it happens. She sinks to the bottom and the Captain goes down with his ship. There I sat inside my boat in about a foot of water, sitting on the bottom of Guntersville Lake.

“Any more orders Captain?”

“Yes. Abandon ship and start recovery efforts! And quit laughing!”
So I pulled myself out of the sunken wreck now sitting firmly on the bottom and thought “now what?” I managed to roll the boat over on its side and that allowed a lot of water to exit by the cockpit opening. Once upside down it was floating again and enough water was out that I could salvage her and take her back to the trailer.

A quick survey revealed that there was a pencil size hole in the skin. I assume I hit something while paddling and it punctured the skin. Even though she sunk, I think it was a successful sea trail and I have the confidence to move forward and finish her up.

Its days like this that makes all the hard work worth it. Yes I had a ball!


Jeff Horton
Kudzu Craft Kayaks.


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