Building a Hard Top Bimini – Part 2

We showed you the first video  from this 3 part series on how a pretty typical canvas bimini on an aluminum frame was replaced with a slick, custom made carbon fiber hard top bimini. The hard top replacement accomplishes many things for the owner: it adds space to store surfboards, paddle boards and more when tied down to the newly installed rails. It provides a hard surface to stand on if needed, a great spot to jump off of for swimming and provides similar protection from the sun and elements – but with the black carbon underside, it now provides some glare reduction and it looks really cool!

Check out part 2 of the video series, filmed in the TotalBoat Shop. In this video they work to properly fit the new panels to the existing frame, the edges of the panels are routed and then filled and shaped to be rounded using TotalFair Epoxy Fairing Compound. And then in Part 3 (coming soon!) you can see it all come together, complete with boards strapped on and underway!

How To Do Perfect Vacuum Resin Infusion of a Carbon Fiber

This practical guide explains exactly how to use the Resin Infusion technique to make a strong and light carbon fiber part with a perfect, pin-hole free, surface finish. Follow the video step-by-step, including never shared before professional techniques and you too can master this technique.

Quinn Connell’s White Water Kayak Project – Part 4: Finishing Touches

In the Fall of 2013, Quinn Connell devised an Independent Study in Kayak Design using free courseware from an MIT Naval Architecture Graduate program. Quinn was able to combine his experience as a kayaker with his studies in fluid dynamics and design his dream white water kayak. He then approached Jamestown Distributors and asked to sponsor his project  in order to make his dream boat into a reality.
Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

With the hull and deck fully molded, I had a few key pieces to add before the boat was finished:  I needed to install grab loops, cockpit coaming, pillars to reinforce the boat, and outfitting to secure the paddler.

"Making grab loops: I used webbing and slitted extra pieces of carbon to layer them in without impacting the structural integrity of the boat.  The packing tape kept the handle portions from getting coated in epoxy and sticking to the boat."

“Making grab loops: I used webbing and slitted extra pieces of carbon to layer them in without impacting the structural integrity of the boat. The packing tape kept the handle portions from getting coated in epoxy and sticking to the boat.”

"To make the cockpit rim, I tacked on rubber hosing with hot glue then molded from the inside of the boat over half of the tube using carbon tape."

“To make the cockpit rim, I tacked on rubber hosing with hot glue then molded from the inside of the boat over half of the tube using carbon tape.”

"An extra layer of carbon wrapping from inside the boat over the first cockpit rim layer added a lot of strength to the deck.  I used the hose from the first part of cockpit rim construction to clamp the second layer on and get a nice, smooth finish.  I kept the hose intact as a ring, heated the rubber and slipped it on like a spray skirt.  As the rubber cooled, the hose shrunk and clamped the second layer into place giving a tight layup and smooth, watertight finish.  Extra foam core and carbon/kevlar was used to make front, back and side pillars. I also used extra bits of foam core and carbon to reinforce critical areas like the thigh braces."

“An extra layer of carbon wrapping from inside the boat over the first cockpit rim layer added a lot of strength to the deck. I used the hose from the first part of cockpit rim construction to clamp the second layer on and get a nice, smooth finish. I kept the hose intact as a ring, heated the rubber and slipped it on like a spray skirt. As the rubber cooled, the hose shrunk and clamped the second layer into place giving a tight layup and smooth, watertight finish. Extra foam core and carbon/kevlar was used to make front, back and side pillars. I also used extra bits of foam core and carbon to reinforce critical areas like the thigh braces.”

"Now time for a paint job -  chalk helped out here to lay things out without being permanent."

“Now time for a paint job – chalk helped out here to lay things out without being permanent.”

"Spray paint did the rest."

“Spray paint did the rest.”

"No stencil? Better make one."

“No stencil? Better make one.”

"I should have been an art major."

“I should have been an art major.”

"One last hot coat of epoxy to seal things up."

“One last hot coat of epoxy to seal things up.”

"Look at this beauty!"

“Look at this beauty!”

"For the outfitting, I carved minicell foam to the shape and height that I wanted for the seat and thigh braces.  I augmented this with a seat cover, back band and hip pads taken from an old broken boat."

“For the outfitting, I carved minicell foam to the shape and height that I wanted for the seat and thigh braces. I augmented this with a seat cover, back band and hip pads taken from an old broken boat.”

"Just in the nick of time, too! I took her to the pool, and after pleading with the lifeguards to let me test it out, I was able to pull some strings and get in a corner of the pool.  She floated, and I was able to throw around some flat water tricks to christen her.  Thanks, Joann!"

“Just in the nick of time, too! I took her to the pool, and after pleading with the lifeguards to let me test it out, I was able to pull some strings and get in a corner of the pool. She floated, and I was able to throw around some flat water tricks to christen her. Thanks, Joann!”

"That afternoon we had a poster session to showcase our various projects.  Bernie designed and built a SUP and Quinn Harper did the same for a RC scale rendition of an America’s Cup boat. We had several other mid-term projects we had developed along the way, including developing a curriculum to teach high school students to design and build their own RC system and catamaran for an underwater robot."

“That afternoon we had a poster session to showcase our various projects. Bernie designed and built a SUP and Quinn Harper did the same for a RC scale rendition of an America’s Cup boat. We had several other mid-term projects we had developed along the way, including developing a curriculum to teach high school students to design and build their own RC system and catamaran for an underwater robot.”

The process of turning this boat into a reality was both mentally and physically taxing.  While I could not be more pleased with the outcome, I am in no rush to go through the experience again any time soon.  This was certainly a high point of my education and as I had just graduated college, there was nothing left to do but go use my new kayak.

Stay tuned for the final installation of Quinn’s project series!

Quinn Connell’s White Water Kayak Project – Part 3: Layups

In the Fall of 2013, Quinn Connell devised an Independent Study in Kayak Design using free courseware from an MIT Naval Architecture Graduate program. Quinn was able to combine his experience as a kayaker with his studies in fluid dynamics and design his dream white water kayak. He then approached Jamestown Distributors and asked to sponsor his project  in order to make his dream boat into a reality.
Check out Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Now that I had the plugs fully prepped, the real work began. With just around two weeks left in the term it was time to start laying up the carbon fiber.  I’d never attempted to make anything nearly this large or complex before, and owe a lot of my success to the expertise of people more experienced than I who were willing to share their knowledge (also, the internet)- big shout out to Dave Niewenhuis, Jason Downs, Kevin Baron, Eli Stein and Quinn Harper.  The videos on the Jamestown Distributors website were a huge help here too, I strongly recommend checking them out before starting any project.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.31.11 PM

“Once this little honey badger arrived, it was off to the races. I cannot thank Mike Mills and Jamestown distributors enough for their support and making this project a success.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.32.44 PM

“Cutting the fabric down to size: On the hull I sandwiched carbon fiber with carbon/kevlar to maximize durability while keeping weight to a minimum. As it turns out, it’s incredibly hard to cut kevlar. I cut all of the layers down to size while dry before hand to ensure we didn’t waste any time once the epoxy was mixed.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.33.50 PM

“Wetting out multiple layers is a team job – brushes, rollers and good old fashioned handwork ensured that every fiber was saturated with epoxy before adding the next layer of cloth.”

Here’s where things start to get nerve-wracking; you’re working against the clock with a limited time until the epoxy cures, it’s all permanent, and you’ve got a lot of time and material on the line by now.  It was key to have some good friends around to help. Thanks Quinn & Eli. Tip: measure out multiple smaller batches of epoxy before beginning to mix or start your layup.  This is useful on multiple fronts: The reaction is exothermic and causes positive feedback – in my first composites project we tried mixing around ½ gallon of epoxy at once. The bucket we were using melted and we were lucky to come out with just losing that amount of epoxy – burning down the school would have been much more expensive.  Using smaller batches gives you a longer pot life and you can mix each when you are ready for it.  Leaving the cups around lets you check to ensure you got the ratios right and the epoxy hardens correctly.

I used a 4×8 sheet of formica on top of a table so that I could wrap bagging plastic all the way around and seal it to itself.  Packing tape on the sheet of Formica kept things from sticking.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.35.15 PM

“Peel ply made sure the vacuum bagging materials came off cleanly and didn’t stick to the boat.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.41.21 PM

“Peel ply, breather and bag on. Vacuum bagging is a really cool technique that uses negative pressure to clamp your material to whatever shape you want. The breather/bleeder layer allows airflow for an even vacuum and provides a reservoir for excess epoxy. This allows lighter, more efficient layups.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.41.35 PM

“An hour into curing, Thayer’s high-end vacuum overheated and shut off, causing the vacuum bagging system to fail. In a borderline panic, I ended up finding this little engine-that-could tucked away in the basement.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.43.16 PM

“It worked like a charm. The rails came out sharp! Without a vacuum, there’s no way I could have gotten this definition.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.43.26 PM

“We moved operations into the boiler room, affectionately termed “The Ghettoclave” where temperatures were high which helped the curing process…”

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.44.24 PM

“…But not before getting lost wandering through basement labs trying to get there.”

A few days later: Once it was fully cured getting the plug out was fun.

“A few days later: Once it was fully cured getting the plug out was fun.”

"I used butcher’s paper and chalk to make a stencil for a Divinycell core on the hull."

“I used butcher’s paper and chalk to make a stencil for a Divinycell core on the hull.”

"Back to the boiler room! Layering the foam core into the hull interior with more carbon and kevlar. And of course vacuum bagging it all."

“Back to the boiler room! Layering the foam core into the hull interior with more carbon and kevlar. And of course vacuum bagging it all.”

Although I had tightly scheduled out construction, I hadn’t factored in nearly enough time for incidentals like additional cutting, sanding, and extra coats of epoxy.  With the end-of-term and my imminent departure closing in, this meant that I was now spending roughly 20 hours/day working on her.  To add to the fun, by this point I was covered in epoxy with carbon and kevlar splinters in places I didn’t know existed.  My friends joked that I was turning myself into a bulletproof man.  If I were to do it again, I’d invest in around 100 Tyvek suits before ever leaving the CAD lab.

"Inserting the deck plug"

“Inserting the deck plug”

"The green coating is PVA, a mold-release agent I sprayed on using Preval.  It’s alcohol-based, so theoretically it dissolves with just a little warm water and releases easily from the layup..."

“The green coating is PVA, a mold-release agent I sprayed on using Preval. It’s alcohol-based, so theoretically it dissolves with just a little warm water and releases easily from the layup…”

"I molded over the deck plug straight to the hull in order to avoid any seams or weak joints as molding it in two separate halves would have required.  This was possible because I only made a single boat, and had to destroy the plug to get it out."

“I molded over the deck plug straight to the hull in order to avoid any seams or weak joints as molding it in two separate halves would have required. This was possible because I only made a single boat, and had to destroy the plug to get it out.”

At one point, halfway through this layup I turned around from mixing a fresh batch of epoxy to find myself dumbfounded by the sight of the entire boat, beaming in majestic carbon for the first time.  At this moment, I started calling her La Sirena (Spanish for ‘mermaid’, or ‘siren’, like in the Odyssey) – she was beautiful and the object of all my pursuits, but at the same time she had become the bane of my existence. Or maybe I was just in a sleep-deprived haze.

"The deck ended up just being a wet layup as I couldn’t get the vacuum bag to seal to itself at 4am, alone, dripping with sweat in the boiler room.  Ironically, having epoxy everywhere kept the tape from sticking. I had my breath held for a few hours there, but it came out better than I could have hoped for."

“The deck ended up just being a wet layup as I couldn’t get the vacuum bag to seal to itself at 4am, alone, dripping with sweat in the boiler room. Ironically, having epoxy everywhere kept the tape from sticking. I had my breath held for a few hours there, but it came out better than I could have hoped for.”

"Now it’s starting to look like a boat! Sanding her down."

“Now it’s starting to look like a boat! Sanding her down.”

"I used the dremel to cut open a hole for the cockpit, which left a new question:  "How do I get this out of here?"

I used the dremel to cut open a hole for the cockpit, which left a new question:
“How do I get this out of here?”

"10 hours later…"

“10 hours later…”

With the plug removed I had the shell fully molded.  I was ecstatic and exhausted at the same time.  With just a few finishing touches she would be seaworthy!

Almost there! Part 4 coming soon!

Quinn Connell’s White Water Kayak Project – Part 2: The Plug

In the Fall of 2013, Quinn Connell devised an Independent Study in Kayak Design using free courseware from an MIT Naval Architecture Graduate program. Quinn was able to combine his experience as a kayaker with his studies in fluid dynamics and design his dream white water kayak. He then approached Jamestown Distributors and asked to sponsor his project  in order to make his dream boat into a reality.
Check out Part 1 here.

After many iterations and a few months in the CAD lab, it was time to build the plug – a life-size mock up of the kayak that I could use to form the carbon fiber around.  I used Thayer’s ShopBot (a 3D CNC router) to cut styrofoam panels to the right geometry, one 3” layer at a time. This machine is awesome.  With a 6′ x 8′ cutting table and vacuum clamp, you can make just about anything you can imagine.

It took around  a week of cutting time to get all of the layers done.

“It took around  a week of cutting time to get all of the layers done.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.17.28 PM

“Getting excited with the first layers hot off the press.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.18.45 PM

“The ShopBot gave great definition if you were patient enough.  After 2 weeks or so in the ShopBot control room, I was easily confused with a Smurf –  everything I owned was covered in blue dust.  Little did I know, this was just the beginning…”

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.19.08 PM

“Next I laminated the layers by clamping with packing tape and wood glue – Gorilla Glue expanded too much and caused layers to slide out of place.  Then I sanded and faired the foam using construction putty.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.20.27 PM

“Epoxy, sand and repeat.  After around 6 cycles of working my way up to 400 grit, both the hull and deck plugs were looking nice and shiny.  It’s important to get a glassy finish to prevent the carbon fiber from bonding to the plug.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 2.21.59 PM

“Wax on, wax off.  Car wax on the plugs helps them release from the carbon fiber. Make sure you don’t let the wax dry for too long! I made this mistake and had to put in a lot of elbow grease to make up for it.”

At this point things were getting exciting – the boat was taking shape and I had tangible results from my effort put in.  The next task was to begin laying up the composite.

Stay posted for Part 3!

 

Comanche! A sneak preview of things to come

A blazingly fast carbon 100 footer is being completed at Hodgdon Yachts in Maine to compete in major ocean races around the world and break records on existing ocean crossings. Watch this space for more info as the boat hits the water and starts sailing.