We have a customer who lives near the water. They own an expedition kayak but wanted something easier to get to and from the water for everyday use. Since this was going to be a workout kayak, it wouldn’t need any storage. We started talking about building him a Competition, with a goal to build it as light as possible… almost.
If you want a light kayak, usually the gel coat is done in a color that covers really well. White is the usual go-to, as it weighs less per fluid ounce than a lot of gel coats and it covers well. As it turns out, white was not our customer’s dream kayak. The colors the customer wants will add some weight. They wanted a metallic finish on a dark blue deck and a colored hull. We do a lot of metallic finishes, so the deck didn’t give us any problems. The colored hull is a different story. We’re not talking just any color hull; they wanted copper. We’ve done copper exactly twice before, and the thing with copper is: it is very sensitive to how it’s applied. If you know what to look for, you can even see where I change directions while spraying. The tail is the trickiest part, it’s brushed in by hand on the 17s and 19s, and the brush strokes are very noticeable in copper.
After consideration, my solution is, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” so I made a plan to scatter brush marks across the entire hull, so the tail wouldn’t look odd compared to the rest of the kayak. Unlike most of our colors, the copper is a powder, rather than a pigment. Our first tests looked good, and the powder added a bit of strength and a pretty significant increase in flexibility to the gel coat. We also noticed that our cure times went down pretty considerably. A relatively quick cure would not usually be an issue during the gel coat phase… unless you intend to spend a lot of time hand-brushing the hull. Normally, spraying a hull is a one-person job, but with the challenges this design presented, we decided to team up to do the brushwork before I sprayed the rest of the hull.
During my design consultation with the customer, the added weight from the custom finishes was discussed, the trade-off of a few pounds for the spectacular finish is worth it for him, but I could tell his dream kayak both looked spectacular and is only 39 pounds. So I looked for other ways we could lighten the kayak.
We’ve been building lightweight kayaks for decades, so our gel coat and laminate are dialed in; I couldn’t save any weight there. The next place we can shave some weight off is the flange trim. I love our performance flange. It deflects water away from the cockpit, has saved me from damaging my kayak against pilings on more than one occasion, and it is also a great handle for wet re-entries. The downside is that our normal finishing trim weighs several pounds. So the usual trim is out for this build but I didn’t know what could replace it.
Although we have been building NC Kayaks for more than 20 years, we are always on the lookout for new technology. Anything that will allow us to improve our kayaks. I recently heard about a keel strip tape for kayaks, made of PVC tape with a waterproof adhesive. The tape comes in 2″ wide rolls and weighs in at 0.6 ounces per foot. I ordered a sample and did some testing, with impressive results. We cut it down to a 1″ wide strip, which brought the weight down to just 0.3 ounces per foot, so covering the whole flange takes about 12 ounces instead of 5 pounds. We did some more tests to figure out the best way to apply it and then did our first kayak with the PVC tape.
The Results are In
We weighed the kayak after it was finished, and it came in at 35 pounds exactly! That is 4 pounds lighter than the Competition’s usual weight… even with a fancy deck finish and a colored hull. The first time the customer saw his kayak, he loved the way it looks: it is a beautiful kayak. When he picked it up for the first time he said, “that’s unbelievable.”
While this kayak took some extra work (researching new materials, testing, and creating new procedures), we were ultimately able to build the customer’s vision and make his dream kayak, and that is what my dreams are made of.
If you have been dreaming of a custom kayak of your own, you can learn more about our ordering process here.
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