The Kayak

 

Greenland II made by Folbot

 

Under sail (photo by Tycho Horning)

 

 

 

 

We chose a folding boat for several reasons.  For our purposes, the relative complexity, fragility and expense of a folding boat were far outweighed by the ease of transport and storage.  As with most things, part of owning a boat is being owned by a boat. That is, being responsible for its maintenance, storage, transport, etc.  I've owned a variety of small boats during the past 4 decades but have never been less owned by a boat than this one.  I'm delighted to have a craft that can be stored in a closet, transported by car or mass transit to rivers, lakes or sea coasts and then will transport me to the wild, adventuresome places I love to visit. 

We got around the expense factor by purchasing a used kayak in excellent condition that we found online.  The fragility was only a factor while landing and launching, where we were careful not to scrape the bottom of the boat.  After 700 miles, the boat is still in very good condition and there are only a few small scuffs on the bottom of the hull.  We were pleased with how well the kayak handled rough seas and with 8 open ocean crossings, we had our share of them.         

The kayak is a Greenland II made by Folbot.  It was built  in 1999 and we purchased it used in 2007.  Despite being 8 years old when we bought it, it had only been used a few times and was in like-new condition.  It was equipped with paddles, rudder, expedition kit, repair kit and sail rig.  In the summer of 2008, we did a week long shakedown trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island and in the summer of 2009 we spent 59 days paddling and sailing the kayak 700 miles to Alaska.  

The boat proved to be a good choice for the trip.  Its large volume made packing, even for a trip of this length, a relatively easy matter.  The 34" beam is wider than on any other kayak I've paddled, and I was surprised at how advantageous the wide beam is.  It afforded a reserve stability that made entering and exiting, as well as paddling in rough weather, a much more relaxed affair than has been my experience in the narrower kayaks I've used on past trips.  Pearl, who doesn't swim, also feels much more secure in this kayak than in the narrower ones she's used in the past. 

Contrary to our expectations, we haven't found the beam a problem when paddling.  The primary difference from paddling a narrower kayak is that it requires longer paddles.  I find a 260 cm paddle about right and Pearl prefers a 240-250cm paddle.  Interestingly, the wider beam hasn't been much of a detriment to speed either.  In the summer of 2008, we paddled for a week in company with a muscular friend in a single Feathercraft.  In a sprint he would win every time, but at a normal cruising speed we would always pull out ahead and he occasionally had to paddle harder to keep up.  We later had a similar experience traveling with two people in hard shell singles.  During our paddle to Alaska this summer, we averaged around 12 to 15 miles per day early in the trip, but as we gained strength, we often had 20-25 mile days, sometimes several in a row.

Another advantage of the wider beam is that sailing is a much more feasible endeavor than on a narrower boat.  The kayak came with a Folbot FR-30 Twin Down-Wind sailing rig, but the long mast made it unsuitable for our purposes.  We needed a relatively short mast that could easily be stepped and stowed while underway and a sail that could be easily and quickly raised, lowered and reefed.  I designed and built a square sail rig using two of the 3 mast sections that came with the FR-30 rig, giving an overall mast length of 7' 4".  I sewed a 22.5 sq. ft. sail 4'8" wide by 4'10" tall of 1.9 oz. ripstop nylon.  The yard and boom were made of 1" diameter aluminum tubing, each 4' 8" long.  Running rigging was 1/8" nylon parachute cord.  For transport, the rig fits into the bag containing the kayak frame. 

We were very happy with the performance and handling of the rig.  Pearl felt it added an interesting dimension to the trip.  She could step the mast and have the sail rigged in under 5 minutes.  Once the mast was stepped, the sail could either be raised for sailing or lowered and stowed for paddling in about 15 seconds.  The ease and speed of raising and lowering the sail allowed us to frequently alternate between sailing and paddling in light and variable breezes.  We usually reefed in around 12 knots of wind and when reefed, could carry sail up to about 20-22 knots of wind if going downwind.  The sail was effective up to almost a reach (sailing direction perpendicular to wind direction). 

Sailing a narrow craft of course carries the potential for capsize, so when sailing we paid close attention to what we were doing and to what the weather was doing, watching for squall lines, increasing winds, cats paws, etc.  Also, Pearl held the halyard, rather than cleating it, so the sail could be dropped instantly.  As a result of these precautions, we never came close to a capsize.  The sail really came into its own in Grenville Channel, where we sailed more than 70 miles during several days of southeast winds.  In total, we sailed about 100 miles during the trip and paddled 600 miles.                   

The zippered decks and large cockpit made packing a breeze as compared to packing a hardshell sea kayak.  Unless there was surf, our packing routine was to carry the empty boat to the water, loading it in enough water to float it.  Unpacking was the reverse, with one of us unloading and tending the boat while the other schlepped gear up or down the beach.  Surf launches, which we only did on sandy beaches, required loading the boat at the highest point that the waves would come to on the beach.  As the tide brought the water level up or down, we would move the boat, waiting to do so until especially high waves floated it.  Surf landings and launches were more exciting than in calm water, but not usually difficult. 

The cockpit is weatherproofed with a coated nylon cover which attaches to the deck with velcro.  This was easy to attach and quick to remove for loading and unloading.  Surprisingly, the velcro never detached during rough weather, despite waves occasionally breaking over the deck.  On our shakedown trip in 2008, we experienced some water leaking onto our laps through seams at the cockpit cover/spray skirt joint.  We later sealed those seams, which went a long way toward making them waterproof.  Eventually though, the waterproof coating on the fabric in that area wore through and we had leaks again.  Fortunately, we usually wore rain pants anyway, so it wasn't a major problem.  Before another trip, we'll re-waterproof the fabric there. 

We used the seats that came with the kayak, which were thick, dense foam.  I found them to be about as comfortable as seats on hardshell kayaks I've used.  We were fine for about the first hour or two each day, then butt soreness became increasingly noticeable.  We usually tried to make a stop on shore every few hours.  While paddling, the stability of the kayak made it easy to lean back and stretch periodically, making it tolerable to occasionally paddle for 6-8 hours without getting out.  Late in the trip I experimented with sitting on a folded Thermarest pad and was able to go significantly longer without experiencing soreness.  On another long trip, I'd want to have an inflatable seat pad.      

For transport, the kayak fits into 2 bags.  One bag contains the aluminum kayak frame, rudder assembly, 3 paddles and sail rig.  The other bag holds the skin, cross frames, seats, cockpit cover, spray covers, bilge pump and repair kit.  Each bag is just under 50 lbs. and we haven't been charged extra for them on Amtrak, Greyhound or the Alaska Ferry.  

A caveat regarding our general satisfaction with the kayak is that the frame utilizes 6 stainless steel hinges, each  of which is secured with 8 aluminum rivets to the side and keel tubes.  Stainless steel in contact with aluminum in a salt water environment is a setup for electrolysis and 6 weeks into the trip, the rivets securing the keel hinges began to break.  Fortunately, broken rivets on the keel assembly wasn't a safety issue.  When we reached Ketchikan several days later, we bought a rivet gun for $12 and a dozen #10 x 1/2" aluminum rivets.  Replacing the rivets was a fairly quick job. 

If the rivets securing the hinges on the side tubes had broken however, the outcome might have been serious.  In fact, 2 weeks later, when we packed up the boat at the end of the trip, several of the rivet heads securing the side hinges did come off.  When we returned to Oregon after the trip, I replaced all 48 hinge rivets with new rivets from Folbot, bedding each one in silicone anti-corrosion gel.  It took only a couple hours and the frame is now as good as new.  On future trips of longer than a month, we'll be taking the rivet gun and extra rivets along.