24 November 2011

SHOP: repair a cracking coaming


In a previous post I mentioned that I reinforced the under-deck thigh brace area surrounding the coaming where I had hairline cracks appear in the coaming-deck junction.
Adventuretess' kayak (and several other ones of the same make) had the crack develop at the front of the coaming.
It appears that the deck is a a bit weak there, where the tight radius of the laminate meets the coaming, flexes too much and the gel coat cracks because is not elastic enough.
A friend of mine repaired the same type of crack on his kayak by reinforcing the underdeck and inspired me to stiffen up  Adveturetess' kayak too.
cracking deck_coaming
crack in the deck along the front of the coaming
I suspended the kayak on slings from the ceiling, turned it upside down and brought it to shoulder height; it is much easier to work inside the cockpit of an elevated kayak than bending over on the floor.
I made sure that the area was first thoroughly washed with fresh water, dried and then cleaned with acetone. I inspected the laminate but it didn't show any cracks in the fabric.
For the reinforcement I used scraps of carbon fibre cloth (unidirectional and woven), but quality fibreglass cloth could have been used instead; carbon fibre is just a bit stiffer.
dry lay up
(wire and reed for magnetic switch showing)

I chopped the cloth into short strips so they were easier to lay around a curved shape. I used several layers of carbon cloth, overlapping. I exclusively use West System epoxy for my work and for this area, exposed to daylight, I mixed 105/207 since it's UV stabilized. Epoxy allows me to work in small batches, does not produce too many toxic fumes and has excellent adhesion to most composite laminates.
I often hear that paddlers are scared to use resins and do their own repairs. Mixing epoxy is dead easy and is feels like watery honey. If you clean the area to be repaired repair well and keep the work tidy a job like this one is not more difficult than smearing honey onto a cloth, really.

wetting out layer1

I saturated the carbon cloth making sure there was enough resin against the kayak deck, pushing the fabric into the tight curve of the under deck. I finished the repair with a top layer of fine fibreglass twill cloth to create a smooth surface while absorbing possible excess epoxy.
glass layer
Top layer of fine fibreglass. Resin only partially saturating the cloth.
After all the layers were saturated (white fibreglass becomes transparent) I cleaned up any spills on the exterior of the coaming with methylated spirits (alcohol).
clean up

I left the epoxy cure for 24 hours (25C temps) and then smoothed any fibreglass spikes with sandpaper.

I am not sure if I will repair the cosmetic hairline crack on the outside of the deck since I don't have the factory matching gel coat from Valley. It takes a fair amount of trial and error to mix up the perfect tint to match the color.
The deck now feels very solid and the hairline crack does not expand when pressure is applied.


08 November 2011

GEAR: Flat Earth Sail Code ZERO

Flat Earth Kayak Sails has provided me with a new sail for testing.
I have been very satisfied with the design and quality of Mick's sails in the past and I now use them exclusively on all of my kayaks.
I believe the design is superior to the ones I designed and they are easier to use.
While Mick can supply a complete sail set (sail, mast, deck fittings and sheet) I use my own rig that is slightly different to his standard approach.
I was keen to try his high mounted sails with the stays below the boom for this new sail but I realized I would have to modify some deck anchors so I decide to simply slip the new sail on my existing mast and stays; there has been no modifications to the rigging.
The new sail uses Code Zero sail cloth: a very thin but very dimensionally stable material that has reinforcement filaments laminated into the surface.
The material does not stretch and does not wet out as much as conventional sail cloth keeping the sail light and maintaining its shape when dunked in the water.
I still remember the difference a wet or dry sail made when I used to windsurf: after a water start the sail seemed sluggish and slow to gradually become more taught as the sail would dry out. Once fully dry the fabric would shrink and the sail was “fast” again. I am not sure if the surface area of a kayak sail is affected as much as a windsurfing one but having a dry fabric seems an advantage to me.
FEKS Code ZERO 1 meter, fully deployed
The sail is shaped differently than my other two FEKS: the shape is fuller and closer to the mast that flattens out towards the rear. There are more panels sewn into this sail to create the efficient shape. Mick’s sails seem to be less susceptible to wind change directions and they don't need constant trimming to get the maximum power from them, if compared to my own designed sails. In other words they are more forgiving. What makes them even more user friendly is the shock absorption built into the main sheet. When the sail is hit by a gust of wind the bungee cord stretches and spills some of the wind to possibly prevent a capsize of the kayak.
My new sail is rather large: 1.0 m². For a sea kayak sail that large surface can become a handful in higher winds (let’s say above 20knots).
When on a kayak sailing outing on a few occasions I had to lower my sail and stow it away when the wind picked up beyond what I could comfortably handle in my kayak; the sail was just too big for the stiff breeze.
Mick has engineered a simple solution to reduce the sail area (reef) and make it still usable in higher winds.
reefing points with simple Dyneema loops
I have used a very thin Dyneema line to create simple loops that can tie around the mast and hold back a section of the sail . The reduced area (0.5 m²) is much more manageable when the wind really blows. Unfortunately I have not come up with a solution on how to reef the sail by myself when seated in the cockpit; I need somebody’s help to do so.
sail reefed to reduce the surface area
My first outing with the Code Zero consisted of a short trip to a small island and back across a tidal flow channel. Initially the breeze was very gentle (just a few knots) to suddenly change to a solid 10-15 knots with several higher gusts.
The sail performed very well in those breezes but I had no opportunity to try it in something more challenging to the point to have to reef it and observe its performance when the surface of the sail is reduced.
in this configuration the sail can be used in higher winds without overpowering

The Code ZERO sails will be available in a limited edition in early 2012.


02 November 2011

Don't renounce the customer service

As a dedicated sea kayakers I usually seek specialized equipment to purse this highly-technical gear-intensive sport. Such equipment is generally not available from big box stores but is rather sourced from the knowledgeable and educated staff of dedicated paddling shops.
Well established businesses that have been around for a long time owe their success to a number of factors but, in this small tightly-knit community of skilled kayakers, one very important aspect of retail is customer service.
It seems that aggressive advertising can lead to a healthy customer base too since often paddlers are willing to give the "new guy in town" a go.
The initial success however must be backed by a solid customer service or the buyer has the same security of purchasing gear as on eBay.
day 134 - 10.01.2009 - high key frustration
Photo: Arden
As an avid consumer of outdoor gear I have purchased (way) more than the average share of equipment throughout the years.
I do my shopping locally, if I can (if the desired items are available for a reasonable comparable price), or I shop online to source the exotic equipment that most local retailer have not heard of.
When purchasing online I buy almost exclusively from trusted vendors that offer a serious warranty policy: if it does fail they will replace it, unconditionally.

Wow! Is that true: unconditional guarantee? How can that be possible? How can they stay in business? one might ask...

The concept of an unconditional guarantee was pioneered in USA by LL Bean in 1912.
Unthinkable at the time, he started to offered unconditional warranty replacement on items that he sold in his store. The concept was so progressive that naysayers were convinced he would be bankrupt in very short time.
Well, his retail concept worked and against all odds he became very successful.
Many vendors followed his idea and equally succeeded including now the biggest retailer of outdoor gear in the world: REI.

This policy incites me to have no reservations purchasing from a retailer that genuinely backs its products by a warranty that can be claimed when things fail.
Unfortunately not all items that I purchase are from these vendors since some highly specialized gear is not main stream and is available from only selected retailers that don't have this policy.
I have purchased several items that I wished were sourced from vendors that would back up faulty equipment.

I have noticed a recent increase in dissatisfaction from local and interstate paddlers with the purchase of some British boats. Several high end kayaks have displayed problems in manufacturing ranging from poorly assembled decks, hulls and coamings to problems in the laminate.
I had my share of bubbles in the gel coat where the fibreglass was not laid out carefully in the factory but I repaired those voids myself without inconveniencing the retailer of the kayak or the manufacturer. I did not have to and I could have had it done professionally and billed the retailer.

void on keelline_gdn
laminate problem on the keel line
I had also a couple of imported kayaks that had problems with the construction of the laminate and could not be repaired to a satisfactory level. I had to negotiate a deal with the manufacturer and eventually had those kayaks replaced.
I am also aware of the same laminate problem on a kayak in Tasmania and the customer has never had the kayak replaced. He is stuck with a kayak that is faulty.
Several other customers have come forward with faults on their kayaks.
Some problems were rectified by the owners of those kayaks but in too many cases the retailer has simply washed his hands of the problem.
High end sea kayaking retailing is based on repeated custom or word-of-mouth advertising; poor customer service is giving these retailers a bad reputation and is very damaging.
While their business seems to be still thriving now, eventually it will suffer.
They are not dealing with teenagers that assume faulty equipment is just the nature of the product: cheap and with a short lifespan.
Sea kayakers are demographically more mature and value good after sale service; failing them is shortsighted.

photo: Chris Walker