Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Building a Better Bulkhead

Bulkhead footbraces have become standard issue on most river running and all of the creeks boats on the market. The reason is for their strength, durability and adjustability. It’s hard to have all of those things in one package that works on all boats. Most of the manufacturers offer different sized foot plates to allow longer legged paddlers use of the boat. If the small bulkhead is used by a shorter paddler, often there is a large gap between the bulkhead and the deck and hull of the boat. This can not only be uncomfortable, it can be dangerous in a piton situation.

If you hit something hard enough, especially when creeking and running waterfalls, with a bulkhead that is too small, your feet can slide past the foot brace and trap your feet between the brace and the hull of the boat. Some people have broken various leg bones from the impact of a piton (hitting a rock with your boat and immediately coming to a complete stop…like hitting a brick wall with your car) in a waterfall.

You are not likely to generate the force to cause any serious injury while running class III drops and below but you might consider beefing up your bulkhead if you’re running anything harder. Here are some tips to help you make your bulkhead footbrace more bomber than the bulkheads on the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk.

Stabilizing the Bulkhead
This is useful for everyone using a bulkhead. It will help keep the footbrace from moving around while you are paddling. It is amazing how much more balance and power you will have by reducing the movement of your bulkhead.

Move the footbrace to the place this is right for your foot and comfortably holds your knees into the thighbraces. Measure a 2 inch or thicker piece of foam and trim it to completely fill the area in the hull when pushed against the footbrace. Cut U-shaped notches in the foot foam that allows the adjustment rails to fit where they need to be to reach the footplate part of the bulkhead. This usually is about an inch or two away from the side of the boat. You want to foam to be against the sides of the boat. Glue the foam to the footplate with contact cement. For additional lateral stability, add a foam shim to take up the space between the side of the boat and the rail.

Waffle House Special
In our area there are a lot of technical creeks with good drop and sometimes a hard rock landing. If you’re going vertical, and need an extra cushy shock absorber, order up a Waffle House Special. This type of bulkhead got its name from looking like a waffle and our tendency to stop at a Waffle House on our way to and from the river.
The concept is simple and effective. Glue several small blocks of foam onto your bulkhead. Make sure you leave plenty of space between the small foam blocks before gluing them in place. Glue on another large piece of foam shaped like your bulkhead, (don’t steal your buddies bulkhead foam!) so that it looks similar to this one.

If you are in a crunch and don’t have small pieces of foam, order a couple of extra waffles on your way to the river. Duct tape them into place. The waffles serve double duty, working almost as good as the foam and are a great backup in case your day trip turns into an over nighter. Mmmm, tasty.

No comments: