The Mystery?

I am sort of toying with the idea of building the mystery race kayak. It would be my 5th build, but first kayak. I have built two kaholo's, a San O, and a strip sup from a different company. I was wondering who out there has insight on how the boat paddles, the building process for it, how it compares to other race kayaks, can I put a hatch on it, etc? I taight sea kayaking for many years before getting into SUP so I have the skill to handle such a boat.



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RE: The Mystery?

I have never paddled one, but hope to change that next year.  My plan is to start building a Mystery in the spring when I get done with the sailing skiff that I am currently building.  There is not a lot of info out there on the Mystery, but you can find some if you do a search of the posts on Nick Schade’s kayak building forum at  Everything that I read indicates that the Mystery is super-fast, unstable, hard to build and tracks like a freight train.

The best way to get a handle on the building process is to read Nick’s book, “The Strip Built Kayak.”  The Mystery uses 3/16” strips on the hull and 1/8” on the deck.  I don’t think that you can bead and cove strips that thin.  I know that the strips in the kit are not bead and cove so you must hand bevel each strip.   (If anybody knows of a source for B&C strips that thin, please share.)  With strips that thin, the deck will be very fragile when prepping for glass.  You can certainly install hatches.  In fact, without the access they provide I am not sure how you could reach the extreme bow/stern well enough to glass the hull/deck joint.  With a strip SUP under your belt, a Mystery build should be doable.

There are not all that many racing designs for the home builder out there.  In S&G, there is the Pax 18 and Pax 20.  Besides the Mystery, Nick also has the Yukon and Razor Billed Auk.  Bjorn Thomasson Design (BTD) has Sea Racer, two surfskis (Spray & Sprindrift) and a surfski/kayak hybrid called Panthera.  Lastly, there is the Wahoo by John Winters.  (CCWC handles both the BTD and Winters designs:

Comparing these boats is hard because there are so few of them out there.  I have been racing for a year and a half now and have only seen two other wooden race boats, one was a Wahoo (like mine) and the other a John Winters Minke which is the precursor to the Wahoo.  Looking at the designs, I would expect the Mystery and Sea Racer to be the fastest of the lot assuming you have a big enough motor.  Kaper data indicates that the Mystery is faster (lower drag) for what that is worth.  You can get drag and stability curves for most of Nick’s boats by going to his web site ( and clicking on the performance tab for each boat.  He also has a “Compare Boats” function that will simultaneously show curves for four boats.  If you go to the CCWC Facebook page, Dan posted drag curves for the Sea Racer, Wahoo, Spray and Panthera a while ago.

There are three things to consider when selecting a race boat.  First, you should match the boat to the motor.  It is kind of counterintuitive, but your average paddler will not be able to paddle a Mystery any faster than he can paddle a more conventional kayak like the Great Auk.  This is because the drag curves for the two boats are basically identical at speeds below ~4.5 kts (5.2 mph).  If you are a strong paddler and can sustain speeds greater than that in a regular kayak, then a race boat like the Mystery will be faster for you.  Less strong paddlers wanting to go faster should focus on shorter/narrower boats that have lower drag at lower speeds. 

The second consideration is how and where you will use the boat.  Boats like the Mystery and Sea Racer are really fast in flat water conditions but their stability makes them a challenge in rough conditions.  It is not that a skilled paddler can’t handle them, it is just that you are not going fast when you are bracing every other stroke.  In rough/choppy/surf conditions, something like a Night Heron or BTD Njord would likely be faster.  For open water with big waves, a surfski with open cockpit and under-hull rudder would be best. 

The last consideration is to take a hard look at which kayak classification system will be used in the races that you plan to do.  Two of the most used systems are the Sound Rowers (or modified Sound Rowers) and the USCA kayak specs.  Sound Rowers uses the LWL/BWL ratio to classify boats as HPK, FSK or SK.  The modified Sound Rowers uses slightly different numbers as breaks between the classes.  USCA has a more detailed/complex system which breaks kayaks into Recreational, Downriver, Sea Kayak, Touring Kayak and Unlimited.  Here in Florida, many of the races are primarily for SUPs and all kayaks/surfskis are lumped into a single class.  If you want to be competitive, it is important to NOT choose a boat that will be one of the shortest/slowest in its class.

I completed my Wahoo last December and have a little over 500 miles in it including 7 races.  I stretched it 6” to give me a little more displacement so it rates as HPK under Sound Rowers, FSK under modified Sound, and Touring under USCA.  I installed a Stellar surfski style foot brace and Nelo rotating K1 seat.  My best one (statue) mile pace is 9:20 and I can do a 10:00 pace for one hour.  I think that the boat is faster than similar commercial kayaks (Epic 18x, QCC etc) because I beat younger guys who paddle those boats.  The boat is just as fast as most 18-19’ surfskis but slower than those longer.  One of the races was in tough conditions (3’ whitecaps) and judging by the number of guys swimming as I paddled by, I believe that the Wahoo is much more stable than a surfski.  Here is a link to the build picts of my boat:

Hope that this helps!



RE: The Mystery?

   Thanks Mark,

That is super helpful. I race in socal and kayaks get lumped with surfskis here as well. I have been really into SUP for the last five years, but hopped in a sea kayak over the weekend and realized that maybe my kayaking days needed to make a comeback. 

RE: The Mystery?


I love your fleet of boats. Looking at your photos makes me think I should get out my credit card and order that Shearwater Sectional I have been coveting.

RE: The Mystery?

   Mark, excellent write-up and that is some impressive fleet!

RE: The Mystery?

Bret, I would expect a Mystery to be quite competative in those kinds of races.  You will certainly want an under-hull rudder for big waves.  The other Wahoo that I raced against had a neat system where he could use either a stern mounted or under-hull rudder depending on the conditions.  He uses a big under hull for big waves, a smaller under-hull for medium waves, and a tiny little low drag stern mounted for flat water.

And thnks guys for the complements.  Here is a newer fleet photo which includes my wife's recently completed 90% Frej.

RE: The Mystery?

   Thnks for the rudder tip. While we are talking about it, what do you think of the PAX 18 or 20? When I have had the chance at demo days to paddle strip vs S and G boats of similar design I have always liked strip builds better, but I will be honest in admitting that the ease of stitch and glue is appealing. I also weigh about 180 so I would be on the low weight end for the pax 20, but I'm pretty sure my motor can make up for it.


Its all a while off still since I have to finish an Umpqua 12'6" SUP, from clearwood paddleboards, for my buddy first anyway.

RE: The Mystery?

  I've built a surf ski using a Pax 20 hull as a platform. Whilst it is fun/different to paddle and it does get a lot of attention it is not in the same league as a regular surf ski. I would only use it on the flat as it would be a pig of a boat in rougher conditions.

I may try an overstern rudder on it one day as the understern is inadequate.

if I was looking to build a fast sea kayak, I would be looking at the Sea Racer or its surf ski cousins.


RE: The Mystery?

The Pax 18 has a reputation of being fast for an 18' boat.  One of the guys in my paddling group won the USCA Sea Kayak Nationals in one a couple years ago in flat water.  That being said, you are a little heavy for that boat and no way it keeps up with 20' surf skis.  Craig covered the Pax 20.  Two other S&G choices might be a Night Heron or the Atka FSK.  The NH would be real good in rough water but again not competative with a 20' ski.  The Atka is a new design from ClearStream which is based on the Baidarka.  The drag predictions put it only a little slower than the Sea Racer but that is just a prediction because I do not believe anyone has built one yet.  Of course, you could easily mke either Paxor the NH with a strip deck.

Since building my wife's Frej, I am pretty high on Bjorn's boats.  I agree that both his Sea Racer and Spindrift (surfski) would be great choices but both are tricky builds.  The shorter Spray (ski) and kayak/ski Panthera would be great open water boats but likely a little slower than the longer skis.   


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