THE NORTH STAR - Cedar Strip Baidarka - Designer Rob Macks


I posted a full photographic record of the North Star build with explanatory captions (over 100 large well compressed images) Click here.

Background: I have built many boats of various kinds over the years. None of us are getting any younger. I hit sixty in 2017. I have paddled the North Star for well over a decade now, and in all kinds of sea states and conditions.

Yes I built the boat myself, and no, I didn't run into any problems, although I did take some liberties with Rob Macks's instructions, which, by the way, were very good. The North Star is a little more complex to build in some of its details than other strip kayaks, though I know of quite a few first timers who had great success building it.

Regarding appearance: My opinion - this boat makes all the others look mundane. Photos just do not do it justice. At any gathering there is always a crowd gathered around it gawking, mainly because these shapes are just not available commercially, and it is so unusual to those living in the world of mass production.

Overall: I have used The North Star for many years now, and covered a lot of miles, and have had it out in rough conditions. The boat is rock solid and will move sideways when hit by a side wave rather than rock and roll. Very good for confidence.

Not the fastest boat I have, but it is no slouch. At a lazy 60, I have no trouble keeping up with guys half my age at touring speeds. On more than one occasion, paddling along in a group, chatting away to someone beside me,  I realize I am getting no response; they are CONCENTRATING, with me, unaware that the conditions have become a little gnarly, and that some paddlers in other boats are having to keep their wits about them. A measure of the NSís forgiving nature. When it gets rough I believe a forgiving boat is actually faster and less stressful (tiring) for the average paddler.

Upwind: the boat rides over waves rather than punching through them. In short choppy seas this causes a bit of slap on the descent, slowing the boat momentarily and causing splash in windy conditions. A little more depth, with some V in the forefoot would eliminate this altogether, (but then would it be a baidarka?) I have found that paddling the North Star a few degrees off the wind transforms the ride into a very pleasing rolling motion, and dry, with a marked increase in the sensation of speed. Upwind in slightly longer seas she is a pleasure, riding high and feeling very buoyant. Tracking is not a problem at any angle when paddling into the wind: just point and go, no correction needed.

Downwind: The boat catches even small waves really easily and if you then lean back to fully engage the stern will track very nicely down the wave. The NS also turns easily enough and tracks very well on auto-pilot. I find the boat goes more or less where I point it without having to be consciously corrected for weather-cocking all the time. Considering the amount of rocker in the keel the North Star is surprisingly well behaved in regard to tracking. The level of V in the keel as well as the buoyant ends probably contribute to this. Many years ago, after the raving from a friend who had fitted a skeg in his North Star, I retrofitted a foiled skeg. I have to say, that this has made the boat even better downwind, especially for those quartering seas, where it was actually good anyway, but now it is just a breeze.

NB, The NS is a terrific boat downwind, especially in big seas, It surfs like a train, and is less prone to broaching than normal sea kayaks.

Speed: I kayaked back from Waterville to Sneem one springtime (very calm conditions) with a friend. I was in the North Star. He was in my Nimrod Two. A leisurely paddle got us home in one minute under 5 hours on the water. a distance of 35 km. (7 km per hour). The Nimrod is slightly slower than the NS. I would think that a steady 7.5 kph (4.7 Mph) would be possible day after day without busting a gut. I have a faster boat but it is more tippy. I also have much more tippy boats that are slower. I should add that In following seas she moves very quickly.

Fun element: I have to say I have used this boat a lot and really enjoy it. I have many other boats, but at one stage I realized I was becoming addicted to the NS and had to force myself to use the others as well. It is a lovely boat which feels great on the water, giving a lovely ride, especially if it gets rough. The boat also attracts a LOT of attention, which is always nice. Worth the bit of extra work in the details. Not a boat that you are going to take to a rolling symposium, as it has quite a lot of freeboard, or for surfing beach-breaks, as it is large.

Touring: The North Star has a lot of volume, reaching well in to the ends. It is, in my opinion, the absolute no-brainer choice for expeditions. Don't even bother considering anything else. It can carry a huge pile of gear. Even heavily laden, speed is little compromised, directional stability is still excellent, and stability is, of course, improved even more. In addition, the boat's exceptional rough water capability makes it a natural, and confidence boosting, choice. I currently have eleven sea kayaks. If I am overnighting I don't even hesitate, I just grab the North Star. The downside of this is that it is also my most battered boat.

Optimum paddler size: The North Star is a buoyant boat. I am 220 pounds and it rides about perfectly in the water with me and a day-pack in it. An extra 50 - 60 pounds of luggage improves its performance for touring, improving tracking even more. The boat has a fair amount of rocker and a smaller person may find that the built-in-skeg-effect is lost if the boat floats too high in the water. My wife 130 lbs (donít tell her I said that) finds the stern disengages sometimes on bendy water.

For a smaller person the smaller Rob Macs Fire Star would be a better bet.

What would I do different:? The North Star is a beautiful looking boat and it seems a shame to change its appearance in any way. If I only had one I would leave it as is. Having said that, the boat has plenty of freeboard and ample footroom. If I built another I would consider - reducing the freeboard overall by about an inch, thus optimizing a bit for  Greenland paddle use - sweeping the rear sheer line in an inch lower again - and reducing the arch of the rear deck as well, thus enabling a more pronounced backward weight shift for tracking down waves. The result may be worth it, with even better down-wave tracking. Of course, this would all be at the cost of stowage space, and would totally compromise the boat for touring. one of the North Star's strengths is loads of space. That is why I say that I'd adapt only with the second one.

If I was Rob Macks (the designer of the NS), I would do drawings for this adaptation and name it the NORTH STAR SPORT.

Recent thoughts on the NORTH STAR: Some realizations as I have come to know the boat over the years...

The Hull of the North Star is very different to ordinary sea kayaks. There may be the odd production boat that looks a bit like a baidarka, but the hulls are still basic swede form, standard rocker, style hulls. One of the joys of being a home builder is that one can own such a boat; something that is just not available on the mass market. If you want one, you have to make it yourself, and, yes, you do want one.

The hull section of the North Star is fairly rounded, its native predecessor having evolved for long fast crossings in big seas, and not really intended for carving dynamic leaning turns on wave faces as one might in a kayak with harder chines and a flatter bottom. Yet, while not a play boat, in the sense that one wouldn't choose it as a default for the local tide race, it is a lovely boat downwind, and a bugger for other paddlers to keep up with when the waves are coming from behind, and I got to wondering why this is.

North Star Sea Kayak

1) The buoyancy distribution and the very specific rocker profile are critical to its nature and performance. The truncated stern always has its full length in the water, but the bow does not, as can be seen in the picture above. The relatively large amount of the bow out of the water in neutral and cross-wind conditions is actually a benefit, adding to maneuverability, and reducing drag at normal conversational cruising speeds. I am beginning to think that the entry point of the stem, where it is (at a location where the hull is already taking on some flare), has advantages over the alternative of a fine entry and longer waterline, in regard to speed and turning in neutral conditions at cruising speeds.

2) From the previous point one might assume that removing the extra length not in the water might be logical... Not so... Because as soon as one starts down-wave in following seas the extra bow length comes into effect. Logically, the most obvious benefit would at first seem to be the sudden increase in waterline as the boat picks up speed and dips down into the trough, thus theoretically increasing the boat's hull speed, and I am sure this probably has some minor advantage in staying with the wave... But the really noticeable advantage to that extra length of bow dipping into the water is that one's seating location, relative to the waterline, effectively moves substantially rearward, and while this does not actually lea-cock the boat, it certainly seems to reduce the tendency to weather-cock and broach out... So while other paddlers are using turning braces to stay on track, and slowing themselves down, the NS just runs straight and free a little longer.

Of course this is all subjective impression, because I am obviously not hanging over the side and eyeballing this in action, but it certainly feels like this is what is happening, and may go some way to explaining why the boat feels so different downwind to every other boat I have used.

Having said that, years ago, after the raving of a friend with a skegged North Star, I retrofitted a foiled skeg to my North Star. Instead of being bloody nice off-wind, it is now bloody awesome.

I posted a full photographic record of the North Star build with explanatory captions (over 100 large well compressed images) Click here.

I would be very interested in comparing the experiences of other North Star users, and indeed, other baidarka users. Please feel free to email me anytime.