Jim Verducci, chief of food production and service at the Lake City VA Medical Center in Florida, had been paddling for 11 years before he decided he wanted to become more hands-on with the activity he loved. Five years ago Verducci decided to make his own kayak.
Jim Verducci, Lake City VA Medical Center“I got interested about 16 years ago in paddling. After renting a few kayaks I decided it might be interesting to make my own. So I got some plans, ordered the wood and just started working on it. I found it to be very interesting. Prior to doing this I’d never done any woodworking. I’ve always been fairly handy. My father was a tradesman and he knew a little about a lot of different trades. I learned quite a bit from him, not about woodworking but just about handling tools. Since I don’t work with my hands during the day, per se, I find it relaxing to do this in my spare time.
The kayak turned out quite well. It was a labor of love. It took me about 10 months of working on weekends. Since I don’t have an enclosed area, my wife was gracious enough to give up her living room for a 17-foot kayak to be varnished. I got several compliments and offers to purchase it. I didn’t sell it. I don’t know that I could part with it. I think the second one that I am working on now for my son Adam will be better when it is completed.
You have to measure and cut the wood. It’s a wood called okoume, which is a plywood made from mahogany. After cutting it, you have to assemble it with what they call stitching, which is drilling holes and putting wire through the holes until you can epoxy the seams closed. After the entire kayak is assembled, then you layer it with epoxy and fiberglass, sand it down and then you can put whatever type of finish you want. You can paint it. I choose to varnish mine so that it would stay natural wood because mahogany is a beautiful wood and, to me, it would be a shame to paint that. I spoke to some people who had done this before. There was a gentleman in Canada who used to manufacture kayaks who was a big help.
The most difficult part is the actual assembly, getting the seams right so that they are even to make sure it is waterproof. Once it’s put together, the rest of it is just to add strength and cosmetics.
This is a single-person kayak. I personalized this one. I got some information on how to determine the length and the weight of the kayak for drafting it for someone of my weight. That’s important in how it handles. You have to have the appropriate size for your body.
I did this first one five years ago and I use it regularly. I use it just about every weekend. I’m fortunate because we live in an area where we have the coast a short way away in St. Augustine, but we also have several rivers. This is what they call the three river area, where the Suwannee, Santa Fe and the Ichetucknee rivers converge. We have great opportunities to do paddling in a lot of different places.
Eventually when I retire from foodservice this will be my full-time occupation. I would like to make these and sell them for people. I have enough tools now after purchasing what I needed to make these two kayaks to do it on a regular basis.
It takes between 120 and 150 hours on average to make a kayak. It’s really however much time you are willing to put in. You do have to wait a certain amount of time between some steps for the epoxy and varnish to dry. I was working, for the most part, undercover but outside, so there were days where it was too humid to do certain things. That’s why I had to commandeer the living room.”