Building a New Old Classic, Part 1

22 09 2008

The last couple years I’ve been learning how to playboat and how to handle modern short boats in general.  It’s been a tremendous learning experience and loads of fun.  For all the advances in modern boats, though, there’s one thing they just don’t have, and can’t have, based on simple physics: SPEED.  A fast boat means a long boat, and a long plastic boat means a heavy boat, which defeats the whole purpose of having a long boat in the first place. Fast, light boats are simply not available in the marketplace except for highly specialized craft like squirt boats or slalom boats.  Great at what they do, but they come with heavy trade-offs in terms of comfort, safety, and cost.

When I started paddling in the early 70s almost everyone built their own boats for the simple reason that good whitewater boats were unavailable any other way.  The few commercially made boats were so inferior that they couldn’t be expected to last more than a few river trips without major repairs.  The modern paddler who wants a high performance river boat is presented, ironically, with the identical dilemma, i.e. the boat he or she wants isn’t made or sold anywhere.

Luckily, the old boat-building culture hasn’t disappeared completely.  Stashed in workshops and under decks across the country are untold numbers of boat molds awaiting the attention of the discriminating paddler.  My favorite long boat of all time was the Prijon Olympia 400, aka Augsburg, designed by Toni Prijon for the 1972 Olympics in Germany.  This boat is a contemporary of the Hahn C-1 that is still popular with C boaters in some areas of the country.  I’ve always felt the handling characteristics and aesthetics of the Prijon were superb and I still have the old one I built ca. 1973, although UV degradation has made it unpaddleable.

I casually inquired around the DC area for quite a while before I discovered that Carter Hearn (father of paddling legends David and Cathy Hearn) still had an original Augsburg mold.  This mold was made by Ted Waddell, one of the best local custom builders throughout the 70s.  Carter agreed to let me use the mold.  Carter’s son Davey and his wife Jennifer operate Sweet Composites, a complete source for all boat-building materials and equipment.  After quite a bit of dithering, I finally committed to the project, bought the materials and picked up the mold from Carter.  So, for the first time in at least 20 years I’m building a boat.  Here’s how it starts.

Picking up the mold from Carter\'s place

Carter helped me load the 80+ lb mold onto my car.

The mold opened

It may have been decades since this mold was opened.  It was amazingly clean and ready to go.  Ted Waddell built outstanding molds and boats.

The deck mold, ready for cleaning

This is the deck portion of the mold.  A little cleaning with water, get the cobwebs off and it’s about ready to go.  Note that the cockpit hole has been covered up; this indicates this mold was intended for vacuum bagging.  I’m sticking to old fashioned hand layup for this project, keeping it simple after a long layoff from the trade.

The mold halves hanging in the shop.  Ready for some more cleaning and then the real show.

Here the mold halves are hanging in the shop, the hull below to be worked on first, the deck hanging above out of the way.  They will take some more cleaning, waxing, and covering with mold release before we’re ready to start laying glass.

More to come as the project develops.


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4 responses to “Building a New Old Classic, Part 1”

28 09 2008
Chuck (13:21:32) :

very cool project! Hope to see it attaining up the gorge soon!

13 09 2017
Riley Carsey (21:16:08) :

Dear Bill: Old time racer / builder. My all time favorite K1 is a Lettmann MK IV. Would you know of anyone who might have a serviceable MK IV mold ?? I have a good kayak but would love to skip the Plug – Mold process. Thank you. Riley Carsey.

22 06 2018
denny cilensek (14:44:07) :

Where did you get that mold? I bought one from Dan Demaree back in the 70′s and made about 50 boats out of it. I could knock out a finished boat in 3 days in my back yard. The layup and glass cutting would take a day, followed by 2 days for further outfitting. We called it the Prijon Augsburg 3. I sold it on Ebay to someone out west about 35 years ago. I tried selling it locally for years and got no takers. my best layup was 5-3 with full layers only on the outside and inside. The other layers were half layers with an overlap in the center lengthwise and multiple reinforcement at the stern and bow. I’d get my materials from John Sweet and John Kobak. I’d use s-glass and polyester cloth and vinyl ester resin. A really tough boat would come out at 25 pounds. Charlie Walbridge wrote a good book about boat building and I got my initial training in Chuck Tummond’s shop. We would NEVER build a boat as heavy as the plastic boats today. We called them rock busters. I take that back. I did build a 40 pounder for my Grand Canyon trip in 1986 and promptly sold it when I got back to Cleveland. I also had a 30 pound super low volume prototype that Sweet built (70 centimeter Hahn hull) and didn’t like, brand new for 40 bucks. I bought a Hahn 70 centimeter from Chuck Tummonds that weighed 17 pounds and used it for guiding on the Cheat. It’s amazing how nice a 17 pound boat handles! It was mostly nylon cloth and had a million cracks, but was still water tight. I wish they’d make some 25-30 pound plastic boats, but I’m sure that the lawyers won’t let them. I wonder if the Jackson dynasty are building some light competition boats just for themselves to continue winning. I’ve been thinking about building a mold from an 8 foot plastic boat and making a light glass boat for myself. At 8 feet, it would probably tip the scales in the low 20 pound range, just the thing for a 66 year old survivor like myself.

23 06 2018
Bill Kirby (07:43:49) :

Denny, I borrowed that mold from Carter Hearn, Davey Hearn’s dad. Davey and Jennifer took over John Sweet’s composites business and now sell boat building materials. I’m sure they can tell you how to get a mold. I know there are still quite a few around. Davey is at Sweet Composites.

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