Saturday, February 10, 2018

Seat Repair

A few months ago, I had to take the Gemini SP out of circulation because the backband broke.

More precisely, the part of the seat pan that one of the bolts attached to had sheared clean out. I mentioned this in my post about the Rendezvous event, but for various reasons I didn't finish the repair until January.

First I emailed Valley, and they suggested replacement. Honestly, I was angling for some sort of free or warranty repair, but that's not how the kayak world works. In any case, they're in the UK and I'm in the US, so I was directed to the nearest Valley dealer, Kayak Centre of Rhode Island. Matt Bosgraaf set me straight, and even sent along a pair of bolts later on, that I'd forgotten I'd need.

Some people have been unclear about what I mean about the "seat pan". There are several ways to mount a seat in a boat; the true enthusiasts will situate some carved foam, but I wasn't ready to do that. Basically it's a butt-shaped bucket.

Here's the replacement, upside down and backwards.

The Replacement.

I noticed some spider cracks on the right. Asking around on a sea kayaking forum, comments were generally split between "that's just a byproduct of the manufacturing process, don't worry" to "no that's terrible, send it back." I wrote Valley again with a picture, and they said, in effect, the former. By this point I hadn't paddled the Gemini for a couple of months, so I decided to install the seat.

Area of Concern.

Doing so would require some non-trivial effort. First I had to remove the old seat.

Look! A ball in my cockpit.

I started by removing the hip pads. These are held on with small straps, so that was easy. This is from the broken side, and you can see a hint of zip-tie poking out - but we'll get more into that later.

Hip Pad.

Next I had to remove the four screws that hold the seat in. Imagine the seat is a U, and it's an undersink mount, the top ends attached to the underside of the deck. Two small plats underneath act as sort of lateral washers.

I was nervous about doing this over floorboards with gaps over the open river, but also, it was cold, and I was determined. So, I was careful, cupping my hand under each thing that might drop.

One side detached.

The opposite side, still attached.

I did most of this with a cheap household repair kit. I need to get a better one - the bits don't stay in the driver! I tried using my Gerber but it wasn't comfortable, nor ratcheting.

Cheap ratcheting screwdriver.

Here, on the "good" or unbroken side, you can see how the backband normally attaches. Basically, a bolt with a washer goes through the strap and holds it fast to the sides of the seat pan.

This is what it is supposed to look like.

The backband also attaches to the middle of the seat pan, almost straight down range from the business end of your bum. This proved to be one of the more challenging things to remove, because an inch of foam is on the opposite side, and I couldn't do anything more than rotate the bolt until I removed the foam

Backband above, seat pad below.

The backband also secures via bungie through a small hole in the back of the coaming. It's held fast with a knot tied through a thing. I don't know what this thing is called.

Support for the backband.

With the backband no longer attached to the boat, I was able to slide the seat out. It took some doing - sliding it forward to a slightly wider part of the boat, then rotating. It weren't hard, but it weren't easy neither.

The seat pan removed.

Now that the old seat pan was fully removed, I could see the damage in full light. The round hole is supposed to be there. The square hole above it is not. From what I can tell, the entire square, approximately 1" by 1", popped at once, and shortly after, the fracture between that and the circle formed.

You can make out the black zip ties that I had used to keep the backband in place at the time, but these were only temporary. I found that they not only wore out quickly, but put more strain on what was left of the seat pan, since they didn't have a washer and bolt to distribute the load more evenly. Basically, the edge they looped around would saw away, and the zipties could put the load on the narrow edge they looped around. It was a mutually destructive relationship.

This is not what it is supposed to look like.

Last step: taking the bandband off the old seat.

With the seat removed, I could finally flip it over to get at that pesky bold holding the backband in. To do that, I had to remove this foam padding from the bottom.

This block of foam is all that's between the seat and the keel.

Not so hard once you can get to it!

This little nut attaches the backband to the lower part of the seat.

Now, "getting to it" meant I had access. I still had to use a small vice grip to hold the nut in place while I removed the bolt. At the time, it didn't occur to me that I'd have to take the foam off.

Foam bent back to access the nut.

At last, side by side comparison of the old and the new seat pans. Looks like a match!

Old and new. Maybe I should lease?

One minor thing I had to do: there are two small loops of rope tied on at the front; these made for good handles when I had to tug the old pan free. To transfer them, I undid a knot on each, and slid them through.

I noticed an intriguing aspect that I think made these much easier to re-tire the knots: beveled ends.

I appreciate engineering details.

Knowing that I'd have to have access to that nut again, I poked and widened a hole in the underseat's foam block before gluing it back on.

For a hole in the seat-bucket, Eliza.

All of the above is as far as I got on the first day. It was a cold day in December, and I needed to let the glue dry between the foam and the seat, before I could install the seat.

Between my work schedule, weather, and social obligations, it was a full two weeks before I went back to actually install the new seat.

When I went back, I pulled the boat out to the deck in the club's garden, so I wouldn't be over water, and laid out the bits I needed to re-install.

Backband bolts in the Sephora case, side mounts below.

I like to organize my materials before I start. Off-camera, my boxes of tools on a ledge.

It looks more refined without the fittings for a human.

One concern is, I'm still using the old backband, which means I've got the strap that chafed against the zipties for a couple of days. I ended up folding some gorilla tape over the end, before re-attaching to the seat pan.


Now, unfortunately, low temperatures seem to have put my phone into a coma, so I don't have more pictures. However, installing the new seat was fairly straightforward, mostly a reverse of the removal. I do have a one more tip to share, though.

Lining up and bolting the side mounts was really tricky. About three photos up, you see a pair of metal plates with bolts through them; those bolts go down just to the side of the coaming, holding the seat's sides against the interior of the deck. Those plates help distribute the load.

The hard part is holding those plates up while also holding a nut in place while driving the bolt in from above. It's a tough angle, and I couldn't reach my arm in - just my fingers through the circular hole in the side. This is all out of sight, because of the seat pan.

Eventually, I devised a method of using a piece of tape folded back on itself to stick the plate onto two of my fingers while the other two held the bolt just long enough for the bolt to get some bite.

I'm happy to say that the replacement seems to have gone well. I've had that boat in the pool a couple of times since, and also on a 7nm journey in the lower harbor of NYC to check out some seals. Time will tell, but I think this is one repair I can check off as well done.