Travel-Blog #17

…..or up the creek with a paddle and a spare; a kayak review.

Skipper Judy Skipper Judy here. I’m probably not the best person to give advice on a kayak. I have only tried several and none of them real expedition boats, but I can give you my impression of my new-to-me inflatable. Thirty years ago I would have scoffed at the very idea of an inflatable boat. It was all wood and canvas for me, thank you very much. Well, I’ve gotten over myself since then and have learned to appreciate that what works for one occasion does not work for all.

We knew when we were heading south that we wanted to bring a boat but after several contrivances and at least one episode of having the boat drop on my head trying to load it on the SUV, I decided that my 18 foot tandem Pokeboat was just too unmanageable. So we lashed Lance’s smaller and very lightweight boat to the racks. I did a little research; several of my friends have been using inflatable kayaks for years for recreational paddling and it more than meets their needs (thanks for your input folks) so I went off looking for a used one.  I ended up getting an excellent deal on a used  inflatable Sevylor ‘Pointer’ K1 kayak.

Every time I take the kayak out I spend the first five minutes griping to myself before I settle into a rhythm and accept its shortcomings. If people ask me how I like an inflatable, I always respond with the comment that it is a real dog to paddle and that I miss my Pokeboat. All that said, it really does meet my needs right now, and more specifically, it takes me where I want to go:

Paddling the Intracoastal Waterway at Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Paddling the Sevylor on the Intracoastal Waterway at Jekyll Island, Georgia.

First trip out was a bit of a learning curve. I hadn’t read the instruction manual and knew neither how to inflate or deflate properly. Not sure I do yet. The book says that some editions come with a manometer to tell you when proper pressures have been reached. Obviously not with mine. The only pressure I reached was a drastic increase in blood pressure while trying to decide what was the perfect balance between ‘firm’ and ‘over-inflated’. I have since looked online for a manometer but haven’t been able to find one. Anyhow, it was a calm day and because we were so excited to finally be on the water, we paddled a little further than my arms would have liked. I was pretty hot and tired when trying to figure out how to best deflate the boat (using the pump as it turned out) and fold it properly so that it fit back in the bag (YouTube was most helpful with that later). Because of the fussing required, I usually take Lance’s Pokeboat when I go out alone to paddle.

Hall's River Florida.

Hall’s River Florida.

Second trip with the inflatable took us from the rickety little dock at our campsite up to the headwaters of the Hall’s River, a most enjoyable short trip.

Freshwater spring which feeds the Hall's River.

Freshwater spring which feeds the Hall’s River.

Third trip took us up the Homosassa River to play with the manatees:

A manatee sticks just enough of it's nose out of the water to catch its breath.

A manatee sticks just enough of it’s nose out of the water to catch its breath.

 

Here's a view of a manatee catching its breath from below.

Here’s a view from below of a manatee catching its breath.

More on manatees and my underwater camera later; let’s get back to the kayak. The Sevylor has a smaller cockpit than many inflatables and comes with a spray skirt which I haven’t used yet. It has a covered rear cargo hatch and lash cords on the bow. Mine came with an electric pump which is painfully slow, and a foot bellows pump which I really like because it is so fast and you can use your body weight for efficiency. (Those pumps like old-fashioned bicycle pumps are real back-breakers and I don’t recommend them for anything.) It has a removable seat but I add a padded stadium seat for comfort and also to shift my body weight forward in the hopes of improving the tracking.

So here’s the nuts and bolts of it. On the upside:

  • This kayak is very stable. This is very important when you have a manatee surfacing in under your keel, like this one: manatee Too much information alert – I was even able to get myself into a position to pee into a container without disembarking (a necessity brought on by a fear of alligators) a feat for which I feel there should be a prize. I was also able to lean out quite far to take photographs, and perform extraordinary acrobatics when trying to unfold my stiff limbs while disembarking without fear of tipping over.
  • It is lightweight and therefore easy to launch and haul.
  • It packs up to the size of a large tent and can be carried short distances by one person. That also means that you can lock it inside a car and not worry about having it stolen off the roof-racks.
  • The bungee paddle holders are very useful.
  • It has ample storage for overnight trips if you use the lash-lines as well as the cargo bay in back.
  • The cargo bay is readily accessible while sitting in the cockpit.
  • The drain plugs make it easy to drain the splash water at the end of the trip (as long as you remember to put the plugs back in before you launch again.)
  • The hull has three chambers so there is plenty of flotation if one chamber is punctured.

On the downside:

  • The hull speed appears very low. I like to use a paddle with a large blade in my other kayak but with the inflatable the boat doesn’t seem to go any faster than with the smaller blade. My arms, however, get tired a lot faster. This could be partly due to my paddle stroke;
    Using the paddle with the large blade.

    Using the paddle with the large blade.

    I am still having difficulty switching from a canoe style of pushing the paddle through a long arc to swinging the kayak paddle. This may also account for some of the issues with tracking but not entirely.

  • It tracks very poorly. There is a small hard rubber keel which does not seem very effective. Also, the keel has become warped from being folded and stored in the bag.
  • The hull is not very responsive when steering.
  • The boat has next to no momentum. If I stop paddling the boat comes very quickly to a stop and then just as quickly rounds up. This is fine for taking pictures but means you have to paddle constantly to keep up.
  • The hull needs to be rinsed and dried if it is to be stowed for any length of time.
  • I suspect the materials are vulnerable to intense sunlight. I keep it covered with a tarp if not stowed. Also very vulnerable to oyster beds and the random nails sticking out of docks.
  • It fits me well but I am only 5’2″. Can you see the bumps in the bow deck? That’s where my feet are with my ankles at neutral (I am pushed a little forward because of the stadium seat. I don’t think anyone with long legs or large feet would be very comfortable.
    Foot bumps

    Foot bumps

     

So that’s the long and the short of it. I would recommend this boat for it’s portability and storability and for recreational paddling on relatively flat water, especially if you are doing a lot of photography and I will keep it as part of my fleet. I wouldn’t use it in rapids or for extended ocean voyages or long days of paddling. I found that 3 to 4 hours of paddling was pretty well my limit in this boat. But all that said, I have never paddled a touring kayak so have nothing to compare it to. There is an outfitter on the Homosassa River who has some nice boats. I might just drive over and try out a few. After all, a person can’t possibly have too many boats……I recently spied a beautiful pair of kayaks car-topped at Salt Springs, Ocala National Forest and very quickly googled Tideline to see where I could try them out. Sadly the builder, Patrick Cooley, has moved  his business, Onno Paddles, to Hawaii and is now only building paddles. (The kayaks were only a sideline) The owners of this set now have my contact information. Just in case.

A fine pair of boats.

A fine pair of boats.

Happy paddling. (or shoveling and ice chipping)

© all text and images Judy Parsons 2015. Click on any picture for a larger view.

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