I hope this post finds you safe and healthy as we all witness the significant changes occurring in our world due to COVID-19. Like many small businesses, the corona virus is impacting Project Cedrus in ways I would have not predicted, although I am confident it will not become a fatal victim of the virus and I am excited to share some updates for 2020!
I have been extremely grateful for the support and efforts by my manufacturing partner, Composites Universal Group in Oregon, for the last 4(!) years. They are more accustomed to highly profitable work in aerospace and military marine composites, but were attracted to the opportunity to explore a new industry and work with me on Project Cedrus. They generously fit small batch production runs between work on their defense contract projects, and together we learned a lot of really hard lessons and have begun to produce beautiful masts. I was initially thinking that the slow down in aerospace might actually help Project Cedrus, by giving CUG more time and energy to focus on the mast and introduce manufacturing efficiencies that we had been reluctant to explore with so little time. Unfortunately, this was not the case… and in March they called to inform me that they would be unable to fulfill my recent order for masts.
Fortunately, one of their ex-employees who actually built some of the first Cedrus prototypes in the summer of 2017 had founded his own composites manufacturing facility 5 minutes down the road. He was eager for work, and familiar with the assembly process. Over the past couple months, we have been working to transition production and prepare for the first batch of 2020 masts. Things are going very smooth, and I am excited to continue supporting small and local businesses especially when we consider the impacts of COVID-19 on our local and global economies.
Undoubtedly one of the most frustrating aspects of this project has been the clear-coat/finishing process. From day 1, I have been adamant about using aerospace-grade materials and processes in large part due to the availability of Boeing surplus materials in Seattle. One of my first big purchases, along with a couple thousand pounds of prepreg carbon fiber, was nearly 100 gallons of a 2-part high-gloss polyurethane clear. The material retails for over $500/gallon, and I managed to pick up the whole lot for a little more than that. Unfortunately, I paid the premium on the back end, as the material was a real challenge to spray and achieve a class-A cosmetic quality surface. We struggled for nearly two years to achieve the perfect high gloss finish I was looking for, and arguably never achieved it. The money I saved in product was far outweighed by the additional labor required to spray it. We had issues with the clear reacting with mold release agents in the PVC, we had issues with orange peel, and we struggled with it kicking early on warm days during spray. Painting is half art, half science, and we were definitely riding the struggle bus and paying for it. Like a chef critiquing his meal, I was never happy with the plating of Project Cedrus. For that I apologize to my customers, even though many of you were likely unaware of my frustration with the surface finish, or took sand paper to it immediately on delivery anyway;) More importantly, if I didn’t cut the number of coats or hours off the finishing process, Cedrus was no longer economically viable.
This winter, I embarked on a 3 month experiment to improve the surface finish Project Cedrus. Working with professional painters, we finally down-selected a process and materials to achieve a very high quality satin finish with just a single coat. Turns out, according to the professionals, high gloss on a black surface is an extremely challenging combination to paint. Unfortunately, I could’t change that situation… carbon fibers are black, and I had already extruded 100 sets of leading/trailing edges out of a black flexible PVC polymer. So we had no choice but to find the right combination of surface preparation, materials, and application process. Transitioning to a satin look would help, but cosmetic surface finishing is never easy.
The results of this activity were fruitful, and I am excited to share the new satin finish of the Batch 3 masts. Aside from an arguably more attractive appearance, there should also be some performance benefits to the new surface. First, with the previous process requiring up to 3 coats of clear, some of the masts gained up to 1mm in thickness due to the additional material. This increased weight and drag of the mast, after significantly impacting my manufacturing cost. This new process requires only a single coat of clear, which will keep drag and weight in-line with initial targets. In fact, the first customer report has already noted the improved performance, actually using the term “game changer.” There is also a bit of controversy in the sailing and foiling world regarding the benefits of a sanded or roughed surface vs. smooth. From a theoretical standpoint, a smooth and slippery surface under laminar flow is always fastest. But the flow of water around the mast of a hydrofoil is incredibly complex, and likely turbulent. If this is the case, the turbulent boundary layer is more likely to remain attached to a rough surface (like dimples on a golf ball) which will ultimately reduces drag. So I can’t make any guarantees about a performance increase resulting from the new finish in this regards, but many argue that the rougher surface will reduce drag and the likelihood of ventilation at high speeds and angles of attack, something any mast will benefit from.
In addition to the finishing work, I’m excited to announce compatibility with the new Axis fuselage and their wide range wings that have gained significant traction among kite, surf, and SUP. I have been getting a number of requests to introduce compatibility with their lineup, and thanks to the introduction of their new carbon mast and redesign of the fuselage interface, I was able to design a compatible adapter this year. Thank you Evan and Adrian for generously sharing the CAD, without it the process would have taken a number of iterations on the 3D printer. And thanks Andy for the fitment check of the prototype. I hope this is a continued example of my goal to make Project Cedrus the last mast you ever have to buy, and whenever possible will make adapters for current and future customers essentially for free (just the cost of machining and annodizing).
In between all this work and while being locked down due to Corona, we have been fortunate to get a few local sessions on Bainbridge Island thanks to some steady northerly spring winds. They’ve closed off parking at our local parks, but fortunately I was able to sneak through the gates with my gear strapped to the Vespa at the beach 5 minutes from my house. With the shutdown, the air has been incredibly clear resulting in crisp snow-packed peaks in all directions! A sad reminder of the ski season cut short to be honest:-( I look forward to seeing you all out on the water this summer, and please let me know if you are interested in adding a mast to your quiver!
Stay healthy, Kyle