We are very excited to introduce Liquidlogic’s first pedal-driven kayak design, the Manta Ray Propel. We have been making pedal-driven kayaks through our fishing brand, Native Watercraft, for the better part of a decade, but have never transferred that technology over to Liquidlogic. The new design is focused more towards smooth, easy pedaling, increased speed, and a simple, clean cockpit layout. Think of it as a touring kayak with pedal drive that offers flexibility to trick it out for fishing. While most designs develop through the steps of: market research, 3D modeling, prototyping, and finally production, the Manta Ray Propel started out as a Frankenstein’d prototype concept to test the theory that we could make a smooth-pedaling, stable boat based loosely on one of our recreational kayaks, and evolved from there simply because it felt like a great boat.
To be honest, the first test I cobbled together was a mess: part rec boat, part pedal drive, lots of plastic welding and foam shaping all smashed together. As ugly as it was it did prove the point of how slick it was to pedal a sleeker rig. That mashup gave us a good feel for the volume and stability needed. The pedal-driven fishing boats we make for Native Watercraft focus primarily on carrying capacity, so sleek barely makes the list of design criteria, but became front and center on the Manta Ray. When I took the first test boat out, the results were exciting. It was almost completely silent. Just about the only sound was the gentle whirring of the gears in the propel system, much like you hear when you pedal a bike. In the initial prototype, I was able to maintain just under 4 mph with very little effort and to exceed 5 mph and maintain 4.5 mph for over a mile with a little extra effort. This was a 20% performance increase over some of the other designs. There was, however one big problem, I was getting lots of water in the boat. (My girlfriend’s puppy described sinking in that flooded boat as the scariest experience of her young life.) So, time to head back to the shop. Over the next couple weeks I added foam, tweaked the hull shape, and tested a few more times to dial in the displacement and clean up the trim.
The next step was to get other people in the Manta Ray and decide if we really thought it was a viable option for production. That decision didn’t take long; every single person in that first group loved the boat. We knew we were on to something. The next step was to settle down at the computer and put the contours of our patched-together prototype into a digital format so that we could create a physical model that we could prototype at a more realistic production level.
We then have the computer model we created cut out of high-density foam by a CNC Router. Above, you can see the model after it is cut. The next step is to clean it up and prepare it for making a prototype. We spray it with a sanding primer much like you would your car to make repairs to the paint. We can carve changes into the model or add new shapes with foam or body putty (also used in the auto industry). From the finished model we can make a temporary mold from which we make a more formal prototype. Then it’s back out on the water for the really fun part of my job.
Once we had this final prototype, I was able to run out to the lake to give it a test run. The aspect that I noticed first was how quietly the boat glided through the water. The smoothness of the hull made it effortless to pedal, which will allow anyone to move it through the water for miles. Even with the narrower design and sharp entry into the water it is still very easy to stand up in. As in all our boats, achieving comfort plays a big role in the design, and this boat is no different. We’ve joked that we sell our seating and outfitting and a boat comes with it.
I think the video shows how excited I was about the prototype. At that point it’s just a matter of finishing up the model. We made a few minor changes to the displacement and aesthetic and started the next step of getting it ready to send to the mold-making facility where they create a sand-casted aluminum mold off of our full sized model. The mold-making process takes several months to complete but when that fresh shiny mirror-finished aluminum mold shows up its a sight to behold.
Once we have the mold we prepare it to operate in our ovens and make several test runs to perfect the recipe for the boat, and make sure all the fittings and fixtures work well. Then it’s onto production! The Manta Ray Propel is now in full production as a Liquidlogic and Native Watercraft boat and shipping all over the world. Exciting times!