An update on the Nordkapp project

If you have been following the blog, you’ll no doubt notice that the boat shown on the Bute trip is the Nordkapp I bought in June last year. I haven’t posted about any of the trips this boat has done since the “New project” post, so I guess an update is in order.

Starting to cut the original footrest brackets

As expected, removing the existing footrests was an awkward job, working with a saw at arm’s reach inside a small cockpit, generating fibreglass dust. Taking out the forward bulkhead was even harder ! With both of those jobs done, the boat was no longer seaworthy, so adding a new front bulkhead was the next priority. Not being able to sit in the boat and measure to my feet via the front hatch simultaneously, I was a bit conservative about the placement of the new bulkhead, and it is an inch or two forward of the ideal. However, it still adds several inches more cargo space forward. With a two-inch thick piece of foam added, the boat is a nice tight fit for me, and could be sold on to someone a bit taller. I had decided not to add adjustable footrests as this would not increase the forward cargo space by as much, and I was wanting this boat to carry more kit than my others.

The new forward bulkhead seen beyond traces of the original bulkhead

I removed the seat and added a foam one, then put some little cleats at each side of the cockpit to add a backrest from an old whitewater boat and be able to tighten this up once in the boat. This is effective, but the amount of space to get your fingers in once sat in the tight cockpit wearing full drysuit etc. makes it very fiddly. Closed cell foam knee bumps, currently Gorilla taped in place to see if I have got the position right (the left one isn’t quite right yet), do ensure that the paddler is well-connected to the boat (which is easy to roll) and will eventually be made into something more robust and permanent. Current experience getting in and out of the boat has slightly put me off the idea of a knee tube, but this partly relates to the shoulder injury skiing last year, so if getting out of the boat gets easier the idea might resurface. The next job was to reduce cockpit volume by adding a bulkhead behind the backrest (and adding a day hatch to make that space usable for kit). There is a deck fitting in the middle of the deck which made the space available for hatch rather small, and as the deck is quite curved, I needed to fabricate a laminated wooden annulus, sanded to a curve on the underside, to provide a flat surface on which to mount the hatch. This proved a little time consuming, but did produce a visually satisfying result. Unfortunately, the hatch is not big enough for some of the stuff you’d naturally think to pack in a day hatch. It also seems to leak rather a lot, which seems to be that water is getting past the O-ring because I didn’t get the mounting surface flat enough. Some trips it hardly seems to leak, others it is quite annoying. That may relate to how much the boat get cooled down (reducing pressure inside the compartment) when putting on the water. More work needed here – the central deck fitting is really not doing anything useful, so I may decide to start again, build a recess, and go for a bigger VCP hatch like most modern boats have here.

The day hatch being epoxied in place – temporary bolts are far longer than ones finally fitted

The forward hatch seems to stay almost dry, but the aft hatch also leaks a little. It is far from clear if this is a hatch cover not fitting tightly enough or if there is some leakage in the hull. As the hatch covers were supposedly almost new, a bit of testing is going to be needed here. I’ve decided that there isn’t space to fit the footpump. I’ve not converted the existing compass fitting into something for a GoPro, as I have just managed to obtain an old Sestrel Junior compass (for which the recess was designed) and will be fitting that once I figure out a way to keep it removable so it doesn’t get scratched during transport of multiple boats on the car roof.

It became clear when the seat was removed that the boat had a history of seating mods. Along with some paint removal inside, I also got rid of a lot of glass and resin which was not contributing to the structure and eventually sanded well down into the final layer of the original fibreglass. Then, when the bulkhead went in (made from three pieces of 6mm ply with 4 oz glass on the back) it was covered with a single piece of 6 oz glass that extended right over the seat area, compensating for any structural weakness that had arisen over that history.

The new aft bulkhead and day-hatch cover fitted

However, the boat is in a fully usable condition (as one would be packing stuff in drybags anyway) and has had a few trips out. First up was going to be a three day trip from Lochaline to Loch Sunart, so this first test was with the boat loaded up with a lot of kit. Conditions were windy, but there is not a lot of fetch in the Sound of Mull, so waves were small and choppy. Unfortunately, one member of the party wasn’t able to make enough progress into the headwind to get us to our intended camping spot. The wind was forecast to change the next day (which would give us a following sea and then shelter once in the Loch), but we were very uncertain of being able to complete the trip in time to meet another participant’s on-call commitment the day after. So rather than continue under time pressure, we aborted and headed back to Lochaline. The wind did indeed change, as forecast, so this was once again straight into a headwind. The boat was great, but not really very tested as the distances were short and the pace quite slow. I was now confident that the boat was stable when fully loaded, but knew that its reputation for being wobbly and difficult came mainly from people paddling them empty.

2018 saw a sea come-and-try-it day at Runswick Bay, so I took her out with no ballast at all. There wasn’t much wind, but there were waves and a little surf to play in, all of which she handled fine. I then noticed that a group of paddlers had decided to head across to Kettle Ness, and promptly gave chase. This demonstrated that the boat can be paddled quite fast, as I caught up with the group well before they reached the destination. Conditions were never really lumpy though, so not a great deal was proved here. The next trip was to be from Amble to Boulmer, via Coquet Island if conditions suited. The boat wasn’t quite empty (I took lunch and a few bits and pieces of kit) and conditions were quite windy, so were not deemed suitable for the addition of Coquet Island. However, we did get a surf landing (and launch) at lunchtime. Playing among the rocks after lunch exposed us to some surprise waves and a bit of reactive paddling in addition to the wind, and the boat continued to prove easy to manage.

With the addition of the Bute trip, I’ve now had the boat on the sea for eight days, two empty, six loaded, one solo. Despite not having an adjustable skeg, the boat is consistently close to wind-neutral, though she seems hard to turn up into the wind when loaded. The big fixed skeg at the back makes her track solidly when you want to go in a straight line (I’ve found it very easy to keep on a transit) but a lot of effort to turn when playing among rocks. She turns to a lean well when going at speed, but less so when moving slowly. Compared to say, the P&H Cetus which I paddled with a very heavy load in Alaska, she needs a lot more edge to turn, and doesn’t turn noticeably more easily on the top of a wave. So at some stage I think I am going to start paring away at that fixed skeg. Whether I then feel the need to fit a drop skeg will be an interesting experiment.

One of the ideas behind buying an old Nordkapp in the first place was to take the lines and use those as a starting point for my own boat design, to strip-build, assuming I liked the Nordkapp itself, of course. Despite the 1970’s description of the Nordkapp as retaining the rocker of the Anas whilst adding volume, I don’t think that really stacks up – the sheer line is really rather straight and the keel not as rockered as the earlier boat. Adding rocker will add stability, but also fore and aft windage, which makes wind-neutrality more trim-critical. I guess that if I derive a boat based on the Nordkapp but putting back (some of) the Anas rocker, I will end with a design which does need a drop skeg, but should be a bit more manoeuvrable among the skerries and a bit more stable for photography whilst still being able to pack gear for a long trip. Whether that also proves capable of handling the really rough conditions under which the Nordkapp is known to excel will depend on my acquiring the skills to get the most out of the Nordkapp and then tweaking the design successfully. Many hours of fun ahead !

A new project

For some time I’ve been wanting a more expedition-orientated sea kayak capable of carrying gear for longer trips than the Mistral (no more than a week) and the Cormorant (five days is definitely the limit). I paddled a Cetus for the ten days in Alaska, and whilst conditions were never challenging, I definitely felt the boat was very pedestrian. The received wisdom is that if you don’t try a Nordkapp, you will always have nagging doubts about whether you missed out on the best possible expedition boat. Nordkapps have a reputation for being unstable and unforgiving, but this arises largely from people paddling them empty when they were designed to carry a big load – up to 90kg – and were never intended for casual day trips. The boat has also suffered from “genetic drift” over the years since the 1975 original, such that even Valley describe the early twenty first century versions as a “caricature” of the original design. For this reason, in 2015, they introduced the Nordkapp Førti, with the benefit of an original boat repurchased and measured. This is widely acknowledged to be a far better boat than the models which preceded it. Of course, two and half grand is a lot to pay out for a new boat to see if you like it, and even enough trips in a demo boat in increasingly challenging conditions is going to set one back by more than the cost of an early model boat on ebay.

Hence, I’ve been watching ebay for a while, and when a 1970’s Nordkapp HM came up fairly locally, I was definitely in there bidding. Remarkably, no-one else seemed to be keen, and the boat was mine for a song, and seems to be in remarkably good condition. As with many of these old boats, the pump behind the cockpit has either failed or been deemed useless and removed, replaced with a rather ugly metal plate. The bulkheads are in positions which leave a huge volume of cockpit to fill with water in a rescue, and the old failsafe footrest is still in place. The boat (which appears to have been originally orange like a lot of these older kayaks) has been thickly painted white above the sheer, and red below. I’m in two minds as to whether to go to the trouble of removing this paint (which would save a bit of weight) and restoring the gelcoat. Much of the other work is already decided and some of the bits and pieces already ordered.

Late 1970s Nordkapp HM bought 2017-06-22

New aft bulkhead
There’s a huge dead volume behind the cockpit. A new curved and sloped bulkhead will reduce cockpit volume by over 25 litre, and a dayhatch will rather more tidily fill the space where the old Chimp pump was removed.
Modern footrests
Removing the fibreglass plates which support the old-style footrest will be a pain, and whilst I’ve done this job before, it was in an old McNulty Seaglass double which had a lot more space in which to work. However, I very definitely do need either a bulkhead footrest (if the boat is just for me) or more modern adjustable footrests (if I decide to retain the flexibility for others to use it – or, of course, to sell it on). Since I have two sets of footrests not used on previous projects and one set removed from Mary’s Romany, there’s no excuse not to fit one pair of these. I don’t want, however, to bolt through the hull, so I’ve ordered glass-in studs from Fyne Boat Kits which should enable me to fit footrests without making holes. Always assuming I can find the space to work, of course.
New forward bulkhead
The forward bulkhead is far enough forward for a paddler of seven foot eleventeen, which I’m not. Even if I fit adjustable footrests and allow enough room for a taller paddler, I can have a bulkhead much further aft than the one fitted now. This will both reduce cockpit volume and increase cargo space. It’s a bit more committing than adding an extra aft bulkhead, as the existing bulkhead will need to be removed.
Foot pump
Many years ago I bought a Henderson foot pump and fitted it into a bulkhead-shaped piece of glassed-over marine ply, with the idea of putting it into my Mistral (whose forward bulkhead left me a couple of inches to play with). However, I never got round to deciding where to place the outlet pipe and this piece of kit languishes in the barn awaiting a home. If I’m fitting a new bulkhead in the Nordkapp, this would be an obvious opportunity to add the pump. The problem still remains, of course, of deciding where to feed the outlet pipe…
Seat and backband
The original seat has already been replaced, and I can’t say I like the one now in the boat any better, so I’ll be removing this and adding a foam seat with hip pads. I will also be seeing if it is possible to add an adjustable back band with ratchets – although the small sized Ocean cockpit may make this impractical.
Knee tube
Ocean cockpits don’t really go well with the sort of thigh braces seen in keyhole cockpits. The Nordkapp was designed with the intention of a more straight-legged paddling position, and there is evidence that a foam knee-bump was at one time fitted in this boat. A knee tube is generally a more solid support for bracing the knees as well as useful storage space, but does make getting in and out of the boat (particularly for deep water rescues) more difficult. I’ll tack in a temporary knee tube to see if this makes the boat too hard to use, and if not, this will become a permanent feature.
The “M” in the model name reflects the Modified hull shape in response to the rather severe weathercocking of the very first boats. The HM has a deep extension to the keel aft, which reduces weather helm, but can make the boat hard to turn without radical edging. Modern practice is to fit boats with a drop skeg, and a number of people have trimmed down the HM fixed skeg and retrofitted a retractable one. I’ll paddle the boat for a while before deciding whether to take this step – it is clear that a retrofit to this boat is difficult without removing the deck. I would hope to be able to fit a skeg offset from the keel line (like the Islands Kayaks Expedition) to reduce the tendency to jamming. If this looks practical, then I’ll probably fit a conventional wire-operated skeg. If the space available only allows a skeg on the keel line, I’ll have to consider options to avoid the usual risk of a jammed skeg and a kinked cable.
Compass and video
The compass recess doesn’t accept any of the kayak compasses currently on the market, though Sestrel models for which the recess was designed are occasionally available secondhand. However, it became very obvious the first time I sat in the boat that the recess is in almost the perfect location for a GoPro mount, whilst a compass would usefully mount further forward, possibly in a newly built recess.

Blowtorch and tentpeg

Not the equipment that immediately springs to mind when someone says “welding”, but patching the sort of hole that losing a foot off the end of an old school boat leaves does need a bit of “plastic volcanics”. A pool test tonight will see if it is remotely waterproof, or just drops off at the first attempt to launch… and the verdict is that it remains my driest boat – hardly a drop of water inside after fifty or so rolls.

Yeah… it’s kind of untidy, with sticky out corners. If it survives the first test, I may have a go at melting the corners down to a more rounded shape that will leave the inevitably brittle plastic a little less vulnerable. I reckon it will be OK to paddle the Tees again this Sunday, but may not cope well with a boater-cross.

Borealis bow assembly progress

The freshly laminated hunks of wood from yesterday have seen some sawing, planing and belt-sanding, to get them looking roughly as the design intended, though there is still a bit of work before they can be put into place on the strongback. However, getting this far was easier than I’d expected, and quite a bit of what has to be done will not be possible until strips are in place.

The Upper bow piece marked for initial trimming

The two bow pieces after rough shaping

The lower bow piece is still not quite the right shape – there is a thin lamination (probably American White Ash) to apply to both the upper and lower edges, and at the moment, that wouldn’t quite clear the upper bow piece – there needs to be a clear gap, both to look right and to stand any chance of glassing the bow properly. The lower part also needs tapering quite a bit more, but this will wait until after stripping. The upper edge needs a bit of rounding over, which will be done after the ash is laminated in place and before stripping, since sanding this shape will be a lot easier without the upper bow piece in the way ! The upper bow piece needs a rebate for the strips to be glued into, and the critical flared shape needs more sanding – currently it’s convex, which needs to change. The main aim of getting this far (before the forms are set up on the strongback) is to reassure myself that I am on the right track. Need to do the same thing with the stern next.

Another view of the bow assembly

The Borealis project finally moves

It is twelve years since I finished building Geyrfugl, and soon after that project, I started work on a project of my own design, which I called Borealis (the name of the design, not of the boat I intended to build to that design). Inspired by reading George Dyson’s book “Baidarka”, and by Rob Macks’ elegant North Star design, I wanted to build my own hardshell interpretation of the Aleut Baidarka, a boat evolved in the open north Pacific Ocean. The name is Russian (the Aleut word is Iqyax) and the form reached its pinnacle during the period of Russian enslavement of the Aleuts in the late nineteenth century when sea otter were still abundant before the fur trade caused them to be hunted way beyond sustainable levels.

My starting point was a baidarka collected (a very neutral word avoiding saying whether the boat was given, bought or taken) from Atka Island by Margaret Lantis in 1934 (and therefore one of the last of its kind). This went to the Lowie Museum under its accession number LM 2-14886 (now the Hearst Museum) where it was surveyed by David Zimmerley in 1978. A number of people have built replicas, both skin-on-frame and hard-shell boats, and others have used it as a starting point. I wanted a boat suitable for long trips with lots of food and gear, and I’m probably heavier than the Aleut paddler for (and probably by) which the boat was built. Zimmerley’s drawn waterline is based on a 68 kg paddler with no extra equipment, and I’m 85kg. With camping gear and food for two weeks and typically water for two or three days, I was going to want to take up to 30 kg of equipment, too. The boat itself would weigh maybe 20 kg, so I was looking for a displacement of more like 130kg. Having faired out the lines, I lengthened the boat to 5.5m, and increased the beam in proportion. Initially I also increased the depth, which gave me a huge volume boat. As I refined my ideas, it became clear that a boat that was too deep would float too high, catch the wind, and also be a poor fit for knee-bracing and rolling. Accordingly, I revised the depth downwards among a lot of more minor changes.

The design as it stood almost a decade ago (click for a bigger version)

I now had a design which was sufficiently different from the original that my confidence in it’s being what I wanted was a little thin. I wrote more software to calculate centres of lateral resistance and wind resistance and other naval architecture statistics to help me see if the design made sense. In the meantime, I decided to build another boat entirely, which became my fast (but none too stable) Greenland-style kayak based on the Squeedunk Cormorant design with a stitch-and-glue hull and stripped deck. Experience paddling that boat fed back into my ideas about the Borealis design. I reduced the deadrise a little by filling out the bilges. I sought to reduce the risk of lee helm by deepening the keel over the forward two metres of the boat, as I had already raised the foredeck to get a raked cockpit to ease entry and exit. I ended by re-scaling the boat to 5.4m with the idea of building a stitch-and-glue prototype which, at the shorter length, I could build with only one scarf joint in the panels – 5.5m was just too long. But about that time also, I built an external strongback, as a plywood box-beam. On this I set up stations for forms at the positions appropriate to the 5.5m strip-build design. I experimented with a few ideas for construction of the bow and stern, none of which were going to make it into a final boat.

The strongback patiently waiting with stations set up…

Since I was now paddling Piqqalujamik takujumavunga and also still had my North Shore boat, the urge to get on and build the Baidarka was rather less and the strongback lay gathering dust in the barn (5.5m is too long for the workshop in which I built the first two boats). Meanwhile I worked on other designs, and contemplated a Yost-style folding boat based on the Anas Acuta, but found some of the materials difficult to source. I got as far as building another small strongback for a whitewater playboat design based on the Fluid Flirt, but as I then acquired a real plastic Flirt, and building a strip playboat looked quite difficult, this didn’t progress far, either.

Ten years have now slipped away and I’ve done a lot of whitewater paddling in that decade, but not a great deal of sea kayaking in the last couple of years. 2014 is the year Mary will retire, and there are some big sea kayaking plans to come. We are already committed to going to St. Kilda in the summer and I don’t want to do that in the Cormorant. The Mistral will need a bit of work (hatch seals have been damaged over the years I’ve owned this boat) and perhaps I’d like a more distinctive kayak for such a location. After returning from Uganda, I had the Cormorant at a pool session and thought that the aft cockpit rim was a little too high for a comfortable roll on the back deck. I reviewed the Borealis offsets and made a few decisions, one of which was to lower the sheer by 3 cm amidships to enable me to have a cockpit recess low enough to get the aft rim down. Another was to abandon my usual “ocean” style short cockpit and go for a more modern keyhole style, which would make self-rescue and re-entry easier. In January, work has actually started on the boat. I’ve lofted about half the forms, and I’ve cut various wood for the bows. Today saw the first bit of epoxy mixed (only 8 ml of it) and material for the upper and lower bow pieces laminated together. There are other important bits and pieces for the build in the post, and a new table saw is in place to cut strips. Aside: I cut all the strips for both the previous boats on a small bandsaw. This cuts a much thinner kerf than a table saw, so wastes a lot less wood, but produces a finish on the strips that requires a lot more planing/sanding. As I have enough salvaged Western Red Cedar board from ceilings removed in the house to build six or eight boats, and I’m unlikely to live long enough for that, I decided that wood wastage was less of a concern than was keeping the sanding work to a minimum, so a table saw is the solution. More sawdust will just make our paths a bit less muddy …

The lower bow piece is 6mm ply with Mahogany laminated each side

As usual, I am using salvaged wood – the 6mm ply is left over from another project, whilst the mahogany used to be part of the window or door frames in the conservatory, before this was rebuilt when its double-glazing was reaching end-of-life. The laminations were cut to shape from a thick piece of wood (24mm or so) and then cut into two thinner pieces on the bandsaw. The pieces were still more than thick enough, and will need to be reduced, but they are very hard to hold, and I decided to laminate the bow piece to give a bigger lump to put in the vice.

The upper bow piece is laminated from two pieces of mahogany

The thickest piece of old-window-frame was not going to be enough, so I cut two pieces between old screw holes, and routed a 3mm deep rebate in each one so that, now the pieces are epoxied together, there is a neat 6mm slot into which the ply from the lower bow piece will fit neatly. There will be a bit of ugly bodge clamping to do at first, but once strips start being laid, these will hold everything in place. There’s a lot of material to remove before the upper bow piece has the right shape. The surface to the right in this photo will eventually be the deck. My workshop is not (yet) heated this year, so the epoxy is curing on top of our oil boiler. This will produce a rising temperature, but outgassing from the wood isn’t an issue as it would be if I was applying a sealing coat or glassing – here bubbles would not really matter in the epoxy, but air can escape from the other wood surfaces anyway. For some later steps it will be necessary to have the components and epoxy warm to start with and cured in a cooling workshop. Can’t leave it until summer though, as I will want to be paddling this boat by the end of May if I’m to take it to St. Kilda in July.

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 !

Two Canadian Paddles

Paddles are great little projects that only take a few hours to produce something attractive, functional and personal. I’d already carved an Aleut-style paddle and built a 45°-feather euro-style sea paddle. Basic canoe paddles are actually easier, as the blades aren’t curved and there is no awkward scarf joint to establish the feather. I was going to make two small ones for the kids to use in our big open boat.

I had various woods to play with, so I could choose each for a specific purpose. The shaft was mainly Western Red Cedar to keep the weight down, but with a thin lamination of American White Ash on each side both to improve ding-resistance in pry strokes, and to add to the stiffness. The blades would use two contrasting colours of softwood – Western Red Cedar and so-called Redwood Pine (this is actually plantation-grown Scots Pine, no relation to Redwood at all). The handles needed to be a hardwood to take a good finish, so I used some scrap Maple and small laminations of left-over African Padauk for a colour contrast. I started by cutting a V-shaped scarf joint between the Maple and the Cedar core of the shaft and planing the other end of the shaft core to a fine taper.

Next I laminated thin layers of American White Ash on either side of the shaft, overlapping over the Maple of the handle and coming close together over the tapering bottom end of the shaft.

Also at this stage I laminated two pieces each of Pine and Cedar, then cut the resulting block into four thinnish slices. Having planed the shaft into first an octagonal shape and then brought it down to round (with a spokeshave and then sanding) over most of its length, I epoxied a slice of the Pine/Cedar laminate to each side of the tapered end of the shaft.

Once all the epoxy was well-cured, I cut the blade shapes with the bandsaw, then, with blockplane, spokeshave and eventually sandpaper, I tapered the blades towards the end and the edges, whilst blending in the shaft.

I applied a small piece of Padauk to each side of the Maple handle, and shaped this to fit the hand. I applied some personalised graphics to each blade, and glassed over just the ends of the blade to provide some protection against abrasion. The rest of the paddle was just sealed with epoxy.

Spot the mistake ! This paddle is 40 inches, not 40 cm (that really would be a bit small), but this didn’t seem to be noticed by the judges at the Bowes Show…

A low-angle sea paddle

I’d seen some (expensive, all-carbon) sea kayak paddles in Knoydart’s shop in Penrith which had long narrow blades, for low-angle paddling styles and perhaps closer to Greenland or Aleut type blades than conventional paddles (though still feathered, like euro-style), more similar to the ones I use for white water. I’d rather fancied having a go with these, but wasn’t about to shell out a huge amount on a paddle I might not like. So it seemed like a no-brainer to simply build some paddles in that style and see how I got on, even though there would be a bit more weight.

The shaft was made from a piece of Western Red Cedar, with a thin lamination of American White Ash either side to add stiffness without the weight of a solid hardwood shaft. In this first attempt, it didn’t occur to me to taper the Cedar core towards the ends, which would have meant that the ash laminations would have reached to the paddle tip in the final product. Of more concern and causing me greater difficulty was cutting a long scarf joint in the middle to give me the 45° feather. I built a jig to make the cut, but it wasn’t quite rigid enough and I got the angle slightly off, so the shaft ended up with a slight bend in the middle. Doesn’t seem to cause any problem, though.

I laminated three planks of Western Red Cedar together, and made a ply template to draw curves on the edge of the block. Then I cut along these curves with the bandsaw to produce four tapered and curved half-blades. After a bit of sanding to clean these up, they were epoxied onto the sides of the shaft, and the blade outline cut, again with the bandsaw. The shafts were then sanded down to blend in to the blade curve, leaving a raised spline on the non-power faces

I sealed the blades with an epoxy coating, then added an epoxy-soaked nylon cord edge to protect the end-grain of the blade tip. This was held in place with spring clamps over slips of polythene film while the epoxy was setting.

I then glassed over the power faces of the blades with 4 oz satin-weave cloth. Once cured, I trimmed the edges of the glass and sanded to a round edge presenting no hazard to my hands. As the back face of the blades is in compression in use, and the ash lamination remained right to the blade tips on this face, I didn’t glass the back.

I used the blades for a trial paddle round the southern half of Windermere. It quickly became apparent that I was paddling at a considerably higher cadence than I used with my Lendal Nordkapp blades, but also going a bit faster and getting tired more quickly. Once I adjusted my cadence down a bit and was maintaining about my usual forward speed (having a GPS helped with this) I managed the full 15 miles non-stop without getting unduly knackered and the stress on my elbows seemed less (I do tend to notice that using large-area blades early in the season tends to cause tendinitis, which doesn’t occur later in the year when I’ve got used to long stretches of forward paddling).

The paddle after first trial on Windermere

I used the paddles again on the Treshnish Islands trip later in the year, which started with a very long day on the water with only one break (landing on Dutchman’s Cap was not possible in the big swell).

Borealis – early work

Although some limited work has begun in 2014 on a boat to my “Borealis” design, the project dates back way longer than that. Here’s the Strongback built for the project, shortly after completion on 2004-04-26. I’ll add a few photos of other more abortive bits of work towards this design shortly…

It was still clean then!

An early practice idea for the bow – 2002-11-25

Piqqalujamik takujumavunga – maiden voyages

Lake Bala 2003-04-13. Photo: Sue Sharman

The maiden voyage was 2003-04-09, on Ullswater, when I did a 7½ mile paddle in flat calm conditions. I managed 7.4 km/h average, coincidentally exactly the same speed as I had paddled Geyrfugl over a very similar course last October in quite choppy conditions. I paddled the Cormorant early season when less paddling fit, and using smaller Kinetic Touring blades, rather than the Nordkapp blades I had used in October, but formed the impression that the new boat was a little more sluggish, much as I expected from a hard chined boat of greater design displacement.

Lake Bala 2003-04-13. Photo: Sue Sharman

A couple of shorter paddles at the weekend after opening the skeg slot suggested that the boat produced significantly more wake than Geyrfugl when paddled hard, so the wave-making drag experienced at higher speeds does seem to be greater. However, with another paddler for a pace comparison, I didn’t paddle quite so hard, and the boat is very easy to drive at cruising speeds. She also tracks amazingly well – much better than I had expected – this is the only boat I have ever paddled where you can simply stop paddling and the boat will continue on a straight course. She responds well to a lean and carves a turn well at speed, but is quite an effort to spin when stationary – I had expected her to be a little more manouevrable at low speeds.

Lake Bala 2003-04-13

When stationary, she seems to be fairly wind-neutral, but weathercocks slightly when being paddled. The weathercocking is most noticeable in a quartering sea, and she wanted to broach when we were overtaken by a squall on Lake Bala. When the drop skeg is fitted, this should be exactly what is needed to counteract this effect, and enable me to continue putting all my effort into forward paddling. This is just as well, since at 52 cm overall beam, she feels quite tippy when stopped or slow moving in choppy water. A sea trial will be needed to see how she handles in a swell, which may be bigger, but should be less steep. Having a bigger displacement than Geyrfugl, and a more pronounced sheer, it is no surprise to find the bows ride higher and a much drier ride results. With the boat empty of equipment, and no split paddle on the aft deck, the trim is perhaps slightly bow heavy. A trial pack shows that I can readily get gear for a long weekend into the boat, though she would be expected to ride a little low in the water with me paddling – the design displacement makes her about right as a day boat for me, or a tripping boat for lighter members of the family.

An eight mile paddle on Derwent Water 2003-04-15 with the skeg fitted, and quite a lot of gear stowed (but not a full weekend’s camping load) was revealing. With a bit of breeze (but no squalls) and some reasonable waves, the boat doesn’t track quite as solidly as she did at the weekend, but dropping the skeg seems to counteract the broaching pretty well. Using Nordkapp blades, I managed to circumnavigate the lake at an average of 7.6 km/h, but this paddle involved quite a lot of very shallow water, where the boat really slows down, so that figure is undoubtedly an underestimate of the pace I could maintain in open water. Over one section, I managed to maintain over 9 km/h for quite a way as I worked to overhaul a motor boat (he was limited by the lake’s speed limit) – and this was directly into the force two to three headwind. With the load, the ride was a little wetter, but the stability was quite reassuring.