The 2016 HRGF Kayak Team Building and Racing Project

By Denis Sivack

I. The Concept:

When Theodore Roosevelt was asked if it were true that carrying a lighted torch would protect him from a lion, he supposedly answered, “It depends on how fast you carry it.” Teddy’s wit won here, but if your self-esteem and bragging rights as a kayaker depended on it how could you meet the challenge outlined below?

Given a few supplies and friends and time limits, how quickly could you make a kayak, a really usable kayak suitable for a race and roll? Choose well. It depends on what you have to work with – the constant in this endeavor – who you will have with you, how successfully you can problem-solve, and how wisely you will choose the one to paddle and perform in the race itself.

Your supplies are as follows:

Long wood slats, 1/12” x 1”

Precut bulkhead pieces

Preformed cockpit coaming

1 roll of clear packaging tape

1 roll of reinforced packaging tape

1 wide roll of stretch wrap

Utility knife

Drywall saw

II. The Construction, A Race In Its Own Right:

Materials were set out on three round dining hall tables at the 2016 Hudson River Greenland Festival for a project that has also been done at Delmarva. Participants were free to form their own teams at a table and choose their workspace. One group remained at their dining hall table, while each of the other two teams opted to go outside to picnic tables under a canopy. Sebago Canoe Club’s Iris Cuesta was on one of the teams.

Work began with each team doing its own planning and problem solving, working without drawings or written plans, though prior experience and some on-site sketching helped explain or explore working concepts. The obvious start was to spread out the longest poles and determine the number to be used in making side and bottom length supports while estimating the number and sizes for cross beams and any other anticipated support pieces such as seats or trim. Consideration was also given to the body size of the paddler who would eventually be within the finished craft, where the seat would be, how far the legs would extend, and where body parts would be against the wood, or wrap.

Going from working team to working team, one could see differences in how each team chose for mortise and butt work in joining wood pieces and constructing seats (for example, a choice of either wood slats or tape webbing). It was also clear that the outside groups had an advantage working on and with the rectangular picnic tables. The inside team attempting to lay out long pieces on a large circular table was at a disadvantage, working across a wider area and not being able to align the evolving structure against a long straight edge. The outside groups could also work while being physically closer to their project, also taking advantage of the spaces in the table when sawing. As the construction went on one could also see that the inside group was also the slowest.

In general, each team connected the longest pieces first with the cross section pieces being cut and added later, often by trial and error with repositioning as sizes were determined. Keep in mind that each team had to assure that no sharp support edges would rip the wrap and that connections, particularly in cross support areas, would not collapse or be knocked out of place by the paddler entering the kayak or working from within. It might not be known at this time just who would paddle, here a body size and fit consideration.

A dinner break and scheduled HRGF activities interrupted the construction which later resumed – in the dark – with no time constraints. While the inside team had some, but not very good, light, the two outside teams worked by tiki torches, headlamps, flashlights, and candles.

All teams worked by being fueled from the terrific dinner food along with cheering from supporters, encouraged by some Bluetooth speakers from smart phones and a few beers. Illuminated by night lights, the skeletal boat frames looked like an underwater dive project. Each team stopped working for the night when its kayak frame was completed.

All teams opted to stretch wrap the shells in daylight. This work proceeded relatively quickly, requiring many hands for kayak support and for wrapping, securing, and smoothing the wrap – more difficult than it may seem, as one team learned during the race when its kayak developed water pockets, trapping water in loose sections of the wrap and slowing the kayak down because of the resistance. The slowest part of the wrapping came as each team determined how to wrap and secure the area of the coaming, allowing for the paddler’s entry. Some kayaks had affixed suitable names “Harpoon” or “Tuugaalik” (“Narwahl”) – this one with the appropriate and extended prow piece. On completion, all kayaks were transported to the waterfront area.

III. The Contest, The Water and Land Race:

Once in the water, each team assisted in stabilizing its kayak and helping the chosen paddler to enter the craft. Each paddler had to paddle out to a turn-around point, return to shore, and with team support, get out, get the kayak over a wall, and then run, carrying the kayak to another turn-around point on land, run back, get the kayak over the wall, reenter and paddle out. The first team to have its paddler successfully complete a roll was declared the winning team.

Following the on-water celebrating, the shrink-wrapped kayaks lent themselves to all manner of play, rolls, and stand up paddling. Once these kayaks were returned to shore, each was deconstructed for recycling with the coaming material saved for future “build and challenge” events. “If you build them, they will come, and they will also wreck them.”

Author’s note: The photographs which accompany this article were chosen to illustrate the construction and team work points made in the text. A video I have made follows the activity through both the construction and the race stages, along with the after play and deconstruction. It may be shown some future time at Sebago.

(Click on images for larger views.)













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