Shearwater Construction Notes

At the end of the paddling season in 2008 I built a Shearwater 17 stitch and glue kayak from a Chesapeake Light Craft kit. I had built a stitch and glue sailing skiff 15 years ago, but had never done a kayak or a kit. Here are some of my notes from the project, which took 100 hours to complete.

I was annoyed to find that the kit did not include brushes, spreaders, mixing cups or syringes for working the epoxy. I needed to buy four syringes, about 20 disposable brushes (which cost twice as much at Aubuchon as they do from CLC) two spreaders, a couple of dozen mixing cups, mixing sticks (tongue depressors and paint stirrers) and a quart of denatured alcohol for cleaning up tools.  If I had known this when I ordered the kit, I would have ordered these items at the same time, saving me several 24-mile trips to the nearest store where I could buy them.

I spread rolls of 4-mil polyethylene on the garage floor, cleaned up the puzzle joints on the plywood parts and stuck them together. After applying fiberglass tape and epoxy to all the joints I covered them with scraps of poly and then pressed them with scraps of plywood held down with bricks. Next time I will be much more careful to assure that the joints are perfectly matched, because if they are not, it is hard to smooth them out later without cutting through the top layer of plywood.

I found the best way to bevel the edges of the panels without removing too much material is with a sanding block and course sandpaper.  The bevel diagram and table in the instruction book is confusing.  Instead I labeled the diagram with the angles. Beveling is not too critical as the joints will fill with epoxy anyway. 

I used up the three coils of wire that came with the kit and still needed to wire the deck to the hull at least three more times.  Fortunately, my local hardware store had 18 gauge copper wire in stock.  It was about 30% less expensive than CLC price and appears to be less brittle.

The plastic syringes work very well for tack welding.  They are 25% cheaper at West Marine than through CLC.

When I cut the hatches out, I used a saber saw that was too fast and with too big a blade, resulting in going off the line as much as ¼ inch, which I cannot repair.  Maybe nobody will notice that my hatches are rather “free-form”. 

The instructions say to bevel hatch sills and spacers individually, then to glue them together into the boat.  This will result in a lot of extra clean-up of excess epoxy and could lead to a fore and aft curvature of the frames.  Instead, I glued the spacers to the sills on a flat workbench then beveled the glued pieces as single units.  Much neater.

I tried the freezer bag approach to filleting, but the bag burst open making a hell of a mess.  I found it much easier to just spread the thickened epoxy with a plastic kitchen spatula.  It is easy to smooth out after laying the fiberglass tape on it, so you don’t have to be too fussy spreading it. Since I don’t intend to do the big end pours that the instructions call for, I made the bow and stern fillets about 1-1/2 inch deep.

The instructions say it is not necessary to tape the bulkheads, but I found it easy to lap the ends of the tape in the bow and stern compartments, and the sides of the cloth in the cockpit, about an inch onto the bulkheads.  It makes neat and strong joints without adding any appreciable weight.

Mixing epoxy is mindless work and my mind obviously went elsewhere when making up a second batch which I applied to the cockpit and forward compartment. I realized too late that I had neglected to mix the two parts together and they did not cure properly. An email to CLC brought a prompt reply. It took a couple of hours to scrape off the uncured epoxy, using lots of paper towels, denatured alcohol, and plastic scrapers. A very messy and unpleasant job!

Bow Glue Opening RI left the last three stitches at each end loose, propped open the ends of the deck, and applied a bead of thick epoxy to the top of the side panels before drawing these stitches tight and wiping off the excess epoxy. This worked well, as it is nearly impossible to get the fillet into the ends of the boat otherwise and I don’t intend to do the full end pour (more on this later). Note that my fillets connecting the side panels at the bow and stern are very substantial.

When I tack welded the deck to the hull I turned the boat on its side and braced it against a stepladder.  I then turned it over on the other side when I thought the first side had set up enough, but later found a lot of drips that I had to grind off.Stepladder R

Once again I tried the freezer bag trick when filleting inside the end compartments.  This time I folded the zipped side of the bag over twice, but it still split open, making a huge mess in a place that was difficult to clean up.  I ended up just spreading the material with my gloved hands and using the spatula to reach as far as I could into the ends of the boat.  This worked well and, once again, the fiberglass tape made it easy to smooth it out.

Saturating the tape before applying it is a great idea for the end compartments, but I got better results in the cockpit area applying it dry, then wetting out with a brush.  The brush on a stick idea was a big waste.  There was plenty of resin in the pre-saturated tape, so just push it into the ends with a plain stick. 

I also used the masking tape trick, not only in the cockpit area, but also in the areas of the end compartments that are visible through the hatch opening.  I used 3” tape and was very glad I did, as these are extremely messy jobs.  It is much easier to remove the tape if you turn down the inside corners when you install it, so you have something to grab when you remove it.

When I assembled the two halves of the boat the final time, the deck assembly had spread and overhung the hull by as much as 1/8” in the cockpit area, even after drawing it tight with nylon straps and copper wire. A few minutes of careful work with a belt sander cured this problem.  The final result is still a very fair hull and a reasonable seam line at the sheer as you can see in this photo.Middle Sanded Out CR

 It’s very difficult to look into the ends of the boat to see how well the seam is taped. I got around this by reaching as far inside the end compartments as I could with a small digital camera. It took a few tries to get the shot right, but it works very well.  This technique proved especially valuable when it came to checking the end pours.

The fiberglass cutting diagram says to get the piece for the full hull and the piece for the bottom out of one piece of cloth.  Since the full hull piece needs to be at least 32” wide  and the bottom piece needs to be at least 20” one will be about an inch short when cut from the 51” wide cloth.  It is also difficult to cut the cloth accurately.  Instead, I cut the deck piece and the bottom piece from one sheet of cloth.  Then I laid the other sheet full width over the upturned hull, let it drape about 2” past the sheer on one side and trimmed it about 2” below the sheer on the other side.  That gave me a lunar shaped remnant from which I cut the cockpit coaming cover and the hatch covers.

The instructions say to recoat the hull twice, then sand out the cloth edges. I found that the cloth edges, and the many glass threads hanging from them, were very easy to sand out after the initial coat of epoxy had cured about 12 hours.  At this point it was still fairly soft, but hard enough so it did not clog the sandpaper.

I ran out of hardener before running out of resin and it should have been the other way around. I calibrated the pumps carefully and pumped them slowly, waiting for them to return before hitting again, but obviously they are way off. I tossed out the epoxy pumps and now measure resin and hardener manually, which is actually faster and certainly more accurate. As far as I’m concerned the pumps are worse than useless.

Installing the cockpit coaming was not as messy as I expected. I used eight spring clamps, then carefully aligned all the pieces, easing off one clamp at a time. When it all looked good, I added eight C-clamps between the spring clamps, being careful not to tighten them too much so as not to squeeze out too much epoxy or dent the rim. Filing and sanding the inside of the coaming is arduous, but the Stanley Surform file works great.

I wanted to further reinforce the cockpit rim, so I laid a fillet of thickened epoxy under the rim, but made two mistakes. First, I used silica filler, to minimize sagging, instead of wood flour, which would better match the color of the wood. The second mistake was not masking off the deck. I didn’t get much epoxy on the deck, but even the smallest amount proved very difficult to remove from under the curve of the coaming.

Here the boat is fully sanded out and ready for varnish. It’s hard to believe that plywood can be bent into such nice lines! This is a very well designed  boat. The kit went together with no serious problems, the parts fit precisely and the hull came out very fair and true.

Ready to Varnish CR
I varnished the hull in the shop, but took it outside to sand in order to minimize dust in the shop. I was not trying to create a furniture finish here, but only to make it look reasonably good and protect the epoxy from sunlight. I hand sanded the first two coats with 220 grit dry paper, then brushed off the dust with a horsehair brush and wiped everything down with Interlux 333 brushing thinner. This is highly volatile stuff, but works well. Use it outdoors and soak your rags in water when you’re through to avoid spontaneous combustion. On the finish coats I switched to 300 grit dry paper.

I wanted to use conventional lifting toggles attached to the deck, instead of running lines through holes drilled in the ends. I bought toggles from CLC and laced them through ¼” nylon fairleads. I attached the fairleads by screwing them to the deck with inch-long stainless steel screws that extend about ¾” below the deck, where they will be secured by the end pours. Keep the leads short here – just enough to clear your fingers – so that the toggles don’t hang over the sides of the boat.

The instructions don’t say anything about varnishing the insides. I just slopped on a single quick coat in the hull and the parts of the ends that I could reach easily and was astonished at how it improved the overall appearance of the boat.

I used a different pattern on the aft deck lines from the instructions, doubling up on the sides where a paddle would go for wet re-entry. I chose not to use deck lines forward, so as not to interfere with the gorgeous wood grain of the sapele plywood. The hatches did not fit well because epoxy had built up around the edges of the openings. I found the best way to fix this was grinding out the excess epoxy with a hand-held Dremel tool.

Styrofoam Block RFor the end pours I couldn’t see pouring 8 ounces of expensive and useless epoxy into the ends of the boat. I also was almost out of epoxy once again. Here’s how I did it: With the boat upside down I carefully set the end to be poured on a two-inch thick slab of Styrofoam. This shot is of the stern.

I then set the other end on a pad atop a 6-foot stepladder.Stepladder End Pour R

For the actual pour I bought a West G-Flex epoxy repair kit, which includes eight ounces of pre-thickened epoxy. The consistency of this product proved to be ideal for this purpose and it’s a straight 1:1 mix. Then I photographed the inside end, showing the fairlead screws extending through the deck. That thing sticking up in the foreground appears to be a bristle from the brush I used to push the seam tape into the end of the boat.Bow Before Pour R

With the boat at this angle, the end pour will be deeper along the deck seam than along the bow seam, which is already very substantially filleted and triple glassed inside and out. I then mixed up about three ounces of the G-Flex and, reaching as far as I could into the end of the boat, poured it onto the underside of the deck.

After giving it ten minutes or so to flow into place, I took another picture which shows that the end pour not only completely encapsulated the fairlead screws, but provided additional sealing of the deck seam beyond the tape. In this photo, the end pour appears cream colored in the end and shiny along the deck; the orange area is varnished and the white area is not. This system puts the strength of the end pour where it is needed most, without loading the boat ends with extra weight.Bow End Pour

The hatch sealing tape provided with the kit is so thick that it lifted the hatch covers well above the deck level. I bought thinner gasket tape and used that instead. You recall that I had messed up cutting the hatch covers so that they ended up with a bulge in one corner. I filed a single drain channel under the bulge in each cover instead of filing channels in both sides. The result almost looks like I planned it that way and came out very well.

Instead of the tacky seat that comes with the kit, I used a Hot Seat from NRS ( ). It’s smaller, thinner, denser and more comfortable, and looks better with the back band because they are both black. I also bought Padz thigh pads from them, which are ¼” thick closed-cell foam. The other thing that added a nice touch was building up the thigh tabs on the coaming with thickened epoxy before sheathing it with fiberglass.

Finished C Reduced

 There are drips and sags of varnish on the sides, but nobody would notice. This boat came in at 46 pounds fully equipped, so I can easily carry it on my shoulder and lift it onto my old Tahoe beach wagon. I could have made it lighter, but I wanted a rugged boat that would take some hard use so I didn’t skimp on the fillets or the glass. Total cost for the CLC kit, fittings, tools and supplies, including a new DeWalt random orbit sander and a deck compass, was about $1500. If I were to build another one, I would expect to finish it in about 80 hours at a cost of about $1200.


I finished this boat at the end of the paddling season. When I tried it for fit, it was very tight. I’m 68 years old, 6′-4″ tall and 210 pounds. Getting in and out was especially difficult. I was concerned about being able to do a wet exit and didn’t want to take it out the first time alone, so I hung it from the garage ceiling for the winter. In April 2009 my daughter Kerry, who is a certified Red Cross water safety instructor and teaches many Red Cross courses, including CPR, joined me for a first time outing with a group from the Appalachian Mountain Club. The air and water were still pretty cold here on Cape Cod, but we were going to be paddling on a lake, so I figured I’d be okay with Kerry with me. We got to the launch a bit late, though, so I told the others to go ahead and we would catch up to them. Kerry helped me shoehorn into the new boat and while I was getting used to it, she quickly jumped into her boat and instantly flipped. We were both wearing full wet suits, but our fingers were freezing in light gloves, so after we paddled around a bit, we packed up the boats and headed back home.

A month later I took the Shearwater out again with the AMC group. This time we were paddling a river estuary that required constant turning. I was amazed how easily this boat steers without a rudder simply by leaning away from the turn and sweeping the paddle. It’s also fast and very responsive. A week later I made a longer run in more open water with two friends who are strong paddlers. About once an hour I found I had to go ashore and get out and stretch my feet and legs because I have no wiggle room at all in this boat. CLC says it fits paddling shoes to size 12-1/2, but my size 11 NRS shoes are a jam fit. I love the way this boat looks and performs, but not sure it’s big enough for my old bones.

Kayak Feet R

A few days later I did a 9-mile paddle with the AMC group. This time was in all kinds of conditions, including a choppy run in open water. Once again I was totally impressed with the boat’s handling and ease of steering. It tracks beautifully, steers easily and has good secondary stability. But after this extensive run I decided to post it for sale and look for something bigger.

After some consultation with the folks on the CLC builder’s forum, I made some modifications that seem to have helped. First, I carved a foot pad out of 3″ foam and glued it to the forward bulkhead. It is full thickness along the bottom and vertically up the center, tapering to 1″ thick at the sheer panels. This is much more comfortable than the foot pegs and gives me a bit of wiggle room. New Foot Pad R 

Second, I cut off the thigh braces from the cockpit coaming. This made a huge difference in my ability to get in and out of the boat. My legs are long enough that my knees fit up under the deck without them, so I don’t need them.

And third, I moved the seat pad back about an inch and tightened up the back band. I found that even minor adjustments to the back band made a big difference in how my legs fit. Just as I was getting comfortable with the idea of keeping this boat for the season while I build a new one, I got a call from a potential buyer. If I sell it early, I still have my old Current Designs Pachena to use this season.

July 17, 2009 – Delivered this boat today to a buyer from the Washington DC area who met me in Connecticut.  Now I need to get cracking on the Merganser!

Loaded & Ready

7 Responses to “Shearwater Construction Notes”

  1. Lawrence Watson Says:

    TFA – this is an execllent record, very informative and interesting. I too am building a Shearwater 17, but from plans, not a kit. I’m at the stage of beginning to start the stitching process today – hope to complet the craft by end June. I noted with great interest your comments about the difficulties involved in making the internal deck-to-hull joints by reaching inside the hatches and cockpit, and the wasted and excess material involved.
    I have read many such comment from other Shearwater builders!
    to me, this process is inefficient and far too ‘fiddly’ – my solution has been to install sheer clamps along the hull panels (as in most other designs), onto which the deck will be epoxied like putting a lid on a pie.

  2. Lawrence Watson Says:

    G’day again, TFA – I have taken the liberty of posting a question on the clc website – I hope you might find time to help me.

    Many thanks…


    • Harlan Says:

      I wonder if you are still watching this link…. I too am building a Shearwater from plans. How did the shear clamp add on work for you? I am very interested because I am considering the same fix. Also think the deck lashings will be stronger with this add on. Thoughts? Thanks!!

  3. Craig Roberts Says:

    Thanks for a nice commentary! Best wishes starting the new boat tomorrow! Yep, today is Aug 9th.

    This summer I’m working on the CLC Shearwater Double.

    Back to work!


  4. Maddox Says:

    I would be interested in your boat. How does it handle the weight, I am around 200 lbs. also but closer to 6′? The cockpit may fit me a little better than you I ‘d probably guess. I am looking to purchase a wood Kayak for a distance race. Please reply with any responses or ideas. Hey do you deliver? I live in Missouri. Thanks for your time.

  5. Harlan Says:

    Thanks for the detailed descriptions. I am still in the decision making process between the Chesapeake Lt 17 and the Shearwater 17. I like the lines of the Shearwater but the ease of construction of the Chesapeake, mostly due to the use of a shear clamp, is also appealing. How do you feel about the security of the deck lashings directly through the plywood(as with the Shearwater) as opposed to having a shear clamp to drill into? I will be building from plans not a kit.

  6. Boats to Build | scoyte Says:

    […] Twofootartists’s Shearwater Construction Notes (CLC Shearwater 17) Kayakbuilder’s Building Adventure (CLC Chesapeake 17 LT) Wood_Ogre’s Koa Kaholo 14 Kook Box (CLC Kaholo 14) Reading these blogs and seeing the photo’s was an incalculable benefit for me and I wanted to contribute to the community the same as they did, so I created this blog.  I hope that anyone who comes upon it will find it useful in some way, if for no other reason that to learn from and avoid any of the mistakes I make along the way. So queue up the Jimmy Buffet, ice down the beer (for after the work is complete of course), and let’s get on with it, because as Jimmy sings “I’ve Got Boats to Build.” Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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