By Emily J Weitz
Dereyk Patterson has been making a living with his hands for a long time, but now he’s taking it to a new level. In his woodshop in East Hampton, the smell of cedar wafts through the air as he sands down a custom cabinet, which he calls the “bread and butter of his business.”
But as a man inspired by the natural beauty of the East End, Patterson is interested in more than refinishing the insides of people’s homes. Through his burgeoning kayak-building enterprise, he is getting people out into the coves and inlets in a most refined style.
Patterson’s kayaks are completely handmade, without any hammering and without a single nail. Using the stitch and glue method, long strips of any of a variety of woods are hand planed, fitted together, and then glued. Then he spends hours, even days, sanding everything down so it’s perfectly smooth.
An average kayak takes him between 50 and 100 hours to complete, “depending on how crazy you want to get with the deck designs.” He just completed a boat using dark chocolate brown cedar around the perimeter, paired with Alaskan yellow cedar, which created a thick white stripe down the center.
After the wood is sanded down, fiberglass is applied over the deck. Then a layer of epoxy will turn the fiberglass invisible, allowing the natural wood to show through. With the fiberglass and epoxy coating, the wood is protected from the natural expansion and contraction that it would otherwise undergo when it got wet. Then he paints the hull and varnishes the wood deck.
“Because I’m a craftsman I get very carried away on finishes,” says Patterson with more than a hint of pride in his voice. “Nothing is sprayed with a partial sprayer. Doing it by hand you get very involved in sanding the finish. The deck looks like a Steinway piano -beautiful finish.”
It was fifteen years ago that the cabinet maker first bought plans to build a kayak. But with a million other things to do, the plans sat in a pile in his woodshop until last year. That’s when a friend of his borrowed his woodshop to build cedar strip canoes.
“They were beautiful,” says Patterson, “but also heavy and awkward. Kayaking seemed much more interesting to me, both aesthetically and in the way they handle.”
So he started learning about these sleek water vessels.
“There are two basic kinds of kayaks,” he explains. “The Alaskan and the Greenland. The Greenland is basically the Chevy pickup for Greenlanders and Eskimos. It’s what they used to get back and forth and to hunt. They’re streamlined and low level so they could sneak up on seals.”
He was amazed that a slender, 17-foot-long boat could serve such a purpose.
“I just think it’s a cool concept… and a cool boat.”
That, coupled with the fact that he “hates going to the gym and would rather get out on a kayak and paddle one of the bays,” caused Patterson to start putting his woodworking to the test by building his own kayak.
While Patterson was hesitant to criticize other mass-produced kayaks, he did predict that his would have a longer life span as well as being lighter weight.
“My kayaks weigh about 42 pounds,” he says, while the average Kevlar or fiberglass vessel is between 50 and 55 pounds. But the real difference is “the element of human varnishing and handcutting all the strips of wood… It’s like having a kitchen custom made for you versus buying a kitchen from Ikea.”
Some of the custom features you might opt for with Patterson’s kayaks include custom knee braces, foot pedals, a custom seat for optimum comfort, custom decks, hatches, paddle mounts, and the list goes on and on. The wood selection alone is massive.
“I’ve been thinking about using exotic veneers,” he says excitedly. “How about a rosewood deck? Birdseye Maple? Ebony? I mean, it’s basically a piece of furniture that floats.”
And that, coming from a passionate cabinet maker, is the highest form of praise. Of course, once you start talking about 100 hours of labor, the prices get pretty steep. The range is “between $3,000 and $20,000. A $3,000 boat would be simple, but 100% stitch and glue. It all depends on how crazy we get.”
When Patterson takes one of his boats out on the water, “There’s a sense of pride. It’s great to be out in something I built myself. And I made these traditional Greenland paddles out of Douglas Fir and White Cedar… Just the sound of the paddle hitting the water – as you dig the paddle in, you can hear it telegraphing the sound… It’s just really cool.”
Patterson makes individualized kayaks to order from his home here on the East End. You can learn more at www.hamptonscustomkayaks.com.