Can’t Take A Punch?

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…?

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13 Responses

  1. Hi Derrick,

    We just took our old trusty NDK Explorer “battle axes” on their third major expedition…with no complaints! With Leon’s “bad” back we never lift our loaded kayaks..we always drag them over rocks and barnacles, sand, sticks etc.. These two beloved kayaks of ours were given to us by Nigel for our 2003 Iceland expedition…and have been used ever since. We cannot say enough about strong and heavy lay ups on a kayak for an expedition.

    There are few kayaks that we would trust on an expedition, because of the abuses that the sea can throw at us while we are out there. This summer on our Vancouver Island circumnavigation, we both went airborne up and over surf waves numerous times with our kayaks laden with approximately 250 pounds of weight – the feeling and the sound of the impact is dramatic, but our kayaks plunged back into the water without a creek or groan which gives us a great sense of confidence. We love our solid NDK boats!

  2. Thanks for the comments… Look forward to your new video by the way! Yup, I have a love-hate relationship with my old NDKs but I find I’m always falling back to them when I want to be sure..

  3. No your not the only one whos thinking this way!

    I’ve absolutely destroyed two “chinese” made kayaks and was absolutely pissed every time I rubbed a rock it ended in pieces of gel coat flaking off in huge chunks. 3500 bucks and a kayak I could see through in months!

    I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a couple kayaks that each have their own role depending on my mood and weather.

    I have to say my Seaward Legend has seemed to take the normal abuse really well thus far; I no longer have to cringe when I do a seal landing etc.

    A little heavier than my other kayaks but I dont have to cringe everytime I lay it on a rocky landing.

    great thought thanks for sharing!


      1. They sure are Derrick. Little more pricey than I had wanted to go but so far the construction and durability is showing it was well worth the money. I’ve found my ellesmere boreal design again is a little heavy but a strong boat as well…..I wont mention the other two chinese made things that fell apart daily.

        I agree with you on the plastic boats. I’ve got a valley avocet RM that I torture; while I’m certain it will only be alive for a few years poly is nice along the coast here in NFLD sometimes.

  4. Roger Harrington

    I have a QCC 700X in Kevlar. The gelcoat is very tough but I still cringe as it hits the barnacles. I once hit a sharp ledge, head on, in a fully loaded boat running ‘downhill” on the tide in Llama Passage near Bella Bella. I was violently pitched forward in the cockpit. Put a big notch in the bow gelcoat. Underlying kevlar was unscathed. While most will buy kevlar for weight savings, it really is bomb proof stuff. My Q boat weighed around 48# new. It has since picked up weight due to equipment additions rather than repairs (outfitting, compass mount, rod holder, and sail cleats). Otherwise, because underlying kevlar is so tough, boat has not gained weight. I agree overall with the premise that newer, lighter boats will not last as long. It’s the http://www.storyofstuff.com. Those of us with longer greener views will reign. I have some friends paddling Valley boats in plastic. Sometimes I’m jealous as they slide their craft up the rocks….. If Q boat design was available in plastic, I’d sure look hard at them!

    1. Hey Roger, You make some good points. There is certainly more to kevlar than simply weight.. I’ve heard it’s a bear to fix if you do put a hole through it though… I think there is a lot to be said for plastic boats… don’t see too many glass or kevlar whitewater boats out there! :)

  5. I get what you’re saying, but extra heavy doesn’t mean extra durable.

    I’d put a carbonfiber Chatham 16 up against my old NDK Romany any day. I doubt that I could take a sledge hammer to the seam of my Romany and still have a seam, but if you watch this video, the guy did this that to a Chatham. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dtk818WSiU I just ran two miles of bony rapids in my 30 lbs. Bell Magic Kevlar canoe (fully loaded with touring gear). Lots of scratches, but no real damage. And it’s not the first time that I did that in that canoe. These are just two examples of many that a light and durable boat is possible.

    But some companies just don’t have the capability to build a durable light boat, and I think comparing the newer light options from those companies to the older heavy-duty boats made by the same is a mistake. Instead, compare new light durable to the old heavy durable. I.e. apples to apples.

    The old saying is you can have:

    * lightweight
    * durability
    * low cost

    Pick two.

    1. I get your point, heavy isn’t necessarily the issue.. but If I get the choices you mention then, low cost and durability should be an option.. even without going to plastic because well, durability used to be standard (even if lightweight was not.)

      1. It seems the new low cost is $3,200, but I have an idea for building one-off, hard-chined, seamless kayaks that could be as durable as you want for about $400 to $800 plus labor.

        I’d be interested in knowing what the difference between a 1998 NDK Romany (the year I own) in a standard layup is vs. a 2011 SKUK Romany in the same layup. I’d guess it’s pretty much the same. Any idea?

        I got into sea kayaking in 1997 or 1998 and I seem to remember light boats. I remember a Necky Looksha IV that I wanted that was lighter than plastic, and I drolled over a Wilderness Systems Arctic Hawk that was 38 lbs. in Kevlar and 46 lbs. in glass (http://www.wildernesssystems.com/content/wildernesssystems.com/assets/page/2001/sparrow.jpg), which is not exactly heavy. I remember that British boats were significantly heavier at the time than American or Canadian boats.

  6. deborah

    Eh, isn’t the whole point to get a kayak for the type of kayaking you do the most?

    a true “expedition layup” is a big plus if you do frequent expeditions. The rest of the time it’s likely extra weight to horse around in the water or lug around on land. Most of us do not do expeditions of a week or longer, or do them once or twice every year or so. The rest of the time we’re on day paddles toting some safety gear, a camera or binocs, a spare paddle, and lunch in the boat, on largely familiar venues that are close to home and easy to get to and from. So what we ask of a boat’s design, weight, and layup is quite different.

    Some of us have a lot of soft shore to land upon, or we easily get in and out of our boats long before crunching ashore in sharp cobble or riprap. We don’t seal launch. Or launch w. the bottom scraping on concrete boat ramps.

    Other people do launch like that – or have rockier shorelines to reach via big surf. So a beefier layup makes sense there – be it in composite or plastic. Know your venues and you’ll know your boats.

    And recall of course some plastics are beefier than others… Witness P&H now offering the Delphin Surf in the same single layer plastic as their modern Pyranha ww boats… instead of staying w. the 3 layer Corelite plastic. The Surf has, as well, the same seat/thigh ww outfitting, and a bulkhead instead of pegs… just like the Pyranha Fusion w. Connect 30 package has. Hmmmm.

    To add to a comment made upstream, a heavier composite boat is not always a well made one. Sometimes it’s just old fashioned methods – hand layups w. chopped strand instead of vacuum bagging or vacuum infusion. Some may say old school is the only school. Others prefer newer technologies. Neither camp is likely to convince each other.

    Sometimes the workmanship on bomber layups isn’t consistent. There is excess cloth or resin or gel coat where there doesn’t need to be. Weight is added, not strength.There are some heavy ballbusters that have surprising voids that can’t be seen until that weakened part breaks and the void is discovered.

    Paddler size and strength is a factor: A man weighing, say, 240 lbs w. makes more impact on a kayak’s stress points than me at half that weight. Lifting 55-65 lbs to him may be routine & doable. To me it’s difficult and means I’d be kayaking less, or depending on others to get the boat off the car and into the water. And there are many people who are getting older or who already have existing back/shoulder/wrist issues that makes handling a boat on land problematical. When a fairly pristine boat displayed on someone’s wall or in their garage from which they take it out six times a season, what’s the benefit of a layup that can “take a punch”?

    There are good boats everywhere in every conceivable style, in every conceivable layup.

    There are a lot of factors that go into determining which kayak is right for a particular person. If they do their homework, including a realistic assessment of their paddling goals and venues, they may find they need a kayak that can take a punch. Or not.

  7. Roger Harrington

    I think your comment about pairing paddlers and right design is well done. In reality,it’s why the marketplace is so variable. I’d also plug that QCC boats are well constructed and finished at VERY fair prices with a remarkable warranty.
    Derrick, as to Kevlar repair, I believe epoxy resins are the key. The durability of the QCC layup would preclude even having to do a repair unless you had a truly catastrophic wreck or sustained a “rub” type of perforation.

  8. GilCatt

    Hmmm what about Thermoformed Composite Construction (TCC) ? I’m asking because there is an Alaw Bach TCC on sale over here, almost brand new (a demo kayak) and affordable (1500 dollars less than the fiber one) and I was wondering.
    TCC I supposed to be tougher and more resistant to scratches yet lighter (and cheaper) than either fiber or plastic.
    At least that’s what the marketing around it is all about.

    I’m 6′ tall and 210 pounds heavy. That’s my other concern: will I fit in ? The Alaw Bach, they say, has been designed for rather small to medium sized paddlers, yet it seems that there are quite a few “heavy weights” that paddle this thing. Won’t it stand quite low on the water? The sea can be rough over here in Britanny.

    Sure, I should try it. It is a four hours drive from home though.
    So… worth a try? That’s my question to you since you own an Alaw Bach and I understand you’re not a lightweight paddler either.

    Otherwise I’m lurking at a Tiderace Xcite, but the price is high – almost 2000 $ than the Alaw Bach TCC more for the heavy duty version.
    Hence my interest regarding this TCC offer.

    Thanks in advance for your enlightened opinion.

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