Hacking the Club Anas

The club (Swaledale Outdoor Club) has a modern double sea kayak, great for introducing new people to the sport. But the only single sea kayak we had was a very early (c 1971) Anas Acuta. This is a great boat for fairly experienced paddlers (it loves the rough!) but can feel wobbly to a beginner, and without a skeg, can be a bit of a handful in a wind. Being an old boat, there were no bulkheads, and only rather sad retro-fitted aft decklines. One result of this is that we have had some fraught rescues in the past when the weather has turned nasty quickly and new paddlers failed to cope. Without bulkheads, and typically no way to keep air bags in place, the boat was prone to filling with water and doing a “Cleopatra’s Needle” making it very hard indeed to empty out and get the swimmer back inside. As a consequence, the boat was being sadly neglected.

The obvious course of action was to bring it up to modern standards with bulkheads, hatches and decklines. Having got some experience of the type of work needed by building two sea kayaks, I undertook, initially, the fitting of bulkheads and hatches. This involved cutting a very large hole in the foredeck (somewhat committing!).

Building the front hatch recess (the bulkhead is already fitted)

Finding the right size and shape for bulkheads is easy on a boat you are building from scratch (with the hull and deck as separate pieces) but rather harder on a boat which is in one piece. However, much faffing with cardboard templates eventually produced a pattern for the front bulkhead. Once a large hole had been cut for a recess to take a 19cm round Valley hatch, actually fitting this bulkhead was fairly straightforward.

The finished front hatch recess and VCP hatch rim

One of the great things about the Anas is the low, flat, and very clean aft deck, which makes rolling easy and windage low. I didn’t want to spoil this by fitting a deck hatch, and as the boat would mostly be used on day trips or short overnighters, I opined that a hatch in the bulkhead would be adequate. The low deck meant that this would be a fairly small hatch, but a bit more room was gained by sloping the bulkhead, which also reduces the cockpit volume, making the boat easier to empty in a rescue. A screw-in hatch went in the centre of the bulkhead, and I added a little aluminium rod along the top as a place to clip elastics for the backrest, and maybe to attach your sponge or other bits and bobs in the cockpit. A bit of branding never goes amiss, so the boat proudly announced its ownership by the club.

The aft bulkhead with hatch and “clipping bar”

Although the seat made things a little awkward, the position for this bulkhead is a lot more accessible than the front one, so glassing it in place was fairly easy, even though access for the epoxy fillet on the back was by reaching through the hatch. An extra elbow or two might have made this easier, but, unlike the front bulkhead which takes a fair bit of abuse from the paddler’s feet, the aft bulkhead is not really stressed unduly, so strength was not such an issue – just watertightness, which could be ensured from the accessible side.

The aft bulkhead fitted behind the seat.

Unfortunately, at some time, someone had decided that aft decklines and deck elastics would be useful, and fitted these by simply drilling fourteen holes in the deck, threading shock-cord or deckline through, and then adding bathroom sealant. Given the amount of stress and movement in these, this probably would not have been ideal, even with marine rather than cheap bathroom sealant, but with the bulkheads in place, it became clear just how much these holes leaked. So the next task was to get rid of the cords and elastics, fill the holes, and provide proper watertight deck fittings. This would have been much easier before fitting the bulkheads, but at the time I did that job, I had not yet figured out a way to add deck fittings and wasn’t sure how much it mattered. This came three years later (long enough to get really pissed off with the level of leakage from the deck penetrations). The solution was to machine some deck fittings which would fit neatly into circular holes made in the deck. As I had a lot of recyclable mahogany to hand, a design was evolved and executed by routing out a round recess, drilling a hole which intersected the recess, and routing a rebate around the rim so the unit could be fitted into a deck hole from below. Once this work was done, the individual fittings could then be cut out, and the underside machined to a smooth shape which would not catch on bits of gear under the deck.

Four of the fittings after initial machining

As it happens, these worked out well from the first try, so the fact that I could do as much trial and error as needed never mattered. What was much more unnerving was making a series of really quite large holes in a perfectly good fibreglass boat. This was also done with the router (because this made it straightforward to get the hole’s position exactly right, and also was much easier for such large diameter holes than any kind of drill). On the photo you can see the old holes which had been used for deck elastics, now cleaned out.

Scary – making large holes in our mostly watertight boat

The issue that arose next was how to hold the things in place for the epoxy to set. No kind of clamp would do this job since the deck was firmly in place, on the boat. The solution was to pull the fittings up from above the deck using the aluminium bar which formed part of the fitting. To do this, I used a “Snoopy Loop” for each fitting. Snoopy loops are the big elastic bands cut from tyre inner tubes that cave divers use for quickly attaching their diving line to rocks, but they have a thousand and one other uses for the DIY enthusiast, so I always keep plenty handy.

Snoopy holding a fitting in place whilst the epoxy sets

Actually getting these things in place for seven deck fittings within the working time of a small batch of epoxy was a bit stressful (perhaps an extra pair of hands might have helped here). The one right at the stern, a very long way indeed from anywhere I could reach from below, was the most difficult. The idea was to put string through the deck hole, get this back to the hatch, tie it to the fitting, and pull the fitting to the hole. Then add the snoopy. Allowing the fitting to drop back into the boat allowed room to add the thickened epoxy, then pull the fitting into place, and hook the snoopy onto a preplaced hook in a piece of scrap wood. There were already some recessed deck fitting for the foredeck, although nothing to lead deck lines forward of the hatch. The deck at the bow is a bit too curved for these fittings to work (they will only fit into a flat surface), so the foredeck is still short on deck lines which would be a slight issue if you wanted to tow the boat. A solution involving a krab on the bow grap loop would probably be best.

Four of the fittings hooked up to pre-positioned cup-hooks

The other fittings were a bit more accessible and went a bit quicker, so I was indeed able to get all the fittings in place in one go before the epoxy started to set up. The photo also shows the old deck elastic holes filled in with epoxy – we finally have a water tight boat !

Have water – will paddle

May 6th is definitely “summer season” in Swaledale, with leaves on the trees, primroses and bluebells out in the woods, and tourist traffic on the roads. But water is where you find it, and with an overnight deluge, the Tees was right up (too high to play on Abbey Rapids) so I decided that the Swale owed me a trip this year (since the Charity paddle had to be abandoned owing to drought). On the water at 11:40 with a couple of inches over the concrete base of the bridge pier at Grinton and the river was at as nice a level as I’ve paddled it. No-one to complain, and a bit over an hour and a half later, I was at the bottom of Tree Rapid and shouldering the boat to return to the road and a rather blustery cycle ride back up the dale to retrieve the car. I know of two other people who paddled the river later in the day (right down to Richmond Falls). By the next day the river was in full spate and paddlers were out from Richmond down to Catterick. The river was still high enough for another trip, right down to Richmond, on Saturday. Maybe the days of fiercely fought access battles are behind us at last ?

Another week, another downpour – at least for our members in Leeds. The rain was caused by Caving Section booking a Birks Fell Cave permit, but it proved to be a bit less enthusiastic further north, the Tees didn’t come up that much and the Greta was definitely looking low. The plan was to paddle the Rawthey, which was looking unlikely, and so it proved, with the fallback to the Lune also at characteristic “It’s summer, you fools” sort of level. But a short jog further on found that the Kent was higher than last time the club paddled it in the winter, so once again, we had an excellent summer river. Three river trips in eleven days in May and, yet again, no-one moaning at us that canoeing wasn’t allowed !

Not a bad level for summer ! The bit of paddle sticking out indicates where Pete is in the aerated water…