Guillemot Kayaks

Small Wooden Boats by Nick Schade

Guillemot Kayaks
By Nick Schade

Fine Wood Kayaks
High Performance Art


rawing inspiration from sources ranging from the Inuit of Greenland to 1920’s runabouts, Nick Schade has crafted high art out of high performance kayaks. Nick believes that performance of the boat should not conflict with its aesthetic elegance. The most elegant boat is one that looks like living room furniture while used in the harshest conditions. Nick’s designs and the boats he builds fulfill these requirements. Each design is carefully refined for high performance on the water. Each vessel is individually hand-crafted to meet the highest standards. Each boat built is a one-of-a-kind work of performance art.


ick offers fine custom-made wooden boats for the discriminating paddler or discerning collector. He can create a custom design for use on a particular body of water or to fit a specific display space. Nick Schade’s designs have achieved international acclaim for their beauty and performance. ξ Awarded first place at the Washington Craft Show ξ A Guillemot kayak resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. ξ Nick’s work has been featured in ForbesLife, The Robb Report, Wired, WoodenBoat and Outside Magazines
Photograph: Night Heron sea kayak in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. – photo by Richard Bergen

The Boats …

Night Heron
his adaptation of a traditional Inuit kayak form to modern construction techniques has the on-the-water performance to match its looks. With long, graceful lines, the Night Heron flows across the water smoothly and easily. The narrow waterline makes this boat very efficient, while maintaining enough stability to sit comfortably in even the most unruly water.

The Inuit people of Greenland depended on kayaks to keep food on the table. They developed a highly refined craft that would bring them to their offshore hunting grounds reliably and safely. The Night Heron draws on that tradition to provide a fun and beautiful kayak at home paddling up a quiet estuary or playing in off-shore surf.


ick made a Night Heron for an exhibition at the American Craft Museum (now called the Museum of Arts and Design). That boat ended up in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. This is a truly spectacular looking boat that begs you to go paddling.

arly sailors thought the Storm Petrel could walk on water. Named after Saint Peter, petrels feed at sea by fluttering just above the swell with their feet tip-toeing across the water. Like its bird namesake, the Petrel kayak is at home at sea where it can dance among the waves.


esigned as a responsive, light-weight boat suitable for day trips in rough water it is equally at home poking into sheltered estuaries or exploring the shore of isolated coves. This design will carry a large paddler through rough conditions, yet it is small enough to be easily handled by petit kayakers.


ith a form inspired by the Inuit inventors of kayaking, the Petrel will appeal to devoted Greenland-style paddlers without being intimidating to novice sea kayakers.

acing boats from the 1924 Gold Challenge Cup are not the usual inspiration for a sea kayak, but a picture of the George Crouch designed Baby Bootlegger got me thinking. Baby Bootlegger was an innovation in its time, introducing the “rolled sheer” where the deck blends smoothly into the side and the long streamlined stern. While this may be an unexpected starting point for a kayak, the graceful, efficient shape struck my fancy. The µBootlegger (micro Bootlegger) is a roomy, efficient tandem kayak for cruising a lake or exploring a bay. While more sedate than her namesake, she moves easily through the water and, should a wind blow in, will handle rough water with aplomb. The boat

… a roomy, efficient tandem kayak for cruising a lake or exploring a bay
pictured is constructed of mahogany and maple and encapsulated in epoxy, fiberglass and carbon fiber. The kayak is lightweight and easy to carry. This boat may be customized with hatches, a rudder, spray-skirt and flotation sponsons and can also be equipped for sailing. The design may be rigged for paddling solo or tandem.

Solo microBootlegger
hile some like to paddle with a friend, others prefer going solo. The solo version of the microBootlegger is intended for the more independent sort. Whether you prefer to poke into solitary coves to cast a line in peace or drift down a lazy river the Solo microBootlegger is a gorgeous vessel to take you where you want to go. The Solo µBootlegger (micro Bootlegger) is a spacious, easy to paddle recreational kayak for exploring a lake or harbor. Wide enough to be comfortably stable yet narrow enough to be easy to paddle, this design is a good boat for novice paddlers who enjoy leisurely excursions in calm water. The volume of the boat provides a secure ride should weather blow in while out on the water. The boat pictured is constructed of mahogany and maple and encapsulated in epoxy, fiberglass and carbon fiber. The kayak is lightweight and easy to carry.


he Aleut people lived in some of the most extreme conditions in the world. The Aleutian Islands form the border between the Northern Pacific and the Bering Sea, where the winds never stop and the seas are deadly even with the best modern equipment. Out on this maelstrom the hunters sought seal, walrus and whale. They hunted from a kayak. The Aleutesque steps off from these unique boats to create a stunning, fast and fun sea kayak. The Aleut boats were named “baidarkas” by the Russian traders who first encountered the native kayakers. The baidarka was unusual for it bow and stern shapes. The bow was “bifurcated” with a split between the high volume top and a slim wave cutting bottom. The stern was truncated into a skeg. The Aleutesque vamps on these forms to create a high performance modern kayak suitable for fitness training on lakes and the ocean.

n the 1880’s J. Henry Rushton developed a line of small, ultralightweight canoes designed to be propelled with a double-ended paddle like a kayak. The most famous of these is the boat, Sairy Gamp he designed and built for George Washington Sears, a writer for Forest and Stream magazine, who used the pen-name “Nessmuk”. Nessmuk used his little canoe to travel the lakes and rivers of the Adirondacks. An example of this “Nessmuk Model” canoe by Rushton was given the name “Wee Lassie” by William West Durant.

Based on the ideas of J. H. Rushton, I developed the Nymph using modern building techniques. This boat uses the strip-built method and the latest materials to create a fun and easy to handle little craft. At about 15 pounds Nymph is easy to carry down to the water. The tumble-home below the gunwales makes the paddle stroke easier while keeping good stability. At 10 feet long it can easily poke into hidden coves.

At about 15 pounds Nymph is easy to carry down to the water.

To make a long-lasting, low maintenance vessel, all the wood on Nymph is sealed under a layer of fiberglass or carbon-Kevlar cloth and epoxy. While designed for paddlers under 150 pounds, it is strong enough to carry a 200 pound paddler.

Skin-on-Frame Petrel
he first kayaks were made in the arctic by the Aleut and Inuit “Eskimos” using nothing but driftwood and seal skin. The results were extremely seaworthy vessels that were lightweight and resilient. It is no longer considered “PC” to kill seals to make a boat, but the same basic techniques still make amazing and beautiful boats Combining the traditional building techniques with the needs of modern paddlers, this kayak is based on my proven strip-built Petrel design. The frame is made of Alaskan yellow cedar with white oak ribs. The skin is tough polyester fabric sealed with a 2-part urethane.

Night Heron
Stitch and Glue
etween Fishers Island and Long Island flows some of the roughest water on the east coast – the vast tidal rip known as “The Race”. The Night Heron is designed to be at home in these conditions. It is a capable, seaworthy kayak styled on the seal-skin covered boats of the Greenland Inuit.


a capable, seaworthy kayak styled on the seal-skin covered boats of the Greenland Inuit.

This boat is a plywood version of my design at the Museum of Modern Art. Since plywood generally comes in 8 ft lengths, the material for an 18 ft boat must be spliced into longer sections. Standard practice is a long tapered “scarf” joint. This leaves a distracting line between the different pieces of wood. Instead of attempting to hide the joint the Night Heron uses the required joint as a decorative design element.


he puzzle joint is as strong as a scarf joint and adds a whimsical touch to a high performance sea kayak. The plywood construction is rugged and light weight. This boat may be customized with a seat, foot braces and an additional hatch.

Coot Dinghy
ot just another white dinghy. The Coot is an able little vessel to get you out to your yacht and back. It rows along easily with room for a couple passengers and their gear. The design could be rigged for sailing and can take a small outboard. This design can be built as a rugged little knock-about boat at about 65 lbs or as a little more delicate lightweight craft for easy stowing on a yacht cabin top.


he construction is cedar strip completely encapsulated in 6 ounce fiberglass cloth, doubled up on the outside bottom. The bottom is then coated with a graphite powder epoxy mix for durability sliding up a beach. The seats and transoms are 1/2 okume marine plywood that is also fully encapsulated in 4 ounce fiberglass cloth. The result is a very rugged boat that will be protected from weathering and rot for a very long time.

ittle is as exhilarating as planting your paddle the shoulders of a beefy swell and feeling your kayak shoot forward as it starts surfing. Mystery is a high performance racing kayak that is stable enough for serious amateurs yet fast enough to be competitive in open water races. Cedar strips combined with carbon fiber and lightweight S-glass cloth allows the construction of a very stiff and ultra lightweight racing kayak. Mystery is race optimized using the latest computer performance modeling software. This same software was used by

the top surf-ski manufacture to develop their various numbered versions of performance racing skis. The super-efficient hull shape moves effortlessly through the water with almost no visible wake. Mystery is not for everyone, but if you want to feel the flow while linking together downwind surf runs, this is the boat for you. Nick can optimize this design for your weight, strength and racing style as desired.

Built for Use...


hile these boats may make look like fragile works of art, they are built with the highest quality materials that allow them to be used. Wood is a natural composite material that is more rugged and fatigue resistant than the best high tech synthetics. This wonderful, beautiful material is then protected under a completely transparent layer of fiberglass fabric and sealed with epoxy resin. The result is a durable, rot resistant, lightweight vessel that is worthy of hanging on the wall, but capable of crossing an ocean.

Creating a Kayak
Strip-planked boats are built over a form that defines the shape. Narrow strips of wood are shaped to fit tightly together.

Each of about 100 strips are carefully shaped one at a time by hand to create strong, tight joints between each piece of wood.

After the forms are covered with the strip planks, the wood needs to be sculpted and smoothed to create a fair shape.

The outside is reinforced with cloth. Fabric woven from fine strands of glass is flexible and strong. This cloth starts out white as the thin threads of glass catch and reflect the light. It is hard to believe that this silk-like cloth is created from glass.

The white fiberglass fabric becomes completely transparent when saturated with a two-part epoxy mixture. This highstrength adhesive bonds the ‘glass fabric to the wood with a rugged layer of waterproof resin.

The inside of the boat can be further reinforced with more fiberglass or for even greater strength and toughness a layer of Kevlar or Carbon Fiber cloth may be substituted. While not transparent like the fiberglass, the exotic fabrics add a handsome contrast to the natural wood.

After several layers of epoxy have been added to the surface of the boat a multi-step process of sanding and further resin fill coats produce a smooth, hard surface ready for a glossy protective clear coat.

After many hours of careful work, the final product is beautiful to behold. It is ready to be displayed in a great room or paddled across a bay.

Guillemot Kayaks Designs
started designing and building boats while still in high school. After studying electrical engineering, I went to work for the Navy, but kept my love of boats, particularly kayaks. I designed and built my first to fill my need for a boat before starting my engineering career. After a few years at work, I decided I needed a different kayak and designed I have been and built one to suit my evolving skills. After a few more messing about rounds of designing, I felt I had some designs worthy of selling to others who desired to build in boats since I their own. This was the genesis of Guillemot Kayaks in 1993. A was a kid. few years later I was able to convert the hobby to a full-time business.
Nymph 14’ Great Auk Adirondack Guide Boat



Great Auk

Since then I have continued to create more boats. As my skills at the drawing board, in the workshop and on the water have evolved I continue to find inspirations and ideas to keep my work fresh and exhilarating. I hope you find my boats as exciting as I do


Night Heron


Nick Schade

Razor Billed Auk

Expedition Single


Guillemot Double

Great Auk Double

Guillemot Fast Double 1’ 2’ 3’ 4’ 5’ 6’ 7’ 8’ 9’ 10’ 11’ 12’ 13’ 14’ 15’ 16’ 17’ 18’ 19’ 20’ 21’ 22’ 23’ 24’ 25’

Hand Crafted Kayaks
typical kayak takes about 3 to 5 months to build, but actual labor may vary from 150 hours to over 400. Each piece of wood is carefully fitted together to create a unified wood shell. This wood is protected under a layer of fiberglass fabric bonded in place with epoxy resin then coated with a marine varnish. The combination of fiberglass and epoxy is very tough and perfectly transparent so that the beauty of the wood will be protected for generations. Each boat is custom outfitted to suit the desires of the customer. Most of my boats are “strip-built”. This requires the precise hand-shaping of over 200 pieces of wood. The wood is selected to enhance the beauty and function of the boat. Typically western red cedar is used, but other materials such as tiger maple and mahogany may be incorporated. Wood may be “book-matched” using pieces of wood consecutively cut from a board or they may be randomly colored from a variety of boards. If desired, I can also incorporate other reinforcement fabrics on the interior of the boat such as carbon fiber or Kevlar. These space age materials will increase the strength of the kayak while keeping the weight low. Custom built boat prices range from about $8,000 to over $45,000 depending on design, building technique and details of construction.

Ordering Your Boat
hank you for your interest in my boats. I take pride in designing boats that are elegant in both aesthetics and performance. I build these boats myself, one-at-a-time, to assure that the care I put into the design process is followed by equal care in workmanship. This artisanal craftsmanship requires care and time to fit the hundreds of individual pieces of wood into a unified, rugged whole. The result of this patient process creates a lasting heirloom that will be cherished by collectors for generations.

Choosing a Design
Whether you are a collector or discerning boater, the decision process starts by asking yourself “How will I use my boat?” A boat for a civilized tour of the shores of Lake Tahoe or from an Adirondack lodge may be different the boat destined for the outer islands of Maine or Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia. Are you looking for a relaxed, stable boat, or a craft for experiencing the extremes of nature? Maybe you want a stunning vessel to add to your collection and are willing to trade off practicality for a wonderful object. I’ve created a wide selection of original designs appropriate for any use, from an impressive yet relaxing-to-paddle tandem like the microBootlegger to elegant, storm-capable sea kayaks such a my Night Heron or Petrel designs. In general, wider designs will be more stable and relaxing to use, while narrower beam will require more athleticism but perform better for more aggressive users. Similarly, shorter boats are best suited for sheltered and calmer water whereas longer designs work well for extended distances and potentially rougher conditions. And on the whole, a smaller craft will be lighter and easier to carry than a larger one. If I do not have an existing design that meets your particular need I would be happy to create a distinctive design to match your desire. With over 30 years of boating experience and 20 years of design expertise, you can be assured that you will get a vessel that is graceful on and off the water. The best way to choose a design is probably to give me a call or drop me an email. I will be happy to work with you to give you exactly the craft you want.

Outfitting and Level of Finish
After choosing a design for your vessel, you need to think about what level of finish you want. Like a custom motorcycle where you can select a simple single color paint job and nice cloth seats, or may opt for flames and embossed leather, with a custom boat you can keep it simple and functional or you may prefer to step it up a notch. I use my boats very hard and my highest level of finish would be quickly lost under scratches so I quickly assemble my own kayaks using staples that leave a minor mark in the

wood, I’m less selective with the wood I use and I apply a standard marine varnish as the final finish. The result is beautiful, but I don’t feel so bad putting it through a fair amount of abuse. At the other end of the spectrum for a customer wanting the finest I will carefully assemble the wood without leaving the staple marks, selecting wood with a mind to grain and color, and finishing with a fine buffed-out automotive type clear coat. The seat in my personal boats are comfortable but unexceptional waterproof foam, but you may prefer a stunning and functional, sculpted wooden seat. If you are planning on taking extended trips with the boat you may prefer storage

hatches and possibly deck lines, alternatively, you may feel these features distract from the appearance of the boat and are not necessary for your needs. Again, feel free to give me a call or write if you have any questions.

I can provide custom made paddles to match your boat, matching display/storage stands, protective transportation/storage covers to safeguard the craft, and can obtain other accessories such a life jackets, safety flotation bags, spray skirts, and roof racks. Please ask if you think there is anything you think you may need.

“Natural” Colored
This is the simplest level of finish. It highlights the natural variation of wood tones by placing different colored strips of wood adjacent to each other. While the species of wood may be the same, I make little effort to match the color of the strips. This allows me to work quickly to produce a beautiful boat.

“Graphic” Patterns
The deck of a kayak creates a unique canvas for creating art. Using a selection of contrasting woods I create a stylized pattern. These may be graceful waves, geometric patterns or inlaid crests.

“Matched” Wood
All the wood for the boat is cut from one perfect board. The board is cut into consecutive matching strips and these strips are laid in order on the boat. The result is a boat that appears to be carved from a solid block of wood with subtle grain patterns repeating across the boat. Contrasting woods are added to accentuate the shape of the boat

Once you have determined exactly what you want I will provide a quote to build the boat. The price will be determined by the material, labor and overhead costs, because these may change with time the quoted price will remain valid of 30 days. After you have received a quote, I ask for deposit of 1/3rd of the cost to reserve your position in the waiting list, I will then ask for an additional 1/3rd when I start work on your boat, the remaining 1/3rd is due before delivery. The building process may take from 3 to 5 months depending on the complexity of the order. The boats are built in the order in which I receive the commission so delivery time will depend on what other projects are in the pipeline ahead of yours. Your deposit will hold your place on the waiting list. I should be able to provide a rough estimate of a delivery date when you place an order, but due to the fact that these are handmade vessels, created one-at-at-time by me I may need to push back the delivery date to assure that the quality meets my standards.

My studio is located in Groton, Connecticut. The completed boat can be picked up at my studio if you have appropriate roof racks for your vehicle. I may be able to hand deliver the finish vessel anywhere within a couple hundred miles of south east Connecticut. I charge $0.75 per mile based on the round-trip distance as calculated by Google Maps plus tolls. For longer distances within the contiguous 48 states delivery is either common-carrier freight or a specialty canoe/kayak delivery service. Outside of the US will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Some deliveries may require construction of a transportation crate.

Master Boat Builder
Passing on His Art


ick is recognized for his mastery of the skills of building small wooden boats using the strip-planked method. He has passed his skills on to others through two books. His first; The Strip-Built Sea Kayak is the acknowledged bible on the subject of turning a small pile of wood into a rugged, functional kayak. His second; Building Strip-Planked Boats extends the method to any form of small boat.

Every year Nick brings his boat building experience to students at institutions like the WoodenBoat School, the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and the International Yacht Restoration School. He offers building plans and kits for do-it-yourself boat builders through his Guillemot Kayaks website at

In The Press…
ForbesLife - June, 2009

Outside - August, 2009

Wired - July, 2009

WoodenBoat - 2007/2008
Two part boat building article by Nick Schade

Small Boats - 2008

Top to Bottom: Nymph, Nick paddling a Petrel in hurricane waves, Expedition Single

Nick Schade Guillemot Kayaks 54 South Rd Groton, Connecticut, USA 06340 (860) 659-8847

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