09 February 2009
On the weekend paddle, in a pod of 7 kayaks there were 4 with a clear coat carbon/Kevlar hull.
It was interesting to see so many different kayaks all finished with that magically looking cloth.
That made me think of some recent comments I have come across some posts on kayak forums: "...clear coat finish is not suitable for Australian conditions..."
My experience with several kayaks of mine in clear coat finish has been an eye opener on the subject.
While very attractive some clear coats can have limitations.
It is at times softer than gel coat, but not always.
Some clear coated kayaks are finished in vinylester resin while the more abrasion resistant ones, with a finish harder then gel coat, seem to be finished in epoxy.
Vinylester is designed for laying-up kayaks but at the same time offers decent UV protection therefore used as clear coat on a hull.
Unfortunately vinylester is not as abrasion resistant as gel coat and therefore will abrade faster than a traditionally finished hull.
I had one kayak that abraded prematurely and somehow initially I was very disappointed.
After some research I discovered literature from West System epoxy where a special UV resistant hardener was offered (#207).
I proceeded to repair my worn hull with a flash coat of epoxy 105/207.
The hull turned out really nice and shiny and I was happy with my repair.
The hull was now actually more abrasion resistant than standard gel coat.
Epoxy wears harder than gel coat and is way easier to apply.
Epoxy gives you a very long working time before it set off to harden.
It cures extremely shiny and no sanding or buffing is necessary.
Since the finish is transparent you can add a layer of fibreglass cloth (as you would in a keel strip) and the job would be barely noticeable.
You can maintain the shiny look for longer than on a gel coat boat.
Any surface scratches are easily buffed out.
However if your intended paddling environment will see you trashing your kayak on rocks, do seal launches off rocky shelves or you might envision holing your hull than perhaps a gel coat finish will allow you to perform a repair that cosmetically would be very hard (at times impossible) to achieve in clear coat.
So, for most common "mortal paddlers" (majority of kayakers) a clear coat finish is just fine.
Be prepared to maybe touch up that initial wear with epoxy and maybe add a keel strip but you will be able to have your hull shiny for longer.
In saying that I have worked on a few gel coat kayaks and with a bit of patience and the right gel coat color the repair became invisible. Matching the "color" on clear coat is not an issue: clear matches any color :-)
Go ahead, if you can afford it, have your next kayak in clear coat.
It certainly will not be mistaken for a plastic one.
But "vanity" has its price...