History of Nimbus® Kayaks

An evolution of design by Steve Schleicher

I built my first kayak while a teenager in the mid-60's. Self-propelled travel has always fascinated me and kayaks offer a whole range of possibilities that are not available with any other watercraft. Paddling can be as easy or as challenging as you want to make it--even novices will be having fun in touring kayaks in a relatively short time.

I began to design and build my first touring kayak in the early 70's but there was very little interest in that type of kayak at that time so selling them was not an option. Then, while going to university, I became interested in white water kayaking. As there was no equipment available locally, the only way to obtain a kayak and paddling equipment was to build my own. After building the first boat or so, I started helping my friends to build their kayaks and from that point to making kayak building a business was a long slow process.

After destroying the first few kayaks learning to paddle white water rivers, I decided that there had to be better materials and methods for building kayaks. At first, obtaining those better materials was difficult, but we persevered and were among the first to use vinyl ester resin, S-Glass and Kevlar® for our boats. But the largest advance in the building process was the introduction of vacuum bagging. This process yields a better, more homogeneous and tougher laminate than hand laminating; up to 70% fibre content as compared to a contact laminate at 50% and, just as importantly, seals the resin under a nylon bag, greatly reducing VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) and vastly improving the work environment. I am astounded that a lot of our competitors still fabricate their hulls and decks by hand laminating. Building white water kayaks was a very instructive and destructive experience that has taught us a lot about how to build tough, durable kayaks. Some of the more recent builders of touring kayaks have not benefited from this experience.

We still use a process loosely called vacuum baggging but it is more accurately described as Squeegee Assisted Infusion (SAI). How it works in quite simple: all the materials are precut and placed in the mould with extra reinforcement where needed. A nylon bag is then sealed to the flange on the mould and the air evacuated from between the mould and the bag with a vacuum pump. This causes the atmosphere to compress the layers of fabric together with a maximiun pressure of 14.7 lbs per square inch, but more commonly about 7 lbs per square inch. We then open the bag and introduce the resin in the middle of the mould, distribute it along the length of the mould, reseal the bag and reapply the vacuum. Then we use squeegees to help the vacuum pull the resin through the fabric that is not yet saturated. The resulting laminate is virtually void free with improved bonding between layers and a fibre content of about 70%. This process takes longer and uses more material than a hand layup, but is vastly superior.

We have been working on a refinement to this process that we refer to as resin infusion. The process in similar in that it employs vacuum and the same bag but relies entirely on the vacuum to pull the resin through the material without any manual assistance. We presently use this process to make our foam cored lids, clear fibreglass bulkheads, and our hatch and cockpit rims.

We have done a protoype Cygnet using infusion with a very thin clear gelcoat layer, carbon fibre, a 2 mm core and another carbon fibre layer. The composite weight of the kayak was just under 23lbs with a finished weight of 33.4 lbs. We estimate that we can build a full-sized touring kayak like a Telkwa around 42 lbs. We are presently doing some test laminates to check for toughness and durability.

For the first few years we were successful doing just white water kayaks and paddles. Then came the advent of plastic (rotomoulded) white water kayaks that were less expensive to make and more maintenance free. At about that time we were just starting to design and build a few touring kayaks. As the market for our composite white water kayaks withered away, we focused more on the touring kayaks. We decided not to go into rotomoulding white water boats, as they didn't then or even now have the performance of our composite white water kayaks. I was slalom racing our white water kayaks and am still very biased against heavy, underachieving kayaks. The new rodeo kayaks by virtue of their smaller size are finally coming close to the weight of our river running white water kayaks of 20 years ago. Also in the late 1970s, I tried unsuccessfully to introduce some short white water play boats which, while a few paddlers used and liked them, never really caught on. By the late 80's this concept came into its own and has since evolved into rodeo kayaks,

At the same time, we also started to build wooden paddles, making a major advance when we reinforced the blades of our paddles with Kevlar® which was bonded on with pressure and heat. Today most of the better wood paddles are reinforced with E-glass which is easier and more forgiving to work with but I don't think it is as tough. We also added urethane tips to our paddles, a practice which has since become standard on a lot of wood paddles.

Shortly after we started to make touring kayaks we were in the fortunate position to be able to introduce the Puffin which is the rotomoulded plastic equivalent of our Seafarer. We were quite successful with the Puffin. In getting to this stage I had acquired some partners and an interest in a retail paddle sports store. Eventually some of the partners wanted to move on to other things so I was able to purchase the composite kayak building part of the business while a close friend of mine purchased the Puffin kayak mould. Later on, I bought back the Puffin kayak mould. The paddle making business remained a separate business and has change hands twice; now it is back in the family with my wife's brother and his wife owning it and their family running it.

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