|PARKERSBURG, W. VA. (January 2013) — Like many Woodcraft employees, Nancy Miller enjoys woodworking, but her latest project took her out of the woodshop and into a lockmaster’s house to build a 17-1/2-foot kayak. The Woodcraft vice president for Internet development and strategic projects shared her unique experience through step-by-step blog postings during her five month, 144-hour adventure.
Miller was introduced to kayaking several years ago through Woodcraft’s involvement with Adventure Pursuit, a nonprofit group that focused on bringing adventure to everyone, including those who are mentally and physically challenged. As a board member, Miller helped bring kayaking to the West Virginia Special Olympics, making it the first state in the nation to include the event. In 2004, Miller’s search for a flat water kayak to race in Adventure Pursuit’s running, biking, and kayaking triathlon led her to Dan Jones, a new neighbor of Miller’s fellow employee Bob Etter. Jones entered the event and loaned Miller a kayak to race.
In the fall of 2011, Jones offered one-on-one help and the use of the lockmaster’s house at Marietta (leased by the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club which Jones serves as president) to anyone interested in building a kayak. Despite being employed full-time with a family that included a graduating senior, Miller accepted the challenge. “I REALLY wanted the bragging rights, the kayak, to build the boat at the historic Lockmaster’s House on the banks of the Muskingum River in Marietta, and, most of all, the opportunity to work with an expert – Dan had already built at least 10 boats,” she said.
A gathering of Pygmy Boat builders in the area gave Miller and her husband Mark a chance to examine the various models. “The Coho was a good fit for me. I also wanted a boat that was fast, and the 17-1/2 foot length was good for that,” Miller said.
Prior to building the kayak, Miller’s largest project was constructing two nightstands that she designed herself, turning the legs and using a router on the double shelf. Turned pens, ornaments, bottle stoppers and a pepper mill and a hand-carved Santa are among her other projects.
In April 2012 she joined Jones at the Lockmaster’s House for the first of many work sessions to build her Coho kayak from a kit that included the highest grade BS-1088 Okoume (Gaboon mahogany) marine plywood panels, epoxy, wires, a thick instruction book and a list of suggested tools. Woodcraft product managers soon became her best friends as they provided tools, supplies and how-to instruction – often without much notice.
Over the spring and summer, Miller worked her way through the instruction book with lots of help from Jones, along with her husband Mark, her daughter Arienne, and fellow members of the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club, who helped when several workers were needed for fiberglass work.
Many kayak enthusiasts responded to Miller’s blog, including Lee, a woodworker who shops at the Parkersburg, West Virginia, Woodcraft. Eager to build a kayak, he and his wife came to the Lockmaster’s House to talk to Jones about the kit building process and to see Miller’s boat.
On Aug. 30, 2012, Miller put the finishing touches on her kayak in preparation for its maiden voyage the next day along the Ohio River from Marietta to her home at Belpre, Ohio. The 15-mile trip began with a champagne christening of the brand new kayak. Miller’s husband, Jones, some Woodcraft co-workers, and friends who had helped Miller gathered for the official launch which was featured in the local newspaper.
Asked if the long hours of often tedious labor were worth it, Miller said, “I learned from a master boat builder, not only his boat building techniques, but I learned a lot about using tools in general. Writing every detail in the blog and photographing every step also captured that information for any future work I will do and allowed me to share it with anyone else interested. It was definitely worth it. It was fun, and I have a beautiful boat that I will always paddle with pride and that most of my friends still can’t believe I made myself!”
For other would-be kayak builders, Miller advises: “Build your first kayak from a kit and read the instruction manually slowly and carefully. Also, my blog includes details of every instruction from Dan and every step I took, and I gained a lot from watching the videos on the Pygmy boat site.” Miller also read “Build a Kayak from a Kit” in Woodcraft Magazine, Issue 35 (June/July 2010). Jones was the builder/consultant for the article.
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