Tag Archives: Canoe

Duet – new construction

It’s been an interesting few weeks building boats using epoxy resin and vacuum bagging, we’ve learnt a lot and the quality of the finished product is improving.

I still use a laminate stack of two layers of 200 gram carbon twill sandwiching a layer of 200 gram carbon/kevlar, but the vacuum bag is really forcing the layers together and squeezing out the excess resin. This produces a lighter boat but without the additional polyester resin from the wet layout process, some of the stiffness has been lost.

Rather than simply adding another fabric layer, I have implemented a frame structure within the hull to add strength and stiffness without adding much weight.

The initial design incorporated a gunwale shape which creates a strong rim around the cockpit. This is supported by the three tubular carbon thwarts across the width. Next is the flange which runs along the inside of the cockpit. This supports the cross braces for the seats and footrests. Addition longitudinal rigidity is gained from the carbon tape along the central join.

Duet geometry

Below the flange there is nothing. This was fine using polyester wet layup, but not with Epoxy vac-bag. We don’t want it too stiff because it will break if the boat is dropped or hits an object in the water, so some flexibility is required.

So I took a leaf out of the Wenonah design and implemented a series of ribs.

After a couple of trials on the demo boats, I decided that the optimum number of ribs is twelve, spaced at 300 mm intervals within the cockpit hull area. They are not required beneath the decks as they are stiffened through the design geometry, but they also retain enough flexibility to absorb impacts.

Rib material requirements

I cut out 50 mm strips of Sorix and 100 mm strips of uni-directional carbon fibre. Soric is a core material with hexagonal cells.

Soric core material

The cells do not absorb resin, but the outlines do. This creates a very strong and stiff framework. It really is amazing stuff and I now use it to thicken and stiffen the gunwales, on the seats, and for the ribs. I also use peel-ply to ensure a consistent surface finish.

Material preparation

The ends of the Soric strips finish just under the flange.

Soric measuring and positioning

The uni-directional strips extend beyond the flange, up the side of the hull, but the ends are tidily encapsulated within the flange support.

Uni-directional carbon measuring and positioning

The centre join is formed by a 50 mm strip of carbon/kevlar and a top strip of bi-directional carbon. The ribs are sandwiched between the two thus increasing the strength.

Ribs complete

Once the ribs have gone off, a platform is laid into the hull to support the installation of the flange materials. These comprise of:

Flange materials and design

This right angled flange bonded to the inside of the hull really improves the rigidity of the boat. It tidies up the ends of the ribs and of course supports the footrests and seats.

Flange construction

Coupled with the seat and footrest cross bars, the boat is truly ridged. There is still a little bit of flexibility between the ribs to help absorb impacts.

Cross bracing

The epoxy resin and vacuum bag construction method also improves the quality, but it is massively more expensive than a polyester wet layup.

I also use Soric along the gunwales to thicken, stiffen and strengthen. It doesn’t look as nice because the pattern of the Soric matrix comes through to the surface due to the vacuum pressure, but it is far more efficient and at the end of the day, it is a racing boat.

In summary then, I now have the boat construction I wanted. I believe it uses the best materials in the best way, but in the least quantities. It’s jolly expensive but we diggers are worth it!

First prototype

The first boat came out of the mold last week and I collected it from Devon. We’d had a number of discussions regarding the construction and I was adamant that the boat had to be light, and the prototype was the right time to take a risk. We agreed on a 200 gram carbon twill supplemented with a 200 gram Caron/Kevlar weave. We knew this would not be stiff enough so we implemented a series of uni-direction cross members. These in conjunction with the flanges, would form a sort of scaffolding……………..or at least that was the theory.

The boat came out of the mold weighing 12 kgs. This was crazily far too light for a C2. However the construction seemed to work, with the right kind of stiffness but with some flexibility to absorb knocks. However we hadn’t continued either the flanges or the cross bracing beyond the boundaries of the cockpit, so the deck and hull in the stern and bow areas are a tad flimsy. That will be rectified on further boats and may add another kilogram.

As the design is based on The Darkness C1, I immediately compared the two, yep, completely different! The front deck especially, has lost its sharp gradient and ridge. The gunwale edge remains which adds lateral rigidity and supports the full length spray deck.

The C2 (I must think of a name for it) has a constant cross beam at the gunwale of 55 cms, The C1 has a maximum width of 51 cms.

Comparing the C1 and the new C2 – decks

The hull seems to have more curvature than the C1.

Comparing hulls

The array of different materials is starting to grow on me but I’ve never been a fan of Kevlar. We do need it though to give the boat some strength.

The boat is actually quite deep. I added on 10 cms of deck height from the C1 to increase the freeboard. The boat will sit lower in the water and it will interesting to see what level of payload it can support.

Birds-eye and side views.

It took a couple of days to fit it out with seats, footrests, thwarts, portage handles and buoyancy.

Fit out complete.

I took advantage of the parallel flanges to mount the seats on rails. These enable a high degree of adjustment which will allow many people of different shapes and sizes to easily and quickly change the setup. These will be discarded for a racing setup as they add over 1.5 kgs to the weight and I do lose some rigidity across the width.

Cockpit arrangement.

I’ve added the usual grip tape the assist non-slip getting in and out. The thwarts are positioned to provide a stable hand hold during embarkation. I will be putting some cycle handlebar tape in the centre to improve grip and comfort.

Rear seat on sliders.

The seats are to my own design, similar to racing kayak seats but with a much bigger seat pan. This adds comfort and better stability. They are currently set at 15 cms high which is 5 cms lower than the Duet.

Front seat setup.

The footrests support the pull bars which have proven very successful in The Darkness Duet C2, and the footplates have grip tape on them.

Bow and stern.

The bow is more curved to help avoid picking up weed.

The handles are my own design and made of carbon. They are similar to the Marsport handles, but shorter, lower profile and have a deeper recess to support a torch. I’ve mounted plastic tubes wrapped with cycle handle bar tape for better grip, comfort and warmth in lieu of a torch.

So, it’s all over bar the paddling.

I’m looking forward to its maiden voyage and subsequent experimenting with the setup, and then I’m hoping a few crews will try it out.

Onward to Australia

So we have a box, now need to pack out the boat. I decided that the most secure way would be to pack it like an egg-in-an-egg-box.

Conscious of the strict import rules in Australia, I opted for polystyrene and scoured my garage to find all the bits of buoyancy I’d kept “just-in-case”. I use a profile tool to mark the canoe shape holes to support the boat along its length. I also supported the weight with blocks of foam insulation.
I then used all the spare bits and positioned them just proud of the top so that the lid would clamp the whole thing together when I screwed down the top.

So far, so good but now came the big challenge of how I was going to transport it to the shipping depot in Basildon. The shipping company offered to collect it for £175, but cost were already high so I decided take transport it myself.

The crate weighed in at 87 kgs, ten times the weight of the boat! I was convinced that with half a dozen blokes, we could put it on the roof rack of my estate car. OK it was on the limit in terms of weight and size, on the border of road legal but it should be fine.

My wife decided that it wasn’t fine and proceeded to describe all the potential things that could go wrong (she has a very vivid imagination!). The alternative was our camping van which has four roof rails and it somewhat longer. However it is 2.5 metres high, how the hell was I going to get it up there?

A call round the neighbours and a text to my cycling mates meant that seven blokes turned up to help. I lashed two ladders together as a ramp, and reduced the gradient by putting the base of the ladders on a patio table. I used a long rope to act as a brake and another to stop the crate crashing down when it reached the pivot point.

With a lot of huffing and puffing we inched the crate up the ladder ramp on to the top of the van. I dismissed the troops and lashed it down. There was much talk of beer owed!
The next day I drove very gingerly to the shipping company depot in Basildon where the crate was unloaded by forklift in about 30 seconds.
c1_on_van_2It’s now out of my hands, as the shipping company are now responsible for getting it to Brisbane. If anyone is interested, the cost of shipping is £491.80.

Bon voyage to The Darkness.

Boat to Brissy

I follow a FaceBook site which was setup by the canoeists in Australia called Australian Canoe Racing https://www.facebook.com/groups/AustrlianCanoeRacing/. It is fascinating to see all the similar sort of things we do in the UK, being done on the other side of the world.

I did noticed some familiar looking boats and I realised that a guy called Frank Harrison developed a similar sort of boat design to The Darkness C1, but many years earlier. In fact it took a few posts to convince the Ausies that I didn’t pinch his ideas!

There are some differences as there are some national canoe design standards for Australian touring canoe racing, but the concepts are the same.

To cut a long story short, an Ausie digger has ordered one of my boats and I’m now in the process of shipping it to Brisbane.

So, what on earth do I know about exporting canoes to Australia? Well not much, but I’m learning fast.

I’ve found a shipping agent who is prepared to transport the boat, but first it has to be crated. No problem I thought, pop down to B&Q, buy a few sheets of plywood and knock a big box together. Not so fast! The timber has to be heat treated and certified for import to Australia. If you ever watch those fly-on-the-wall documentaries about Australian customs, you’ll know they are pretty strict about these sort of things.

So the shipping agent recommended a packing supplier in Eastleigh and I started a dialogue.

I estimated that the boat would easily fit in a crate measuring 5.5 metres long, 65 cms wide and 45 cms high and I was quoted £170 (inc VAT) for the timber. Blimey, one hundred and seventy quid for a plywood box! It wasn’t until I collected the timber that I realised why, I had a complete construction kit for a fork-lift ready, palletised crate.

Flat-pack crate.

Flat-pack crate.

The suppliers had given me some vague verbal instructions, plus I managed to take a few pictures of other crates in the warehouse. So I called my mate John in order that we could figure it out together.

The timber was cut to precise dimensions which should fit together in a specific way.

So, first off we constructed the base. (The picture shows the underside)

Underside of the base

Underside of the base

After that, we worked through the ends, sides and lid. It was only when we attempted to put the components together that we realised we’d made a few mistakes. Luckily we’d use screws so it was fairly easy to rectify it.

A BIG box.

A BIG box.

It was certainly a big box, but was it big enough? Only one way to find out.

The Darkness C1 fits with room to spare.

The Darkness C1 fits with room to spare.

Yep, plenty of room in there for loads of packing, should be nice and safe for the passage to Australia.

Seat development

I’ve now got quite a collection of racing kayak seats in my quest for a better canoe seat design. One thing that has struck me is that they are all pretty much the same size and shape. OK there are a few tiny differences but the manufacturers seem to assume that one size will fit all racing kayak paddler’s bottoms.

Once again, compare this to the cycling world where there are literally hundreds of saddle designs, shapes, sizes and materials, plus a whole host of different options for lady riders.

The discerning canoe racer however is more demanding, and much prefer a tractor seat type design, plus they are seated much higher.

Anyway, I set about modifying my original effort and recast it to have more volume at the back.

Increased surface area

Increased surface area

The picture shows the size compared with a “standard” racing K1 seat.

Next I needed something on which to mount it. I have made a number of seat supports using timber and fibre glass, but they take so long to shape them to support the seat pan.

As it happened, two new seats from Nelo had just arrived. These are a rather different and innovative design in that the seat is supported by a cast metal frame.

Nelo K1 racing seat

Nelo K1 racing seat

The seat pan is secured by five rivets. So I drilled off the rivets and separated the cast metal “spider”.

Nelo seat "spider" support

Nelo seat “spider” support

Together with some stainless steel bolts and some plastic spacers, I secured the new seat pan to the frame.

New seat pan secured

New seat pan secured

I had just got the Darkness Duet back for a few days, so I bolted it into the rear of the C2, and John and I took it out from Pewsey Wharf.

New seat in rear of Duet

New seat in rear of Duet

I’m showing it compared with a K1 racing seat. The marks around the edges are where I used pegs to hold the two layers of foam whilst the glue set. At this point I was reluctant to cut the seat runners down.

Well at first it felt weird because it was different to what I was used to. On the return from Wootton Rivers I’d forgotten about the new seat and was quite used to it after the hour.

I’ve now made a second one and secured both to square profile aluminium tubes ready for testing. I’ve also trimmed the runners.

New seats ready for testing

New seats ready for testing

I’ve mounted them on timber supports so they should sit on the flanges with just the timber drilled to math existing holes.

I now need to get them tested.

Does my bum look big on this?

So, just got back from an hour’s paddle on the Basingstoke canal using the wider seat. It was unexpectedly uncomfortable!

Having more bum area in contact with the seat actually felt more stable, especially in combination with the pull bar. Also having more area at the back of the seat enabled me to push back into it. But the pressure points seemed to be in the wrong place.

One factor compared with a C2 setup, is that the height of the seat is significantly lower in a C1 than a C2. In the C2 I have set the seat height to 20 cms, where as in the C1 it’s set at 12 cms. This may make quite a difference, which I can test once I get my boat back.

Those of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now, but I’ve taken some photographs to illustrate the point.

The first picture shows a standard British bottom on a standard K1 racing seat. Neither the back nor the sides are supported. However, this may be because there is so much movement due to the paddling action.

Standard K1 racing seat.

Standard K1 racing seat.

I wonder if it’s the same principle as in cycling, whereas novice cyclists are often convinced that their sore bums would benefit from a big, wide saddle, where in fact all racing cyclists tend to use narrow saddles which support the bits which matter most.

So-called cycling comfort saddle versus cycle racing saddle.

So-called cycling comfort saddle versus cycle racing saddle.

Now compare the area of support with my new wide seat design. Much more bum area is supported.
New wide seat design.

New wide seat design.

I do wonder whether the seat would benefit from sides in the same way as sports car seats are designed.

Yes I know they have sides to prevent slipping out of the seat due to the G-forces during turning, but are they more comfortable?

The seat I use at the moment is a bit of a compromise in that it doesn’t have hard edges and allows the “excess baggage” to overflow.

Current C1 seat.

Current C1 seat.

For DW, John and I used Zastera seats with two layers of foam. They seemed comfortable to us, even on the long pound to Wootton Rivers, but it’s the additional height which seems to make the most difference
Darkness Duet DW seats.

Darkness Duet DW seats.

I need to get some wide seat prototypes out to the Duet paddlers.

Bums on seats

One of my original design goals, and indeed a unique-selling-point of The Darkness, was the ability to use the seat design most suited to the paddler. This was delivered using a simple flat platform mounted on flanges on the inside of the boat. On this, I mounted a foam seat which was larger than the usual kayak racing seat, and theoretically much more comfortable over longer distances. If necessary, it could be changed quickly during a race as conditions dictated, for example a lower seat for more stability.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find someone who could make the foam insert in a single lump, and had to construct the shape from multi layers of foam matting. It worked, but didn’t look great.

Original seat concept.

Original seat concept.

At some time or other, I decided to use a kayak seat after all. I can’t remember when this was, but I experimented with a number of different designs.
Carbon seat fitted

Carbon seat fitted

I didn’t think any more about it and proceeded to use carbon kayak seats on the Duet.
As I was able to persuade a few people to start testing the Duet, one of the main subjects of feedback was how uncomfortable the seats were compared with the traditional tractor seat design used by Wenonah. So I set about designing a bigger seat.

I am somewhat restricted by the availability of tools, materials, experience and skill. I have good ideas, but translating them into something tangible doesn’t always work out in the way that I’d imagined it. So instead of starting from scratch, I used a K2 seat I had as a platform. I taped on an end-stop and filled the gaps with expanding foam. I didn’t realise quite how much this stuff expands!

K2 seat with expanding foam.

K2 seat with expanding foam.

Anyway as soon as it set, I cut it down with a saw.
Foam cut down tp shape.

Foam cut down tp shape.

And then applied some filler.
Filler applied and smoothed.

Filler applied and smoothed.

My plan was to use the shape to make a mold. I would then use the mold for testing and then to produce more seats. Unfortunately I didn’t have any chopped-strand-mat fibreglass which is best for making molds and had to use carbon fibre instead.

Carbon fibre isn’t as malleable as fibreglass. Plus I used too much resin. Anyway, I wetted out 4 layers of 200 grams carbon, covered it with peel-ply and cling film and popped it into one of those vacuum bags used for compressing clothing during packing.

Seat under vacuum.

Seat under vacuum.

I used this technique when I was making paddles and it’s quite effective (and cheap). Once it had gone off, I stripped off all the peel-ply and cut it to shape with my dremel.
Seat size comparisom.

Seat size comparisom.

Compared with the kayak seat, it is about 4 cms wider.
I then made a seat support, the same dimensions as the kayak seat so that it would be easily changeable in my existing boats, plus it could be used in a conventional racing kayak.
Seat with support and fixed to platform.

Seat with support and fixed to platform.

I mounted it on a plywood platform so I could fit it to my C1 for testing, and stuck on some cushioning.
Seat fitted with foam cushioning.

Seat fitted with foam cushioning.

I’m on the water tomorrow to see how it performs.

Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Race – 2016

This post describes our race experience during DW 2016.

After months of training, planning and practicing, inevitably came the day of race; Saturday 26th March.

The previous day, the DW four days crews had set of from the start and completed the first 34 miles to Newbury, in glorious spring sunshine and a light tail wind. Unfortunately the weather was about to change as storm Katie approached the UK. The forecast for Saturday was heavy rain and 40 mph+ winds.

Weather forecast for race day.

Weather forecast for race day.

But, the conditions are the same for everyone which even the most thorough planning could not influence. Fortunately we were well prepared.

The boat, kit and mandatory survival kit were checked by the Marshalls. We then had wrist tags attached to ensure the crew did not change during the race, and to help identify our bodies if required!

A real-time tracking device was also attached to John’s buoyancy aid just before we embarked, and at 11:56 hrs, we set off.

And we're off.

And we’re off.

I find the first few miles a bit of an anti-climax especially after all the months of training and preparation. We soon got into our stride and were paddling well. We had to stop a couple of times to get the accumulation of weed off the bow.

We had two bank support crews who would be with us for the entire race. They took it in turns to meet us at the various bridges and locks to change fluid bottles and to shove (literally) food into our mouths.

At Pewsey Wharf we recorded 2:01:45 and were in 32 nd position. Half an hour later Wootton Rivers was our first portage. By this time our bums were numb and the legs took a bit of persuasion to work as we disembarked. The top spray which kept us dry and warm was removed to expose the smaller version which would not get in the way for the many portages to Reading.

Moving off from one of the 77 portages.

Moving off from one of the 77 portages.

25 miles in at Hungerford we had climbed 4 places to 28th and went through at 4:42:45. We had lost some time running the 1.5 miles between the locks at Crofton due to the state of the tow path. It was very wet, muddy and slippery and it was difficult to hang on to the boat in the strong wind.
Negotiating a fence at Dunn Mill.

Negotiating a fence at Dunn Mill.

At Dunn Mill we had to climb over a fence. John used the stile whilst I took the fence. I could not hold onto the boat and it crashed down onto the dog waster bin and sustained a big gash in the hull. Fortunately the boat is built using a layer of Kevlar sandwiched between two layers of carbon fibre, so we got away with it.

As we approached Newbury the wind and rain was taking its toll. At one point the boat was blown violently sideways into bushes on the bank. We were cold and wet, and our pace slowed. We had lost 4 places and down to 34th place. Our bank support team were waiting with a complete change to top clothing. The whole operation took nine minutes.

This made a huge difference, and our morale and the speed of the boat climbed. At the 43 miles point at Aldermaston we had regained 2 places and recorded 8:07:45. It was now dark and we activated the light sticks on our buoyancy aids and switched on the front light.

Bank Support in action.

Bank Support in action.

As the River Kennet periodically joined the canal, we benefitted from the flow as we set off to Reading. The rain kept falling but the wind eased a bit. During a portage at Woolhampton John lost his footing, fell heavily with the boat on top of him. This was the first of five such falls and each time I thought our race was done. But John just got up and was back in the boat.

It was the usual fun ride through Reading town centre, silently gliding past the bright lights and people out for a Saturday night to the next check point at Dreadnought Reach. We had gained another 2 places and were in 30 th position in a time of 10:05:45. The small spray deck was removed and our new, full length version was put on.

The portage at Dreadnought Reach is always busy as many crews take the opportunity for a full kit change and to take on hot food. By the time we got to Marsh lock we had climbed 8 places to 22nd position at 11:11:59.

It was now eleven o’clock and we had a full kit change and hot food and within ten minutes, we were back on the water having only lost 2 places by the time we reached Marlow in 12:53:38.

Once during the night, the wind pushed the boat towards the bank and some overhanging trees. We hit a thick branch at speed and John took the full impact on the chest. The boat immediately came to a halt and the branch pushed us backwards as it regained its shape. As we fought to stay upright I thought our day was done, but it was the padding in his buoyancy aid which protected him.

As the race continued, many crews started to tire and by the time we reached Bray after one o’clock, we had climbed to 19th position at 15:38:20 and at Old Windsor up to 18th.

We reached Shepperton sometime after four o’clock at 17:16:05. Our bank support was doing a sterling job keeping us motivated, fed and watered. We were getting sick of energy bars and sweet things, and were grateful for the occasional swig of coffee. We had taken another crew somewhere in the dark and were now at 17th position.

Approaching Teddington Lock.

Approaching Teddington Lock.

Dawn broke on the last five mile section before Teddington Lock and we were paddling like machines, three months of training paid off and we were on “automatic pilot”. We managed to overtake a lot of boats whose crews were tiring and shot up to 14 th.
The start of the tideway.

The start of the tideway.

When we got on the tidal sections for the last 17 miles we overtook every boat we encountered. The Thames was really rough and many crews sought the shelter of the banks. We stayed in the middle where the current was strong and fast. It was risky, but we wanted to finish as soon as possible.
The end.

The end.

We gave the race everything and when we climbed the steps at Westminster, we were like zombies! We finished in 12th position in a time of 21 hours 20 minutes and 43 seconds. Not quite the time we’d hoped for, but very happy with the result.
All done.

All done.

The finish village at Westminster is very busy, there are boats kit, paddlers and people everywhere. But we managed to find our support, grab a shower and shove everything in the car to get home. The boat had taken quite a battering, but as our bodies will heal and recover, the boat will mend.

So after all the training and preparation was it worth it? Is has to be an emphatic YES.

Three days to DW and we’re ready

The Devizes to Westminster 2016 international canoe race starts on Saturday 26th March and I think we are about ready.

As John is retired and I have managed to get time off work, we have been training like pros. We are lucky that we live within easy access to the DW course and all our training runs have enabled us to better learn the course and also practise the portages.

The Waterside and Thameside race series did not figure in our race lead-up as we know those parts of the course so well, and being in a race environment doesn’t really add any value. There are also the risks of injury and potential for damaging the boat.

During the last few months since the maiden voyage on December 11th, we have gelled as a crew and our paddling technique and fitness has improved immensely. We have tried a number of different things such as spray decks, drink systems, clothing, food, portage options and bank support. If we fail to finish, it won’t be due to lack of preparation.

I changed the rear footrest for a more substantial model which still keeps the pull bar. The pull bar is great for ensuring that your feet are always in the same place on the footrest.

Rear footrest - redesign

Rear footrest – redesign

We have canoed all sections of the course several times and we paddled from Aldermaston to Teddington in the dark in preparation for the night time. We really enjoyed paddling the Thames when it is “on red boards”, mostly because the boat is so stable. The difference in times can be a factor of twenty minutes in twenty miles.
Red Board river condition warnings

Red Board river condition warnings

We have set a schedule for sub-twenty hours and have tested our real speed against our anticipated speed on the canal and river sections. The tideway is being left to chance as we don’t have access to a safety boat or other crews during the day. But quite honestly, we’ll be so tired at that stage, we won’t really care.

Our main objective is to finish. We both need one more straight-through towards qualification for the 1,000 mile club. This is also a great opportunity to test The Darkness Duet C2 in the race for which it is primarily designed.

Our start time from Devizes is very much influenced by the water conditions and the weather. If we can get some decent rainfall in the week leading to the race and the Thames rises, we may delay our start. We were hoping for a light tail wind and cool conditions (about 10 degrees) to Dreadnought Reach, and then an overcast sky, no wind and temperature no less than 8 degrees all the way to Westminster. However, we’ll cope with whatever is thrown at us in the knowledge that it’s the same for everyone.

From the weather forecast, it now turns out that Saturday will be dominated by strong southerly winds from mid-day until Newbury. It is also likely to rain for some of the time, but at least that should prevent freezing temperatures. It should all calm down as night falls and we may even have a tail wind up the Henley straight.

We have found that a good cloud cover far better reflects the light than a clear sky. Also, a clear sky usually means low temperatures and the possibility of ice.

The boat is marginally slower in the dark and we take extra care on the portages at night, which has a small impact on timings. The water level fundamentally transforms the nature of the get-outs and put-ins at the portages as the drop to the water changes. Sometimes the approaches to the rollers at Sunbury, Mosely and Teddington are underwater and we end up with wet feet.

We will start with a full spray deck at Devizes (the one I made). This will reduce the impact of the wind on the boat and keep us warm and dry. At Wootton Rivers it will be removed to expose the small spray deck underneath. This should keep out most of the rain and the water from switching the paddle.

Small spray deck

Small spray deck

The small spray deck will stay on until Dreadnought Reach. Here it will be removed and replaced with another full spray deck which has been manufactured by Marsport. It takes a little time to un-zip at the get out and zip-up at the put-in, but it’s worth it.

The picture below shows the professionally made spray deck on the left, and my home-made one on the right. The main differences are the fit around the cockpit rim, and fewer seams on the Marsport model.

Professional Spray deck on the left, home-made one on the right.

Professional Spray deck on the left, home-made one on the right.

Our emergency mandatory kit will be secured by bungees under our seats. This makes it easy to remove for inspection and is above any water swilling about in the boat.
Emergency survival kit secured under the seats.

Emergency survival kit secured under the seats.

We’ll also have a spare paddle secured in the boat, under the spray deck.
Spare paddle under the spray deck.

Spare paddle under the spray deck.

This will be moved to above the spray deck for the tideway.
Spare paddle on top of the spray deck.

Spare paddle on top of the spray deck.

I have a small torch secured to my buoyancy aid. We’ve tested the light sticks and were surprised that they didn’t affect our night sight.

We have a small torch integrated into the front portage handle. This is wrapped with cycle handlebar tape and is secure and comfortable.

Front light.

Front light.

An even smaller torch is integrated into the rear handle. This shines towards the ground in front of me when the boat is being carried upside-down, so I can avoid trip hazards in the dark.
Rear torch for portaging.

Rear torch for portaging.

For fluid intake, we have opted for the Marsport front bottle holder and bottles with the short tube. These are mounted on the front of our buoyancy aids.

We are planning one stop for substantial food intake, and a complete change of clothing as we go into the night. We may also change our tops depending on how wet and cold we get. It does take time to do these things, but the benefit is worth it.

We have a detailed plan and schedule for the race, plus mobile access to the DW real-time tracking site at:


We are boat number 357 in a C2 category of 18 boats. There are some considerably experienced and fast crews, including some “super stars” from the USA, so we are realistic about our race chances and our gaol “just to finish” remains our number one objective.

The Wenonah ICF C2 – any good?

Whilst waiting for James and Mike to start their race, I had the opportunity to have a good look at some of the Wenonah ICF boats they would be up against. This boat has dominated C2 marathon canoeing in the UK for decades mostly because there are no alternatives. But the design is now over 25 years old and to be honest, it wasn’t particular good in the first place. It’s as though Wenonah simply changed the shape of their current designs to ensure compliance to ICF specifications.

I found this little snippet on t‘interweb:

The ICF C2 design was made for the 1981 ICF world competition that was held in Canada. Wenonah manufactured and sent 2 boats to compete that year as sit&switch boats in a competition that traditionally hosted high kneel design boats. Very few of those 1981 ICF C2s were made.

The paddlers who paddled the ICF C2s were some of the godfathers of modern paddling. One boat was paddled by Crozier and Triebold, the other by Jensen and Hassel. It is understood that Jensen and Hassel’s boat made it into the finals, but unfortunately, ultimately, the boat could not compete with the highest level of competition of the high kneel boats.

In 1982, the ICF C2 design was tweaked, but unfortunately, the tweaking made the boat an unstable craft. That and the fact that the ICF Worlds went back to Europe led to the end of the ICF sit&switch idea. Ultimately the ICF C2 boats along with a similarly designed boat from Sawyer found a new life as the genesis of many of the “Texas” unlimited boat designs.

You have to admire these guys for having a go and trying something different.

The hull shape is certainly quick, but there doesn’t seem to be much empathy with equipping the boat for the paddlers, or any understanding of what is required for the inevitable portaging. This is borne out by the many and varied modifications paddlers have made to their boats to overcome some of the shortcomings.

Starting with the deck, there isn’t one! ICF regulations stipulate that the open area must be at least 2.8 metres long, and that the gunwales must not be wider than 5 cms. The ICF C2 is completely open along its entire length and the gunwales are the standard timber ones which simply add some longitudinal rigidity.

The sides have no tumblehome and are nearly vertical. This means they are subject to the effects of the wind, and there is also nothing to prevent swamping.

All yours for about £3.5k.

All yours for about £3.5k.

The timber tops of the gunwales does not give paddlers anything decent to grip when pulling the boat out at the get-out, during the running phase, and later at the put-in.

As water collects in the boat it invariably accumulates at one end, and if the paddlers invert the boat to carry it upside down on their shoulder, one of them (usually the shortest!) gets soaked as the water exits the boat. There is also nothing comfortable to rest on the shoulder whilst running. There are no portage handles to help pick up and carry the boat, unless you count the two aluminium braces.

There’s no provision to install buoyancy. Whether you think you need it or not, it is mandatory to race in the UK, and quite honestly, it makes good sense.

There are no footrests in the front. The forward paddler has to jam their feet together against a block (usually polystyrene). The rear footrests are a simple round bar.

The thwarts (cross members) could be better positioned to provide something with which the paddlers could pull on to help disembark, and to make it easier and safer to get back in again especially on some of the more challenging portages.

There’s no provision to implement any sort of spray deck. The only option is to tape some type of cover on the outside of the gunwales. There’s nowhere to mount a race number and racers often tape the number to the hull

Even the seats are the standard Wenonah “tractor” seats with very little option to exchange it for something more preferable.

Made of Kevlar, the colour of the boat when new is a golden yellow. However, as it ages and is affected by ultraviolet light, the colour darkens to a brown-beige.

The boat could be substantially improved and £3,395 is a lot of money to pay for such a craft.

So, ICF C2 owners often resort to innovation to help reduce the deficiencies.



This boat is typical, and the crew have adapted it to make things easier.


At the front, there are several different handles for portaging and to help the paddler get in/out. There is some buoyancy under the seat and some additional foam on the gunwales. A block of polystyrene provides a rudimentary footrest.

A small front deck has been constructed so that the boat can be carried upside down on the shoulder a little more comfortably.

The comfort of both seats has been improved with foam, and the rear seat has a higher back and is slightly tipped forward. A spray deck is secured amidships with cord, and the race number is inserted into a plastic sleeve which is secured using string.



At the back there is a small spray deck and a rope handle. The paddler’s feet are protected by a polystyrene “platform” which also supports a strap to help the paddler get in/out. There is a self-bailer to help reduce water in the boat, but this only works if the “puddle” forms around the location of the self-bailer.

All these changes certainly help with comfort and convenience, but there is a price pay in terms of additional weight, cost and complexity.



In this example, very few changes have been made, the crew opting to keep the weight down. At the front some polystyrene blocks form a footrest and also act as buoyancy. Both seats have some foam. At the rear, some straps have been attached to the footrest and the seat has been tipped forward.
Pete and Steve

Pete and Steve

This boat holds the C2 records for Waterside A and the series. Both records were set by this crew in 1994. The boat is an early ICF C2, and the Kevlar has turned darker over the years almost to the colour of wood. Bulkheads have been constructed in the bow and stern which provide buoyancy and a platform to place some foam to help make portaging more comfortable.

So, is the Wenonah ICF C2 any good? Well you can’t deny its popularity for marathon racing, or indeed the host of race wins and records. But is that because it was the only show in town?

It is unlikely that any kayak paddlers are racing such an old design, and it may be time to lobby Wenonah to consider designing a more up to date model. The main problem is the market for such a boat is so small, so maybe it’s not commercially viable.