When most people around the world were packing for summer vacation, world explorer Wave Vidmar was customizing a durable composite kayak to endure a 70-day solo expedition from San Francisco to Maui, Hawaii. Vidmar, a professional explorer, is the second person in the world to attempt such a massive feat. And no, he’s not just following Google’s pedestrian directions to Hawaii; he’s collecting data for science foundations and demonstrating the material strength of composite products.
Vidmar was ready to face the 3,100- mile journey and 100-foot waves in May 2012; however, he wanted to be confident that his boat could complete the journey too. To increase his chances of safely crossing the ocean, Vidmar selected renowned composite manufacturer Seaward Kayaks to make a customized multi-layer version of its two-seat expedition craft, the Seaward Passat G3.
Seaward is currently manufacturing two-thirds of its products using thermoforming plastic and one-third traditional fiberglass hand lay-up. However, to build a heavy-duty expedition craft like the ocean-bound Passat G3, the company’s hand lay-up process was the only way to go, explains Nick Horscroft, director of communications at Seaward. “Although it’s debatable whether or not thermoform and fiberglass are of the same quality, fiberglass has proven to be more dependable in the long term.”
“The tendency in the marketplace currently is to use vacuum bagging to save money on materials. We’ve looked into the process, but we know we have a system that works. One thing that makes Seward unique is our craftsmanship. We have key people in the manufacturing process who have been with us for many years,” says Horscroft. One of the company’s lead technicians is Cliff Tromp, head kayak builder. Tromp said the boat was completed in good time and with most of the manufacturing time focused on the explorer’s many customizations. “Our normal production process takes about five days, but with all the modifications needed it took 10 days,” says Tromp. “He obviously had a specific kayak in mind when he came here, and it helped that he has previous experience building with composites, too.”
Tromp and his team had to design the Passat G3 with many longjourney solutions. For example, Vidmar is transporting several pieces of electronic equipment, including gyroscopes, a waterproof military grade lap top, PLB and emergency transponder, six cameras, a bodily function monitor and a satellite phone in addition to traditional supplies. Seaward designers needed to build a kayak light enough to navigate heavy equipment and food, but strong enough to withstand ocean debris. Therefore, the most important customization to the Seaward Passat G3 was the addition of a thick, multilayer Kevlar and carbon fiber hull, which gave the kayak increased rigidity from the fiber roving and impact resistance from the hull.
“We used a lot of carbon fiber and Kevlar that we typically use for racing boats because we didn’t want the boat to get too heavy,” says Tromp. The layers of lightweight carbon fiber and Kevlar layers did add an additional 25 pounds; however, Vidmar and his team feel more confident that the extra Kevlar will protect him from floating ocean debris and other dangers. For additional protection Seaward packed a few epoxy patches that can adhere to wet surfaces so Vidmar can repair the kayak in the event of a collision.
Vidmar believes that composites are important and very powerful products and his intention is to spread the word about his confidence in the growing technology to other markets. He especially wants manufacturers to see composite technology being used to push the boundaries of human exploration. “When people start asking, ‘how did you build that kayak?’ The world will be interested to know,” remarks Horscroft, “that it’s from quality composite manufacturing.”