I’m in pieces,
bits and pieces
And that’s the way it’ll always be
– dave clark five
Happy Monday! Hope your day goes well. Over the weekend CD asked me to talk about more the value of a 3 piece kayak. He wondered about quality, shipping, travel, and such. So let’s see what I can tell you without being too “Brand” specific.
The first thing worth noting is if you want a kayak to travel with you have two choices really; Folding boats and sectionals. Which one you choose of course depends on what your goals are and the price. Both folding kayaks and sectionals of good quality are more expensive than a standard fiberglass boat. That’s a given. For today though let’s talk about sectionals.
Usually a sectional kayak starts out as a normal kayak. Then, after it’s out of the mold and pretty much together it get’s chopped. (imagine the magician with the saw. . . ) Then a bulkhead is placed at the end of each section. The upside is that they can be pretty strong given their construction. And a bit heavier as well. The Alaw Bach has these nice little seashells set into the bulkheads that come together like Legos. These assure you that you are getting everything aligned properly and keep the sections from sliding up and down under pressure.
Bolts or Clips?
Each company has their own way of connecting the sections. My Rockpool has recessed clips that are very quick to latch. It only takes a minute to put the boat together. Inside the clip is an adjustable bolt that is used to keep the connections tight. Thing is, Mike at Rockpool pointed out to me early on that these clips don’t need to be clamped down very hard. It took time for me to trust that, but it’s true. You only need them adjusted enough to hold the boat together. If you make the clips so tight that it takes some muscle to close them, you’re over tightening them. It’s not necessary and will wear on the clips. I have also seen sectionals that have bolts running through the bulkheads, where the paddler has to climb into the cockpit head first, with a wrench. Obviously these are tough, just heavier and a bit of a pain to do up. One thing I would check whatever brand you buy, is that each section lines up correctly. I’ve heard of sectionals that don’t quite come together correctly leaving a quarter inch lip. Obviously the hull should be smooth.
Ok here’s the tricky part. Most airlines will not allow Kayaks as baggage. It’s hard to figure out why exactly, but that’s their policy. In fact I’ve read that BA is talking about adding that policy now. The funny part of this is that they allow all sorts of other objects that are bigger and bulkier. Bass fiddles for instance. With my Trak there has never been an issue. They just call it a golf bag. However, it does say “Kayak” on the bag and I was questioned about that once. It took a supervisor to ok it on that instance.
With the sectional I’ve had to argue. Don’t just assume an airline will let you take your sectional kayak. Before I left on my trip I called the airline in advance. I explained the sizes, weights and such and was told it would not be an issue. Well it was. No matter what you are told, you have to be prepared to negotiate with the customer service people and possibly the security folks as well. In the end I was able to get approval for my flights.
Assuming you are allowed to fly, you need to pack properly of course. Both end sections easily fall within most airlines normal baggage requirements. I packed them with my gear up to the weight limit and basically used them as hard-shell luggage. The center section is over sized, but still fits the oversize requirements. ( I paid an additional $80 both ways for the center section. ) Again you have to manage the weight. I don’t know of anyone who makes bags for their sectionals. You have to make your own. Inside the bags it’s up to you how to protect the hull. Foam is fine, but it adds to the size and weight. It’s a good idea to tape foam around the tips and clips to protect them from damage.
In the end I think paddlers need to get together and use their associations to lobby airlines. Since our kayaks are within their standards and they allow all sorts of recreational gear (both on water gear and off), their policy seems really out of whack. The ACA and BCU should be pursuing this issue.
Ok, to tell you the truth hauling a sectional by yourself through an airport is not really fun. It’s a real bear negotiating the hallways and escalators. You are just thankful when they finally take them off your hands.
Outside the airport a sectional is just too fantastic. I love it. I just toss the boat in the back of the jeep in sections. I can take it anywhere and set it up in a moment. Storage? Mine is sitting right here beside me in my office. How simple is that? Perfect for apartments and certainly in big cities where you may have to pay for storage. Of course if you don’t have a car AND live in an apartment then I think you’d prefer Dubside’s method with a folder. I can’t imagine taking a sectional on a bus!
On the Water
The reason you may choose a sectional over a folder is of course the solid hull. To each their own there. But some of course would argue that hull speed, strength, and the ability to perform rescues are all better with a sectional than a folding boat. Of course TRAK is addressing that in pretty good fashion. Since at the moment we are talking about sectionals, let’s just focus on that for the moment.
There are two minor things that jump out in the design worth noting. First are the front bungies. Where the boat is cut in the front will affect how your bungees are laid out. In the Alaw Bach, the cut meant I lost two front bungees. Their placement was such that they would cross over the cut in the boat. You would have to detach and re-attach them each time you put the boat together. Mike provided me with some raised attachments if I wanted to customize the front bungees. In the end though I just added a deck bag which met my needs without having to drill any new holes. The second issue is with skeg placement. Since the skeg is in the tail section, the slider is placed behind the last bulkhead. My center section has a day hatch, so you can see that the slider is back a bit. However, I could reach it easily enough. I didn’t find this to be a problem. Someone with limited flexibility may not be able to get back there. A rope skeg may be a better option for some. You could easily string it up after the boat was together.
All in all though once you are on the water, you really forget it’s a sectional boat. I spent my time in the UK & PR paddling a sectional and never once felt that it was somehow different than a solid hull. There is no reason it would.
Well, those are the main points I can share. A sectional kayak is really nice in a variety of situations. However, don’t just expect an airline to let you travel with it. Expect to pay quite a bit more so it’s certainly not worth it just for “coolness” points. However if you have limited storage and do travel a lot it a sectional can be a real value. As far as I know sectionals are available from NDK, Rockpool & Valley kayaks. I’m sure there are more. One bit of advice I can give you if you do decide on a sectional (or really any kayak for that matter), don’t get caught up in this recent light weight fixation. Lighter kayaks are just not as strong. (In my experience obviously) The flexing hulls are much more susceptible to gel coat cracking, punctures, warping and other damage. There is a lot to be said for the old heavy warhorses if you are an active kayaker. Sectional or not, if you are an active paddler I’d always go for a thick heavy layup.