Monthly Archives: August 2014

2014 National Marathon championships

On Saturday 23rd August, I thought I’d enter the C1 class in the National Marathon event hosted by Worcester CC. I did it back in 2011 in an early version of The Darkness and got my but kicked, coming last out of the six competitors.

To say that the canoe part of our sport is unrepresented is putting it mildly. Even so it seems to be simply given the minimum of lip service.

Saturday’s event consisted of thirty two K1 classes and just two C1 classes, one for senior men and one for junior men. Kayak paddlers are classed by gender, age and ability to ensure a reasonably level playing field and a completive race. There is no such segregation for canoeists as rank beginner’s race against experienced, top class paddlers. Female canoeists don’t even have an event.

552 paddlers started in the K1 classes, whereas there were 9 canoeists consisting of 5 senior men, 1 senior lady and 3 junior men.

Saturday’s classes were:

Div 7 – 17 starters
Div 8 – 12 starters
Div 9 – 11 starters
Under 12 male – 22 starters
Under 12 female – 18 starters
Under 10 male – 19 starters
Under 10 female – 10 starters
Senior men K1 – 20 starters
Senior ladies K1 – 8 starters
SENIOR MEN C1 – 6 starters (including one lady)
Under 23 senior men K1 – 29 starters
Under 23 senior ladies K1 – 7 starters
Under 18 junior men K1 – 22 starters
Under 18 junior ladies K1 – 15 starters
UNDER 18 JUNIOR MEN C1 – 3 starters
Under 16 junior men K1 – 60 starters
Under 16 junior ladies K1 – 20 starters
Under 14 junior men K1 – 41 starters
Under 14 junior ladies K1 – 22 starters
Under 12 junior men K1 – 11 starters
Under 12 junior ladies K1 – 7 starters
Over 34 veteran men K1 – 13 starters
Over 34 veteran ladies K1 – 4 starters
Over 39 veteran men K1 – 15 starters
Over 39 veteran ladies K1 – 8 starters
Over 44 veteran men K1 – 30 starters
Over 44 veteran ladies K1 – 8 starters
Over 49 veteran men K1 – 35 starters
Over 49 veteran ladies K1 – 9 starters
Over 54 veteran men K1 – 21 starters
Over 54 veteran ladies K1 – 3 starters
Over 59 veteran men K1 – 11 starters
Over 59 veteran ladies K1 – 5 starters
Over 64 veteran men K1 – 10 starters

On Sunday, 242 K2s started in 23 classes. There was even a mixed class. A single C2 was raced by two junior paddlers from Richmond.

This is a poor state of affairs and as such, there are no Team GB canoeists for the forthcoming 2014 World Marathon Championships in Oklahoma next month. Something surely has to be done.

Anyway, the senior men’s C1 event was the third race to start, just behind the under 16 men and ladies races. This seemed an unusual arrangement as canoes are considered to be slower than kayaks and are usually placed towards the back to avoid impeding the kayak classes. So it proved as we were overwhelmed by kayakers during the whole race.

Six boats lined up. Four high-kneeling C1s paddled by Nerijus Budrikis from Worcester, Marcin Ponomarenkow from Richmond, Roger Weir from Banbury and Ross Pearton. A fifth high kneeler was paddled by Sarah Millest from Nottingham for whom I have enormous respect.

The dark side

The dark side

With no ladies C1 event, Sarah was forced to paddle with the men. A Div 9 paddler in a borrowed boat stood no chance against the likes of Nerijus, Marcin and Roger, all big, young, powerful blokes, built like “well constructed out-houses”, the sort one avoids in dark alleys. However she was on the start line.

Both in our late 50’s Ross and I also had little competitive race prospects.

The under 16 men’s race had to be re-started twice due to false starts, and with 60 boats on the line, the water still hadn’t calmed down by the time we set off and my goodness it was rough from all the refracted waves. This allowed me to pull away from Ross and Sarah as they struggled to remain upright and continue moving forward, but Nerijus, Marcin and Roger simply powered away.

And they're off

And they’re off

As we paddled up stream on the first lap, the heavens opened and we got soaked, though it wasn’t cold. I was passed by kayaks from later starting races throughout the event and had to cope with the washes and occasional bumps. One lady kayaker was kind enough to comment on my shirt, though I wasn’t able to get her phone number!

I lost time at the turns trying to manoeuvre a boat with zero rocker but I guess that’s the same for all canoes.

The downstream leg was uneventful except for the very bumpy water towards the bottom turn.

Rough water towards the bottom turn

Rough water towards the bottom turn

On the second lap we had to portage. A beach type portage with no risk of rudder damage in a C1! Then it was a second visit to the top turn before finishing downstream opposite the club house. I came in fourth, but at least twenty minutes after the winner.
Bloomin' kayakers everywhere!

Bloomin’ kayakers everywhere!

The finish order was:

1. Nerijus Budrikis – WOR, Div 4
2. Marcin Ponomarenkow – RIC, Div 4
3. Roger Weir – BAN . Div 4
4. Nick Adnitt – IND, Div 7
5. Ross Pearton – IND, Div 7
6. Sarah Millest – NOT, Div 9

An objective observer may ask “if you stood no chance of winning, what’s the point”? But I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It was a very well organised event, well done Worcester CC, except for the finishing point which for some reason failed to produce a set of results before we all went home.

So, a good time, and if I ever see Sarah Millest in a pub, I’m going to buy her a pint.

Moving the seat positions

It was out with the jigsaw to cut off a further 40 cms of rear deck and move the rear seat towards the stern. The footrests were also moved back and it’s ready for testing again. I also move the front seat forward.

New seating positions

New seating positions

Hopefully this should improve the steering.

First test as a C2

Following the single paddler test, I set the boat up with two seating positions. I positioned the forward paddler at the extreme rear position of the K2 footrest and the rear paddler with the footrest 40 cms beyond the most extreme setting.

Double seat configuration

Double seat configuration

I took the boat to Pewsey wharf and managed to persuade John to take the front position, although he’d never paddled a C2 before. With lots of talking about which side we were paddling, we set off along the canal.

Stability was OK, but not great, but that may just be due to the lack of C2 experience. It was the appalling tracking which surprised me. Once the boat started to veer one way, it was difficult to get it back, and the forward paddler was better able to correct it. This is contrary to the accepted practice of rear paddler steering. It seemed to improve once the boat was moving more quickly.

Minimum rocker

Minimum rocker

Most C2s have minimal or zero rocker as does mine, so I’m reluctant to change that.

I had hoped to position the paddlers closer together towards the middle of the boat where there is more buoyancy, but I may have to accept C2 traditional design concepts and move them towards the ends to improve steering.

I think I’ll remove more of the rear deck and shift the paddler position further back.

Hull redesign – water trials

I setup a rudimentary seat and footrest configuration and returned to Marsh Benham to see what difference it has all made. The boat now weighs 25.8 kgs and getting it on and off the roof rack is a “challenge”. Copious amounts of expletives and grunting seem to help!

Let's see how she goes

Let’s see how she goes

Stability has improved with the increase of wetted area. However it was the straight line tracking which was the area of most noticeable change, as maintaining a straight line was so much easier (as expected!).
Improved stability and straight line tracking

Improved stability and straight line tracking

Predictably, the 360 degree turn took much longer, requiring a lot of sweep strokes.

So, all very encouraging so far, but the boat is designed for two.

Radical “improvements”

I got some 25mm square batons and placed them inside the gunwales and secured them with screws. This took care of the longitudinal rigidity. A thwart across the width further improved stiffness. I also repositioned the seat and footrests based on what I learnt from the previous outing.

Bracing for stiffness

Bracing for stiffness

The next challenge was to negate the rocker along the keel line to improve tracking. I was surprised by the amount of rocker on a boat which is primarily designed to perform well in a straight line, it is almost banana shaped!
Banana boat!

Banana boat!

It was clear that I could not take it all out along the entire keel line without significant redesign.
The stern rocker

The stern rocker

I decided to concentrate on changes which should have the biggest impact. In this case it would be the bow and stern.
The bow rocker

The bow rocker

I took two lengths of timber and cut them to the shape of the hull. These I secured with “no-more-nails”. I then cut them to the straightest line achievable from stern to bow. I ignored the centre part of the hull and it still has a slight rounding.
A practical compromise

A practical compromise

A further piece of plywood closed the gap in the shape of the bow and then it was ready for about two tons of filler!
Shaping the bow

Shaping the bow

I eventually built up the shape of the bow.
A new bow

A new bow

And the stern.
Redesigned stern

Redesigned stern

It’s not pretty, but I’m hoping that it will be effective.
Rocker eliminated

Rocker eliminated

There’s only one way to find out……………

Testing and learning

Well that was an interesting experience! I took the boat to my favourite testing ground at Marsh Benham to see how it would perform on the water.

Starting with the seat in the forward position located where the rear paddler’s feet would be, I tentatively pushed off from the side. It was far more unstable than I’d anticipated. After the first few strokes, I got the measure of it but as I started to put some power in, the whole boat started to twist, as there is next to no longitudinal bracing. Not wanting to swim, I backed off.

K2 conversion - first trial

K2 conversion – first trial

Because I had removed the rudder and the boat is really designed for the weight of two paddlers, the wetted area was substantially reduced. This resulted in “significant loss of directional stability” in that the boat was very sensitive to a paddle strokes. It veered from one to the next and I had to be quick to switch sides to get it back towards my intended direction. A couple of times I “lost it” and had to back-paddle to avoid crashing into the bank.

However, the 360 degree turn was a doddle. It turned like a slalom canoe as can be seen in the video.

All in all pretty awful, but as expected. Sometimes one has to introduce a big “problem” in order to prove what one suspected in the first place, and so it proved.

So, I moved the seat 40 cms towards the stern and this made a big difference.

K2 conversion - repositioned seating

K2 conversion – repositioned seating

I’m now sat just behind the middle of the boat and it is much more evenly balanced.

I now have my starting base line from which to measure improvements and it’s time to make some radical changes:

1. Bracing along the length of the boat.
2. Bracing across the width of the boat.
3. Reduce the hull rocker to zero
4. Start weight training so I can lift the damn thing!

I’m off to the timber merchant to buy some 6 metre lengths of bracing.

Racing C2, starting with a K2………….obviously!

When I was experimenting with some of the early design concepts for The Darkness, I started with a racing K1 as a platform, and made changes towards a C1. This proved rather successful until the gap between the needs of the two boats designs became too big.

So, what better place to start a C2 design, but with a K2 platform.

I looked on Ebay (where else!) for a candidate boat at a reasonable price, and eventually won a Kirton Pacer sprint C2.

I brought it home and realised that it was too good to cut up for my purposes and that it should remain as K2. After doing it up a bit and replacing the ad-hoc seats with proper Pacer ones, I put it back on Ebay. It has now gone to a good home in preparation for the 2015 DW.

Kirton Pacer sprint K2 - too good to butcher

Kirton Pacer sprint K2 – too good to butcher

Quite honestly, with a wobble factor of 2, it was too unstable for my needs. With the combination of an enormous rocker and an understern rudder, it could “turn on a sixpence”

I appealed to my fellow paddlers on Facebook for any boats that were in such a bad condition, that they would almost give them away. A response came from Southampton where a Kirton Mirage 4 was available. With a wobble factor of 4 – 5 and an overstern rudder, this was a better option.

Kirton Mirage 4

Kirton Mirage 4

It had seen a bit of action over the years and was a bit beaten up. It weighs in at 21 kgs.

First thing to do was to paddle it as a K2, just to see how it is supposed to perform. The last time I paddled a K2 was a Div 6 race at the Banbury haslar 2009.

So I cleaned it up a bit and John and I popped over to Great Bedwyn and gave it a spin.

It appeared heavy and cumbersome and there isn’t much room around the hips. The rudder was not very responsive and seemed to take ages to turn the boat and then proved difficult to get it back on a straight line. However in terms of stability, it was rock solid.

Time to make some changes.

Mirage 4 without a deck

Mirage 4 without a deck

The first thing to do is cut off the deck. I made the opening 3 metres long which is well within the ICF minimum of 2.8 metres. After that, I removed the rudder, footrests and tiller bar. Voilà a C2! I wish it was that easy.

The next thing I need to do is test it as a C2, as it is. I know I need to build up the hull to reduce the rocker, but I want to see how “bad” it really is first. I also want to experiment with the seat positions to see if it makes any difference. Trouble is, John is working nights this week and I’m far too impatient to wait.

So I’ve set it up as a single with an improvised seat position and footrests.

Single seat configuration

Single seat configuration

I’ve positioned the seat just forward of the centre of the boat (not the centre of buoyancy). Not sure why, just seemed a good idea at the time.

I’m looking forward to testing it tomorrow.

Double Darkness or Darkness squared?

So, The Darkness sit&switch single racing C1 hybrid canoe is finished. I am entirely satisfied with it and would change nothing. It was tried and tested on the 2014 Devizes to Westminster canoe race carrying the first female competitor to victory. An increasing number of people are trying it out and deciding to purchase it.

I wonder what a double version would be like? Is it simply an elongated version of the single, or do the demands of two paddlers require a complete redesign? I suspect it is somewhere in the middle.

The Darkness was designed in CAD, so all the hard stuff in terms of dimensions and shape are done. But before I commission a new CAD design, there are a number of fundamentals which I need to clarify.

The first is, where is the best place to position the two paddlers?

Conventional wisdom and tradition dictates that the paddlers in a racing C2 should be as far away from each other as possible at each end of the boat. The front paddler is limited by their leg length and the decreasing width in which to place their feet. The rear paddler is also limited by decreasing width in relation to their hip width. (I’m being polite here!)

Traditional racing C2

Traditional racing C2

This makes sense in that it leaves a large space in the centre to store equipment for wilderness canoeing, plus it makes the boat easier to steer. However, why isn’t this concept extended to double racing kayaks?
Racing K2

Racing K2

Kayak paddlers tend to sit closer together within the most buoyant part of the boat and power is delivered from the centre. They do however, have a rudder to aid steering.

The same appears to be prevalent in high-kneeling racing C2s where the paddlers are even closer together and they don’t have a rudder.

High kneeling sprint C2

High kneeling sprint C2

In a slalom C2 the paddlers are closer still as they are kneeling rather than sitting. Surely this makes it harder to steer? No, because this is compensated for by a substantial rocker along the keel line of the boat.
Slalom C2

Slalom C2

I am tending towards a compromise. Position the paddlers closer than a traditional C2 but not as close a K2. This should ensure than the weight is close to the centre where the boat is the most buoyant. A small amount of rocker perhaps towards the stern should be enough to help with steering, but still ensure directional stability.

It would be nice to have something ready for DW 2015.

Marsport Demo day

Paul and Craig were kind enough to invite Darkside Canoes to show The Darkness at their demo day on Saturday 2nd August, outside their shop at Dreadnought Reach in Reading.

There was a large array of kayaks and a rack of high kneeling canoes. I setup two of my boats right next to the sit&switch boats from Wenonah, an American manufacturer. These boats, predominantly made from Kevlar, have pretty much been the only available option for sit&switch racing canoes.

Marsport demo day - just look at all those toys!

Marsport demo day – just look at all those toys!

It was interesting to make a direct comparison with the J203 solo canoe which according to the Wenonah web site: “With the J-203’s fast acceleration and effortless speed, and drafting ability, it is no wonder that this hull has dominated the men’s category in canoe races since its introduction in 2000.”……………….. but hopefully not for much longer!

So let’s compare the business part of the boat, the hull.

Hull comparison

Hull comparison

The J203 conforms to the United States Canoe Association (USCA)

“Canoe width shall be a certain percentage of the overall length of the hull, at a point within one foot of the center of the hull length, measured at the 4 inch waterline, not including a keel. The minimum width for a Formula 14 canoe is 14.375 percent of the length. The minimum width for a Formula 16 boat is 16 percent of length.”

The maximum length for the boat is 18’ 6” which is 222”. 1% of 222” is 2.22”, therefore a formula 14 boat must be at least 31” wide and formula 16 boats should be 35.5”.

The J203 is 18’6” long so the minimum width has to be 31”, 4” above the water line. The ICF does not specify a minimum width for a canoe, so a USCA boat is at a distinct width disadvantage but compensates with significant stability. However the ICF does specify a maximum length of 17” so the J203 has an additional 1’ 6” in length.

I would also presume that a lighter paddler would be faster on the J203 as the boat would float higher on the water line and may not be influenced by the additional width which is 4” above the water line.

But, at-the-end-of-the-day, the J203 is not ICF compliant, so is excluded from most European races.

Meanwhile up on deck, the gunwales of the J203 are significantly higher than The Darkness. This reduces the risk of water coming over the side but can be susceptible to the wind.

Deck comparison

Deck comparison

USCA regs state: “The minimum height at the bow shall be 15 1/2 inches. The minimum depth for the rest of the canoe shall be 11 1/2 inches”

Although the gunwales on The Darkness are lower, it does benefit from deck sections at the front and rear, plus a “lip” around the gunwale which will support a full spray deck.

In the grand scheme of things, both designs have had to make compromises to meet specific regulations, but also to meet the needs of the paddler in terms of speed and stability.

In a straight race on a “level playing field”, my money is on The Darkness.