Comparo: Sawfish 12 and Chuckanut 12 Vs. Ws Pungo 120

by Jim Brown Sweetwater, Tennessee - USA

This is a sequel to the 4-part Chuckanut 12 build articles and the 2-part Sawfish 12 build articles.

The purpose of this tome is to fulfil the promise made, after building both the Chuckanut 12 and the Sawfish 12, to compare both boats on the water. My objective is not to state which is the “best”, but to point out the pros and cons of each, and compare them to a known bench mark, the Wilderness Systems Pungo 12, one of the best recreational kayaks ever made, and one which we previously owned for about 14 years and still remains in production. All three are recreational kayaks, of approximately 12’x28″.

The morning of June 7, 2017 dawned somewhat cloudy, but with no rain forecast, so we lowered the Sawfish and Chuckanut from their garage ceiling hoists to the J-Racks on the roof of our trusty Subaru Forester, strapped them down and headed out the overhead door. We didn’t get far! Even though our previous plastic Pungoes, when mounted on Thule Stackers cleared the door openings with no problem, neither of these boats, with similar beam measurements would clear!

I had decided that our Thule Stackers were not appropriate for the fabric covered Chuckanut 12, as the Stackers pushed against the fabric in an unsupported area just under the gunnel, threatening to damage or stretch the fabric, so I had ordered two sets of J-Racks from Amazon for $40 to handle these more delicate boats easily. Unfortunately, these racks raised the boat about one inch, thus causing the clearance problem. No big deal. We just removed the boats, moved the Forester outside, and remounted them.

The venue was the Notchy Creek Wildlife Recreation Area on Tellico Lake near Vonore TN, which is part of the TVA System of lakes and rivers. There are two paved ramps and numerous grassy areas suitable for launching kayaks.

The cast of characters:
Jim Brown, age 83, 6′-3″, 220 lbs;
Carole Brown, wife, age 78, 5′-4″, 130 lbs;
Tom Brown, son, age 49, 6′-2″, 195 lbs.

Jim and Carole have been recreational kayakers on & off for about 20 years, with no whitewater or big ocean experience, just smooth paddling in lakes or salt water estuaries of the ICW, and do not consider ourselves to be much more than novices. Tom had paddled kayaks only a few times before. So, we are not expert kayakers, perhaps just typical casual kayak owners.

As the day progressed, the slight breeze increased into a moderate crosswind.

Being an old engineer, I have arranged the categories of comparison into a table:

What does all this mean? It all depends on who you are and what you want.

If money is no object, the best thing would be to buy a new Pungo 12, or better yet, find a good used one. I recently sold our two Pungoes (120 and 140) for $800 within hours of putting them on the Knoxville Craigslist. (That was before I realized what new ones would cost these days.) They were 14 years old, but in excellent shape and had always been stored indoors or under roof.

If you want to spend less money, like working with wood, you can obtain the marine plywood for the frames and western red cedar for the stringers locally for a good price, like the appearance of craftsmanship and the unique structure of skin-on-frame, and are agile enough for the more difficult ingress and egress, go with the Chuckanut 12. I am sure you will be able to build one that is lighter and for less money than was my experience. For instance, I had used GCI SitBacker stadium seats in both boats, which cost $27 each and weighed 3 to 5 pounds each depending on mounts needed. Perhaps this boat could be built in the 30-35 pound range.

If you want to spend even less money, want the most bang for the buck, want the lightest of these boats together with good recreational performance, and don’t mind a little wetter ride due to no coamings, go with the Sawfish 12. I think this boat can be built even lighter, perhaps down in the 25-28 pound range.

The concensus of this little group was that we liked handling and paddling the Sawfish 12 better than the Chuckanut 12. The Sawfish 12 had a 3″ deep foam bottom strake, which gave it excellent tracking in the crosswind. It also had a neat place to carry a small Playmate cooler in the bow, and a waterproof storage area under the rear deck for carrying dry clothes or whatever. My Sawfish was built somewhat differently from Rowerwet’s instructions, as it used 4 layers of 2″ foam rather than 3, and therefore had more freeboard than the original.

The Chuckanut was heavier, and sat with the bow high and the stern low, even with the seat moved 3″ forward of the rear bulkhead. The crosswind tended to blow the high bow off course. The seat should be moved further forward. There was no convenient storage area (my fault as I had mounted foam flotation in areas that could be used for storage, though that storage would not be waterproof). Also, it was somewhat more difficult to dewater the paddle drippings from the Chuckanut.

So what do we plan to do next? If I were to build another kayak today, it would be another modified Sawfish 12. I have some ideas for improvements. But summer is a time for paddling, not building, except maybe on rainy days.

However, a more serious question for Carole and myself is whether we really want to do much more paddling. As you might discern from our priorities, we are at an age when we are not as agile nor physically able as we once were, especially me. Other folks with other priorities might well decide on different preferences from us.

One option for us is to make more use of our Gheenoe 15-4, with it’s super reliable 5 HP Mercury 4-stroke, to explore the many local lakes. I had bought the 1980 Gheenoe a few years ago, and restored it to like-new condition. It is mounted on a galvanized trailer capable of carrying many times the weight of the Gheenoe, so no overhead lifting required. Just hitch-up and go.

I hope this simple comparo has been helpful to anyone considering building a kayak. Of course there are many other possibilities and lots of plans are available these days from sources like Duckworks Magazine and Messing About in Boats, including everything from gorgeous strip-built museum-grade pieces of art to ultra-light designs by Platt Monfort. A few pix are attached. Happy building and paddling!


  1. Wow, great post and clear comparison table. Arthritic 66yo here so I feel your pain. Donated my Old Town Pack but now I miss it. Got an 6-hr Classic Cajun Piroge kit 10 years ago, could build this Winter if I can volunteer my 90yo Daddy and his shop. Time for another light canoe.
    My pretty Innova Swing I high-tech, high pressure inflatable is fun but clamoring out of the cockpit is becoming problematic, camp baggage is limited, and it shed the very necessary fin skeg in Loon Lake-kindly replaced by the Czech firm after some friendly email browbeating. Lace the new one to the boat hearafter!

  2. Thanks. I found the Sawfish 12, even with the 4 layers of foam vs the 3 standard to be very easy to get in and out of. Sort of like a “sit-on-top”, but much drier ride. I might build another one this winter, this time “adding maximum lightness” as Colin Chapman the famous Lotus designer would say. Goal might be 25-27 pounds.

  3. Nicely done, Jim. I like your Sawfish – it sounds pretty comfy.
    I should mention that – unless it contained razor blades – your original roof rack would not damage the skin. It is not delicate, at all.

    For the benefit of other potential builders, we have built numerous Chuckanut 12s that came in under 30lbs/13.6kg. And, as Jim states, for best results, the seat should be positioned 6″ or more (depending on the paddler) in front of the aft end of the cockpit.

    Happy paddling, Jim. I hope you will keep writing, too.

  4. Dave, Thank you for the feedback. I will move the seat further forward, and see how it goes. My 220# butt probably contributed to the low stern as well. Also, will try the Thule Stacker roof racks again on the new ride. Recently traded the 2011 Forester on a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek, which is a little lower, and easier to tie down the boats on the roof.
    I still love the idea of the skin-on-frame construction, but the materials are hard to come by around here, and are expensive to have shipped in. Have even thought about just building a frame to display on the wall. It is beautiful! Not sure mama would agree.

  5. Glad to hear that you like the sawfish 12.
    I’ve modified (and continue to) the instructable as I receive feedback. One change was the higher sides and thicker decks, as you discovered.
    The original sawfish kayak survived three years of abuse and neglect, as I was trying to see what the boat could take before it failed.
    I couldn’t stand the way she looked anymore, and I wanted sawfish to reflect the updates to the original idea, so I stripped off the fabric and reshaped the hull, added the taller sides, and thicker decks.
    I also found a ton of foam that could be carved out of the ends, giving more cargo space, and less weight.
    I’m currently working on a second cockpit behind the main one for people who take along a dog, kid, or fishing crate.
    As you mentioned, summer is paddling time, so the build has been sitting.
    I hope you have many more years to enjoy your kayaks, I designed them for an older couple who couldn’t lift their plastic boats anymore (my parents) and they have been doing more paddling now than before I built their new kayaks.

  6. Thanks Josh, I hope to get out on the water more, now that the air is cooler but the water is still warm. I am now mulling over some ideas for a 2-person foam sailing trimaran, maybe 16 ft. Perhaps I will start by modifying the Sawfish, but then move on to a new design. The plan is to make it light but inexpensive, just like the Sawfish. You have really started something.

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