HOME / Kayaking Memories

The Canvas Kayak Website

Old photo

I receive a few emails for people, some asking for further information and some to share their experiences of Canvas Kayaks. If you want to add your memories to this website, please email me at acsrrrm@brunel.ac.uk and indicate that you are happy to be included on this page.

Please note the new stories are down the bottom!

Email Me

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Wishes
Richard Mitchell


The first contribution is thanks to Reg Sutton, whenever he needs a kayak he just builds another one!

I was speaking with my son Rob on the subject of canvas covered kayaks, particularly those designed by Percy W. Blandford. In the early 70s a friend loaned me a small volume with the simple title, "Boat Building"', written by the aforementioned author and first published by Foyles of London in 1935. It was just what I had been looking for, providing me with everything I needed to know in my desire for a self built boat. But first a little background.

In my early teen years, living on the Kentish North Downs, I made a number of model boats equipped with various sails and outriggers, for propulsion and the latter for stability. For test purposes our farmyard pond was my ocean. Most of my vessels were flat bottomed, some with metal keels and adjustable rudders. A regular egg customer gave me a well worn book on "sailing", I also read "Swallows and Amazons" for the practical aspects of wind power as it related to dinghy sailing. Perhaps you have read Arthur Ransomes Books and like I noticed they teach as well being good stories.

I went to "Navy Days" at Chatham and clambered all over the warships and crawled through submarines. A model submarine, rubber band prop’ driven, that actually dived to re-surface when the prop’ slowed was the next development. Then I discovered the awesome power of "Jetex" and my next boats became jet powered. I remember the charge lasted all of 30 seconds and would continue to provide power even when the speeding boat was capsized. My attention turned to building a craft that would actually support my weight. I fashioned what amounted to a boat shaped raft and duly launched it on the pond. With my weight aboard, I really was quite skinny, the deck was awash and sitting was out of the question. Standing and using a pole for both balance and propulsion I carefully pushed off for the maiden voyage. I didn't fall in but that was the one and only voyage. Mysteriously my boat/raft disappear and later I saw parts of it in the firewood pile.

My next craft was more canoe like in appearance, being V bottomed, with a single chine and with triangle shaped bow and stern sections. It was angular in design and I would sit in it on the back lawn and think about the best way to make the frame water tight. Unfortunately we were destined to move house and this is where my boating activities ended, at least for the time being.

Time passed and I found myself married with children in London, Ontario. In the early 70s a friend loaned me a small volume with the simple title, "Boat Building", written by the aforementioned author and first published in 1935 by Foyles of London. It was just what I had been looking for, providing me with everything I needed to know in my desire for a self built boat. From the book I made my own set of instructions and full size plans for a PBK 10 and PBK 20. There were other types of boats described but these two would serve my purpose.

The plans called for using various hardwoods that were not easily obtained. I decided to use what ever I could obtain locally and the cheaper the better. I made the frames around the cockpit out of scraps of exterior grade 5/8" thick fir plywood, and used 1/2" for the aft and forewarn frames. The stern and bow were made from 1/2" ply. Bent frames were made by using thin strips of fir, laminated with water proof glue. The stringers were 1/2" x 3/4" fir which I hand sawed from a 6" wide by 3/4" thick board. Floor boards were made to be removable and consisted of maybe 2 1/2" wide strips of 1/4" fir ply plywood. The theory was that water splashing on board would drain down through the slots. The cockpit frame was fairly easy to make and fit but the coaming was quite tricky. Made from mahogany it was difficult to form the required curvature and get a good fit inside the cockpit frame. The wood frame received several coats of varnish before covering.

I found canvas locally from a tent and awning supplier. It was quite surprising how wrinkle free the cover was when tacked into place. Spraying water on the the covering caused it to shrank tight like a drum and all wrinkles disappeared. Finding no information on how to finish the canvas, I simply applied a coat of oil based wood primer. I bought a gallon of Orange Marine Enamel and applied two coats to the exterior of the boat. I wanted to be seen when out on the water and not run down by a power boat. I did not know then that colour orange is used to signal distress. No one ever came to our rescue!!

PBK 10

To complete the craft I purchased a sectional plastic and metal double paddle, 6’ 6’ long and set out to circumnavigate the nearest small lake. After a few strokes of the paddle I found myself upside down. The unintentional capsize prompted a more a more cautious approach to paddling , a case of learning by doing. My son , Rob aged 7 could fit between my legs and we investigated local waterways in this manner. I hasten to add we both wore life preservers.

Despite using local materials the frame stood up extremely well to a lot of use. Dry weight was 35 lbs and incidentally cost me only $35.00Cdn to build. I also made a little strap on pair of wheels to make walking it to the water easier. When on the water I took the wheels and axle apart to stow the pieces under the rear deck. One day Rob and I were on the Thames River, London, Ontario and we met some boys in a row boat. One asked if he could buy the kayak and so we walked home.

We sold because a few weeks later we were moving to Western Canada and could not carry the kayak. In 1978 we settled out west and soon began hankering for a boat again, only this time it was to be a PBK 20. I drew up full size plans and transferred them onto some scrap sheet metal. It was then a simple matter to cut out permanent templates, having kayak mass production in mind. I followed the same methods of building as in the "10" and the "20" soon took shape. This time I reinforced the stern to mount a rudder and fitted a mast mounting block at the forward end of the cockpit. Funny thing is I never did get around to making the sailing rig . So another orange boat took to the water, still using the same can of marine enamel. The "20" is a very stable boat. Two of us stood and had to put our combined weight on the gunwale to capsize the craft. When full of water two people could still sit in the boat and continue to paddle, sluggishly I might add, but she did not sink.

Each of my three children derived pleasure from and learned to take care of themselves in the "20". One evening, out with my eldest daughter, paddling on the swift flowing Fraser River an oncoming fishing boat sent a huge bow wave towards us. We turned to meet it, but it was too high and too fast for us to ride. The wave crashed over us and as the water ran off the deck I saw the deck canvas ripple. The boat had flexed under the weight , proving to me how strong a vessel we had. Of course we were drenched and later careful examination of the kayak revealed no damage.

The "20" was last in the water about 5 years ago. I decided to go out for a final paddle before winter. The canvas was really dirty on the underside so I turned her over for a good scrub. My brush went through the canvas, rotten from end to end. To control mildew I used to rinse her out with a mild bleach solution but this time it was all over. The frame is still intact and hanging in my shed. Some of the ply frames are showing signs of delamination. I am not sure yet if I can restore her. I may just start again and that way can incorporate a few modifications.or simply build another. At least two other "20"s have been built using my templates. Also, I made my own paddles, which perform well enough.

Rob wanted a boat of his own and in the 80s he set to work and built a PBK10 and you have a picture of it in your web site, I thought that orange coloured boat looked familiar. When I saw it my first thought was someone else doesn't know that colour is a cry for help.

All this talk about kayaks and I am itching to get going again. Now I have to teach my young grandson the pleasures of messing about in kayaks and maybe I'll help him to build his own someday. Now if I could only find a copy of that original book, it would make my day. Also do you know where I might obtain information on Percy W Blandford, the man?


I was fascinated at finding your site, it has certainly brought back many memories. My name is David J Melvin and although I am a boat builder by trade (Wooden boats), I am also a Yachtmaster and Marine Biologist. So you see, I have a wide connection with boats and the sea.

At the age of sixteen I was one of the cofounders of the very first ever canoe club in Nottingham, on the Clifton Estate. We were a group of like minded children in our early teens, who, with the help of our local church, formed the 'Clifton Canoe Club.' We made our own canoes which were single seater PBK 16s. During our period in connection with this club we constructed about twenty five of these canoes, all of which had there own styles, improvisations and colours. My memories of this period are so vivid that I am sure I could still build these boats with my eyes shut. It is thanks to Percy Blandford that we all found a cheap method of boat building that allowed us a sure footing in our future careers.

The connection with Percy Blanford does not end there, however. Two years ago, I decided to buy a small sailing Day Boat that is seaworthy and safe. I travelled all over the country looking at different boats, but knew in the back of my mind, the sort of boat I wanted. I ended up at an address in the New Forest and, as soon as I was shown the boat that was for sale, knew it was the boat for me. She was so seaworthy and well constructed, had only been sailed up and down the Solent. The surprise came in the knowledge that she was a 'Tarpon' and had been designed by Percy Blandford. Built in 1972, she is as strong today as she was then.


Hello Richard, Reading your discussions pages was to some extent a blast from the past for me as it uncovered many memories. I have built a PBK 10 and a PBK 18 and have had nothing but admiration for the crafts. In the late sixties a high school friend of mine, George Berthault told me about some information he received about PBK Canoes. George and I subsequently sent away for the catalogue, which in those days was but a four-page leaflet with blue printing and graphics. I followed by ordered plans for the smallest (11-foot) canoe the PBK 10 thinking that it was best to start small. I was most impressed with its ease to build and its performance in rough water. I distinctly recall taking it out on a large lake - the Lake of Two Mountains west of the Montreal - on a very windy day and the PBK 10 being quite short bounced gaily over and around the waves. At no time did I feel at all uncomfortable nor at risk in the turbulent waters.

I soon realised then that the kayak was too small to carry a reasonable kit, so from one extreme to the other the next craft would be the PBK 18. This is a 17 1/2 foot canoe or kayak, with a 32 inch beam, 8 in draft and a 1000 lb. payload, which I completed building in 1972. As an interesting side note, Canadian lumber normally comes in lengths of up to 16 feet. Lumber longer than that would be special order at a considerably increased cost so to build the '18 and keep the cost down, I had to splice stringers and gunwales to get the required length. This worked well and the canoe is still intact today.

I have had many trips over the years with the PBK 18 including trips in the Canadian wilderness, even a solo 10-day trip in Algonquin Park Ontario. Wilderness canoeing usually encounters considerable portaging. The kayak was not as well suited for that as is the North American open canoe. The PBK 18 however far outperformed the open canoe on the water. An open canoe of similar waterline dimensions only had a specified payload of 700 pounds. The open canoe is susceptible to swamping in rough water and is difficult to paddle against a stiff wind. Yet the PBK 18 performed well in all those conditions and this easily made up for the shortcomings experienced while portaging.

Although compromise does not always provide the best performance I would think that a hybrid of these two crafts would be a good vessel to take advantage of the features of each and thus provide an improved craft for Canadian wilderness travel.

Another interesting, to me anyway, side note, while at high school my friend George introduced me the book "Cockleshell Heroes" from the library. I also noticed that the specifications of the PBK 18 were the exact same as that of the Mark II in the book. Indeed in the PBK 18 plans title block the title reads "PBK 18 (Mark II). So I must ask the question of Percy Blandford, was he in the employ of the Royal Navy and did he indeed design the Mark II or did he get the dimensions from the Navy. I still have the plans in good order and have preserved them well. The old craft has had to have the shell replaced twice and some of the wood had to be replaced, as it had become punky.

The canoe still hangs in my basement from the floor rafters. I Had to redesign my house to be able to get the canoe in and out. The work wasn't cheap and I think it was worth it.

Happy paddling.

Pieter Leenhouts Kars, Ontario, Canada.

Hi Pieter, the Cockle Mark II was designed by Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler who led the raid. I believe Percy Blandford was in the RAF as a fitter and wrote aircraft instruction manuals, he went on to publish 111 books of a practical nature.


I found your Canvas Kayaking web site this evening, and found it most enjoyable reading. In return, I thought you might enjoy a little reminiscing ...

As a young boy, two friends and I built three canvas kayaks. I recall a 14'6" overall length, and a 4" draft ... single-seater. It had a small wooden box seat with a hinged lid, mounted to a removable floor consisting of 3 (or was it 4?) planks. The seat back was two small slats mounted to a 1/2"x1/2" piece of wood, with brass screws in either end (heads removed of course) to act as the pivot. Our paint schemes were pure 1970's USA: the bottom of one friend's kayak was dark blue, the top white, with red trim and an American Eagle decal. The other one was golden yellow over dark brown. Mine was lime green all over, with white trim.

Our water playground was a smooth-flowing river, about 30 feet deep. But kayaking on the river had its own unique risks, most of which involved dodging objects being dropped on us as we passed under bridges. Early in its life, the skin of my boat gained a large dimple from a falling baseball; my friend's was pierced through top and bottom by a sharp rock. Despite the occasional attack by some bridge-borne prankster, I spent many an enjoyable hour on the river. I particularly enjoyed gliding silently among the ducks at sunrise, or exploring one of the many shallow streams that fed into it.

As the boat aged, and the paint on the hull began to crack from one too many runnings aground, another step was added to my kayaking routine. With cracks in the paint, water eventually found its way through the canvas. And when the water reached a certain level, it began to slosh from side to side until, eventually, there was not much hope of staying upright. The inevitable roll-out was followed by swimming to shore, kayak in tow, and emptying the water by lifting one end of the boat and then the other, until all of the water was gone.

The river provided me with another of my favorite memories of my canvas kayak. At least once a year, it would overflow its banks, filling houses and streets with muddy water. Somewhere around here is some 8mm footage of me in my kayak, approaching the intersection near my house, running the stop sign, and proceeding down the road. But the river that buoyed our kayaks those many years eventually claimed two of them. Preparing for the flood of 1985, I had placed them on top of a rack, well above the normal high-water level. But 1985 was a record year, and my kayak was last seen on the evening news, floating down the swollen Mon amidst a pile of flood debris, on its way to an unfitting end.

Your web site has renewed my interest in canvas kayak building. I recently purchased a new set of plans for a PBK20 double, which should make for a great family project.

- Chuck Fuller


My dad built our first Kayak before I was born. Sometime later two more were built. They are a simpler design than most I've seen, but easy to build and quite stable after you get used to it. Ours actually look more like a canvas canoe with a high bow and stern.

We spent our summers on a lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a wonderful place to grow up boating, fishing, exploring. One of my favorite sports was fly fishing from our kayak. A feisty rainbow trout often would drag me all around the lake before it played out and I had it netted. On a quiet night on that lake the water is as smooth and quiet as glass. You could watch where the trout were feeding and glide up on them to get the fly out there just where the trout should hit next.

I've never tipped ours over. I sank it once, but that was because I was too anxious to get out on the lake that summer. I didn't bother to check over the canvas and missed a rotten spot about the size of a grapefruit. It held until I was about 100 yards off shore. I heard the fabric start to strain and then a gentle "pop" followed by the sound of rushing water. It's amazing how fast a boat will fill with water when there is a 4 inch hole in the skin! One thing I've come to appreciate about the canvas kayak's is that they won't sink. It will ride very low in the water and get's tough to paddle when you are arm pit deep in the water, but it never sank.

I replaced that canvas with some we found at a tent and awning company. That canvas didn't last nearly as long as the original military surplus type canvas that I believe came from Montgomery Wards. We never painted our kayaks, but rather waterproofed them with a mixture of paraffin wax and kerosine. It does a fabulous job of waterproofing, but needs to be reapplied occasionally.
The last of our kayaks is now too far gone to restore. My brothers and I are looking into making new kayaks - maybe with some design improvements.

Thanks for keeping the fun of these boats alive. Some day my kids will have the fun of building and enjoying their own kayak.

David Baldwin


I have become very interested in the story of the Operation Frankton in WWII and its use of kayaks. I found your website on a google search. It was very interesting and informative to browse through your site.

I am an avid sea kayaker and also built my own canvas kayak 20 years back when I couldn't afford to buy a Leper or Tollbooth single. I built it using a Tollbooth double as a guide shortening and narrowing it down a bit. Used cheap wood and lots of Carpathian and I finally covered it with upholstery material and canvas on top. It worked great, but later I could afford a single Klepper it was taken back down to firewood and spare hardware parts. Reading your site made me wish I would have burned some other wood in the furnace! It made me nostalgic.

After finding your site and reading the Cockleshell Heroes book, it would be a great project to build a replica of the Cockle Mark II. I have some information from the book and have contacted the Imperial War Museum for some help.

The Mark II is not truly a folding kayak, but it seems more of a collapsible, but is of some canvas construction.Your website is great and I cant wait to see it grow.

CDR Chuck Frosolone, MC, USNR, MD, FACS




In 1969, while my wife was expecting our first child, I was looking for a building project, just to pass my time. I came upon an old book at the Watertown Public Library in Watertown, Massachusetts, that had different types of building projects. My eyes fell upon a two-page plan for building an 18-foot-two person kayak that divides into to separate pieces so it can be easily carried on your car roof rack. The frame is made of birch, with brass and epoxy screws, etc., and the kayak has a 1:7 ratio of length to beam. You join the two section's at waters edge with just four coach 1/4 coach bolts, a sequence of rubber washer between the sections, and then inside the front of the rear section a rubber washer, a metal washer, and a wing nut. Bingo, it works, it really stays dry, rarely taking even a half glass of water, and it is great fun -- plus a great conversation piece on the water. That son is nearing 36, and my wife and I are approaching our 40th wedding anniversary. !
Our metaphoric "time on the water" in life together has been enhanced by our real-life time on the water with the kayak -- painted sky blue with a white stripe. It is still entirely seaworthy, its canvas so far unscathed; (knock on the birch wood.

I later learned of the boat-building heritage of my greek ancestors from Symi island, deep in the eastern Aegean; they put 500 boats a year into the sea, and their boats were so swift that the Ottoman Empire put them in charge of the Empire's postal service at sea. I also came to write a book called The Bellstone: The Greek Sponge Divers of the Aegean, One American's Journey Home, largely set on the famed sponge-diving and boat-building island of Symi, (20 miles from the island of Rhodes). The book was published in 2003; the publisher's url is below, should anyone wish to read a description of it. Once I learned of that island's heritage of boat-buidling I finally understood in retrospect what had propelled me to build that boat. "The heart has reasons that reason does not know," Pascal. The impulse was imbedded in my genetic code.

Michael N. Kalafatas

PS I'd LOVE to know if anyone has seen another of these or perhaps has built or OWNS one.

If you have please email me and I will pass it on to Michael, Richard Mitchell, Editor, acsrrrm@brunel.ac.uk


First let me introduce myself. I'm Mr Laurie Prior my website is www.laurieprior.f2s.com A visit to that site will show you I now live in Devon not far from the River dart and even nearer to the sea in Torbay.

Back in the 1960s or late 1950s to be precise I bought the plans for a Percy Blandford PBK 10 which was then wrongly called a Canoe but was in fact a Kayak. It could be made into one that would sail. But I could only afford the parts for a paddling canoe so I sent off for the plans and my brother two years older than me at the time, he was 14 and I was 12 (1958) and we then had to find a source of cheap timber and get the cutting list together.

My father knew a colleague who had his own 32 foot Ketch moored at Hamble and Hayling and who knew of a timber yard near his home at Gerrards Cross Bucks where they would get a cutting list together from offcuts - so we could both have the timber for me to build my kayak and my brother to build the Percy Blandford Wensum Sailing Dinghy (11ft).

From the outset I found the prospect of cutting three main frames plus stern and stem posts daunting when I considered my skills to be quite poor with a hand operated fretsaw hacking away at an 8ft by 5ft chunk of Marine Ply built to BS 1088 standard ( how sad that I can still remember the number!) so we commissioned a neighbor who owned a Car Sales business with a GRP boatbuilding business beneath in a yard at South Watford to cut out all the frames on a band saw. He made a superb job of this and so I then had no excuse to avoid starting on the canoe. My brother meanwhile began his Wensum dinghy and we kind of shared concoctions of Aerolite Glue with acid hardener as well as large quantities of rags that had to be soaked in boiling water for the bending of spruce stringers, and in my brother's case the much more difficult bending of plywood chines. I remember we got through vast quantities of brass countersunk screws. Finishing the construction involved getting the framework off the top of my wardrobe in my bedroom where it was stored between finishing off jobs, and over the banisters down to the living room where a hot fire had to be stoked up to apply the PVC backed canvas and stretch it while very hot. Then hopefully as the skin cooled it would shrink out the puckers in the fabric and most of them did shrink out apart from a few on the grey hull-gunwhales PVC partially hidden under mahogany rubbing strakes.

My brother's dinghy I have no photos of sadly. However, he sailed it a couple of times and had bought some very high quality blue terylene sails for it and the decks were kitted out with all the latest hi-tech for its day fittings like jamming-cleats for solo rigging setting and bottle-screws for easily tuned rigging. The Wensum never was very stable and we felt with our limited experience with other boats like Enterprise; Cadet; GP 14; Bosun etc that the Wensum was a tad too shallow in its draught or possibly its freeboard to be very much better than the experience might be when sailing in a giant walnut-shell with a broom-handle for a mast and a large handkerchief for a sail. It was about as subtle as that might be!

It had a centreboard which always leaked and the caulking was so difficult to make seal the surrounds of the centreboard that what little sailing we did with her, she shipped rather too much water for safety. When the wind would drop after a close-hauled spell of heeling over, the boat would almost capsize over your head to windward and you had to be very agile and quickly duck under the boom to stick your weight on the leeward side. Quite a tiresome boat to sail.

Meanwhile my kayak had been dropped in the water near our family home a few times on the River Colne and Gade around Watford in Hertfordshire and I always envied those few kayak owners who paddled around on the Grand Union Canal as they could afford a British Waterways License. One attraction there, would have been barges that would come past give those in small craft a bit of a chop to contend with, instead of water no more stirred than a drink of tea by the occasional Swan and Signets drifting by.

PBK 10 sat very low in the water and this was another part or aspect of which I was critical of the design. I wasn't very heavy when I was only 12years old - probably no more than 126 lbs (9 Stone) so it can't have been too heavily loaded. My pocket money couldn't run to buoyancy-tanks or bags in bow and stern so had to make do with hoping it wouldn't sink should I be hit by a monster wave.

One holiday we took it on the roof-rack of the car down to Charmouth near Lyme Regis and we stayed in a Caravan Park just off the beach. My father had the brainwave that I could paddle across the bay to Lyme Regis Cob and buy some Mackerel freshly caught in the very early morning. The bay was calm and I suppose we were not politically correct on health and safety in those days, I neither had a life-jacket nor any buoyancy in the kayak - and all I had for company was a packet of cigarettes in my pocket and a lighter in the other one. I used to smoke at the age of 12 I'm ashamed to say but gave up before I was 30.

I didn't sink, nor did the water turn choppy. I reached Lyme and was unlucky, they didn't catch any mackerel that morning. I think I bought a cooked crab instead to take back to the Caravan and have Crab salad for lunch. The Lyme Regis bay was not known to be dangerous then but some years later in the early 1990s several school children were drowned in Kayaks while paddling out in those very waters. They were guests of a Kayak school at Lyme Regis and the victims of a Lifeboat system that had been de-localised and operated from a central command centre on the north Atlantic coast. Nobody got their distress calls in time and it was a total tragedy. I expect I could have been a statistic too but ignorance was bliss in those days.

Back at home trundling the PBK to and from the river involved a long walk with the boat on a makeshift trolley created from an old discarded baby-pram chassis. Lifting the kayak from the water was a very heavy and intensive task especially if some water had been shipped. One incident springs to mind at Hayling Island where I had followed and tried to catch up with a practicing slalom canoeist who was forging along at one hell of a pace. Eventually he spotted that I was trying to catch him and not gaining ground so he sort of hove to and waited until I arrived alongside too breathless to speak (I was no athlete then or now) and while swapping questions and answers about each other's boats I noticed his legs were strapped into the kayak. Apparently he had the boat as an extension of his body and could roll right under the water with the boat and come up the other side as if being walloped by white water in a rapid. I was very impressed. He was about to beach his craft and I watched as he did so, because I wanted to see how a professional gets out of his kayak and see if it was any less of an ungainly exercise than when I had tried to step out and fell over 8 times out of 10.

Well he beached the nose gently to the sand. Unstrapped his legs. Popped one leg out of the starboard cockpit and his left leg out of the port side and stood up, with both legs astride the craft. He then pulled the boat forwards out from his standing A-frame configuration of legs and hoisted it up onto his shoulder with one hand, and held the double-ended paddle in his left and calmly walked up the beach to the Hayling Island Yacht Club. This was a revelation to me and I just had to try it.

I waited until he had gone out of sight as I was used to concealing making a fool of myself whenever possible. I beached the bow and put one leg out each side of the kayak. What I hadn't realised was that the beam of the PBK 10 was wider than I could straddle doing the splits sideways and so I was almost crippled by the pain of standing holding a boat down into the sandy seabed by the inside of my shins. Clearly the slalom kayak was a slimmer beam than my messy old DIY affair. Then just as I was trying to work out how to get out of this painful position a rather large wave came in behind me and swamped the stern deck knocking me over forwards, further hurting my inside legs and dolloping almost enough sea-water into the insides of the kayak to half fill it! I then allowed myself to fall over sideways into the water to get out of pain and avoid further injury. Ungainly but in an emergency who cares what you look like. That's the last of one's worries.

During this time my father had been watching at the top of the beach and saw that I was clearly in trouble. He ran down to the water's edge to help me. He wondered why I had got into such a mess. I explained what I'd been trying to do after he and I had rolled the kayak over and got rid of most of the water with the poor boat nearly breaking in half from the weight!Between us we carted it up the beach. I don't think I ever took a trip anywhere in the PBK 10 again - I sold the thing and in fact I didn't go sailing again for many years. I got into Motorbikes and Cars and my brother lost interest in the Wensum though he hoped it would one day be possible to get her sailing and modified to be usable. It was pampered and carted around like an old dog until it spent its last days unable to withstand being under a tarpaulin through yet another sub-zero winter in the salt-laden air of Eastern Cornwall. It went to a dinghy graveyard somewhere.

I sold PBK 10 or "Sapphire" as she had been named on account of the lovely deep blue of the deck PVC canvas sometime around 1960 ; A small advert in the local paper had someone, probably a Boy Scout interested in snapping up a bargain and I never saw the boat again.

One retains memories such as the foregoing when having that kind of fun. They stick in one's mind for ever. I was glad I had the experience and it made me aware of just how far my woodworking skills went and how much less far my sailing and waterborne skills went too.

SINCERELY Mr Laurie Prior


Hi - Just a few thoughts on the PBK range. I first built a PBK 11 in 1955 (correct!) with three other friends joining in with the building of two PBK 20's. My kayak was used for trips around the Orwell River/Harwich area and eventually came to a very abrupt end when it fell (or was untied from) from the Pier hand rails at Felixstowe ( I used to leave it there when working at the Cafe during the summer of 56).

Over the years I had always looked back fondly on those days - I simply loved that boat. But, as one does, I did nothing more than dream about it.

However, in the late summer of 2005, while browsing on eBay, I came across a PBK 20 for sale and successfully purchased it. Getting it home to Scotland was rather cost negative, but I wanted it that bad. The construction of the frame and covering (rather heavy grade nylon/pvc) was good, but finishing of the rubbing strips and coamings was awful. I decided to replace all with good quality mahogany and found when removing the rubbing strips that the covering had been fastened with (you'll like this) steel carpet tacks.....

Removing all these and replacing with copper was great fun. Anyway, after a winter spent pottering along the outcome was as the attached pics. I used her during the summer of '06 on the Solway but never did get round to using the mainsail - she fairly romped along under jib alone. I rather over equipped her with a new Whale pump and a Sestrel marine compass and made an ad hoc conversion, easily reversed, to a single hander with spray covers fore and aft. Rigging the mast/ leeboard cross frame/lee boards was all easily done while afloat, all having custom stowage. The lifting rudder was found to be of wonderful use when paddling in crosswinds and it was left rigged on all paddling trips. The pic showing her ashore on the Solway at Southerness was taken during an 8 hour trip (with the benefit of fair tide and wind out and return) when 40 miles were covered. It's not just the GRP hulls that can do the mileage.

I hope the pics are of interest - you'll see that the mainsail is gaff rather than Blandford's Bermudian rig and the area is rather less than his - I decided that it would give me enough excitement if rather smaller. Both jib and main were cut from a larger sail and laboriously hand stitched zig zag style. To my amazement they set and filled perfectly.

Hope the pics are of interest.

Best wishes to you (and all fabric and sticks paddlers)
Richard Batley



Dear Richard,

Hello and thank you for having your website. I've arrived here by a friend putting me onto e-bay where a chap called Drew is selling - in fact I think the auction has just closed - Richard Batleys' 20 as featured on your site.

I have a 20 that my Dad and I built in out front room in about 1962. The bargain with Mum was that we redecorated the room once the canoe was finished!

A gang of us as young teenagers (Scouts) built a collection of 20s, 22s and an 18, some got Moonrakers and we had a wonderful time exploring the Bristol Channel from Morte Point to Lynmouth with not a buoyancy bag or lifejacket to be seen. Eventually one of us was given a book on canoeing and was stupid enough to let his parents see the bit that basically said - Sea Canoeing - dangerous - don't do it unless you have superpowers! The kit you now wouldn't dream of stepping in the boat without started appearing.

Living in North Devon we inevitably got into surfing and because we hadn't yet got any money to get plastic boats or surfboards we used what we had - the PBKs. Do you know just how much water a swamped 20 can hold! The punishment they took is a huge tribute to Percy Bs designs.

My 20 eventually got re-covered in the late 70s and my wife and our three sons all had their introduction to the water in it. I think all three lads had been in the boat before they could walk.

Sadly the material I used for that covering didn't like the UV to much and it didn't last as long as the original PVC coated canvas.

She has been in the top of the garage for many years now and most years I've had a mental discussion with self on the choice of 'Viking funeral or re-birth' with 'do nothing' being the easiest option.

Funnily enough about a couple of weeks ago I did make a firm 'rebirth' decision and then a friend pointed me to Richards boat on e-bay. This has firmly set the bar as the required standard. An e-mail to Drew has led me to your site and shall be contacting Tarps in Launceston d'recly. I guess that their 610 gm/sq m PVC tarp is the closest to the 18 oz/sq yd - or should I be looking at the 900 gm material? I'll try and get some samples to get a feel for it anyway.

I'm also lucky enough to be in a three way partnership with a Golden Hind 31 plywood sailing boat so ply, stainless fixings and epoxy are familiar materials. These should be appropriate upgrades from the brass screws and cascamite she was built with.

I'll keep watching the site and if it's OK put questions as I start to work on her - probably after Christmas - and perhaps share any re-learning I do if it would be of any help or interest.

Best regards
Chris Clement


Below, too, is the relevant passage from our founder (Rural Life Museum), Henry Jackson's autobiography about his wartime exploits with the forerunner of the SBS. The book is entitled "From Trees to Treasures" and is available from the museum.

At this stage I wanted to join the forces to get revenge for my brother. He had been killed in 1941 after serving 7 years before the war, in the Hampshire regiment. He was stationed at Rawlpindi on the north west frontier in the patrols of the Khyber Pass and also served in Palestine. He returned to England at the outbreak of war but was killed while working on minefield defences on Margate beaches. He stepped on a land mine and was blown to pieces. His funeral was conducted with full military honours and he was buried in Ramsgate.

However, when I tried to sign up for the forces I discovered that my occupation with home grown timber production was a reserved occupation and I wasn't allowed to leave. I spoke to the foreman and he said, "The only way you can leave government service is by being abusive to the manager, when they will have to sack you". I said, "That's easy enough," and went to see the manager and called him every rude name I could think of! He responded, "Right I'm going to have to sack you", and I said "I know, that's what I want". So he sacked me and I went straight across to Aldershot recruiting office and asked to join the Hampshire Regiment. To my amazement he said that we are not recruiting anyone to the army at present but you could volunteer for the Navy or the RAF or perhaps the Royal Marines. "I'll join the Royal Marines then", I said and so I did.

There was a delay in recruitment so I took up temporary employment handling "Wembley Puddings". This sounds a bit silly but I will try to explain. During the war, all the waste food from army camps, hospitals and even private houses was collected by the Council and taken to depots for steaming and reprocessing. We used to take it in a six-wheeler Atkinson lorry to Wembley in 12 ton loads. There it was tipped on to a long conveyor belt where women on either side removed glass, paper, tins or bottles, indeed anything which would be harmful to animals. The remainder was transferred to an enormous drum which was slowly turning and filled with steam. When the whole lot was cooked it was transferred to 1 cwt bins ready to be loaded on to another lorry 15 at a time.

We then had to travel to Sparkford in Somerset where there were very many big pig farms. When you arrived the farm labourers saw you coming and promptly disappeared leaving you to empty the load. Then you would make your way back to the depot and by the time you had cycled home to Tilford it would be the early hours of the morning ready to start again at 6.30 am. For that we would get 13 a week for a six day week.


In 1943 I joined the Marines and reported to Eastney Barracks at Portsmouth where I did six weeks square bashing, weapon training and use of landing craft. We then moved to Dawlish Camp in Devon which was set right in the middle of Dartmoor, very sparse and very cold. We were there in winter time for a full commando training course. The conditions were really terrible. The ablutions were tin covered sheds open to the weather and with bowls of cold water. There were no sides to the building at all so a wash and a shave in the morning was a pretty cold business. You had only one blanket and had to use your battle dress blouse as a pillow. Camp was so tough that there was even a morgue because quite a few people committed suicide.

While at the camp I saw on the notice board that they were calling for volunteers for special hazardous duties and I decided to volunteer and see what it was all about. The unit was going to be formed by a Colonel Hasler, one of only two survivors from a cockleshell raid on Bordeaux harbour where they destroyed quite a few ships. His intention was to repeat the exploit, though we didn't know what or where at the time. He interviewed each one of us for suitability. Ideally we should have no home commitments, no wives or families, and preferably feeling a grudge against the enemy. My desire to avenge my brother's death was very acceptable. However, though we had just completed a commando training course we were then sent down to Havant for further toughening up and to be taught sabotage, unarmed combat and the use of explosives. The best things about this camp were the Dunlopillo mattresses and the double rations and getting back to these at the end of the day. We were allowed to drop out without disgrace if it proved unbearable, and some fifty per cent did so, but I decided to persevere. Towards the end of the course we had been whittled down to 130.

We were then sent by troop train to Greenock, Glasgow where we boarded the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable and sailed with a four-destroyer escort and her sister ship HMS Victorious. We sailed to the Mediterranean, down through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean where we struck a monsoon. We had all been violently sick as soon as we cleared the Irish coast but this was far worse with seas running some 50 ft high. We were glad to arrive in Ceylon, disembarking at Colombo. As I was leaving the carrier I was given a telegram informing me of my father's death suddenly on the way to work not a good start.

From Colombo we went by steam train, wooden seats and wood-burning engine, up to the north tip of Ceylon and on to two small islands. Ours was Karaitivu. At this camp there were also army, navy and reconnaissance units all with high security. I had the duty of "rum bosun" on the ship and this responsibility continued on shore. This involved privileges such as "sippers" and you could give up your ration for 3d a day and still have more rum than you really wanted.

Our next training was in the jungle for 10 days at a time learning about jungle warfare and the use of 18ft two-man canvas canoes on the open sea. We were being prepared for landings on the Burma/Malayan coast to collect information on beach defences and their structure. We carried escape equipment such as a hacksaw in a rubber case which you could conceal in your mouth and a "rectal compass" with four inches of string on it you can guess where that was carried! We also took local money for bribes and an emergency food pack.

The landings were by submarine, destroyer or Catalina aircraft. We were dropped just off shore and paddled in under cover of darkness. When you were close to the shore you parted the paddles and went in on a single paddle lying as flat as possible to break up the silhouette. Because on a moonlight night the water on your paddle could give quite a flash you had to keep it low in the water to try to stop the ripples and the flash. I managed to acquire a tropical ulcer on my knee but, as there was no medical treatment available, it got bigger and bigger until you could have dropped half a crown into the hole. When I got back to camp I reported to the sick bay where they said they had just the treatment. Two orderlies held me down by the shoulders and another held my feet while the doctor poured Maxot powder (Epsom salts) into the hole. Then they bandaged it up fast and left me to writhe as it burnt and burnt. "Come back in 3 days time and we will do it again" he said and I did and in a week it had all healed tough but effective.

Our equipment included shoes like trainers but a sole like a native imprint to disguise the pattern our army boot would have left. It wasn't until after the war that we found out what our losses were when Captain Oakley was able to write a booklet "Behind Japanese Lines". It was from this that we discovered that our commanding officer, Major Maxwell, Colour Sergeant Smith and six other officers were all captured, tortured and beheaded just five weeks before armistice. In addition Major Reggie Ingleton, a super chap who shouldnt really have been with us as he had two small children, was lent to the Australians to lead one of their raids on Singapore harbour. He went in a Chinese junk but the Japanese had been tipped off and were waiting for them. They were all captured, tortured and beheaded.

At the end of the war just before the atom bomb was dropped we were all geared up to make our first allied landings on Singapore. We certainly weren't looking forward to it and the reception we expected from the Japanese, but the bomb on Hiroshima came to our rescue.

We were then sent to Penang, an island off the coast of Malaya, as an army of occupation. We went there aboard two Dutch assault landing craft carriers and once again we were running into very high seas down the great Nicobar Straits. We were being led by the battleship HMS Nelson and two destroyers. We anchored off the island of Penang and accepted the surrender of the Japanese on the island. We were told that there were 4,000 to be rounded up, disarmed, and sent across to the mainland Malaya to the prisoners camp. After 10 days an RAF regiment moved in to take over after we had done all the hard work!

We were then sent to Sebang, a small island off the tip of Sumatra, which the Japanese were still holding They didn't know the war was over so we had a bit of a struggle. While we were in the jungles of Sebang we came across boxes and boxes of Walls tinned pork sausages. We thought they would be no good but when we opened a few tins they were as good as the day they were canned, in spite of the heat of the jungle. They made a welcome addition to the American "K" rations which we were living on. We also fortified our rations by fishing with plastic high explosives! We would fill a 50 cigarette tin with explosive, add a detonator and 3 inches of safety fuse and then lower it over the side of the canoe. We reckoned that as the tin went down to the bottom of the lagoon the stream of bubbles from it attracted the fish to gather around to be killed by the explosion. We then collected all those that looked edible and they made a welcome change to our usual rations.

After that we returned back to this country on a troop ship named "Neerhellis" and I've never known a ship more aptly named! It took 12 weeks to get to Greenock and everyone was there - WAAFS, ATS, WRNS, army, air force and marines. Then on to Eastney barracks for several months awaiting demob. I received my demob suit, raincoat, shoes and hat just in time for my wedding to Madge on 30th November 1946 at All Saints Church, Tilford, and we moved in for some months with Madge's parents. Madge was already out of the Land Army where she had been serving, including rabbit catching and general pest control.

I hope you find this information useful.

Chris Shepheard

Rural Life Museum, Tilford


Adventures with a self built P B K

I arrived in Stockton on Tees in 1947 to work as a graduate civil engineer in the Borough Engineer’s Department. I lived in digs in Stockton and there was a garage available for my banger, bicycle and in future, space for a kayak.

After being at Stockton for about two years I decided to build a kayak. After studying the current Hobbies Magazine. I chose a PBK 16 design for a two-man sailing kayak with dimensions , length 16 feet, beam 32 inches and draught 10 inches. This was supplied with a full schedule of materials and instructions for building. I went to a local wood yard which, after some delay, supplied all the necessary marine ply and laths of various kinds (mostly sycamore for the ribs and some oak for rubbing strips and mahogany for the cockpit coaming). Local hardware shops supplied the necessary brass screws and fittings and I sent away for the recommended two pack Aerolite adhesive. I and my pal set to work to put it together and some six months later the frame was completed including two coats of yacht varnish. I managed to get some suitable canvas locally and duly covered the frame with great care and a great deal of pain. The canvas was well coated with two coats of linseed oil and when cured was given two coats of marine quality blue paint generally with a grey top. Work continued on the sailing gear.

We decided to carry out the initial launch with no more delay. We carried the kayak on my car to launch it in the River Tees at Yarm at high water. The launch was very successful and not a drop of water leaked in, so we decided to explore the River upstream and downstream for some distance. We made several other trips to different points on the River and at different states of the tide during the next few weeks.

As the next August bank holiday (1950) was approaching we decided to make the rather ambitious voyage from Stockton down the river by the South Gare and along the coast to Saltburn . We found from the tide tables that it would be high tide at Stockton at 9 a.m. and low tide at South Gare at 12.15pm and at this time the tidal drift would be towards Saltburn.

On the evening before the great voyage we made all our preparations and next morning the weather seemed fair so we loaded the kayak on to its pram wheel and axle carriage and dragged it through the streets to Boathouse Lane where we launched it at the old Stockton Rowing Club landing stage just upstream of the Victoria Bridge.

We duly embarked on our adventure using our double ended paddles (which we had purchased) and soon passed through Stockton, Newport Bridge, Haverton Hill, Port Clarence and Middlesbrough where we landed by the Transporter Bridge to obey the calls of nature. We carried on downstream past South Bank and between the River training walls to Greatham Creek and finally passed the South Gare at about low water. Just as we cleared the river a squall of wind and rain and poor visibility threatened to push us out to sea. We immediately turned southwards and paddled hard until we were within sight of Warrenby beach. By this time the squall had passed and the sun returned to dry us out. So we went on our way past Redcar , Marske and on to Saltburn where we landed at about 1:30 p.m. We put the kayak back on it's trolley and trailed it to the house of some friends who had room in their garage to keep it until we returned with the car to fetch it a few days later.

I look back at the whole escapade with considerable doubts as to the wisdom of it with no buoyancy tanks, life jackets, or the flares and things that might be considered essential to-day and possibly then. However it did give me a first-hand down to earth experience of the state of the River Tees at that time. There seemed to be a lot of soot blowing along the surface of the water which looked filthy. There were unpleasant smells in some areas. There seemed to be long lengths of rotting jetties and mudflats and long lengths of mud covered river training walls.

We carried the kayak to various places around the South Coast of England and the Lake District and had some very good holidays.

We did eventually complete the gear to enable us to try sailing. My sister had kindly sewn up the single sail out of parachute nylon In general we found the sailing gear, which included lee boards and a retractable rudder was too feeble for serious use in tidal waters so we gave up attempts at sailing and continued to use our paddles.

In 1953, at the time of the Flooding Disaster of low lying lands all around the North Sea, I had a phone call from someone who had heard of my having a kayak and asked if it could possibly be borrowed to enable them to take the visiting district nurse or midwife to properties in Haverton Hill where the roads were flooded but not the houses. I could not refuse such a request so the kayak went in to public service for a few days. A photograph was included in the Evening Gazette or Echo at the time.

By now I had found that kayaking and family life were rather incompatible. So I sold the kayak to a friend of mine that had a river to the rear of his house.

I never saw or heard of the kayak again. I can look back at the satisfaction I got from building and using My P B K.

I regret that over the years I have lost all traces of the drawings or instructions or even a single photograph. So I don’t even have the Model number! However from memory it looked remarkably like the photograph on the top of THE CANVAS KAYAK WEBSITE.

I have very much enjoyed reading of other peoples experiences of P B K’s. Thank You!

Alan Wells. 6/03/2008


Hi Richard, I came across your very interesting site and must say it has been a great inspiration to me.

I have been a kayak nut since childhood and took a canoe all around the world whilst I was in the Royal Navy. My 14 year old son has always wanted to become involved but he is not a very good swimmer and feels to unsafe in my standard plastic kayak. So I set about looking for something sutable.The big GRP double kayaks I had seen on EBay were to big to use on my own, or to expensive.. I found a PBK20 for sale at a low price on EBay not 50 miles from me.

Knowing nothing of canvas canoes I duly found your site and links to others and spent a few nights absorbing reading. The things you can do with these boats!!!

I won the canoe and was very pleased as it was in good shape and stored inside a dry garage. The previous owner had 2/3 coated the hull in black rubberized paint (made a nice job of it) it came with 3 seats and two sets of wooden double paddles, he had used it on the Thames with his two girls and was sad to see it go but the family all had there own boats now. I assured him it was going to be looked after and used.

She was bigger than I imagined a good 15 1⁄2 foot long. She fitted onto my Rover 25 on the roof bars bars with just a foot overhang at the back. A High Vis vest was tied to the rear and tied with two Ratchet straps, I had to use some old carpet in future trips as the rubber paint was soft and the straps dug into it and pulled it away from the timber running strips.

The trip home on the motorway was fine. Canoe upside down and never moved a dot. Not much wind noise and no sideways movement of the car from passing Lorries, I was happy already!

We got her home around lunchtime and fitted the floor boards and seats and put the paddles together, she looked nice on the lawn. We named her JulieAnn after the wife and after a good checking over we drove to the local canal for a test paddle.

The canoe was fantastic, just what I wanted, she is wide enough to be VERY stable and paddles nicely, good tracking and always feels strong and safe. (Mostly for my son)

We used her for the summer on the canal. I live in south Birmingham and the southern part of the canal is mostly countryside. We spent many happy hours along the canal but winter was soon apon us so the canoe was taken to work to store warm and dry over winter.

I have over winter done a few jobs, painted the hull with gray floor paint, no hull repairs were needed as she it totally water tight. I did put a few patches over some protruding nail heads just to give some more abrasion resistance prior to paint. I also painted the inside of the hull as it was abit stained and let the boat down.

The deck is nice and tight and unpainted and made of the same reinforced PVC as the hull. Woodwork is good with no splits of warp age. Inside the floor boards were rubbed and varnished .I decided to add some buoyancy so I used the strips of BIG air pockets that is used for packaging and stuffed them in both ends up to the first cross frame. Then I used a motorbike elastic cargo net across the frame to keep the airbags in place and allow easy yearly inspection/change as I have lots of these strips, they are soft and don’t spoil the flat deck with lumps.
Varnished all the woodwork and put tape around the rubbing strip. I have also converted one of the wooden double paddles to two CANADA style paddles by fitting a hand hold ‘T’ to the ends. Ideal for a lazy paddle down the canal.
Two ‘toggles’ were fitted at each end to aid carrying.

I have plans to make and fit a sailing rig as the canoe is so stable and versatile and motor mount for an electric outboard for really lazy trips at Stratford and Worcester with the wife. Big problem is were to sail it?? The nearest sea is Brean and id never get all of that abrasive mud out of her!!

It’s nice to think the canoe is so old yet still doing the job it was designed to do. Provide so much fun. I find my plastic kayak bland now after my PBK, she has real character and talks to me at every stroke. So if you have one that needs some work or recovering it will be well worth the effort. I intend to use her on the Avon and Severn this year both paddle and motor.

I’ve enclosed a few pics of her all ready for the new season. As well as some bow shots on the Birmingham to Worcester Canal last summer. Please feel free to use them and/or any part of this email on your site, feel free to edit!

Kind Regards
Steve Case and ‘JulieAnn’

Interesting link to 1950's school project http://www.chascook.com/indexstockingford.html

Design by Custom Clipart