ETIENNE MULLER'S BOAT BUILDING
Reviews - with a pinch of salt.
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Click here for thoughts on choosing a design
Reviewing home built Sea Kayaks
Most of us only have so many boats in our futures, so design choice needs careful consideration.
As home builders we are fortunate, in that most of the good designers out there have enough variety in their selections that they are able to steer us appropriately in our choices. They know their own designs inside and out, and have had feedback from all kinds of users, so they really will be able to make veracious suggestions. But the assumption also is, that these guys are probably quite decent paddlers, and may not remember what it was like to be fairly useless on the water, so a bit of feedback from other users of these vessels can help to reassure us that we have landed on the right design.
There are lots of people building boats, but not many of us seem to take the time to give a comprehensive review. I think many of us are builders first, and only casual paddlers, so don't feel fully qualified to do a review, but that should not inhibit us, as we will be talking, mostly, to the other casual paddlers.
The other problem is that one does not want to pan a boat that so much time and attention has been invested in and, of course, one does not want to put a thumbs down on the designer, who by that time has become a friend.
The main point of a review is, obviously, to help others come to informed decisions. Despite what the mass-manufacturers might want us to believe, no boat is going to excel at everything, so I think a strength and weakness approach to reviews is the answer... Where does the boat excel, and what are it's limitations, of course, with paddler vital statistics and competency level taken into account.
It has been great to get some proper kayakers into the Hunter, for instance. I have been able to get feedback from people who are good enough kayakers to really enjoy the boat in rough conditions. For me it is great in moderate seas, maybe my most fun and interesting boat, but a butt-clenching experience when it gets rough, whereas they seemed to revel in it, one guy even saying it was his dream boat... So if I had passed negative rough water judgement without their feedback it would have been a little unfair. I don't think Bjorn designed that boat with novices in mind, but the hotshots do love it. It is not a practical choice as an only boat for the average paddler though.
My latest boat always tends to be the one that currently interests me most, but it is also useful, perhaps, to review one's initial reviews on one's older boats after some time, and after experiencing differing conditions, and getting feedback from other users, in order to update and clarify first impressions on those boats.
Of course, many paddler's have limited experience of differing designs. It is hard to make assessments when there are no benchmarks for comparison. But general impression can help here too, provided this is known. I, for instance, have been building boats for forty years and, as a consequence, have never used production boats. The only production boat I have is an Explorer. It was going so cheap that I more or less had to acquire it, but I confess that I have used it exactly twice. After the first time I cut out the seat, which, for my ass, felt as if it was designed by Torquemada himself, but that may be a feature of most hard seats, for all I would know, and the second time was to test the new seating arrangement. It is a very nice boat, but I have so many home built ones to choose from that it does not attract me, and so I am unable to compare my home made efforts to those on the mass market. I think this may go for many others out there who are DIYers too.
So reviewing by amateurs is really impressions, based on varying degrees of experience of other boats, in varying conditions, and of paddling expertise, and if we are fair in our self knowledge around these limitations, we can, hopefully, help others to narrow down design options.
Choosing a design to build is, after all, the first step in the building process and, in my view, a fairly important step.
Some links to kayak plans and designs
http://www.redfishkayak.com - nice custom seats