Monthly Archives: August 2018

First workshop boat

I wanted to setup the workshop properly before I attempted the first boat. I got a whole load of timber for free from a building site, which was destined for the fire, and built the work benches, trestles and racks for the boats. I also bought a number of new power tools and other equipment, plus 20 metres of various carbon and carbon/kevlar fabrics.

As I want to use vacuum bagging and infusion techniques, there is a mass of different materials required, plus resin, hardener, a pump, catch pot and various tubes and valves.

Workshop view 1

I’ve got the floor covered where I’m likely to drop resin. I’ve made an A frame on wheels for all the materials. It can be wheeled out of the way.

Workshop view 2

It’s amazing how much can be squeezed in, and I’ve still got the roof space.

Workshop view 3

We’ve started on the first Duet C2 using Epoxy resin and vacuum bagging.

Duet under vacuum


The place looked quite big until we needed 7 metres of flat surface to cut the fabric for a C2.

Cutting fabric


Obviously we’re learning along the way and next time we’ll use the flanges of the mold for the bagging material and not literally, a bag which measures 7.5 metres x 2 metres.

The point is, I am now in control of if, when but particularly how I make the boats. Before, the boats were made of three layers of carbon-carbon/kevlar-carbon over the whole surface area of the boat. I want to be more targeted and place strength where it’s needed and reduce the weight where it isn’t. I also want to strategically placed core materials for stiffness and strength.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Setting up production

Up until now, I’ve relied on a boat builder to construct my canoes. Quite honestly I simply did not have the room or facilities to do it myself, plus I’ve learnt so much watching skilled and experienced professionals do the job. This has worked out well whilst I was in full time employment and the demand for boats was slow but steady.

I’ve always fitted the boats out myself, but this involved many hours on my front drive, much to the consternation of the neighbours. It also loses its attraction during the winter months and dark hours.

Demand is increasing, plus I’m bringing out a new model for which I have ideas on how I want to construct it, so quite frankly I have run out of excuses not to setup in-house production.

So I’ve taken out a lease on a unit on a business park and setup a workshop to build the boats myself. It costs £5,500 for a year and I have a three year lease, so I have to hope that people keep wanting my boats.

The new home of DarkSide canoes


This is a big step and I’ve spent a considerable sum getting all the tools and equipment I need plus the materials for the first few boats. I’ve collected my molds and am ready to roll.

The unit has electricity from solar panels on the roof and/or from the grid. The gas is connected to the meter but that’s as far as it goes although the unit has a new (unused) combi boiler and two radiators.

Actually, the bloke before me painted the walls white and installed a whole load of plug sockets.

Key criteria, does the Duet fit?


All the mod-cons.


Instead of using Polyester resin, I plan to use Epoxy and a vacuum bag to compress the layers and force out excess resin.

My plan is to go to resin infusion especially for the C1, and I went on a training course with Dark Matter Composites to learn how to do it. The five day course cost me £1,300 but it was so worth it. They don’t simply show the perfect way to do it because there isn’t one. There are so many options for the type and sequence of composite fabrics. Each one will work, but they all have different structural properties, weights, costs and complexities. Each course group was allocated a laminate combination by pulling numbers from a hat, and we weren’t told how to do it, just the theory. It was fascinating to see how each group approached the task of infusing a model boat, but we learnt so much more by seeing how poor decisions affected the process and the result.

We also used core materials.

The biggest frustration I found was that there is no knowledge base. Loads of people have experimented with resin infusion and a lot of costly mistakes have been made before an acceptable process is defined. This is not necessarily the best way because there maybe something you haven’t tried yet, but it is just too time consuming and expensive to try everything. Why isn’t all this learning captured, documented and made available? The simple reason is that companies do not want to share their intellectual property with competitors, especially due to the investment in developing the techniques. A shame really.

First off we setup test panels. This is where the defined laminate stack is used to determine how far the resin will infuse before it gels. We marked progress every 20 seconds checking both the upside, through the distribution media, and the lower side through the laminate, which was slower. This can be controlled with a pressure dam to allow the underside to catch up before the resin flow reaches the end. (Don’t I sound knowledgeable!)

Test panels


The results of this determines how we approach larger parts and where we position the resin inflows and the vacuum outflows.

Resin inflows and vacuum outflows.


Using the test results, we marked out the part with the resin flow predictions.

This how the infusion SHOULD progress.


It isn’t quite as simple as that because resin infusion finds the path of least resistance and you can get resin flows where you least expect them.

The course covered a lot of other types of composite manufacture including pre-preg, resin film infusion, and even light resin transfer moulding, where we made a male and female mold and injected the resin between them.

So I’m now setup on my own and it control, and luckily I have lots of mates locally who have recently retired and looking for something interesting to do.

The Darkness Demon

I’ve thought of a name for the new boat, “The Darkness Demon”

The Devil in disguise.


It’s been a bit of a devil so far, but it is entirely my fault.

I lent it to some very experienced racing canoeists who soon identified that it is by no means unstable, but due to the bow being slightly off-centre, it veers to the right. I took it back down to my boat builder who applied a big wadge of filler on the bow, and it’s fixed. In the meantime he’s making a new mold.

So I took it to the National Canoe Marathon Championships so that a very experienced lady crew could try it, not to race, but just have a go. There’s a short video, but the most frustrating thing for me was the way they nonchalantly jumped in and pushed off from the side and didn’t even put a paddle blade on the water for stability!

I got some useful feedback regarding the seat configuration, but also a comment whereby the boat isn’t “sit&switch”, it’s just “sit” because it is so directionally stable (goes in a straight line) you rarely need to switch.

As I was at the Nationals to paddle C1 on the Saturday (did I mention I got the silver medal!!), and the C2 event on the Sunday, I persuaded my partner to jump in the front and off we went. Of course there was no problem at all, I feel such a fool.

There was a decent number of entries on the C2 start line, Sarah and I managed seventh out of twelve crews in the Duet, which wasn’t bad as it was only her second outing in a sit&switch,

The National Canoe Marathon Championships 2018 – C2 start – 2


It was a baking hot day but I decided I didn’t need to take any fluid. I threw a bit of a wobbler towards the end and we had to come to the side so I could recover. Fortunately we were able to continue and didn’t lose track position.

As a very experienced racing kayaker and also high-kneeler canoeist, Sarah adapted to sit&switch very quickly. The race environment also contributed to sweeping away any hesitation or doubts, and the boat went well. The switching was infrequent and it allowed me to steer the boat like a “C1” which is what the Duet does best.

I do need to get out in the Demon soon, but it’s just too hot.