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Short Shot vs. Reef - Durability Test

Leo De Bruyn

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On my fourth trip out in the new kayak, I was out at sunset. I had carefully considered the currents, tides, and prevailing winds and selected my put in spot accordingly. It was beautiful and the boat performed well. I spent a little while messing around some waves and getting a feel for how the boat handled them at various angles. Eventually, I headed down the shore, doing some exploring as the sun went down. I know the area well from hiking on the shore, but  lighting conditions made it hard to see down into the water ahead of me, and I became a little nervous. 


I was just about to call it a night, when I passed between some rocks and the nearby shore and I suddenly felt a vibration and heard a prolonged sound kind of like the zipper on a tent, or someone running a fingernail along taught fabric. In that first panicked moment, the sound seemed to last for years until finally I came to a stop-- lodged in place. Looking down, I could now clearly see that there was a large reef connecting the above-water rocks to the shore, and the calm water and lighting conditions had prevented me from seeing that the water was only a few inches deep. I could also see all kinds of barnacles, musssels, and other terrifyingly sharp things under me. 


I took a few deep breaths, wondering if I would start to feel water seeping in around me. It seemed fine. I wasn't really in any serious danger. I knew that it was shallow enough to just pick the boat up and carry it to shore but I didn't fancy trying to walk on that terrain barefoot as the light was failing. Eventually I started feeling around with the paddle and managed to get myself off the reef -- wincing at each little bump and scrape-- and find my way out of there. In open water, I opened the spray skirt, and also reached into the water, to try to feel on the bottom. It all seemed fine, and so I paddled themile and a half back to my starting point. It was too dark by then to properly inspect the boat, but I confirmed that there were no holes in it. 


At home, I cleaned the boat up and inspected the damage. It's a little hard to see with the white paint job, but worth taking a look at. I learned something from what I saw. 


In this picture, you can see that the marks run several feet along the boat, on the keel and both lower stringers. With that much of the boat dragged over the reef, if the fabric had cut open, it would have been pretty catastrophic-- duct tape wouldn't have saved me. Basically, what people who haven't used skin boats imagine will happen at first sign of collision with anything. 




You can see that there are long sections where the paint is just scuffed a bit. Here you can see up close the worst spots where the outer layer of paint has been scraped off completely.





The worst spot is at the end of one of the seat/floor boards (which, you may all recall are made from strips of cedar on this boat-- not pieces of ply). 




My overall impression is that the durability profile of the boat is perhaps not what you would expect on first consideration. Obviously, when it comes to puncture from a collision with a pointy spear-like object, the wood parts are stronger than the fabric parts. But, when it comes to running over sharp things such as reefs covered with barnacles and shellfish, which is much more likely in a marine environment, as far as the skin is concerned, those big soft open panels of fabric are the most durable part of the boat because they just flex out of the way when something runs across them. I can see where the marks just kind of run off the stringers and then disappear as they get out into the panel. 


On the other hand a stringer will prevent the fabric from getting out of the way, effectively grinding it across the cutting surface. Even so, the fabric (which is a loose-weave 8 oz I got from Dyson) doesn't seem to have any severed threads-- it's just roughed up in places and a lot of paint removed. 


Pointy bits, like corner on the end of the floor/seat stringers are the most dangerous spots. That's where the worst damage, that most approaches the appearance of a "hole" was found. In the previous picture, that corner is where that large gash is. The rest of the mark kind of fades out into the panel to the right, beyond the end of the floor board. 


Besides learning something about safety and preparedness (and to spend a bit more time with the charts, and stay further from shore in bad light conditions), I also learned that on future boats it will be a good idea to do a more thorough rounding of the outer edges of the stringers to reduce the sharpness of the corners even more and put less area of wood against the fabric. Special attention should be given to the seat boards, on the edges and corners that face downward.


Overall, I was lucky and learned some useful lessons at what I consider to be a low cost. My repairs at least will be cheap and easy-- it's just white Rustoleum. And it was a beautiful evening. Here's a picture after I landed, with the lights of Lopez Village across the bay. 




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Glad to hear it turned out OK Leo - I was a bit worried by the thread title.


What you found ties in with the recognized tendency for the bow and stern to wear through first from repeated grounding on the frame. They are still quite durable boats though.


I've scraped my Curlew across submerged logs and the odd rock in skinny backwaters but nothing like what you find on marine reefs.  I don't recall even being able to see any evidence of the scrapes on mine.

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No surprise. It takes a lot put a hole in one. 


I am guessing by what you said that you did not round the ends of the seat stringers? An exposed blunt end is more susceptible to damage than anywhere else.  I need to add a note on the plans and clarify that.


I thought there was something in the manual but I am learning most people do not read the manual very closely. So it is better to put it on the plans.


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You know, I did do some rounding on it, but since I am light on tools for that sort of thing it could probably have been a lot rounder. For future projects some kind of router with roundover bit and a grinder would save time and compensate for my lack of patience and lack of free time for endless sanding and filing to get a much rounder effect overall. It turns out to be pretty important. 

Incidentally it seems like a more v bottom shape like Ravenswood would be a bit less vulnerable to this kind of damage. There's just less hard edges available for things to rub on below. On the other hand, I appreciated how stable the rounded bottom felt when I ran aground. There was no question of me tipping over.

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