In part 1 of this factory tour we had a look at how Seaward’s thermoform ABS plastic kayaks were made. Part 2 will cover fiberglass/kevlar kayaks. Seaward has been making fiberglass kayaks since it started operations 25yrs+ ago compared to making thermoform kayaks for only the last 7yrs. Although fiberglass/kevlar technology isn’t new it still provides the means for Seaward to build its finest kayaks.
This is because:
- it’s a totally customizable hands on process
- it provides a very light and strong structure
- extra material can be utilized in highly stressed areas
- it has a proven track record of success under extreme conditions
- it can be easily field repaired
- factory repairs look 100% good as new and are as strong as new
- the lifespan of a fiberglass/kevlar kayak is 30yrs+ with minimal maintenance
It’s funny to me that the fiberglass/kevlar section of the Seaward factory has a whole different vibe to the the thermoform areas. Thermoform production feels like a factory and the boats feel like they are being assembled. While the fiberglass production has a craftsman working on a piece of art vibe. There is no sense of mass production and everything is slower and made by hand. It all starts in the room where sheets of fiberglas or kevlar cloth are pulled out onto a big table and cut into the required shapes for each boat.
With patterns and mould available for every boat Seaward has ever made they can reach back into time and build anything they need to which is very cool. Unlike the thermoform boats each fiberglass/kevlar kayak is customized and unique. If you need a bigger volume boat to accommodate you size 15 feet they incorporate that into the production process. Need all the deck line and deck bungee attachement points reinforced? – no problem. A custom colour scheme and just about any feature you can imagine are all possible just ask. Doug mentioned to me that as the process to build a fiberglass boat started he talks to everyone involved and goes over any special customer needs to insure they are incorporated properly.
The correct deck mould is pulled from inventory and coloured appropriately for the customer’s order. In the image above a red deck is being built. Cloth and resin are carefully laid down into the mould by hand. This is a very labour intensive process that gets quality checked at each stage to ensure the kayak is being made as designed. The fact this is a hands on job accounts for the ability to customize each boat and also the reason for the higher cost vs. a thermoform boat. Typically a fiberglass kayak takes over 4 times longer than a thermoform one to produce. That’s a difference of about 40hrs vs. 9hrs.
Unfortunately I didn’t see a fiberglass kayak being built during my visit to the Seaward Factory. I’m hoping to get a chance to pop back up there one day and watch both processes more closely. The engineer in me can’t help, but enjoy geeking out on how these boats are built!…=-) I was interested in how their QC process worked and found out that each step of the construction process was compared to the build ticket and the craftsman starting the new step signed off that the previous step was done correctly. If there was a problem observed it was rectified before production continued. At random points during the build and at the very end the production foreman inspects each kayak to ensure it meets the customer’s order perfectly. The love and pride put into these boats is clear from the way everyone at Seaward talks about them. They aren’t churning out mass produced widgets that are a commodity. The thermoform and especially the fiberglass/kevlar kayaks are treated like floating objects of art which I thought was cool. It’s nice to know the folks who made your boat care so much about it.
Once the deck and hull are ready they are joined with fiberglass seams on the inside and outside. The outer seam also gets it’s own 2 layer gel coat in any of the 15 Seaward colour options. You can order a custom colour pallet for each of the following kayak components: deck, hull, seam, hatches and combing. That makes for 15 x 5 = 75 combinations so you can have a totally unique boat if you want to or you can stick with something more standard.
The interior bulkheads are made of composite materials are glassed to the deck and hull. This combined with the glassed seam makes for any incredibly strong and light kayak.
Doug pointed out that Seaward takes special care to finish the interior of each combing and hatch so that it’s smooth. This ensures there are no rough edges to abrade you or your dry bags. My current plastic 14′ sit on top kayak is great, but it has a small front hatch and rough edges inside so getting gear in and out without compromising their waterproofness is a huge PITA. These kind of small details don’t seem super important in the showroom, but trust me on day 25 of a long trip you’ll be on the edge of insanity if none of your dry bags are keeping your gear 100% dry anymore.
Each combing is glassed into the hull to ensure it’s very secure.
One of the cool features that will be installed on the boat in the image above is a a Seaward Smart Rudder. This is a custom handmade rudder built by Seaward out of aluminum and stainless steel for strength and corrosion resistance. Rudder lines are run under the deck in low friction teflon housing to keep the exterior of the boat clean and free of any unnecessary snag points for safety. The rudder cables appear back on the deck just in front of the paddler so they can easily deploy/retract the rudder without having to twist around behind them and risk getting unbalanced like on many kayaks. The rudder pedals are unique in that they are attached to the boat’s tracks solidly to allow for effective bracing even if a rudder cable were to break.
One of my least favourite transport rituals with my current plastic kayak is to duct tape the rudder and carrying handle to the boat so they aren’t flailing around at 110kph on the highway – potentially getting damaged and certainly marking up the boat’s finish. I was happy to see that Seaward has thought of this and each part has its own bungee so you can secure them in a couple seconds without hassles and without leaving tape residue on your lovely boat.
Seawards Greenland style kayaks use the smaller rubber hatches I talked about in my previous post about their thermoform kayaks. The larger North American style boats use a 2 part hatch like the one shown above. It is made up of a hard exterior hatch with a neoprene seal underneath. This provides the optimal combination of waterproofing and durability for hard use like expeditions or tour operations.
Although these hatches are tough it’s possible that over the course of a couple decades you could damage or lose a hatch. This could be a major problem on a tour when you need a seaworthy boat to get you safely home. Seaward has thought of this and addressed this potential problem in 3 ways:
- both the hard outer shell and neoprene seal are attached to the deck with bungees so they can’t blow/float away
- in the image above you can see a hatch bungee partially over the combing…you can use any fabric [tarp, garbage bag, tent fly, etc...] to create a DIY waterproof hatch cover by placing it under both hatch bungees – very cool!
- Seward has used the same hatch shapes for a couple decades and doesn’t plan on changing so when you call them for a replacement hatch cover for your 20yr old boat after you run yours over – the answer will be “…sure no problem!…”
Now that we’ve looked at how Seaward makes their thermoform and fiberglass/kelvar boats the obvious questions are:
- what style of kayak should I buy?
- what type of material should I be after?