“I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my uncle Peter, and I was talking about how I wanted the liberty to do something by myself,” middle school science teacher Nicholas J. Matthew recalls.
Matthew had gone on long trips during breaks in college and the years that followed, but he’d never done a really big solo trip. The idea of an adventure in a kayak appealed to him.
“Why don’t you build one?” Peter asked. “You’ve helped me build some canoes, so you can easily build a kayak.”
That was all the spark Matthew needed.
“That’s how I really got started,” he says, “by having someone help me overcome my self-doubt. And once I got started, Peter pretty much stepped back and I did it by myself.”
With his uncle’s help, Matthew found and purchased Michael B. Alford’s “Tursiops” design on Wooden Boat.com for $45. He then began a process that Uncle Peter initially thought would take less than six months. Matthew laughs at that thought now. “That was not the case at all.”
“I’m not very structural,” he confesses. “Part of learning and teaching is letting students explore the process of what something is — as opposed to embracing the end result. So for me, that’s where I was with the kayak. Once I got started, I realized this was going to be a very process-oriented thing. I saw it more as an opportunity to come home after work, enjoy a beer and sand my boat. I figured I would finish eventually if I spent an hour or two a day powering through it.”
Two and a half years later, Matthew — whose Reddit post about the DIY wooden kayak build and his plans for a paddle trip around the length of Cape Cod went viral — has taken The Maxey Moxie for a spin and reports that everything is ship-shape.
Soon, he’ll embark on an 8-day, 170-mile trip around Cape Cod. With the help of friends and several kind strangers who responded to his Reddit posts, the experienced paddler has plotted a journey that begins at the Scusset Harbor entry for the Cape Cod Canal, and ends on the other side near the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He estimates that he can travel roughly 20 miles per day, and eight stops along the way at public beaches, camp sites, and donated patches of private property. With just a few backup stops, water sources and supply runs scheduled here and there, it’s unlike anything Matthew has done before — which is exactly what excites him the most.
“When you do a trip for eight days, and you’re by yourself for 168 hours, there are many experience you can get from that,” he says. “I’m really excited about meeting people in these coastal towns who can give me some good stories, or can exchange tips about boat building. And I’m really looking forward to seeing every square inch of beach Cape Cod has to really get a sense of what it looks like.”
Nick originally intended to begin as soon as school let out in late June, but weather delays and safety concerns — like the recent sighting of a great white shark in Wellfleet Harbor, halfway up the length of the cape — have prompted him to postponed the trip until sometime later in the summer. Since his job allows him a sizable break, the teacher isn’t too concerned. Besides, the build itself has already done more for him than he ever thought it would.
“Two and a half years ago, I was not ‘in the moment,'” he explains. “Things can go wrong in the future, things have gone wrong in the past, and I always dwelt on that. I’d wake up in the middle of the night worrying about it all. But what I’ve learned from teaching, what I’ve learned from building this boat, has allowed me to be much more present in life.”
It’s a lesson we can all take away, even if we don’t decide to build kayaks of our own.