Tag Archives: The Darkness

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.
c1_packed_1
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!
c1_on_van_1
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.

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.

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.

Less than three weeks to go….yikes!

At this time, in three weeks’ time, we’ll have completed day one of DW 2014, blimey!

We do however have the small issue of Waterside D to consider between now and then and time to contemplate what was learnt from “C”?

Well one thing is to ensure any cameras or other valuables are safely stowed before moving off, or invest in a waterproof model. Despite days on a radiator and immersion in rice, my daughter’s camera refuses to work. Luckily she has spotted just the one to replace it with, though I don’t remember it costing quite so much before!

I managed to pop the light on the front of the boat on the portage before the tunnel and apparently it was quite helpful with steering and Megan emerged unscathed.

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)

The Darkness emerging from the darkness (getting bored with this joke now)


I’m still struggling with not trying to help (interfere), however with two paddlers on the water, this is unlikely to be an issue. I’ll just have to let them get on with it.

I will remember to wear my crash hat on the bike and avoid low branches across the tow path. Also, to take a spare inner tube or two.

Must learn some Cornish jokes to share with the Fowey crews, maybe some classic Jethro perhaps, gosh, how they’ll laugh! (Actually, I’ve just discovered Denzil Pemberthy’s twitter account) However one cannot dispute the recovery properties of a pasty bought from the “genuine” Cornish pasty shop in Newbury (especially flown in earlier that day).

Home from home?

Home from home?


I will put some lemon and lime energy gels on the shopping list.

Unfortunately Sam won’t be racing on Sunday next as she’s saving herself for the big event, so that will not be a distraction.

So, onward to Devizes. Clocks go forward this weekend so an even earlier start, oh joy!

The Darkness – in detail

So what’s going to help propel these women to glory in Westminster at Easter 2014?

The Darkness - racing sit&switch C1

The Darkness – racing sit&switch C1

The first consideration was the weight of the boat. With umpteen portages in a typical marathon and the 77 which have to be negotiated during DW, it is important that the boat is as light as possible to make this easy. So much time can be lost on portages while the paddler picks the boat out of the water, runs the length of the portage and re-introduces the boat to water prior to embarkation.

The Darkness weighs 8 kgs including seat and buoyancy and is quick and easy to get in and out. It also has a comfortable and secure place to grip on the inside of the gunwales.

Carrying grip

Carrying grip

All boat surfaces were considered for reduction especially the parts which are above the water line. As a canoe doesn’t have the benefit of a rudder, it is up to the paddler to compensate for side winds which attempt to turn the boat towards the wind direction in a similar fashion to a weather cock, hence the term “weather cocking”. So the deck area is low profile.

The Darkness - side profile

The Darkness – side profile

Straight line tracking is also an important consideration to reduce the number of times the paddler has to switch the paddle to the other side of the boat in order to maintain the intended direction. The Darkness has zero rocker along the length of its hull thus providing excellent directional stability.

The seating and paddler position is crucial to provide a firm, efficient and ergonomic paddling platform. An adjustable solid platform which supports a moulded foam seat, is fixed with four stainless steel bolts and wing nuts between two parallel rails.

Seat platform configuration

Seat platform configuration

It is 7 cms high from the bottom of the boat. Different sizes, shapes and heights of foam seat can be fitted between the upright seat supports which should be able to cater for most people’s “foundations”.

Cockpit

Cockpit

The seat solution also enables a different foam seat to be used during various stages of the DW. For example, a high seat can be used for the canal section where the water is flat and still. The height allows more leverage on the paddle but it does render the boat less stable as the centre of gravity is higher.

A lower seat may be appropriate for the tideway where the paddler may encounter large washes from the Thames boat traffic plus the refracted waves from the vertical sides of the river.

An adjustable footrest is fitted consisting of two aluminium square profile tubes inside each other to provide a telescopic cross member secured on two rails with stainless steel bolts and wing nuts. It is covered with skateboard grip tape to prevent the paddler’s feet slipping along it.

Footrest and front thwart

Footrest and front thwart

The front thwart provides a really firm and well positioned bar to help the paddler get out of the boat and to lower themselves onto the seat during embarkation. It is wrapped with racing cycle handlebar tape for warmth, comfort and good grip.

Buoyancy is afforded by a 12 litre Palm Infinity airbag in the stern and a 35 lire bag in the bow.

The front deck has quite a steep angle to allow a good sweeping arc for when the paddle is switched from one side to the other and to dispel water if a wave washes over the bow. It rises to meet a flange which forms the gunwale along the top of the entire open cockpit.

Front deck profile

Front deck profile

As well as dispelling water, it also enables the use of spray decks. An ICF compliant open cockpit must be at least 2.4 metres long and the gunwales must not extend in towards the boat greater than 5 cms. This means it is a quite a large open area into which rain, spray and water dripping from paddles can enter the boat. A spray deck front and rear reduces the impact.

Spray decks

Spray decks

I’ve left the most important design consideration to the last; “as everyone knows” to achieve ultimate performance the boat must look cool!

There are some fantastic looking vessels on the water but most rely on pigmentation in the construction to “hide” the imperfections inherent with carbon composite manufacturing processes and they do look pretty. The Darkness is naked of all cosmetic embellishments and is a celebration of the profound beauty of carbon fibre. It is stunningly beautiful and proud of its dark sleekness.

The Darkness - in all its glory!

The Darkness – in all its glory!

Have we thought of everything? Probably not but any short comings will be uncovered during DW.