When talking about skin boats to someone for the first time, I have to stress;
They are not fragile!
Now that we have that out of the way…. Skin on Frame (SOF) design is thousands of years old. I am not sure anyone knows the exact origins but the idea is attributed to the Inuit Indians that lived in the northern regions of the world, Alaska and Greenland. We assume their construction methods came about based on the materials had to work with. Small amounts of drift wood and lots of animal skins and sinew. I figure the first guy that dreamed up making a boat this way was laughed out of the village.
We know the Inuit’s were expert kayakers and hunted from their boats in frigid Arctic waters. There, their lives depended on the boat every time they went out. Being at the mercy of the sea they would not have ventured out in fragile boats in frigid waters.
The Fuselage Frame boat is similar to the originals but it has evolved and changed as new materials have become available. My boats have frames cut from plywood and stringers that run from end to end. Traditional style boats have a lot of thin ribs bent into shape and attached to large wood boards. gunwales, that run end to end. Modern SOF use synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester, replacing seal skins. We still lash the boats together but use artificial sinew instead of real sinew.
The most obvious advantage of fuselage frame construction is its lightweight. A Curlew typical weights around 32-35 lbs and you can pick one up and carry it with one hand. When a boat weights that little, loading and unloading are no longer a chore.
The other big advantage is you can built a nice boat for $350 (As of 2015). If you go all your will spend around $550-$600. It’s hard to buy a good used sea kayak for those prices. Keep in ind these are sea kayaks, not just a cheap rec boat.
What about performance you ask? That depends on the boats design but there is not inherent loss just because a boat is a SOF boat.
What about upkeep? Well a SOF does need a bit more upkeep than a plastic boat. You don’t want to drag it around on the ground like you most people do plastic, but it’s so light you just pick it up. You need to store it dry. Never leave water in the boat.
For me that means I put the boat on the trailer upside down so any water can drain out. Leave the cockpit cover off and drive home. That usually takes care of most of the drying out. Then store it out of the sun. Even though I am guilty of mine staying on the trailer for weeks at a time.
If you get mud or sand inside you want to rinse it out and get all the dirt out. If you paddle on fresh water, once or twice a year you would mix a little bleach in a gallon of water and get it down in the ends of the boat. That will help to kill and fungus or mold that might try to develop there because of the lack of airflow.