Designing for the Darkside

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From hobbyist to thriving business, Nick Adnitt’s canoes are racing ahead. Here he talks about the past five years and how the lightweight strength of PRO-SET epoxy products has made all the difference to portage.

According to Nick the name of his company, Darkside Canoes, is a hangover from the old debate of kayak versus canoe. After years in the former, he moved to racing in the latter but couldn’t find the right boat for his needs.

Athletes sponsored by Darkside Canoes

“The canoes were all for families, or ridiculously skinny Olympic sprint boats,” he says. So he decided to build his own carbon fibre, Kevlar and PRO-SET epoxy infused version. It needed to be one that he could paddle and carry on the annual non-stop 125 mile race between Devizes and Westminster and that was capable of serious speed.

“I spent five years working on different designs,” Nick explains. “I went from ‘first principles’. I looked at the regulations for racing boats – dimensions, weights and constraints – and thought about what would work best for me. Then I worked with a naval architect who digitised the designs and ran them through a series of fluid dynamic algorithms. The final design CAD data was used to program a large CNC lathe to make a full-size model. From that we made a mould and then a prototype.”

That prototype is now firmly part of Wessex Resins and Adhesives’ mythology, as the technical team looked out the window and saw it draw into the car park. It was attached to Nick’s car roof, as he came to seek help about what to do next.

“When I first started I was clueless and didn’t know what to do,” Nick says. “I received a lot of advice when I turned up with the prototype and now I often phone Hamish (from the technical team) at Wessex Resins and Adhesives and ask him questions.”

Nick hasn’t looked back, as his canoe building hobby has turned into a full-time business.

“Initially I outsourced to a manufacturer,” Nick says. “I had the mould made and he built the boats. But I wanted to build them in exactly the way I wanted, so in July 2018 I moved into a unit on a trading estate and now I make them myself.”

While his workshop is in Ludgershall, Nr Andover, Nick’s show room is the Kennett and Avon Canal, or The Thames. “I put customers in a demo boat – lend it to them for a couple of weeks – and then have to fight to get it back. They fall in love with the construction, the weight and the handling.

“Marathon racing involves portage. There are frequent locks and weirs where you have to pick up your canoe and run. Because of PRO-SET products Darkside Canoes are very lightweight, stiff and fast. Plus, because I use naked carbon – clear resin – my boats look like something from Formula One. They’re absolutely stunning. No wonder customers refuse to get out.”

Nick admits he’s not as competitive as he used to be and although his single canoe was specifically designed for the Devizes to Westminster race, he’s not as focused on winning. After all, he’s coming in poll position with his business – seven of his lightweight designs will be competing this year and he’s now also making double canoes and skinny-fit versions for elite athletes.

“I have learnt so much over the years,” Nick says. “It’s been a brilliant journey so far, and Wessex Resins and Adhesives has been there every step of the way.”

Nick’s blogged about the highs and lows of his journey with design and manufacture. Read more on www.darksidecanoes.com.

Products used for resin infusion construction of The Darkness single canoe and The Darkness Demon double canoe:

UV tolerant, epoxy compatible clear gel coat onto mould surface, allow to go tacky.

Layer of 200g plain weave carbon fibre (light, stiff and cosmetically pleasing). Next application is a layer of 200g Carbon/Kevlar twill (combines some stiffness with additional strength to prevent the boat from snapping). Following that integrated cross ribs of 300g uni-directional carbon added.

Final layer of 200g twill carbon fibre.

Layer of peel ply.

Layer of distribution media.

Layer of vacuum film. This is followed by PRO-SET INF-114 Resin/210 Fast Hardener introduced into vacuum to wet out all the dry fabric laminate.

Fully infused under vacuum resin going off.

Products used for vacuum bag construction of The Darkness Duet double canoe:

    UV tolerant, epoxy compatible clear gel coat onto mould surface, allow to go tacky.

    Same laminate stack as for infusion models

    Additional placement of Lantor Soric 2mm core material around cockpit rim for additional     stiffness

    Wet lay-up using PRO-SET LAM-125 Resin/226 Hardener (Medium cure speed)

    Layer of peel ply

    Layer of breather cloth to absorb excess resin squeezed out by vacuum compression

    Sealed vacuum bag

WEST SYSTEM 105 Resin/207 Special Coating Hardener used to make the seat/footrest flanges and the carbon seats.

The first prototype constructed from a single layer of 600g carbon twill using WEST SYSTEM 105 Resin and 207 Special Coating Hardener. This was built on Nick’s front drive before he started to use moulds.

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