Jeffrey Kent has been sailing all his life. His experience working on competitive iceboats and manufacturing fiberglass spars for a leading company in Bristol, R.I., motivated him to open a composites manufacturing company in the late 1990s. He is now the founder and president of Composite Solutions Inc. in Hingham, Mass., a renowned composite voice in the local marine industry.
How did you get involved with the composites industry?
In the 1970s, composites manufacturing was a small in-your-garage operation. I was able to experiment with small boat fittings using carbon fiber. In the late 1980s, a friend from the DN league invited me to work at a leading masts and spars company. I wanted to see if I could start a composites division within the company to make masts for sailboats and offshore boats, which use plenty of composite fittings. We started tampering with prepegs, which was still at its infancy in the marine industry and after a year or two we started using the prepegs in an autoclave for composite spars.
I was a managing partner of the composites division for seven years. I was not educated in composite engineering, I had just been working with knowledgeable engineers and designers and picked up all the skills I needed to do it all. In my own time I was adding parts on my iceboat to increase rigidity and decrease weight. Well, at least, in the acceptable areas of the boat. After I won the 1993 DN Iceboat Championship I was confident enough to start my own company. It was completely unheard of in my area to start a fiberglass reinforced business but my friends started coming in to get parts made and Composite Solutions Inc. took off from there.
What are iceboats and how have composites helped the sport?
I race a DN Iceboat, which is a particular design that won the Detroit Newspaper competition to develop the best boat for the ice. It’s essentially a small sailboat that travels 60-70 mph during 18 mph winds, which is much faster than a traditional sailboat. Composites were introduced to the sport in the 1970s and initially made the iceboats faster and lessened material failure. Fast forward to today, now the parts I make are nearly unbreakable. The failure rate on competitor masts is approximately 30 percent. I think in the 10-15 years I’ve been in business there are only one or two parts I’ve made that have broken. That’s one thing I like about building with composite parts because you can’t win if you can’t pass the finish line.