Prototype For A Kure  
Design by Joel Fleischer - Marquette, Michigan - USA

Last year, Black Dog Kayaks offered to provide paddles and skin-on-frame kayaks to John Dubina and Louis Breckenridge as they paddled over two thousand miles to raise money to research a cure for children's leukemia. Working in partnership with the Livestrong Lance Armstrong Foundation, and are planning on taking some of the kids being treated at the Children's Hospitals along for part of the journey.

We were excited at the opportunity to help and sent a few designs to Louis and John, along with a number of questions to determine what exactly they wanted us to build for them. When we offered the kayaks to them, we were imagining that we'd be building single seat touring kayaks. To our surprise, they asked for a tandem or, if possible, a triple kayak. Furthermore, we were informed that they would not only be paddling with a child in the kayak for part of the way, but with a cameraman as well. Director Hiro Anan and his film crew are documenting the journey from the planning stages to the end of the River.

When asked if they wanted weight capacity or speed, Louis informed us that they wanted speed, which led us to the design that you see below:

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The line drawing was drawn using KayakFoundry software, available free at

The 19 Foot Tandem/Triple Kayak is based on our single-seater Madeline 16, which we like for its sea-worthiness, speed, and weight capacity. The prototype as designed, featured two full size cockpits fore and aft, with a smaller cockpit in the middle, suitable for a child or for carrying extra cargo.

The deadline for the prototype was the end of August, when we were supposed to meet in Cheyenne, Wyoming to deliver the finished kayak to John and Louis so that they can train on it this winter.

After finalizing the design, the first thing we did was to cut out the pieces. After that, we spent most of the week laying the pieces out on the ground, comparing them with the plans as drawn, then either changing the plans or changing the layout of the pieces, and attaching them to the keelson, which is the backbone of the kayak.

The curves all followed nicely and the length was right at 19 feet, although we were going to lose at least an inch due to the rocker that develops when the sheer clamps are attached. If the middle looks too wide open, that's because intermediate frame pieces were added there later as needed.

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This is one long skin-on-frame kayak

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After the sheer clamps were attached, the next step was to scarf the stringers, lay them into the proper notches on the frames, and trim the angles on the ends to fit at the stem and the stern.

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The sheer clamps ready to be installed and trimmed

Here are all of the stringers waiting to be scarfed

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Hanging around, waiting for paint

Louis and John had requested a yellow kayak with black trim, so it only seemed right that the frame should be painted black. Black porch latex was used because of its resistance to scuffing.

I see a Kayak and I want to paint it black

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The kayak was skinned in two parts, top and bottom, with yellow 18 ounce vinyl coated polyester. This fabric is also used to make cargo tarps for semi-trailers.

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Right at the deadline, the skinning was finished at 2 AM the night before we had to leave for Cheyenne.

The deck rigging was added after church the next morning and the boat was loaded onto the roof of our vehicle. The coamings were supposed to go on when we got to Cheyenne, Wyoming, but they have yet to be added.

The blue kayak is a Black Dog Kayaks Madeline 16.

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The prototype kayak is a Tandem/Triple, 19 ft long, 26 inches wide. Tandem/Triple means that the middle cockpit is used for gear, but, if you need to, you can put a 5 foot child in there.

When you build a prototype of a kayak, you'd like to test it out and work out the bugs before you give it to someone else to paddle. Of course, one of the problems with building a prototype at the last minute is that you don't get to do that. So, on the way out west from my home in Michigan, we stopped at my sister’s house in the Twin Cities. The next morning my brother-in-law, Nick, and I got up bright and early and went to test it out. Our initial reaction was that it handles nicely with two guys. When Nick sat in it by himself and paddled from the front cockpit, it sat fairly level, but it wiggled a little in the back because of the long length of kayak behind him. He also tried paddling it from the small center cockpit and it paddled very nicely, tracked well, and turned hard, just like you'd expect a 19 foot kayak to do. After we took it around the lake a couple of times, we concluded that, even with a couple of two hundred pound guys paddling in tandem, it's very stable, tracks well, and turns fairly quickly for a tandem.

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It floats in Minnesota! The trim is black webbing and the deck cords are 3/8 inch black bungee. All fasteners and hardware are stainless steel.

My brother-in-law, Nick, paddling from the front cockpit

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Paddling solo in a tandem

Besides the drain on gas mileage, the kayak didn't cause any problems on the way out to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The only glitch in the trip was when my sister-in-law had car trouble in Ogallala, Nebraska.

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I'm 6'10" tall, and the kayak is 19 feet.

In the front yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming

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Chris picked up the kayak in Cheyenne and handed it off to Louis and John in Colorado Springs for the trip home to Amarillo, Texas.

When we finally arrived in Wyoming, we passed the Tandem/Triple Kayak on to our partners at Kayak 4 A Kure for training and for testing. Louis and John planned on putting it through its paces on their way home to see what they would like changed before we build the kayaks that they'll be taking down the Mississippi River next spring.

Postscript: True Confessions:

Yes, it looks great, and I did work my fingers to the bone on it, but there was one problem... on the way home after picking the kayak up, Louis and John figured out a way to break it.

They were driving home to Amarillo, Texas, passing through Pueblo, Colorado when Louis noted that the Arkansas River passed through Pueblo. Why not test it on the way home? They found the river and put the boat in. At some point along the way, they turned broadside in shallow water in a fast current, struck a tree stump on the left side of the kayak, and five stringers cracked...on the right side! John, in the front seat, began to get a little worried. Louis hopped out into knee deep water and pulled them to shore, where they could assess the situation.

Below you'll find some pictures of the breakage. As you can see, it was pretty substantial, but the kayak did hold up, and got them home. They found that, while the skin was still intact, the river current had broken five stringers forward of the cockpit on the right hand side.

Here you can see the damage to the prototype.

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On consultation with us, it was determined that there was a construction flaw, i.e., an error in judgment on my part. When I built it, the cockpit rails, i.e., the frame pieces on which the cockpit frames and coamings sit, should have been extended to the next frame forward of the cockpit and tied in to that frame with some glue and a couple of screws. They weren't, and it turned into a problem when the water pressure went up.

After that performance, we began to worry about whether or not Kayak 4 A Kure wanted to continue with Black Dog Kayaks. But, when I delivered the boat, I told Louis that this was the very first one, and that it was basically untested. That's the nature of the prototype. You build the first one and you find out what works and what doesn't. By the time the design becomes available to the home builder, all the bugs are ironed out! Some people have asked us what's taking so long introducing more kayak models. Well, there you have it. We want to make sure that you, the home builder, won't have any surprises in the shop or out on the water.

Louis told me that they have paddled the kayak several times since the accident. When I asked him how they had repaired it, he replied, "We haven't repaired it. We're just paddling it like it is!" They were impressed that the kayak could suffer severe frame damage and they could still paddle it! He commented that other than the one problem, they love the kayak. He also noted that it’s very stable and it tracks very well. We both agreed that it would benefit from a rudder, since, at 19 feet long, it takes a little while to turn. In fact, the 19 foot length will be lengthened to 21 feet, the frame will be strengthened in the weak spot, and the center cockpit will be enlarged to make it a true Triple Kayak. The additional length should translate to a faster, even more stable kayak. The current 19 foot design will probably find its way into the Black Dog Kayaks stable as a Tandem.

At Black Dog Kayaks we were relieved to hear that Louis and John are still committed to using our kayaks. After we build another couple of test models, we'll be sending Kayak 4 A Kure two or three kits, and the River Team will be building the boats that they'll be using on the trip. The River Tem has now grown to four paddlers and they feel that it will increase team pride if they are able to build their own kayaks.

When you finally build our Tandem/Triple and paddle it, thank Louis and John at Kayak 4 A Kure for helping us come up with, and perfect, a great design!

John and Louis will be paddling the Mississippi River beginning in May 2007. To learn more about Kayak 4 A Kure, or, even better, to help support the effort, please visit John and Louis are still in need of volunteers to man the Chase Team. If you can help, please contact them!

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