Expert teaches kayak-building course at Cortez museum

Expert teaches kayak-building course in Cortez

ejohnson@bradenton.comMarch 17, 2013 

CORTEZ -- Jim McHugh has one goal in mind as he builds a skin-on-frame kayak at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez: "Hopefully, it floats."

McHugh, who splits his time between Florida and Maine, should be able to reach that goal considering he has professional boat-builder Dave Gentry at his side.

Gentry is working with the museum this weekend and next weekend to offer a kayak-building class

McHugh and George Palmer, of St. Petersburg, each paid $1,100 to take the course. The men will work 32 hours over two weekends and by 4 p.m. on March 24, they will each take home a Chuckanut-12 -- a 12-foot recreational kayak that weighs about 30 pounds and can carry a 225-pound load.

"You can buy one for what it costs to build it," Palmer said. "But it's about learning the craft and skills. I have a boat, but this is my first time to build one. It's just a fun project."

Palmer said his wife enjoys kayaking, so it may become a "his and her" activity for the couple.

"It's going really fast," Palmer said as he drilled and glued a frame into place. "Dave pre-cut the wood, and he's here to keep us from goofing off too much."

McHugh agreed the first day of boat-building was a success.

"No blood so far. And we haven't glued our hands together," he joked. "It's a good challenge for me. I've

never done much woodworking, much less built a boat. I guess in a couple of weeks I'll put it in the water and hope it stays on top."

He plans to haul the lightweight kayak back and forth from Florida to Maine.

"It's small enough and light enough to be versatile that way," he said.

The boats, made out of a soft regional wood and a polyester canvas that will be sealed with oil-based paint or varnish, should last upward of 20 years if cared for properly, Gentry said.

"It starts off as a pile of sticks, then you fiddle with them and have something that looks like a boat," said Gentry, who built his first boat when he was 19 and taught himself to sail. "I think it gives a sense of satisfaction when you make something pretty and useful. Boats like this from the 1950s are still around."

The boats should work well in the bay and rivers throughout Manatee County, "just don't run them over an oyster bed," said John Beale, education and volunteer coordinator at the museum.

"As a maritime museum, boat-building is par for the course," Beale said. "This boat is easy to build. It's a relaxed pace, no high pressure. We have the man who designed the boat here. Then, you leave with your boat that you built with your own hands."

This is the third boat-building class the museum has offered. One scheduled for April is filled. Beale said several demonstrations may be scheduled for the summer inside the museum. He expects the courses, which require pre-registration, to continue next winter.

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