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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“Peel ply made sure the vacuum bagging materials came off cleanly and didn’t stick to the boat.”
“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.”
“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.”
“It worked like a charm. The rails came out sharp! Without a vacuum, there’s no way I could have gotten this definition.”
“We moved operations into the boiler room, affectionately termed “The Ghettoclave” where temperatures were high which helped the curing process…”
“…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.”
“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.”
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”
“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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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!