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Kayak selection
 

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6133
Location: Maine

3/1/19 4:58 PM

Kayak selection

I think I will get a sea kayak this year, and I know at least Brian and April are knowledgable.

I’m not really looking for a recommendation for a specific model, but any general thoughts are appreciated. I know I should try some out, and cockpit fit is important, which is probably individual (maybe like bike saddle preference).

I want to sea kayak. I am maybe an experienced novice, about 20 hours in a kayak, all in classes or the recent trip. I would like to eventually do fairly challenging paddling, and I enjoy fairly rough water, but I am not looking to be a hero and probably don’t need extreme performance. I know I need to improve my skills and look forward to working on that.

I am thinking better to not get a rudder, at least to start, so as to improve my technique? What about use of a skeg?

I have been comfortable in Current Designs boats, and uncomfortable the one time I was in a Wilderness Tsunami, but I’m not sure if that was brand specific.

Bean has a day when you can go and try out different boats, and I will probably try that.

Within reasonable limits, I don’t care about cost.

Any thoughts on general guidelines? TIA

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/1/19 6:55 PM

First off, I have to say that you're going into this with the right attitude and you've already taken important steps to insure that you'll be able to enjoy the sport safely.

Kayak fit is quite individual, but much like cycling, you don't know what you need or want until you gain some experience. As with saddles, you may experience some degree of discomfort when you first start paddling, but as long as it's not extreme, your body will adjust as it does on the bike. Fortunately, kayak fit is easily and inexpensively adjustable by adding, removing or modifying padding, the seat and seat back, and like bike fit, it will evolve somewhat over time as you become more proficient and confident.

The key to a proper fit is being able to relax and be flexible when just cruising along, but be able to lock yourself in position when conditions require it. With a properly fit boat, that should require little more than flexing your ankles to lock your legs into position, so you can use your hips to feel the water and control the boat. Because every boat/paddler combination is unique, what is required to do this varies. One of the things I use to do with our club is outfitting clinics, where I would help people personalize the fit of their boats.

As for the boat itself, for someone your (our) size, I wouldn't consider anything shorter than 16' and you'll probably end up with something in the 17-18' range. You'll find that virtually every sea kayak manufacturer makes a boat that 17' long by 22" wide, as those dimensions are somewhat ubiquitous in the industry. While that's a good starting point, there are dramatic differences in design within those basic parameters. So, the first thing you need to define is what your intended use is. Like bikes, kayaks are versatile and can serve multiple purposes well, but they're typically biased toward a purpose. The common categories of seaworthy kayaks are:

- "Play" boats that are highly maneuverable and ideal for bouncing around in rock garden, surfing (as best you can in a long boat) and poking around in marshes. as the name implies, they're a lot of fun. but tend to be slower and require more effort on longer paddles.

- "Expedition" boats that are designed for extended touring trips and camping. These are the "ocean liners" of kayaks. They're typically long and consequently, relatively fast, but not maneuverable.

- "Racing" boats, which are built for all-out speed, but have limited utility for other purposes. If one's main goal is to go fast, they're the ticket, but they require more skill to paddle than other types of sea kayaks.

- "Day/touring boats that are designed for all-around use and day or weekend trips. These may overlap with play boats at one end of their spectrum and expedition boats at the other. This is by far the broadest and most popular category. As you may expect their speed potential is in-between those categories, too.

Again like bikes, you have a choice of materials:

- Rotomolded polyethylene is the least expensive and heaviest option, but can take a real pounding. However, it's very difficult to repair when it wears out or gets seriously damaged. Most paddlers start out in rotomolded boats and many keep one in their fleet as play boats, teaching boats or loaners.

- Thermoformed plastic, which is typically polycarbonate. These boats are lighter and more expensive that rotomolded boats and look a lot like composite boats. Performance is similar to comparable composite boats. I don't have any experience repairing them, but I understand that it's possible.

- Composite boat, which run the gamut from featherweight (relatively speaking) carbon/Kevlar racing craft to robust fiberglass touring and expedition boats. I think it's fair to say that most enthusiast paddlers end up in composite boats at some point. They perform really well, are generally durable and can be repaired more or less indefinitely. I've beaten the snot out of mine and they keep coming back for more.

A subset of composites is fiberglass over wood-core boats, with either "stitch and glue" plywood or cedar strip construction. You don't see a lot of these for sale, as they're most often a bulid-it-yourself" proposition. If you want to have one built, expect to pay through the nose for it.

- "Skin-on-frame" boats are recreations or interpretations of Inuit or Aleut craft. Again, these are generally DIY and usually constructed to fit a specific paddler. like a tailored suit. I've built 3 and still have one them. They're fun and really inexpensive to build (~$200 or so), but not particularly versatile.

All that said, you've got the right idea to go to a demo day or preferably several, so you can try several boats. Since you've got some experience already, you've probably noticed how quickly you become accustomed to a boat and comfortable with controlling it. It's really easy to outgrow a boat as you become more proficient, so my general advice is to start with a boat that may challenge your ability somewhat, so you're not bored with it after a few months. Realize that you are likely to own multiple boats, though not necessarily at the same time, before you find one that really suits you. I still have three, but have owned many more.

When it comes to rudder vs. skeg vs. neither, I've never owned a boat with a rudder and likely never will. A well-designed boat without either can be a joy to paddle and I've owned one that I really liked, but frankly, I'd rather have a skeg in order to be able to trim the boat to suit the prevailing wind/wave conditions. It adds a level of versatility without the extra complication, cost and downsides of a rudder. I see way too many paddlers who misuse a rudder as a crutch to avoiding learning to handle their boats with their bodies and paddles, which is a critical skill.

Things to avoid:
- Boats with huge cockpits. Most kayaks come with keyhole cockpits, but the size varies. You need to be able to get in and out readily, but you also need to be secure and in control. Too many paddlers emphasize easy entry and exit, forgetting that 99%+ of their time is going to be spent paddling, not getting in and out of their boat. My personal preference is for boats with small "ocean" cockpits due to the extraordinary control they provide, but I'm not sure if anyone is making them anymore, so you won't see many, if any.

- High seat backs. The backband of a kayak is designed to support your pelvis, not your back. High backs make entry, rescues and laybacks more difficult and can chafe if you're your rotating your torso properly as you paddle.

- More volume and/or width than you need. High-volume, wide boats can feel very comfortable initially, but they compromise performance and control.

- Boats without front and rear bulkheads. This is not likely to be an issue with the type of boat you'll be looking at, but it could be. I would personally not buy a boat that doesn't have some form of day hatch, as they're really handy for organizing your gear.

- Boats with insufficient deck rigging. For safety reasons, kayaks should have full perimeter lines, in addition to rigging for storing a spare paddle and a minimal number of other items on deck (a chart, gloves, hood, etc.) and toggles at both ends. You also want a recess for a compass, even if you plan to use a GPS, as you should have a compass on the boat as backup, it not as your primary navigation tool. This is really critical in Maine, due to the prevalence of fog.

Phew, that was a mouthful! I hope some of this is useful and not too basic. There's a lot more I can share with you, so feel free to ask questions. I haven't looked at what's in the market these day, so I can't recommend specific boats unless I've actually paddled them. I do have opinions on certain manufacturers that I'll be happy to share.

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Sparky
Joined: 08 Dec 2003
Posts: 17072
Location: Portland, OR

3/1/19 6:58 PM

Mouthful? More like and encyclopedia. Awesome informational response there!

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/1/19 10:14 PM

What’s TIA?

Opening Pandora’s box!

First, welcome to this wonderful activity!

Brian had laid out the options. I’m going to venture into suggesting starting points, in random order of priority.

— Go fiberglass. Why? Because there’re relatively few plastic boat of high performance hull shape. (My understanding, it’s easier to form complex shape using fiberglass. Hard to do the same with plastic)

— Go skeg. Brian had explained some of the reason. I’ll add another. Rudder need foot control. So you end up with mushy foot peg. With skeg, you can push off a solid foot peg with each paddle stroke.

— Go for a “low volume” boat. Now, what’s “low volume” for you maybe high volume for me. All boats have weight range listed. Look to put your weight at least midway or above the range, or up to 3/4 of the top limit! Why? The bigger the boat volume, the more of it above water and getting pushed by the wind. More work you don’t need to do. So basically “right size” your boat. But in kayak talk, that’s called “low volume”. ;-)

— Same “less is more” approach to cockpit size also. Narrow and low is good, as long as you can fit your knee under and you hip between that is. That said, the exact shape isn’t as critical, because you can modify that using foams.

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/1/19 10:31 PM

More specific manufacturers: you may want to look for “brit boats”.

Their characteristics? Boats that are narrow, have a hull shape designed to handle rough water (typical off the shore of Britain), with smallish tight fitting cockpit for best control and low deck to minimize wind effect. Almost all “brit boats” exclusively have skegs.

That term denotes both manufacturers and design. There’re British brands like NDK, Valley, P&H, Rockpool etc. widely available here. There’re also US manufactured design to mimic the same. They’re typically called...’Brit boats’!

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/1/19 10:52 PM

Demo:

I suspect LL Bean only offer for demo brands and models they carry. Last time I look, they don’t carry rough water oriented models.

REI used to carry the Wilderness Tempest, which is a “Brit influenced” design. But I don’t know if they still carry that model, or offer any demo days.

Another way to try out different boat is renting, for a few hours so you can go places.

A third way to demo, more in depth (and more involved) is to buy used boats at 1/2 price, paddle for a few week/months. If you don’t like it, sell it for almost the same as you pay for it initially. Free demo!

Or stop by MIKCO, Maine Island Kayak Company. I think they carry a wide range of modals

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6133
Location: Maine

3/2/19 4:54 AM

Wow thanks Brian and April

That’s a ton of good info, which I’ll be digesting. I guess a skeg it is!

I think Bean has a lot more boats in the store than online. I’ll go poke around there, it’s only 5 miles away. At the Outdoor Center I’ve used Current Designs and Wilderness (and they do have a Tempest online). On the Antarctica trip they used Current Designs, and there will be a CD rep at the demo. I’ll also look at Maine Island which looks good, though I have to take a ferry to get out there.

One issue I have is that due to my busted leg and stiff knee, I don’t have a lot of hip and knee mobility, so in Antarctica it was kind of hard to get my feet on the pegs. With my knees slightly bent, my feet want to be inside of the peg position. When I tried a cockpit with pedals for a rudder, I couldn’t even get one foot on the pedal - it stayed inside of the pedal. I’m going to work on stretching exercises to try to improve my legs, and I expect a good kayak fitter can help with this as well. There may be adaptations/hacks for this, but I’ll work on my legs first.

Well it’s off to the Boat Bike and Ski Store!

TIA is thanks in advance.

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Sparky
Joined: 08 Dec 2003
Posts: 17072
Location: Portland, OR

3/2/19 10:49 AM

"I expect a good kayak fitter can help with this as well. There may be adaptations/hacks for this, but I’ll work on my legs first."

Actually, Fitter first perhaps, while working on it. Might keep you from doing something with net zero result. I doubt you are the first person with this problem...

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/2/19 1:39 PM

April has some great suggestions. Low volume, Brit boats, composites, buying used, that's my my tune, too. If I hadn't gotten so deep into the minutiae, I would have said the same things. ;-)

There's a relatively simple solution to your knee/hip issue. Instead of using footpegs, you pad the forward bulkhead so you can use it as a footrest. That allows you to use the entire width of the hull for foot placement and it's more comfortable for your feet than pressing on a skinning footpeg. Linda and I have been doing this in all of our boats for many years and I haven't found anyone who's tried it that didn't like it better than pegs.

Another thing to keep in mind is that kayaking will help you to develop "swivel hips", which should improve your mobility somewhat over time.

As April said, British brands such as Valley Sea Kayaks ("VSK", formerly "VCP"), Rockpool and P&H are excellent, but there are also a lot of good North American boats, some of which you've paddled.

Oddly, I've never actually been to MIKCO, but everyone who has praises them for their great selection and service. It's definitely worth the trip to Portland to see them.

There is one caution I would add and that is to be VERY leery of SKUK/NDK boats. While their designs are excellent, historically, they have been made with absolute junk materials (chopped strand mat and sprayed chopped strand) and their "quality control" has been non-existent. Their boats typically have a huge amount of gelcoat which adds a lot of weight, but negligible structure. I've repaired a few of them and have actually found areas that had no fiberglass under the gelcoat!. That's the equivalent of having no carbon fiber under the paint on a bike frame. Crooked coamings and bulkheads have been common and the list of defects goes on and on. The only reason they're still in business is that the boats perform well enough that people have put up with all the problems. Admittedly, I haven't seen any of their current boats, so perhaps they've improved since their bankruptcy and renaming, but I would still approach them with a jaundiced eye.

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6133
Location: Maine

3/2/19 3:08 PM

Thanks again

That padding idea sounds great, thanks.

MikCo not only requires a trip to Portland, but a ferry ride to Peak’s Island. Which I could do of course. FWIW theor website heavily pushes NDK, at about $5k a pop.

Interesting with the swivel hips. Last summer I was out on a lesson with a Bean instructor, he knew I was going to Antarctica so he took us into some pretty good swells. To me it was like riding a bike over rough terrain, I just relaxed my body and went with it, and it was fun. He said “if you had pinned your hip, you would have been over in an instant.” So maybe cycling instincts aren’t bad.

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/2/19 3:58 PM

Your hip technique is exactly right. The way we used to put when teaching people was "the boat knows what to do, so just relax and let it." It gives you a feel for the water and a better appreciation for what's going on under you, so you can react when you need to. It's also a lot of fun!

I noticed that MIKCO only lists two brands, NDK and Tiderace. I've never seen a Tiderace boat, but I seem to recall hearing good things about them.

The prices on the NDK boats are pretty insane, but that's pretty much always been the case. I would never pay them, especially in light of their quality issues. You can get amazingly well made boats for the same money. Lincoln Canoe and Kayak used to be near you in Yarmouth and they were a great example of how boats should be made, but I guess they're in Amesbury, MA now.

I took a look at MIKCO's Used and Demo Boats page and one caught my eye, the VCP Skerray RM. It's a rotomolded boat that has a "ocean" cockpit (they refer to it as "slalom" for some reason). Linda and I paddled these in Shetland and they were an absolute blast! At 23", it's slightly wider than I prefer, but it's still an incredible boat in "textured" water. For a while, I was looking for one to use as a teaching boat, but they're hard to find. There's a Pintail (we both own them) and a glass Skerray, too.

Of the others listed, I've only paddled the Romany, the Explorer and the Outer Island (they misspelled the name). I wouldn't recommend any of these, two because they're NDK and the other because wood isn't the best material for a first boat. That said, the Outer Island is a really nice paddling kayak.

If you haven't been there already, check out the classifieds on Paddling.com and don't forget Craigslist, either. You may find a bargain!

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/2/19 10:20 PM

NDK

I have a slightly different take than Brian on NDK boats.

Although I’ve never owned one in the past (for the quality control concern as Brian mentioned), I’ve padded quite a few of their models. Not just a few minutes in a demo, but usually a day trip of 3-5 hrs. And always in choppy water. I’m very impressed by the handling characteristics of the several smaller models in their line up: Romany, Explorer, Pilgrim (this last one probably too small for you, Dan).

The NDK Romany was considered the standard all rough water baots are compared against. Why? It’s responsive yet forgiving at the same time. So it’s not unusual to see several of it in a rough water workshop, plus the instructor may be paddling one too! Because it’s considered one of the best “learning boat”, especially for athletic beginner aspiring to improve technically.

While horror stories still circulats in the kayaking circle, the latest from the last few years had been missing the drama. Also, dealers finally stood up against the manufacturer, on behalf of their customers. That might have turned the tide.

One way to side step the issue is buy from the demo/rental fleet of a supportive shop. They would have had worked out all the issues during their initial ownership. And will be more helpful to address any lingering issues. I do know quite many happy NDK kayak owners. The lemons, though few, are prominent. But with a supportive dealer, it can be remedied without too much drama.

That said, my positive experience with NDK is largely from the time I live in the west coast. I don’t know if there’s some regional anomaly with regard to the northeast.

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/2/19 10:36 PM

MIKCO used list

I just noticed one boat in their list, the Necky Chatem. I’ve paddled that boat and was impressed. It’s really inexpensive MIKCO has it.

Read the description, you noticed it said “it’s just like the Romany”! Well, that’s because the Romany is considered the gold standard!

The Chatem and the Tempest (by Wilderness System) were the early imitation of the “Brit design”. Both could be had for considerably less than their british cousin.

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/3/19 8:17 AM

I do agree with April that NDK boats handle really well. As I said previously, their designs are excellent. It's the execution that's been a problem.

I have rarely seen an NDK boat that didn't have obvious defects and many of the issues with them were structural problems that aren't visible, but create serious safety issues. I never bought into the "shrug it off and paddle" ethos of many NDK owners.

If they've fixed their production problems in recent years, that would be great, as their designs deserve to be properly manufactured. Digging around online, it appears that they have made strides and hired someone in 2017 with experience with modern manufacturing techniques to "help improve quality control and the oversee the laminating workshop". Apparently, they no long use sprayed chopped strand, but still use chopped strand mat and polyester resin (cheap, heavy, brittle materials). That's a deal-breaker for me.

The Necky Chatham that April mentioned was really popular around here, though I don't think I ever paddled one. By all accounts, it's a nice boat. Sadly, Necky was shut down last year by their parent company, Johnson Outdoors. Their Looksha single and tandem are now available under the Old Town brand, but they don't list the Chatham, at least not yet. Their composite boats are not in the lineup, either.

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6133
Location: Maine

3/3/19 1:13 PM

A plan

I see that I can set up a demo at MIKCO which includes a thorough evaluation of what boat would make sense for me, and then I can go paddle one. Since they seem to be well thought of, that may make sense. They do push NDK, I can discuss the quality issues with them, and as April said I could potentially but a used one that has been tested, plus they have some other options. Also if you buy a boat from them it includes a full fitting with pads, foam, etc., so that may make sense for a creaky old guy like me.

Man, pondering a kayak and a gravel bike is about to make my head explode! And if I can’t make my fat a$$ lighter, at least I can make my wallet lighter...

But given that I can justify each purchase, what better investment?

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/3/19 5:06 PM

I think you've got your priorities right, acquiring things that will keep you happy and fit.

Kayaking is pretty much the perfect compliment to riding, as it uses all of the muscle groups that are neglected on the bike and it helps to lengthen your hamstrings, especially if you spend time paddling straight-legged (Greenland style). Linda and I just installed new hatch covers on our boats (VCP hatch covers rot and fall apart over time) and will be refurbishing the deck rigging once the weather warms up. We're committed to getting back on the water this year.

Once you decide on a boat, we can work on technique.

BTW, Linda's housemate is selling his Pintail and a Night Heron he built. They're currently on consignment at Billington Sea in Plymouth, MA

So what's this about a gravel bike???

I have to say, of all the types of riding I do, the time I spend on my gravel rig makes me the happiest. Whether it's local MTB trails, the endless dirt roads in VT or the otherworldly environment of Death Valley, "gravel" riding never ceases to please, even when it hurts.

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dan emery
Joined: 11 Jan 2004
Posts: 6133
Location: Maine

3/3/19 7:30 PM

Gravel bike

Well there’s a whole other thread about that. Registered for D2R2 and thinking about upgrading my rig.

Back to kayaking, I had dinner with some friends tonite, one being a PT who confirmed that my foot placement problem is limited hip rotation from my fracture/replacement. Which is what I thought.

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Brian Nystrom
Joined: 26 Jan 2004
Posts: 4279
Location: Nashua, NH

3/3/19 9:09 PM

I'll chalk the gravel bike comment up to a senior moment...

I had some geometry changes after I broke my hip. My right knee used to brush the top tube, but now it sticks out somewhat when I ride. I can't twist my leg inward as much and simple things like reaching down to tighten a buckle on the outside of a shoe were difficult, but that's somewhat better now. I also experienced some back issues until I got used to my new hip geometry. Considering the severity of my injury, I'm OK with how it's turned out, as for the most part, I don't notice it anymore. Of course, it happened 20 years ago last July 4th...

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April
Joined: 13 Dec 2003
Posts: 6483
Location: Westchester/NYC

3/5/19 12:05 AM

Definitely ask to test paddle that Chathem by Necky. It’s a really good price ( unless there’s some problem with it). But MIKCO would be upfront about it.

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