Even with dust on them, the kayaks in Ray Berringer’s backyard workshop look like woodwork museum pieces.
They’re as sleek as fighter-jet wings, varnished as shiny as still water.
If Berringer sold them, they’d probably go for better than $5,000.
But the retired oral surgeon, who got the boat-building bug when he lived in Hawaii, figures making the boats for money would be too much like work.
“If you’ve been in a profession that demanded your attention all the time ... and all of a sudden you have this free time,” Berringer, 71, said, explaining the void that hand-crafting kayaks has filled for him.
In his shop, he can turn on classical music — much the way he did in the operating room — and while away the 250 or so hours it takes to turn out one of his floating jewels. “Creating,” he said, motioning to the under-construction, honey-colored 17-footer on the sawhorse in front of him, “something like this.”
“I can just get embroiled in this. Just get lost,” he said.
Berringer’s precision tools include a Depression-era jointer and a table saw, both so dialed in and vibration-free that you can stand a nickel on edge on top of them while they’re running. The saw cuts to 32nds of an inch, and the 2,700-pound jointer, which he bought on eBay, was salvaged from the USS Saratoga.
So here Berringer is using heavyweight equipment to build quarter-inch-thick vessels that weigh about 50 pounds and can haul 400 pounds of gear plus a paddler across mere inches of water.
Boat builders, Berringer said, can fall into two categories: ones who like making them more and ones who prefer riding in them more. He said he lands somewhere in the middle.
Berringer, who lives just up a hill from Lake Tobesofkee in west Bibb County, likes cruising the lake in his wide-bottomed sea kayak.
Some of his skinnier, more tippy models can make a first-time paddler feel like he is “riding a real thin-tired bicycle,” Berringer said.
He mostly uses cypress or basswood, but sometimes incorporates African mahogany and hard-to-get Hawaiian koa, slicing the wood into strips about as wide as your average tongue depressor and tacking them onto a curved form.
Berringer mostly builds the kayaks for family members and close friends, folks he knows will appreciate them. That is, their uniqueness and the two and a half months of time he puts into crafting them.
Berringer, who lived in Hawaii for 25 years, was first taken with kayaks when, in his sea-going motor boat, he helped escort paddlers in open-ocean races there. These days, though, paddle power suits him just fine.
“I don’t miss it much anymore,” he said of his old motor boat. “Not with diesel fuel at $5 a gallon. No thank you.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.