The Quest for the Perfect Kayak

posted Oct 27, 2014, 4:53 PM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated Jul 29, 2015, 6:12 PM ]

This quest is doomed to failure for various reasons e.g.

  • what one considers perfect changes with one's expertise and current enthusiasms
  • there is no perfect all around kayak – it may be 'perfect' for some purposes, but not for others
  • a potential consequence of the prior bullet is that one might end up with multiple kayaks

Nevertheless the quest itself is fun and enlightening. Here I'll describe my quest in chronological phases.

Phase 0: Early in 2007, my wife and I, having uncovered our latent enthusiasm for kayaking, purchased a used Seaward tandem, a Gemini – which we named 'Zwilli'. We paired comfortably in the tandem, so it did not take on the notorious aspect of a 'divorce boat'. For two beginners, this proved an auspicious start and we paddled comfortably on fresh and salt water.

Zwilli - the Seaward Gemini

Phase 1: Within a year, I gave in to my yearning for a single and purchased a used fiberglass Seaward Endeavor, 'Edna', at the Chemainus Seaward facility. Of course, we soon thereafter needed to obtain a single for my mate. Off again to Chemainus to buy a demo Cosma TX (thermoform). My wife has, so far, failed to name this blue over white boat, so I call it 'Blue'.

Edna - the Seaward Endeavour

Blue - the Cosma TX

Phase 2: So here we were with 3 kayaks and no viable excuse for further fleet modifications. In desperation, I decided I needed a more maneuverable, more highly rockered kayak. This would, I pretended, enhance my paddling skills. So I sold 'Edna' and found a Northshore Calypso ('Carmen'), built before Valley purchased the company. This is a rare boat in the USA, rather like a larger NDK Romany and similarly a stout diolen/fiberglass composite.

Carmen - the North Shore Calypso

Phase 3: At this point, we were still at 3 kayaks. Then in the spring of 2013, my wife and I were helping each other carry our kayaks to the water when she opined that Carmen was rather heavy and that a septuagenarian such as I should have something lighter. I thought this over for quite a long time, and 45 minutes later had found an all white kevlar Boréal Design Ellesmere near Big Fork, Montana. So 'Carmen' was (rather quickly) sold, and 'Bianca' joined our fleet. As a side note, I was inadvertently (I assume) insulted by the buyer of Carmen. Recall that I was selling Carmen because she was a bit heavy for me. Once the buyer had made the purchase, he lifted Carmen up overhead and plunked her on his pickup rack, saying, “This kayak is pretty light”.

Bianca - the Boreal Design Ellesmere

Phase 4: Zwilli was getting little use, but it is nice to have a spare boat for visitors. In that regard, a single provides perhaps more flexibility. I stumbled on a forum post looking to trade a single for a tandem. The person looking for the tandem had several singles from which to choose. So I traded Zwilli for an elderly Romany, still in good shape. Always curious about a boat's history, I sent the serial number to SKUK (the replacement acronym for NDK). Their records indicated that it was probably imported by Stan Chladek, the first person in the USA to import NDK kayaks. I've read that 'Romany' was the name of Nigel Dennis's daughter. Since that means 'gypsy', I named this kayak 'Syeira' – a gypsy word for 'princess'.

Syeira - the NDK Romany

Phase 5: OK, we now had 3 kayaks with no further changes needed … until, in a weak moment, we tried kayak camping on Idaho's Upper Priest Lake, well after Labor Day (i.e. little traffic, few bugs, too idyllic). That was rather fun. So we decided to incorporate occasional camping into our kayak outings. But only Blue had much room for gear. As skeg boats, Bianca and Syeira sacrificed some gear carrying capacity to the skeg boxes. As an inveterate heretic, I actually preferred the Ellesmere to the iconic Romany. So I next exchanged Syeira for a ruddered boat, a Necky Looksha IV – now named 'Lucia'.

Lucia - the Necky Looksha IV

Phase 6: My wife decided she much preferred the Necky to the Seaward. So ... two of us and 3 kayaks - one used very infrequently. We need to downsize in general, so we sold the Seaward and some associated gear to a friend. She was moving up from a recreational kayak and was very enthusiastic about the increase in preformance.

Clearly, I have been the culprit in constantly modifying the makeup of our 3 kayak fleet. Once we had accrued the initial 3 boats (none being brand new), the subsequent sale of a kayak and the purchase of (or trade for) a replacement has been financially a nearly break even process. But once the replacement kayak has arrived, I do spend some effort and perhaps money making the 'new' boat functional and comfortable for the paddler. This may involve modifying the back band (typically at no cost), obtaining missing items e.g. a skirt, or adding a keel strip.

Kayak names: My account here indicates that I give each kayak a name – most usually feminine, as befits a boat. Personally, I think it is important for kayaks to have names. On a solo paddle, one often needs to talk to the kayak. Saying 'hey you' to get a kayak's attention is quite rude. A kayak is more responsive and cooperative if addressed by name. Should one stick a decal with the name on the kayak? Certainly not – do any people you know wander about in public with name tags emblazoned on their foreheads? Kayaks are people too (athletes at that) – at least more so than corporations. Of course, selling a kayak becomes problematic if you're on a first name basis. My ploy is to pretend that I'm a school teacher (no matter how inadequate) and that a kayak being sold has just graduated. Thus mollified the kayaks seem to leave willingly, treating the purchase price rather like an athlete's signing bonus.