Mystery Build Complete

Several weeks ago, completed a Mystery designed by Nick Shade.  The boat, which was designed to meet the USCA Touring Class Specification, is just under 20’ long, has a BWL (4”) of just over 18”, and a max beam of just over 20”.  (As a side note, USCA changed the specs for Touring class in 2019, reducing the minimum BWL (4”) from 18” to 17”.)

The boat was built from plans, but I did order the forms and strips from Chesapeake Light Craft.  Having previously built a sailboat and six kayaks, I am clearly capable of cutting those items myself, but I wanted to save some time so that the boat would be completed in time for the 2019 USCA Nationals and Chattajack.  The built took me a total of 275 man-hours spread over seven months.

The hull was constructed with 3/16” and the deck with 1/8” square western red cedar strips with some Alaskan yellow cedar added for contrast.  Initially, I attempted to go staple-less but found that my hot glue/green tape combination would not hold the stiffer Alaskan yellow strips, so I ended up using staples in those strips only.  The bulkheads and cockpit combing/lip were made from 3mm sapele.  The interior was glassed with 4oz S-glass and the exterior with 3oz tight weave E-glass, both from US Composites.  Two-inch KeelEazy strips were applied along the shear forward of the cockpit as a (paddle) strike guard, and four-inch strips were added to the high wear area in the cockpit under the footbrace. 

Steering is via a Stellar surfski style foot brace with toe control.  The rudder housing is the “ski” model from Smart Track.  I have four rudder blades to choose from depending upon conditions: Short, Single and Tandem blades from Smart Track and a custom built weedless DK rudder.  Seating is a custom foam seat from Redfin Kayaks for longer races and a fast but very uncomfortable raised rotating K1 seat from Nelo.  On my Wahoo FSK, the Nelo seat is 6-10 seconds per mile faster.

For those interested in such things, here is a photo log of the build:

So far, I have eighty-two miles on the Mystery, all in the foam seat because I am training for a 24-mile race in Knoxville next weekend.  Performance wise, I find that it falls solidly between my two other race boats, a Wahoo FSK (18.5’x20.5”) and a Stellar SEI surfski (20’x18.1”).  I have paddled and raced both of those two boats extensively, so they are very well known to me.  Stability wise, the Mystery is considerably more stable than the SEI and almost as stable as the Wahoo.  I have yet to paddle the Mystery in big waves but have encountered a few boat wakes with no problem at all, so I expect 3’ waves won’t be an issue.

As advertised, the Mystery tracks very strongly.  Paddling straight in flat water, it is barely affected by wind and is probably faster with the rudder retracted.  The short rudder blade is the best choice for those conditions.  For courses with some mild turns, the regular blade works well, especially with a bit of lean.  I find that too much rudder does more to slow the boat than to turn it.  The weedless rudder does well at not catching weeds but does not turn the boat very well.  I have not used the large tandem blade yet but will when there are large waves.  The Mystery is not the boat that I will use on any crooked racecourses or those with many buoy turns.  During a 180 degree turn around a buoy, I estimate that the Mystery would lose 2 boat lengths to the Wahoo and 4 boat lengths to the SEI.

The best way for me to describe how fast the Mystery is, it to compare it to my other boats.  I am 5’7”, 152#, 58 years old and aerobically fit.  My regular paddling workout is an eight mile up and back course on a river near my house.  In no wind, light current conditions at full race pace, my personal best on that course in the Wahoo is a 9:55/mile pace and 9:26/mile on the SEI.  To date, I have only paddled that course once in the Mystery, and my pace was 9:31/mile.  As I said earlier, I am currently training for a long race so most of my miles in the Mystery have been practicing for distance with a slower cadence with a smaller paddle and heart rate <135.  At that level of effort, my pace is 10:25 in the Wahoo and 10:10 in the Mystery.

When I decided to build the Mystery, I had two goals:  First, I wanted a boat more competitive than the Wahoo to race in the USCA Touring class and those races (like Chattajack) with a +20” beam category.  Secondly, I wanted a boat faster than the Wahoo and more comfortable than the SEI for long (20+ mile) races.  My initial impression is that the Mystery will fulfill both of these goals.                 

7 replies:

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RE: Mystery Build Complete

Nice. Very nice, indeed. What did it end up weighing?

Just out of curiousity, since this is meant to be a race boat, why the front hatch? I would have thought that forward storage would be irrelevant for a racer, as opposed to a camper, and that leaving the deck solid would simplify construction and improve integrity. Or is this also supposed to be a fast camper?

Good luck in the race,



RE: Mystery Build Complete

   Thanks Lazlo!  I intended to include the weight but forgot.  The bare boat weighed 34.4# and fully rigged race ready it weighs 40.4#,

The hatches (both front and rear) are largly there for access.  With front and rear bulkheads, the hatch holes are the easiest way to tape the hull/deck joint on the inside.  With a boat this long, that is much easier than trying to take the seem from the bulkhead then add the bulkheads later.  I won't really use either area for storage except on long races I carry an extra paddle in the aft compartment. 

Pretty much I will only use the front hatch to adjust the steering lines.  The Stellar footbrace is really neat in that you can move it without having to adjust the lines.  For that to work, the lines have to be tied in front of the footbrace.  I ran this line through small holes in the bulkhead and tie them to a cleat on the front side of the BH, accessed through the hatch.  This makes it really easy to make minor adjustments.

I could have definately saved weight and effort by building without bulkheads or hatches, but I have one race boat like that and won't have another.

First picture is me taping the inside aft.  Even through the hatch, it was a LONG reach back to the stern!.  Second picture shows the cleat on front of the fwd BK.

RE: Mystery Build Complete

Very cool Mark:)   

RE: Mystery Build Complete

   Thank you Mark.

Your work is inspiring!  I have just set up all the forms on a strongback and hope to be building my Mystery kayak soon.  Noah's Marine in Buffalo is currently out of 20ft strips.  I am 3/4 of the way into stripping Nick Shade's "Coot" for my sailboat dink.

And thought I might as well buy enough wood for the Mystery while I'm paying top dollar for 20ft strips and shipping.  I've had the Mystery plans for half a dozen years and never had a chance ( garage) to make it in. Now I do and started the pram before coming across the Mystery.  

Your finished photos as well as the unfinished are very helpful.  Again, thanks for your input and will help me understand better.

If I could figure out how to send a photo or two, I would.  This is not a user friendly photo attach setup they have.

Regards,  John Zeigler 

[email protected]



RE: Mystery Build Complete

Thanks for the compliments John!  A couple of suggestions regarding your Mystery build.

1.  The boat will be easier to build and you will save a bunch of money if you use 8' strips rather than full length.  The Mystery is a rather difficult strip build and trying to hand bevel 20' strips will just make it harder.  Those 1/8" deck strips are mighty fragile.  I but joint the strips together on the boat and those joints are all but invisible as long as you are careful to match the grain of the strips you are butting together.  This picture is from my Mystery and there is a butt joint beside each piece of blue tape.

2.  If you build the bow per design, it is very plumb and will catch every week it hits.  In fact, if you look at the very first picture in my origigal post you can see the funky (drag producing) bow wave created by a week.  After two races I did a bowectomy using the bow of my surfskis as a model.  I trimed the bow so that it forms a 60 degree angle with the water at the waterline.  On my boat, the bottom of the Alaskan Yellow Cedar strip is the design waterline.  The pictures below show the rather small change that made the world of difference.

Salad making bow before bowectomy


Non-salad bow after bowectomy


3.  If you are goung to paddle the boat in waves, I would advise installing an underhull rudder.  On this boat, as the wave height starts to get above about 18", the stern mounted rudder get lifted out of the water and becomes useless.  Obviously, you can maintain control with your paddle but then you are loosing thrust and slowing down.  Here is a  photo album that details footbrace and rudder installation.  Read the comments attached to each picture.  The underhull rudder is at the end of the album.

4.  My last comment is unless you are racing, you may consider building the Yukon instead.  For recreational/fitness purposes, the Yukon is a much better boat because it is more stable and turns better and is better in waves.  CLC can cut the Yukon forms as a custom order.  Here is a discussion of the two boats:

RE: Mystery Build Complete

 Thanks for the info on Mystery's performance. I've been racing the Pax 20 for a couple of years, and can update my previous posts on its performance, which I thought might prove inferior to Mystery. My best time for 10 Km is 57 min, 45 secs., on a course with three 180 degree turns, and good competition in good paddling conditions. So, I'm doing an average of 6.4 mph, or a 9:20 per mile pace. My motor and yours can't be compared, so I don't know if this is better than Mystery, but we are both beating comparable surf skis, which makes me believe that the Pax 20 and Mystery are probably very similar racers, at least in terms of possible speed. I was interested in learning that the Mystery bow is plumb, like the Pax 20, which also snags leaves and produces a prodigiously annoying geyser of speed-robbing spray on the sides of the bow. For that reason, I was considering building the Mystery, but now I'd want to modify the bow as you did to shed the debris. I must note that I am regularly trounced by the only Wahoo on my race circuit; it is certainly a much faster design than the Pax 20. I'm strongly considering the Sea Racer, and plan to paddle a friend's build before making my decision on a stripper for racing.

RE: Mystery Build Complete

Hey Chris, I suspect that the Wahoo that regularly beats you is Jim Budi?  I have raced against him numerous time and he is whicked fast.  He attended one of our association races in July and took 3rd just behind our two fastest paddlers.  Both of them are much younger and were paddling elite boats (Stellar SEL & Westside Thunderbolt).  I was in my Stellar SEA and he beat me, but I could still see him.

As you said, no way to really compare the Pax 20 and Mystery but the KAPER data shows the Mystery with less drag than either the Wahoo or Sea Racer.   

Not sure if you have seem my more recent comments on the Mystery and Yukon.  If not go here:

The only addition to those comments are that I have now had the chance to paddle the Yukon in some big waves.  It surfs like a champ under full control with the under hull rudder.  I also had the chance to jump on the wake of a pontoon boat and ride it for over 1/4 mile at 8.5 mph.  What a blast.  The bailer also works well.  I can go from a completely swamped cockpit to empty in 40 seconds.

I am just about to start another race boat.  This will be the BTD Spindrift with a kayak deck scaled down to 95%.  It will basically have V10 measurements.  I am hoping that it is just as fast as my Stellar SEI.  My plan is to paddle three homebuilts at the 2021 USCA Nationals next August.  Yukon in SK, Mystery in Touring and Spindrift in Unlimited.  

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