In recent years I have exchanged emails and traded messages on forums about the merits of skin-on-frame kayaks. Clearly they can be a closer replica of the origins of our sport than the glass fiber models that I paddle. I have heard that they feel different when afloat. That the skin moves with the water absorbing some of the violence of waves and thus protecting the paddler. I have heard that they are different to roll. I had planned on building a kayak myself so I could find out how a SOF kayak really felt, but have never been able to get started. This past week Tony Schmitz of Frogtown Kayaks was selling two of his kayaks at a bargain price. So I took the plunge and purchased one on Sunday.
The kayak is a combination of white oak ribs and cedar longitudinal timbers. It is skinned in varnished polyester, with a lovely ruddy brown die added. Eighteen feet long, twenty one inch beam and weighing in under 35 pounds.Tony built the kayak with very little rocker in order to make it track well, as a result it needs to be edged hard to turn well. Tony built the kayak for himself. Fortunately for me we share the same inseam length and so the foot braces were in exactly the right spot for me.
I tried out the kayak at a local pool session, comparing it to my Tahe Greenland which had been my regular pool session and rolling kayak. The primary stability of the SOF was lower, it took me a few moments to become accustomed to the kayak wiggling under me, but that quickly felt natural. The Masik was not thick enough for my thighs and so I had too much room at first. Tony gave me a large sheet of foam which I rolled up and stuffed under the deck to lock me in. My initial rolls were all successful, but decidedly ugly. Three factors were at play. One I was feeling unsure how the kayak would roll. Two I was feeling very weak having been raking leaves all day previously and aching as a result. Finally I was determined to get up and so using way too much force and too much speed. Fortunately Pete spotted what I was doing and shot a few pointed words my way which promptly got me back on track. Layback rolls were good, the rear deck was a little higher than the Tahe, but I was still able to fully layback onto it. I found it a little unclear when a roll completed due to the kayak being a little less stable when upright. Forward finishing rolls were easier than the Tahe. I was able to complete all my usual repertoire of paddle, norsaq and hand rolls, including the elusive reverse sweep norsaq roll.
I am not yet fully comfortable rolling the kayak, But I can see it being a great kayak once I sort out the masik. More details to come once I have had time to play.