SK Team Paddler Christine Burris New Boat
A new sea kayak is something to celebrate. Part of the celebration is investing time to personalize it to fit your body and your needs. Given a few years of paddling and numerous equipment changes I have a few modifications that must be in place before I take a new boat on the water. Buying a new Tiderace Xcite provided a nice opportunity to share my methods (and a few eccentricities).
When I first started this tradition I didn’t have a garage so I would carry my yak into the living room. I even laid a few keel strips inside, but I have a garage for that now. Aside from gel coat a new boat still has the honor of being brought inside for its initial set up. Although there are a million different ways to skin this proverbial cat these are mine for what they are worth.
Disclaimers: If you are cohabiting with a “neat nick” you may be relegated to the garage or worse… the carport. To avoid this you might wait until your partner is out of town or you may even provide a gift certificate to a.. spa retreat? Just in case they come home early, keep a trash can and a vacuum nearby.
Gather your equipment. I start by gathering all the gear and tools needed for installation: eye protection, cordless drill and bits, mini and regular screw driver set , bread knife, various pliers, socket set, Yak Armor, Yak Snot, closed cell foam in various sizes, Dragon Skin, deck mounted compass, spare paddle holders, electric bilge pump with all the fittings, black 3-m tough tape, reflective tape, thin cord for skeg line, non skid tape, any personalizing decals, one bottle of wine and a glass.
*Hint: Turn on music but do not pour the wine until after the compass and pump are installed.
The first step is the compass. I selected a Brunton 70P (which comes with an installation manual). Drill the holes, set the lubber line, tighten the screws, and clip off the screw tips with dykes (dremmel tools don’t work because you can’t see where you are grinding). Coat screw ends with aqua seal to prevent them from catching on gear.
The second is the pump. I prefer a Blue Water Kayak Works Electric Bilge Pump. This boat is getting the new prototype with a permanently enclosed battery pack. I use a 7/8in paddle style drill bit to cut the through hull water exit. Drill very slowly to prevent any spider cracking. I located this on the fore deck just behind the left deck fitting closest to the cockpit. The pump and battery pack are installed with strips of dual lock, a Velcro like product by 3-M. The wires for the magnetic switch and the water tube are held in place with a long strip of closed cell foam that is glued into place with Yak Snot. Yak snot works well to attach foam to fiberglass, but must be applied to both surfaces and allowed to sit for 10 min before contact. The magnetic switch itself comes in two parts and one is seated in closed cell foam and glued into place inside the cockpit under the deck line on which the control switch is mounted. Test the pump (without water) and if you are successful you may now pour the glass of wine.
The third step is to apply Yak Armor. I love this product and have been known to pave the entire deck of my boats with it, but for today I am covering the front between the compass and the whiskey hatch to protect from spare paddle scratches. Rear deck application protects from scratches during rescue practice, (or when Bob decides to run over my back deck with his black keel strip), but I only have enough to cover the front today. First remove the deck lines and bungees and then cut to fit. Peel off the backing and apply by slowly rubbing with a spatula to remove air bubbles. I also use scraps to fill in open spots. This product lasts longer than I keep my boats, completely protects the finish yet can be easily removed with a heat gun or hair dryer.
Next, spare paddle holders, replace deck lines and adjust toggles. When reapplying deck lines it is a good time to attach spare paddle holders. I am using North Water Paddle Britches which can also be attached with zip ties for quick removal. Deck lines are tools for rescues and on new boats are often too tight and close to the deck to get a gloved hand beneath. To make a boat rescue ready, I remove the lines from the middle deck fittings to allow room for grabbing. Traditional boats used beads to hold the line off the deck. Others tie knots in the line before and after fittings to raise it up. For me the added space between the fittings is enough. Toggles are another important issue. Most new boats come with a bungee connected to the toggles to keep them in place above deck. I use toggles for rescues and prefer them hanging free to grab easily when needed. I usually remove the bungee but Tiderace provides a convenient way to connect it back to other bungees out of the way. The traditional loop tie can create problems during a toggle tow rescue or when trying to hold a boat in surf. If the boat spins and a finger is inside the looped line it can break them or worse. The simple solution is to cut the line and knot it at the boat and toggle so twisting can’t create a hazard.
Since we are working with lines it is a good time to remember a thin line tied through the skeg in case it gets jammed while on the water. Usually I have to drill a small hole but my new boat has one pre drilled so I just add the line.
Non skid tape is a helpful addition. If you have ever been in a hurry to get in or out of your cockpit and had your hands slip you will understand the value in a few strips of non skid tape. I attach two strips on either side of the back deck just behind the cockpit. You may also apply reflective tape for safety at night. I applied black reflective tape to go along the rails.
Remove the seat Pad. Why? By its nature of being “grippy”, it inhibits rotation. If your behind can not slide you lose half of your body’s potential rotation. I often hand out trash bags to new students so they can experience good rotation without the inhibiting factor of a grippy seat and hip pads. So with a bit of Goo Gone, a spackling knife, and some elbow grease you too can have a slippery seat.
Seat Back Adjustment: I like to remove one of the two connecting seat back screws on each side so I can lift the seat back to access the space behind. I also prefer a particular kind of lumbar block that I can pivot around during rotation and yet have a transitional support when laying on the back deck. So after moving the seat back all the way back and only on one screw on each side, I fashion a closed cell foam block to rest on a notch on the back of the seat and then against the back rest to create the lay back support without any backrest inhibition. This takes a bit of shaping. First cut the rough shape with a bread knife and then round off all the edges with dragon skin. Even when it looks really good, this will still be in need of adjustment so plan to get the fine tuning done later.
Padding the cockpit: Sometimes you find a hull design that fits you perfectly. If not, better the boat be slightly big than too small, as you can only make adjustments one way. When I say this I am describing a boat that is not so big that (without any alteration) I can roll it and static brace without slipping out of it. I simply prefer a bit more connectivity. Keep in mind that over padding will reduce rotation and the ability to engage or disengage the knees which would do more harm than good. That being said if your boat needs padding, place a one inch closed cell foam sheet under the thigh hooks and draw a line defining the hook shape. Cut with a bread knife and then carve down the edges. Use a dragon skin to refine the edges. Usually this is refined down to less than an inch thick at its deepest point. Glue in with yak snot on both sides.
Final tuning: Here is where it gets really messy.
The only way to truly fit a boat is to sit in it (and paddle it). Sit in the boat and lay back. Adjust the seat back by shaving it down with dragon skin until it feels comfortable. This may take a while and require several stops to vacuum the cockpit and yourself. This needs the most attention as it will be attached permanently with black 3-m tough tape before paddling, and it is much more difficult to re shape after the tape is applied. Next the thigh hooks should be shaved in the same manner. However put some dragon skin in the day hatch and plan to pull it out on breaks during the first paddle if adjustment is needed.
For my test run I took a 12 plus mile paddle around Anderson Island in Puget Sound.
We made several stops and even switched boats with partners on one leg for fun. Surprisingly my foaming did not need any additional shaping. Tomorrow I will take it to a pool session for rolling. Next week I will add a reinforced keel strip. Over time without a doubt there will be more adjustments but for the most part she is ready for play.
Christine Burris, Senior Instructor
Rogue Wave Adventures