Is there anything better to a person with a paddling passion than to have an opportunity to sit in a brand new-never-before paddled kayak? Let alone a kayak that has been hand-built meticulously cedar strip by cedar strip? Well, this paddler can honestly say that there is in fact, nothing quite like it.
I was offered just such a chance, my ride pictured here for this overcast Sunday afternoon was a new kayak built with its sister side by side in the spacious workshop of my kayaking friend Gus. He had built an 18 ft. cedar strip racing kayak last fall, and it is a stunning piece of craftsmanship in itself, but he wanted to recreate it in smaller 14 ft. versions for his two kids. Very lucky kayak kids indeed! They were given the task of designing the patterning that would appear on the decks of each kayak and a peek at the original drawings would tell you that they had wide ideas. None of which would work with the materials at hand. A scaled down set of artwork was drawn up and with some negotiation both of parent and of wood they now appear in stark contrasts of red and yellow woods, grains mirrored and under layers of fibreglass, epoxy and coats of marine varnish on the narrow decks.
The hatches held in place by a bungee cord system allows for the decking to be virtually clean with the exception of the necessary safety deck lines and bungee. There is an Epic kayaks seat system that allows the paddler to adjust the distance to the rudder peddles as well as the seat position. I liked this feature.
Once I had sat on shore in the kayak to get it fitted properly I lifted the lightweight craft (a whopping 36lbs) and gently lowered it to the water. I was keen to get going and slipped my legs in the cockpit and sat only to feel the immediate nature of how playful the boat was and had the urge to brace with the paddle to save from tipping over. It was lively!
When Gus joined me on the water, he too experiencing the newness of the kayak feel and we laughed at how cautiously we dibbled away from shore. The initial awkwardness subsided as our bodies, naturally wanting to stay upright and centered did just that. Within a few short minutes we were paddling like we had paddled these kayaks a hundred times before. I lowered the rudder right from the start thinking a shorter kayak will not handle well without the aid of a rudder. My own, now ancient Current Designs Pachena, the 13 ft. wonder kayak that took me miles upon miles of coastal shoreline on kayaking trips much longer that the weekender it was designed as, will not go straight without the rudder down. It is like a curled leaf on a breezy pond and fishtail this way and that unguided by that strip of metal hanging from the stern point. Would this narrow, short and playful little kayak let loose willy-nilly (I cannot abide willy-nilly anything) if I lifted her rudder out of the water for a second. I gave it a try on our way back in the harbour into a wind and against the tidal current. This little woodie stayed straight. I had to switch my brain to paddle-steering mode after struggling to turn it off before as my own kayak is rudderless. A few hard strokes and I picked up speed. We sprinted and the GPS indicated we were running at about 10km/h. Not bad! Later in no current or wind we tried another sprint to much the same result.
Upon returning to the boat launch I reluctantly handed over my little kayak with the arrowhead design on the decking created with a rainbow effect of coloured woods. I kicked some seawater in, and a few blobs of shore mud but I managed not to sink or scratch it. Buzzing from the fun we had it was measured by the sudden realization that a set of car keys had gone missing. A mad search of the area and the wayward key was found in his pocket, and so it goes. tragedy averted we drove off, he with kayaks and me, oddly with nothing on the roof rack.
If these were a commercially made kayaks I could sit here this afternoon and write a long review that is both glowing and filled with starbursts. I would post hyperlinks to the kayak website and rave about the new era of small kayaks. Alas, these were a labour of love and not for sale, although I am sure Gus could be persuaded to build another for the right price.
Tested to float, safe for the kids it will be they who get all the fun next time. What lucky kayaking kids they will be and maybe they will let me paddle in one again sometime.