Racking my Brain about Boat Racks: Customizing a factory rack for Lockrack and an outrigger canoe

The season started off with a plea from the Wanda Canoe Club on the Hackensack River in New Jersey. Our old boathouse was falling apart and had been condemned by the local village of Ridgefield. We had decided to buy a shipping container, and it had fallen upon me to find a rack solution. Already familiar with Unistrut - a widely used, engineered rack system meant for making racks on the fly - I had proposed this material to the club. Frankly, while I had seen it used in miles of mechanical chases on buildings I've worked on, I had not thought to use it for my own needs.

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A fellow paddler just happened to be getting some boat repair work done by Cliff Roach of Goodboy Paddlesports, and soon Cliff and I were in discussions about how to use his aluminum systems with Unistrut inside the metrically engineered container.

It turns out that small steel beams spanning the top of shipping containers are bolted into place, so it only took a few minutes to attach some Unistrut hardware when we Wanda Loons took our first good look at the container interior in May. I also took measurements and verified in a 3D drawing that we could indeed fit 20 vessels of approximately 22' in length each inside the container. As much as I had seen the Goodboy racks all over the east coast, after a trip to Lowe's - to the electrical section - I made my own V-rack out of Unistrut. (Sorry, Cliff!)

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Right away I was concerned about the wobble. I gave some of the Goodboy roof racks a tug and noticed they wobbled also. V-racks wobble. Period. I had heard a story about a paddler crossing the Verrazano Bridge in a heavy wind and their concern the boat would shear off their car like broken propellor. I shared this concern. What if?

But with proper strapping, everything would surely be ok. A lot of strapping. An hours worth of fiddling and strapping and fiddling. Can't we be on the water by now? I slipped in the rain while fiddling with a strap and came down very hard on an elbow. Straps be damned!

Introducing the South African made Lockrack.

It was so promising yet so expensive and clearly made for paddleboards and surfskis - not for outriggers. I just couldn't get all the measurements I needed to verify whther it could work with an outrigger - until I clicked on etrailer.com. A Lockrack vendor, they have A LOT of photos and some decent videos featuring the product line. One even featured a Subaru Crosstrek - my car!

The Verrazano Bridge spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the waters are pinched heading into the New York Harbor and the wind doesn't give a damn about your canoe!

The Verrazano Bridge spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the waters are pinched heading into the New York Harbor and the wind doesn't give a damn about your canoe!

Lockrack's customer service is virtually non-existent, but the folks at etrailer pick up the phone and answer questions, sometimes by making webpages with answers. Still I could not get exact measurements from Lockrack or etrailer. Which rack would work for me?

So, I pulled measurements off a photo. What else was I to do?

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Lockrack makes a surfski model, and at first I was convinced this would be the closest match to an outrigger for rack sizing. However, after watching the Lockrack video for surfski I realized the rack arms were made to hug the low profile seat area. I was also concerned that the Lockrack is meant to go with factory crossbars, which are less than ideally spaced for 20'+ long boats.

The one obvious difference you will notice between a V-rack and a Lockrack is that on a V the hull is down and on the Lockrack it is up. Well, if you scroll way down to the start of this blog you will find my extensive below-the-waterline repairs. Gravity is great when you're paddling, but in storage or transit, I think it is best for the hull to be up. So, how in the world would I make this great Lockrack idea work for me?

Unistrut saves the day again.

Unistrut saves the day again.

The answer was Unistrut. You can see by the photo above how the factory rack actually has a very narrow ovulate crossbar with only about 30" width - the sides being taken up by bulky connectors to the siderails. I wanted to maximize the width of the car for easy boat loading and leave room for my ama or another outrigger or paddleboard altogether. I set the length of the adjustable Unistrut rails to 6' and added cross-pieces. The universal adapters were not required, and I was increasingly skeptical of Lockrack's new "X" version racks - that split apart to adjust to even wider paddleboard or boats. They just looked flimsy, so after a lot of head scratching I finally went with, of all things, the 2x SUP carrier - because of the size. I replaced the 10mm bolt that came with the package and used 1/4" x 20 x 1 1/2" pan head torx bolts to attach the Lockrack main bars to Unistrut nuts. These bolts and nuts will set you back about $12 if you buy them in packs, and if your Lowe's get as ransacked as mine you might be better off buying the misc hardware from McMaster-Carr.

Unistrut nut and stainless bolt versus included hardware for Lockrack. Nut and bolt cost about $1.50 each. You will need 4.

Unistrut nut and stainless bolt versus included hardware for Lockrack. Nut and bolt cost about $1.50 each. You will need 4.

You will notice my hatch is fully up. No more banging of the forehead due to a low hatch pushed up against a longer rack bar.

You will notice my hatch is fully up. No more banging of the forehead due to a low hatch pushed up against a longer rack bar.

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A 2' 2-step Werner ladder also fits neatly in the Subaru Crosstrek 2018 cargo bay. No more standing-on-the-wheel-well acrobatics and straps for this paddler!

A 2' 2-step Werner ladder also fits neatly in the Subaru Crosstrek 2018 cargo bay. No more standing-on-the-wheel-well acrobatics and straps for this paddler!

I could not understand what the black washers were for until I installed the Lockrack. They are basically spacers, required to allow the moving arms enough clearance to slide in and out. So you definitely need them.

Unfortunately, I live in a New York City neighborhood where people dig through the trash for recyclables and will take just about any kind of metal off the street (a band of thieves was brazenly stealing NYC public garbage cans earlier this year). Leaving the $275 Lockrack on the car was not an option, especially after I saw this salvage man stroll right past me. 

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Thus far I like the Lockrack, but here are a couple of things they won't show you. The inner arm isn't exactly something you can reach to adjust or turn on its side. I had to install the system as one piece. When you go to put the rubber base back in, it's a pain. And thirdly, the "keys" are something you are going to lose. They are cheap, black plastic and gonna roll off your car and into the sand. Goodbye. So, I plan on modeling one and 3D printing some in bright orange. Other than that, the next challenge is actually getting an outrigger canoe on and in it in preparation for a jaunt to Florida to pick up my new Kahele. 

Waterline up.

Waterline up.

I loaded the canoe in the same way I load a V-rack - by inserting the bow first then walking the stern end up. The racks as positioned landed right at the iako humps - the strongest parts of an outrigger canoe. The Lockrack arms did not fit this canoe snugly and were off by an inch or two. Time to add foam! The black rubber that comes with the Lockrack system is so stiff it's really only suitable for plastic boats, so I had pretty much assumed I'd want to add foam. I already had some Dakine rack pads around, and the Dakine foam (which they say is custom but is nothing more than pipe insulation) wraps reasonably well around the Lockrack arm.

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You can't own enough foam when your canoe is carbon...

This foam is pipe insulation disguised under a Dakine logo on 600D polyester.

Pipe insulation. I mean, custom extruded foam...

Pipe insulation. I mean, custom extruded foam...

I expect I will need to tweak foam and possibly the distance between Lockrack arms when I pick up my new canoe, but after that I expect to use the Lockrack as advertised. I reinstalled the whole system today in just under ten minutes, as well as loaded and unloaded the canoe at about a minute each. I decided to try driving with the Lockrack arms in, and they made an awful rattle, so I took them all out in about a minute and stashed them in the Subaru cargo hatch. The pin that holds the rack arms in place definitely has a chance of shearing off over time, especially with that looseness and rattle. I don't recommend keeping them in while driving at all. I will do a follow-up review once I complete my road trip with the new Kahele. See you on the water!

Manu'iwa Milford Gulf OC1, OC2, SUP, 9 Mile Race, 2018

At the start of every race, I question my sanity. There is no harder work than trying to beat the ocean at its own game. Soon the heart rate builds, the power propels the canoe forward, and I get lost in some kind of alpha wave trance with flickers of beta - where my brain analyzes the waves, conjures some distraction then ultimately sinks into a meditative state. I pull myself, stroke by stroke, forward across the water and eventually, around forever minus twenty-two minutes to be exact, I cross the finish line between two yellow buoys.


The Ghost Hope, a Puakea Kaku Elua, origin Hawaii, exact circa per Johnny Puakea: “Back in the day.”

Ted Taylor, head honcho at Manu'iwa Outrigger Club, introduces himself before the race as an Englishman, coaching outrigger, in Connecticut. Nothing like hearing a Hawaiian Mahalo with a UK twang on the sands of an ocean inlet in the USA. Later at the luau, Ted requests a plug on social media (click here for media/photo links). Was this race better than last year's, he wants to know? For me, yes. And it isn't just because I took first place (for finishing in 2018 the race I started in 2017) nor because I took first place in the $175 canoe class. It was, dare we utter its name, because of the Milford Triangle.

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

I personally find races that follow a coast a little difficult to mentally tag. Coastline unfolds like a rocky rope with nothing terribly remarkable. The triangular buoy set up gave me a mental check and a goal with enough frequency to keep me motivated. It also gave me three different wave and current patterns - four actually - because the southerwestly wind (that some of us surfed after the second buoy turn) tapered off near Charles Island. So the overall pattern was 1: flattish , 2: turn into the wind with bigger waves (ama bouncing up), 3: turn and surf (bow lifting high, ama rolling under the swell) and 4: calm and flat for a dash to home - then repeat. On the second round we all had a learning curve down, and mentally it wasn't just another 4.5 miles but 1.1 mile (buoy turn = Pavlovian reward), 1.5 mile (buoy turn) and 1.9 mile (beer is in sight).


A first place trophy for a first place race!

A first place trophy for a first place race!

I have raced in Milford four times. The first two were OC6 races, and after training on the stinky Hudson River in New York City, let's just say I was astonished by the beauty of the Gulf, a tranquil little curve tucked into the greater ocean inlet of Long Island Sound. This is a five star race, where the quality of the food down to the quality and craft of the prizes are not forgotten. Manu'iwa's own novice Nicky not only came in first for women's OC1, she got to take home one of the first-prize, bottle-opener-paddles she made--and the rest of us got to choose from Monique's thoughtful and unique commemorative tiles. Thanks for a great race and bringing us, no matter our accent or World Cup favorite, together. Mahalo, Manu'iwa. Mahalo, ocean.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Guadaloupe Downwind Camp with Woo

January 2018. Guadeloupe Downwind Camp. Woo.

Let's just start with the action, my first successful downwind:

This is an edited version of an approximate 10K downwind run from Petite Anes to St. Francois. I don't wear a GPS, so the paddle path is general, based on our southerly trek against the wind and waves until we turned west to make the downwind run. My technique is truly lacking here, but I started to get the feel for timing, and

I did not huli.

Which is a little remarkable given some of the action.

I am a novice OC1 paddler, or as my new paddler friend J.P. told me in French, a


.  Fool might be a more appropriate word. What was I thinking taking on the Caribbean Ocean? This was probably my 8th paddle in an OC1


. I had spent more time fixing my canoe than I did paddling it during the 2017 season. (Vintage Puakea Kaku, see previous repair blog entries). I did get to spend a lot of quality time in an OC2 in the New York harbor and signing up for Woo downwind camp stands as testimony to my enduring foolishness. I emerged from camp as a full-blown downwind addict. Where can I get more???

Salty Metal: Replacing Rusted Rudder Cables with Spectra* (Plastic)

Did you know we live in a mostly metallic world? That salt you like to shake on your dinner?
Metal. That saltwater you like to play in? Metallic water. Those rusted rudder cables that snapped on you just when you least expected it? Rusted metal. So what is metal, and why do we think our stainless steel cables are strong, say, in comparison to plastic? If you've landed on this blog, it's because you like me need to swap out your rudder cables, and you've come across an alternative cable, likely named Spectra.

As you can see from this periodic table of the elements, most of our elements are metal. Loosely defined, a metal is an element that bonds atomically with itself in a fluid manner. Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium as well as other metal elements namely nickel and molybdenum (Mo, number 42). What makes your rudder cable strong is not so much the willingness of its metal elements to bond to one another but the number of strands wound into the cable. Metal filaments can stretch and break quite easily, but wound together into a rope, like any other kind of rope, they gain strength. Like just about everything else also, when they flirt with omnipresent oxygen, oxygen steals their bonding strength. The red of rust is the bleeding, if you will, of the iron as it succumbs to oxidation.
Luckily I was playing around with my rudder cables on the dock when I had a rusty connection snap before I got myself into trouble on the water. Perhaps it wasn't so smart to rig up the loop with medical tape, but that's what I did. I was comfortable with knowing very little tension pulled the cables while steering. This comfort also helped me make the decision to switch from steel cables to plastic.
First Aid for Rusty Steering Cable
So, we basically know what metal is. What is plastic and what makes it strong? Spectra is a brand name, just like Dyneema, for UHMWPE or ultra high molecular weight polyethylene. What the heck does that mean? "UHMWPE is a type of polyolefin. It is made up of extremely long chains of polyethylene, which all align in the same direction. It derives its strength largely from the length of each individual molecule (chain)." This material has been around since the 50's and first commercialized in the 70s. Seen any rusty plastic floating around in your ocean lately? Me neither. Plastics are non-metals comprised of hydrogen and carbon, in this case long chains of bonded hydrogen and carbon. In our periodic table of elements, these are simpler elements number 1, H,  and 6, C.
I ended up choosing a reel of generic UHMWPE from a kite string company. You will find any number of UHMWPE lines on the market for spear fishing, etc., without the comfort of a brand name. But does your stainless steel cable that snapped have a brand name you trust? Probably not.
Curious Hand Written Specification
I visually inspected the fiber and found it appeared to be the same kind of product listed as Spectra or Dyneema. It had no give and was nearly impossible to cut with anything other than a fresh razor blade. As someone who has worked with wire rigging and synthetic rigging for the past twenty years, I know the only thing that will prevent any kind of line from failing under use is INSPECTION prior to use. There is nothing about this fiber that indicates it will fail spontaneously. This particular product was cost effective at $12.95 for 50 feet of 1.6 mm on Amazon.
At first I thought I'd be able to wrap the end of it to the broken stainless cable with electrical tape to pull it through the rudder line, but this product is very slippery.
Looks a lot like Spectra and Dyneema
I was on the dock scratching my head when I had the idea of using some of the shrink tube I had purchased to connect the two ends. I'd taken a variety of tools with me and was very grateful to have the clear tube. Success was mine a few minutes later.
The tools, including clear shrink tube at the top ($6.99 on Amazon)

The cable measured true to its specification as listed on Amazon and on the product
 Here's a video of me inspecting the line and trying to cut it. I was only able to cut it with a brand new sharp razor blade. This is good news, since it does not easily cut against an edge and gives me ideas about how to protect it from rubbing for final install. Anyone who has ever worked with mason's line, which looks similar from a distance, will see how taut this line is in comparison and how difficult it is to make it cut or even fray.

The clear shrink tube linking the two materials together for pulling
 My first tug through the cable tube failed, and I was surprised when I pulled the blue line out to find the shrink tube had slipped off the stainless. So, using a Bic lighter, I redid the shrink tube, shrinking the tube longer on the steel side. Plastic rope will melt easily, so I did not want to go overboard heating it on that end. I unspooled a decent length of the UHMWPE so there would be little resistance while guiding it through from the pedals to the rudder.

UHMWPE fiber and stainless pulled through. Success!
Some dirty water came out with it, and not only was the shrink tube joint intact, I could not pull the ends free by hand. I cut the tube and left the end on the fiber line. My confidence in the products was gaining by the minute. Soon I had both lines pulled and terminals protected by clear shrink tube. I'd spent considerable time reading up on tubes and finally went with clear so I will be able to see what is happening with the weak areas of my rudder lines. In the photo above you can see rust on the stainless.
Excess line pulled through at rudder

Excess line left at pedals
Stay tuned for the next post, which will cover sprucing up the steering pedals and rigging the rudder bar and pedals to the pretty blue line. Remember to check your steering line BEFORE you paddle each time, and you can pretty much guarantee you won't experience failure on the open sea.

Milford on the Rocks - OC1 Race July 15, 2017

The GhostHope Kaku, with her razzle-dazzle of matte-white and off-white and blemishes of sunbeam yellow, was as anxious to get on the water as I was. We reviewed the short course of the Milford OC1/OC2, Surfski and SUP race but were encouraged to just go for the long race. I countered to the organizer, Ted, that the Luau would be held up by your humble narrator, but he insisted, saying "Everyone has a first race."

Canoes Lining up on the Milford Gulf Beach
A few words about the Gulf Beach: it's a beautiful sandy arc and home of the Manu'iwa Outrigger Club. If it weren't for the interconnectivity of the sport and our planet's waters, I would scarcely think of visiting these waters, which are fairly spectacular. Charles Island, in the near distance, gives the racing eye a focal point beyond the endlessly unrolling shore and seductive points - you know, those points you look at during a race, thinking the finish is just around those rocks?
Charles Island, Audobon Bird Sanctuary and Eye Relief to the Ocean Racer
The morning was gauze gray, great racing conditions, nice and cool for July. The water was flat with intermittent rolling swells and ambitious schools of fish. During the race orientation Ted of Manu'iwa went on at length about rocks and how far to stay off the rocky shore. He gently warned ambitious racers about the dangers of hugging the coastline and off we all went to line up.
Milford 2017 Race Lining Up
Bright Orange Shirt to make it Easy for Rescue
Having spent most weekends working on the Kaku, diligently razor-knifing away chipped gelcoat and sanding, sanding, sanding, I held back on the race start and steered very clear of the first rocky point, which we clear prior to paddling into the open Long Island Sound. I was a few minutes into the start when I had to slow my 60 strokes per minute down due to an OC1 drifting across my path. An OC4 behind me exchanged dialogue with the craft, and it was discerned they had hit rocks, hulied and had rudder damage. Let's just say, I pulled away from the rocky coast and easily added a mile to the 9 mile race. My goal was firm: finish alive without a huli or a scratch to the beloved Kaku.

GoPro interlude:
It was a wary paddle thereafter, with this novice zig-zagging through some rolling bumps and puzzling about how to paddle through schools of pronging fins. Eventually I caught site of racers on the return, which gave me hope I too would find the green buoy, pivot and return. Ted had nicknamed the green buoy the huli buoy, so I made a long languorous graceful arc around it and finally found my groove. I was going to make it. Many thanks to Manu'iwa! See you on the water.
The GhostHope
Course Map

Planet Ocean and Boat Floating

This post will serve as an introduction to the greater topic of paddling and allow me to meander to thoughts about water, especially salt water, without which there would be no need for outrigger paddling. These thoughts about our planet ocean tie into the repair thread in that I am taking into consideration the force of the collision between the hull and the standing waves of water. I discussed this with my repair mentor Gil, and while it is certainly impossible to calculate where the bow bounces against wave peaks the most, the last thing I want is the hull to crack like an egg against waves or any flotsam.

I am guilty of salvaging a 1966 Chevy Chevelle that had a tree fall on it, but it's hard to sink in an old Chevy. If I get my boat repair wrong and hit a reef, so to speak, this could be life threatening. This hull repair must be brought to 110% integrity. Okay, how?

While it was decided that the top of the canoe should be cut open to fix it from the inside, there was concern about the possibility of new damage to the location brought on by new surf stress, which could lead to "catastrophic failure." Yikes. I decided it might be best to insert some XPS insulation in the area to provide strength, and came up with this initial design:
Just how hard is water in motion, and what kind of stress can a boat handle? I don't know, but after I came across this post on a craft marooned on a reef, once again, I felt a little better about my prospects.

Much better to add 4 ounces of XPS (fancy name for foam) with a compressive strength of 25 psi (pounds per square inch) to take any future blows than risk cracking the hull. While the foam might add 4 ounces to the canoe, I'll just have to go on a diet to offset it!

The foam brings one more aspect to the hull: it is buoyant.
If things didn't float on our ocean, there would be no paddling. So, why do boats float? The answer is buoyancy, which is actually a physics term. It means an object will float if it is less dense than the liquid under it. The pressure from the ocean is "upthrust" and is pressure against the object trying to displace it. The shape of a boat, or in this case, canoe, lends itself to buoyancy. This canoe is like a carbon fiber bubble where the length provides even greater stability.

The hull was cut open, and we took a peek under the "hood."

A Dremel was used to make the first incision, but I decided I'd get a smoother continuous cut from a jigsaw and ordered the Bosch carbon fiber blades online.

The XPS insulation discovered inside the hull seemed to be original to the canoe's creation and likely was meant either to hold things in place while the top was originally glued on or did serve some purpose for cushioning bounce. 4" holes are cut into it like Swiss cheese, presumably to cut down on unnecessary ounces.


Puakea OC1 Rescue

What kind of OC1 costs $175? Well, who knows? But that was the price tag the night I randomly googled for used outrigger canoes. 1: usually the hits are scarce. 2: usually the listings are for OC's almost as expensive as new. 3: usually these OC's are in California or Hawaii.

They are never in Lousiana and certainly not on a Louisiana Air Force Base. But there it was, $175 on eBay. It was listed as a fixer upper missing a rudder. Well, since I've thrown away a couple hundred dollar bills on much more foolish things, I gambled and bought it.

The seller was kind enough to wrap it in its case and bubble wrap the ama and i'aku's as well as the seat. Federal Express was dumb enough to lose the X-shaped PVC cradles it was sitting on.

The Fedex guys who carried it out marveled at how light it was, but I was concerned that the boat had parted ways with the cradles and been rolling around in transit  There is no way to insure a used craft like this, so it was all part of the gamble. (*Fedex freight cost $425 to bring it to New York City, where it was retrieved at the Elizabeth Port distribution center in New Jersey.)

By the time my friend and I picked it up and unwrapped it there was bonus damage: a good hit to the left side of the bow. However this exposed a weakness, for exactly in that location someone else had done a pretty sloppy repair. Naturally the most damaged area was exposed last, and I have to say it made me very nervous. But after my friend ran his hands up and down the hull and itemized each flaw he said cheerfully, "Nothing we can't fix!"

He handed me a sander and 15 minutes later it looked like this:

Should I say I was actually comforted by the fact my friend had crashed his marathon canoe 40 miles into the General Clinton Memorial Day race just a few days prior, which ripped it in half, and he expected to fix even that. So, this was nothing. Or so I hoped!