Remember the bad old days when kayaks used to weigh a ton? Isn’t it wonderful how they are so light and easy to carry these days? Bah, humbug! When I decided to my “100 Miles To Winter” paddle for the Devil’s Lake State Park Centennial, I decided to do it in my old, heavy, 1996 NDK (Now Seakayaking UK) Romany. In fact, any time I think I’m going to be leaving gel coat deposits on the beaches and subsurface rocks.. I grab the Romany. I don’t dare take my Rockpool Alaw Bach. It’s my favorite kayak, but it’s made the modern way and I’ve already worn 4 holes through the hull. Not to mention the cracks! I don’t dare take my skin boat.. When I take it out, I have to carry it out into the water far enough that I won’t possibly tear it on a hidden stone. In addition, I like paddling near shore, especially in bouncy water and there is always a risk of hitting or dragging my boat over something. With the old tank, I’m not all that concerned. It’s tough, and repairs are easy.
You guys know where I stand on today’s ultra light kayaks. I’m in the minority here, but I get it. Every year it seems like my kayak gets a little heavier. I can envision a day when lifting a heavy boat won’t make me all that happy. Wait! What am I saying?? I hate it now! But in reality, it’s not hard to come up with methods to deal with a 65lb (or heavier!) kayak. I have a cart if I need to go too far and I’ve worked out a nice way to just set my kayak against the back of my Jeep before sliding it up onto the rollers. Not too much actual lifting involved. I’d rather do that than watch my kayak fall apart right before my eyes after just a few years of normal use.
Another advantage of the old fiberglass kayaks is that they are thick enough that repairs don’t look like big, lumpy cysts. Today’s ultra thin layups make it pretty hard to make a solid repair without building up a gelcoat lump on the boat. Keeping the repair flush, often means it’s so thin that the repair won’t last very long either. On an older glass boat, you often cut into the thick gelcoat to remove the damage, then fill it back in. After sanding and polishing you’d hardly know it was repaired. Speaking of repaired, my Romany had a tree fall on it before I bought it. Since then, I’ve drilled, shaved, dremeled and filled many times and I still have a kayak without any spider cracking.. Weird huh!? What’s weird to me is that I’ve been told that we should expect spider-cracking as a normal part of age. Really? Isn’t it true that cracking can let water soak into the gelcoat and eventually the glass as well. That’s not good is it? I wonder what the expected lifetime of a kayak made today is compared to the expected lifetime of a kayak made in the 90s is? I don’t know honestly.
What really cracks me up is how kayaks started out heavy at the standard price with lighter boats becoming more and more expensive… Now, you sometimes have to pay a premium to get a strong boat if you can get one at all. What gives? Now what we used to be told was bad, is now a special “heavy-duty” Expedition Layup. Not to mention that I’ve been told more than once that the new “Expedition layups” still can’t hold a candle to the old tanks. I’ve also been told many times that what customers demanded was “light”. I get that too. But I don’t think they really wanted to sacrifice strength did they?
Sorry, I’m ranting again. I should say that they don’t all suck. I should give out some kudos too.. Tiderace is still making some tough kayaks and I’m sure there are others. In the end, “To each his own.”. But with the prices of sea kayaks these days, selling a kayak that can’t take a punch seems well…
but then, what do I know…?