By Skip Johnson
been remiss in writing for a while, been busy, but the lead photo of
the Voyageur crossing Lake Laberge in the 2010 Yukon River Quest (right)
got me to thinking about extremes (for some reason).
thumbnail photos to see full-screen versions.)
If you mess around with designing and building canoes for a while,
some racers are going to cross your path. The Voyageur is an enormous
boat, toward the extreme edge of what could reasonably be called a
canoe. At the other end of the spectrum for some Girl Scouts in Arizona
is a slick little cardboard canoe most appropriately named the “Cookie
Monster”. What follows is an edited account of an article on the
Voyageur after the 2007 record setting first race (they won this year
also, but not quite as quickly).
I’ll follow up next month with some comments on the Cookie Monster.
When Richard Ameen approached me about designing a Voyageur for the
Yukon River Quest, the only question was, “how many paddlers are you
going to have?” Once the governing body finalized the rules, we had a
choice of 3 sizes within the class:
(A) 28’ LOA, 36” minimum beam at the 6” waterline
In each case
the boat had to be a minimum of 18 inches deep at the gunnels, 6 man
minimum, single blade paddles.
(B) 34’ LOA, 44” minimum beam at the 6” waterline
(C) 42’ LOA, 48” minimum beam at the 6” waterline
Preliminary calculations ran out that the 28’ boat wanted a 6 man
crew, the 34’ boat an 8 man crew and the 42’ boat 14 paddlers.
The biggest size was dropped from consideration, too many people
involved, the other two sizes have virtually identical L/B ratios (9.33
and 9.27) so the decision was based on the number of premier paddlers
Richard could recruit for the effort. Eight it is. Based on previous
ruminations with Safari boats, the paddlers equivalent to the drag
racers “there’s no substitute for cubic inches” holds true but there is
diminishing returns as you add paddlers past 5 or 6. Still a 34-foot
long boat should be better/quicker than 28 footer. Particularly since
there are no portages or really twisty narrow spots.
Weight estimates and fixed dimensions in hand, preliminary design is
pretty straightforward. 6” by 44” midsection times about .8 gives a
midsection of 1.47 square feet times a length of 34 feet with a
prismatic coefficient of 0.50 equals 24.93 cubic feet or 1556 fresh
water pounds. Dead on, just less than 200#/paddler which is a little
conservative, since these guys don’t carry any extra weight on their
To squeeze the last little bit of drag out of the boat a number of
Godzilla optimization routines were run through Mitchlet to fine tune
the shape below the waterline. A graph of relative drag is included for
those interested in the fiddling
The graph compared the drag versus speed for a single paddler in four
different boats. The 2 man shallow water data was included just because
it was handy and adds a little perspective to the forces involved. The
cyan ‘base’ curve is a non optimized but generally well-shaped 8-man
voyageur (preliminary design). Yellow curve is the optimized shape for
the same boat. The brown curve for a paddler in a 6 man safari style
boat shows the difference a little beam makes. Up to about the 24th tick
on the speed scale, (about 6 mph) The Voyageur has an advantage based
on relatively smaller wetted surface. Then the smaller cross section of
the Safari boat makes less waves and will pull away from the voyageurs
if all the paddlers are putting out a constant force of 0.02
Please take all this with a large grain of salt. The graph is a
reasonable reflection of reality but doesn’t take into consideration our
theoretical paddlers training, heredity or heart, which will trump any
increase or decrease in area under a graph. Still its good to give these
paddlers the best boat possible.
Once the underwater shape is fixed it is time to shape the topsides
which is primarily adding some tumblehome to the center of the boat and
flaring out a ‘sterncastle’ in the stern to get the steersman paddler as
far aft as possible. In this case there is enough depth in the bow to
decide that no extra bumps or flares are needed for extra volume. In
this particular case I did the tumblehome section three times.
First time I rolled the sections to a parallel line on the basis
that it would be the easiest for George to cut out all those patterns.
George is something of a perfectionist, and thought the boat would be
better if it didn’t have that ‘hard spot’ where the sections
transitioned from natural to rolled. The sections were redone in that
area and stripping started. Still doesn’t look quite right… Finally I
redo the sections the way they should have been done in the first place
and building commences.
Once the outer skin has cured, the boat is taken off the form and
prepped for the inside laminate Kevlar, carbon fiber and a touch of
s-glass each side of 3/8” (9mm) 5#/cubic foot divinylcell foam. Foam is
stripped over male form much like a conventional stripper. Outer skin
is laid up, carbon fiber followed by s-glass and smoothed up with a
layer of peel ply. A large crew is required for layup operation, in the
picture left to right: Richard Ameen, Wade Binion, John Hoffart, George
Melder, all team members and Gary Kohut on far side of boat. Present
but not in picture, John Qualls, team member and yours truly who usually
shows up and mixes epoxy at these events.
|George with boat
Once the outer skin has cured, the boat is taken off the form and
prepped for the inside laminate If anything inside laminate a little
more frenzied process than the outer, witness no one took any good
pictures but I believe there were 8 of us. The interior laminate is
vacuum bagged which entails adding a couple of layers of bleeder cloth
and absorption material over laminate and then wrapping the whole boat
in a nylon bag and applying a vacuum (5-7 psi) to consolidate the
laminate and remove any excess resin.
Then inside laminate applied, kevlar, and a blend of carbon/s-glass.
|Inside laminate (1)
|Inside laminate (2)
At this point the hull is done except for some trim work, gunnel
reinforcing and the like. I was of the opinion that the boat needed to
have a couple of bulkheads in the middle of the boat (like the plans
showed) to stiffen the hull and keep the gunnels from panting (moving in
and out). Turned out that with the seat braces in place, no matter how
hard you pushed and pulled, the gunnels just stayed in place. Amazing
stiffness with all that carbon fiber.
In many respects a voyageur is simpler than a safari boat, light
requirements are minimal, it is after all going to race in the land of
the midnight sun. Gear requirements are different but there is an
enormous amount of room available, particularly compared to a safari
boat. The big question regarding rigging was the seating setup. All the
crew had read an outstanding article by one of last years top voyageur
finishers and the description of switching from side to side on bench
seats was a matter of some concern. These guys hate to miss a single
stroke and the thought of missing several strokes while clambering
around every 50 or so strokes was the stuff of nightmares. George asked
me if I thought that there was room to have everybody in a line and
after a quick check, the answer was yes, actually there was plenty of
room. Then George had a brilliant idea, make the center seats slide from
side to side, so its quicker and easier to swap sides, and by the way
not miss a stroke… ever. The
sliding seats used in the center 4 positions were elegantly executed
using hardware for an exercise rowing machine Since this was a new
innovation, the boys asked me to hold off writing anything about the
boat until they actually raced it. A reasonable request, actually they
paddle faster than I write and now have won the 2007 Yukon River Quest
in a record time 41 hrs 15 min unofficially, one hour one minute ahead
of the second place boat. The lateral sliding seats may have helped, but
they won with teamwork and heart. Interestingly, initial trials brought
to light one aspect of the lateral sliding seats no one had considered
beforehand. If you miss hearing the call to hut (switch), the boat will
heel to your side when there are suddenly 3 people on one side and only
one on the other. Then is a long way uphill to slide to get to the
proper side. Apparently every one learns this quickly and it is not a
problem. Do note though that the one time this designer was in the boat,
I’m in one of the fixed seats.
|First trial run
|2nd trial run
Susie had allowed that she hadn’t seen the new boat and would like
to see it in the water before it left for points north. We went up to
Lake Conroe and watched the last practice, which included all the Texas
team members plus a couple of good local paddlers to fill in for the two
team members from the Northwest. Pictures and captions follow.
|Arrival - That's a full-size pickup.
|Half the crew can easily move the boat.
|Leaving: Wade, John, Pete, John, Grady, Richard, John
Leaving (2): About 3 boat lengths and they are up to speed; probably
exceeding the marina speed limit but not leaving a wake. Note that
everyone except Grady has changed position and was surely done without
|Loading: Off to the Yukon
A new voyageur record, the first time a voyageur had won first
place, beating two local favorites that expected to win the race, heady
accomplishments for a team that hadn’t been there before.
I’m honored to have helped
in a small way.
- Richard Ameen, who put it all together
- George Melder, builder extraordinary
- The two Johns, Qualls and Hoffart
- Pete and Wade Binion, father and son
(Pete did a paddlers trifecta this year, 1st masters-Ruta Maya, 1ST
TWS, 1st YRQ)
- Edoh Amiran, navigator extraordinary
- Liam Price, steersman
Photo courtesy of YukonRiverQuest.com:
|The author, Skip Johnson