Weight and Durability- Why do they matter?

Lesley, comfortably holding the Carbon Petrel Play with one arm

I have been building boats and kayaks for almost 20 years. From the outset,  I've always done things a little differently. After building my first, a Chesapeake 17 from Chesapeake Light Craft, looked at ways of pushing my limits and reducing weight. The caveat to building light was that it had to be strong as well. My third boat was dimensionally the same as the first boat, but it weighed 15lbs less and was the boat I always took out. It was easier to load, and despite having the same hull shape, it was more lively in its response to my then limited skill. It was the start of something big for me.

When I went to work for Chesapeake Light Craft, I spent time in the shop honing my building skill and experimenting with materials. I started to absorb a lot of the knowledge floating around and doing my own research on materials. I had a great number of resources to pull from. I wanted more. I was also introduced to rough water kayaking and the need for skill development started to emerge. As my skills developed, I was also able to discern the effects of design and materials on performance.

Weight has always been a criteria for performance oriented kayaking. I've always paddled light weight boats. My favorites within the quiver at CLC were the Petrel and Petrel Play. The Petrel was 32lbs fully rigged and the Play was 38lbs. The Play was the boat I trained in and learned the finer points of rough water kayaking. So, my reference for weight is a boat that weighs 40lbs. When I would paddle another boat, from different manufacturers, the difference is immediately apparent. Acceleration and turning strokes require MORE from me as a paddler. Response is dull and requires more muscle.

My building criteria was still the same, light and strong. The idea for Turning Point was to build some of the Guillemot Designs in Carbon Fiber . The designs are super high performance and I thought they should be available in Carbon. So, in the discussions surrounding the development, the topic frequently turned to resin infusion. The process was fairly new and only used by a handful of builders. The process resulted in super strong boats that were lighter than all of their competition.

The Petrel Play in Fiberglass (40 lbs) and Carbon (30lbs) Infused Layups.

Fast forward a few years. Vacuum Infusion is the area of greatest advancement in modern composites. Just today, I was talking with my rep from the composite supplier. They have new materials that will streamline the process. I am all about being on the cutting edge, but frankly it is hard to keep up! That has been the biggest hurdle in infusion manufacturing. It is a complicated set up and requires a higher level of skill. New materials are closing the gap in labor costs and either you are ready for it or you are not. For manufacturers using hand layup and vacuum bagging, to switch is like jumping on a treadmill moving at high speed. Some manufacturers would have to completely re-tool to use infusion.

So why is this a benefit to you? Weight and durability. For years we have been told that a sea kayak should be made of materials that are easy to repair. Makes total sense. The times I have hit rocks at speed while playing, or had boats bang together during a rescue are countless. What if the boat was made in a manner that would be less likely to need repair? What if that same boat could be lighter? Too many times I see kayaks being dragged by the bow, the stern scraping along the ground. It's like taking that boat and setting it on a belt sander. They are too heavy! If you are resistant to picking it up on the beach, what toll does that weight have on your body while out paddling?

Lets take durability into consideration.  I repair a LOT of boats. I know the guts of almost every layup from every manufacturer. All of this goes into my databank when designing the process to build a fiberglass boat. The one shortcoming I see universally, is fiber orientation. In a cloth layup, the fibers need to be oriented in a manner that they compliment each other. In a 0/90 degree orientation, the continuous fibers run the length and width of the boat. Strength and stiffness are best in those directions. Where most all layups fall short, is the +/-45 degree orientation. Where the fibers run diagonally. This is where the durability is amplified exponentially. Why other manufactures are not utilizing this style of layup is not something I can speak to. Perhaps the added cost and complexity involved is a factor. I CAN speak to the benefit to you, the boat owner. MORE durable, LESS likely it will ever need repair.

Weight and why is it a benefit to you. Two boats, identical design, but different weights. For the sake of discussion, one weighs 62-64lbs. This is the average weight of a traditional 17' sea kayak. I derived this figure from my database, which is based on the actual weights I measured on the scale in my shop. It is a real number, and not something I arbitrarily pulled out of thin air. Now, that same boat, built with a carbon/kevlar layup will weigh about 47-49lbs. This weight is also in a ready to paddle configuration. Hatches and all rigging installed. This is where I get a little salty on the subject. Advertising a weight that does not include these items is LUDICROUS! After all, you don't paddle the boat without them and they impact the feel. Ok, off my soap box. The two boats will have a different feel while paddling. Why? It comes down to mass. You must overcome the mass to move it in every direction. Every input your body provides will need to overcome that mass. A lighter boat with less mass, will require less from you and your muscles. The two boats, same design, will feel much different. In rougher water, a new dimension is added. Waves will push a boat in a direction and have limitless force to get the mass moving. If it is in the same direction that you want to go, great, free propulsion. When it is not, you must apply a force to that moving mass to redirect it. More mass, more force required from you.

Back when I was selling paddles I often used the swing weight reference to help someone decide on a paddle. If you hold a paddle at the ferrule in one hand and twist, you immediately understand what swing weight means. I did not sell many plastic blades as most of my customers purchased an fiberglass or carbon blade after the demonstration. The same holds true in a kayak. The farther away and larger the mass is from you, the more torque is placed on YOU! Paddling a lighter boat reduces that torque giving you more control and requiring less in terms of your energy.

This is why materials, weight and balance are the main focus a Turning Point Boatworks. Sure, I could take my same molds and produce a hand layup for a lower cost. I could also use less material to lower the cost and put a stipulation on that boat that "care must be taken" when paddling in among submerged objects, such as rocks. I choose not to, because I want to produce strong and light boats that benefit my clients. I build boats to NOT need, rather than be easier to repair.


  1. Excellent piece, Joey! Makes sense to me for sure! /Chris


Post a Comment