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How to Frame a Rob Roy Kayak

Learn how this simple, elegant skin-on-frame design is a great project for home woodworkers and paddle enthusiasts alike.

| April/May 2020

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Surprisingly, recreational boating has only been around since the mid-19th century. Until then, most small craft — including canoes and kayaks — were simply tools to make a living with. The popularity of sport kayaking likely dates to the publication of London barrister John MacGregor’s book A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe. Inspired by Native American canoes and skin-on-frame arctic kayaks, MacGregor commissioned a wooden, 15-foot-long, decked version of the Rob Roy with a double-bladed paddle — simple, seaworthy, and short enough to fit into a railway carriage for overland travel.

In 1865, the irrepressible MacGregor, bearing little more than his straw boater hat and writing tablet, set off in the Thames to the English Channel and beyond, touring European lakes and rivers. His diminutive vessel drew enthusiastic reception wherever it went, and his account of the voyage was popular with the reading public. Over the following years, MacGregor brought his “poor man’s yacht” and reporter’s pen to waters as diverse as the Baltic Sea and the newly built Suez Canal. His colorful accounts caught on with cruising hobbyists on both sides of the Atlantic, and inspired countless clubs. Indeed, American recreational canoeing was dominated by MacGregor’s version of the double-bladed paddle “canoe” until the early 1900s.

Early American canoe builders took note. In 1947, famed designer L. Francis Herreshoff wrote of his passion for the lightweight and versatile Rob Roy-style cruising kayak. He designed several such kayaks, and promoted double-paddle cruising as “one of the best ways to reduce the waistline.” Four decades later, boat designer Platt Monfort brought the kayak design full circle, basing his Rob Roy on the more traditional arctic skin-on-frame design, but replacing the elusive and expensive sealskin covering with light and durable polyester fabric. In general, Rob Roy kayaks’ hull lines are suitable to carrying a load of camping gear stowed below decks. Its box-type design results in great strength.



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Construction in a Nutshell

Monfort’s ultralight construction technique is very forgiving for home builders and requires only simple tools and limited workspace. The construction materials are inexpensive, and there’s no need for the elaborate forms, complex processes, sanding and fairing epoxy, or vast workspaces associated with other boat building methods.





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