Sunday, September 20, 2009

A New Kayak: An Exercise in Appropriate Scale

I learned to kayak in a small (8 and half foot long) kayak. I bought one for my son too. We went across the river to the US to do it since they were available as well as cheaper there. We lived very close to the St. Mary's River and in the summer my son lived on the river -- he even had a tree house along the shore. I'd take a book and a kayak on the river with water or juice to keep hydrate, paddle up the river, then drift down towards home while reading. I even took it on a canoing trip -- I could make more distance faster than two paddlers in a canoe, with all my camping stuff packed behind me and between my legs.

I took the kayaks with me when my husband and I moved to Peterborough. Again we were close to a river -- this time the Otonabee, and where it widened into Little Lake as it joined the Trent River Canal System. Though the Kokopas turned on a dime, they didn't track well and they didn't really have much space for stowing the accoutrements of a touring weekend. We decided to get longer kayaks that tracked well and had more space. We sold the Kokopas to a friend who we got interested in kayaking.

I never did go touring with the Sun Dolphin 14 SI. It tracked great and you could build up a nice speed with it, but it took me four strokes to do the turn that I managed with one stroke in the smaller kayak. It weighed nearly twenty pounds more too. We built a special shed against the house to store them in and bought Wheel-ez carts for them that worked great. But getting one on top of our Nissan van was quite the chore for me. Once it slid off the rack to the side, bounced on the ground, and left me with a burning bruise on my right arm. Another time it took the mirror of our friend's vehicle when we lost control of it getting it on his rack.

We went to Honda CRV, whose top was lower, and we got stackers that worked great for securing the kayaks, but it was still a chore getting them up there. I bought a wheel device that help slide one onto the rack when I went out by myself. I found myself carpooling with our kayaking friend a lot more than doing solo car jaunts with the kayak. After my husband broke his shoulder one winter, he kayaked a lot less.

I began thinking that I'd like to build myself a smaller, lighter kayak. A retirement project perhaps. I retired and within six months broke my wrist. That was at the end of summer so no fall kayaking last year. This year I was still in recovery (gardening and yard work are great physiotherapy to build up strength though) and I went out a few times. Getting my husband to go with me was complicated by the fact that one of our cart wheels developed a fatal leak. I tried for weeks to find an inner tube for it or a replacement tire. I eventually replaced the cart with another Wheel-ez that had foam-filled tires and kept the old one for spare parts.

We planned to take the kayaks with us to Vermont since we'd be in the Mad River valley, but the good weather forecast turned bad, so we decided not to. The weather turned out to be very good, but we would have had to do considerable driving to find places to kayak in the first week of September that didn't involve white water (we are definitely quiet water kayakers).

We did decided to check out the Labor Day weekend sale of the major kayak dealer in the valley. I saw a 9 and half foot kayak with spacious entry, comfy seat, and bungy gear hold-downs. I asked if I could sit in it. The seat was very comfy, it felt very right, I was in love. We bought kayak cup holders and the Heritage Featherweight. The dealer would keep it for us until we picked it up on Friday, the day before our departure.

My husband found a bag of straps and rope in the CRV's storage well, so we had sufficient means to secure it. It took a couple of tries to get it right -- it started to slide off the car on way back to the resort. In the morning, we set up the straps so we were hooking onto the kayak rather than the rack bars (which were a little too large for the strap hooks) and wrapped the straps closely to the kayak. We used ropes to stabilize the front and back. The thing didn't move a millimeter at our top speed on the I-89. Our GPS guided us on a "back roads" route through eastern Ontario so we didn't have to contend with tractor trailers whipping by us at 120 kilometers an hour while we were holding to 100 (our optimum travel speed for gas mileage).

We discussed where we would store the new kayak. The extension we had built on the workshop shed that had held the Kokopas now held lumber. I figured I could store the Heritage upside down on a couple of saw horses while we used/moved the lumber in one bay.

It turned out we weren't getting any rain at home for a few days. We got home early enough on Saturday that after unpacking and harvesting things from the garden, I had time to try out the kayak before supper time.

It was a breeze getting it on the new cart. I figured out how to secure it with one of the supplied straps, loaded in my lifejacket, paddle, and water bottle in the new cup holder and off we went. This kayak weighs 18 pounds less than the Sun Dolphin and when positioned on the cart at its balance point (the seat) tows down the block, around the corner, across the railway tracks, and over the intersection with little effort.

I couldn't fit the broken down cart behind the seat like I could with the Sun Dolphin, but I could stow the wheels and strap there and slip the folded down cart frame under the rear gear hold-down. The new kayak was actually more stable to climb into with water underneath it than the older one. I quickly pushed off from shore and began appreciating its tracking ability. Being the weekend, there were a few motor boats on the lake. One stroke of the paddle and I was right angles to their wake though my travel path had been paralleling theirs when one of them sped by. The kayak playfully bounced on the wake rather than lumbered as the 14-foot one had. I was even more in love.

By Monday I knew I'd rarely use the older kayak. I hauled it out of its storage space, cleaned it up and t00k some photos. The next morning I got the photos on the computer and posted ads on Kijiji and Craig's List. I listed the old boat and its paddle for a hundred dollars less than what I had paid for the new kayak. Shortly after noon I got a phone call and the fellow came by after work. He was a solo canoeist but his knees couldn't take doing it anymore. He was a taller fellow and the kayak fit him fine. He lifted it: it was lighter than his canoe. He'd found something that was the appropriate scale for him. He had come prepared with cash and a rope to secure the kayak to his car. I gave him some scraps of pipe insulation to cushion on end of it. At four-thirty he was happily driving it to its new home.

My first attempt to put the new kayak into the storage space failed: the keel banged up against the mid-support and I didn't have enough of the kayak out of the space to leverage it up and over. A couple of old two x sixes remedied that by making a ramp up and over the mid-support: my Heritage kayak had a new home and I didn't have to finangle another storage space for her.

I've been out in the kayak 5 times since I brought it home. That equals in one week the number of times I had the older one out all summer. Granted, this summer's weather has not been the most conducive and this week's has, but the effort involved with dealing with the larger one cut down on spontaneous sorties on the water. Now that I've got a kayak that is appropriate to my shortness, age and strength, I'll use it a lot more. I may even make an overnight or weekend trip with it-- after all my Hennesy hammock and sleeping bag could stow quite easily in the front. I'd have to pack like a backpacker would, but why not?