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Doggy Paddling: Kayaking With Your Best Friend

Photo: Dave Quinn
Doggy Paddling: Kayaking With Your Best Friend

Last summer my wife Kelly and I began the paddling trip of a lifetime. We completed the first two weeks of a voyage along the entire coast of B.C. We chose to do the most exposed section first— from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island’s north tip to Bella Bella on the Central Coast. Our charts showed places like Skull Cove and Cape Caution, and we had envisioned a lonely, desolate coastline, pounded by surf from Japan, littered with wrecks of kayaks and ships alike. Instead, we were surprised to meet all manner of folk (with the odd exception of sea kayakers), including commercial fishermen, a solo explorer piloting a Zodiac from Alaska to Seattle, and a wonderful group of Heiltsuk people from Bella Bella running a native rediscovery camp. They expressed mild surprise to see us in our double folding kayak bob- bing around in the surf, but were completely taken aback when I opened the zipper on my sprayskirt and our dog Lucia stretched and popped out for some fresh air. 

Yes, you can paddle with your pet! Cats, with their nasty propensities to urinate on, spray, claw, and generally devalue property, are pretty much out of the question, in my opinion. But a dog—man and woman’s best friend! Dogs are truly social animals that can adapt themselves to pretty much any situation—ski touring is akin to dog heaven, river rafting is like pooch Nirvana, and extended sea kayak trips are like one giant rotten salmon carcass to roll in.

Kayaking with your hound can either be Milk-Bones and rawhides for both of you, or it can be like one long, drawn-out shock collar for both pet and owner. To tip the scales toward the Milk-Bone side, paddlers need to spend time choosing the right dog, invest thought and care into training, and plan trips with their pet in mind.

When it comes to choosing the ultimate paddling pooch, size does matter. Large breeds, such as rottweilers, shepherds, and huskies will likely require their own custom hatch or even their own cockpit, and will tend to make life interesting if the paddling gets bumpy. Smaller breeds, such as border collies, blue heelers, and smaller labs and retriever cross-breeds can often fit in a cockpit with a paddler, and will therefore be easier to control if paddling conditions become more challenging.

When we finally gave in to the tiny newspaper ad that proclaimed “Border Collie Cross Pups!” We examined each of the six little fur balls in the litter to check their foot size—puppies will tend to grow into their feet—to choose a smaller dog that would be comfortable in a kayak cockpit.

And so little Lucia entered our life. The training with a puppy begins at once, and I believe that training is more about building a connection between you and your pet than teaching banal skills such as “sit” and “roll over.” From day one, Lucia went where we went. By the time the local lakes and rivers opened up for paddling, she already had nearly 50 ski-touring days under her pelt (even though she spent most of these with nothing but her head poking out of my day pack). When we finally did try to teach her basic commands, it was painless, as she inherently knew when we were happy with her or otherwise. 

We wondered how Lucia would do in a kayak, so as soon as conditions allowed we put our sea kayaks into the St. Mary’s River near our home in Kimberley, B.C., and floated 15 kilometres downstream with our dog soundly asleep on an Ensolite pad between my legs.

Next came the training for the worst-case scenario—a dump in rough water. We wanted to give Lucia every possible advantage, so we borrowed a CFD (canine flota- tion device) and spent many sweltering summer afternoons swimming various sets of rapids with her, allowing her to get used to mixed-up water, and training her to stay with us while we swam. 

The southern Inside Passage was our first extended sea kayak expedition with Lucia. We paddled a Klepper tandem kayak because its 14-inch depth gave Lucia more room to get comfortable on longer paddling stretches.

An important piece of gear is a sprayskirt with a waterproof zipper. This allows the dog to get “above- deck” to get some fresh air on calm seas— would you want to be locked under your sprayskirt after beach burrito night?—and allows you to close up the cockpit if waves begin to wash over your deck. 

We learned there are many things to consider when bringing a pet into a wilderness area. It is critical to have a dog that is well-trained and easy to control. The wild West Coast is home to a vivid abundance of wildlife. Every beach is at least a temporary home to sandpipers, turnstones and other shorebirds that a poor- ly trained dog would just love to chase—an ultimate sin from a no-impact standpoint. Every beach also bore the tracks of cougar, grizzly, black bear or wolf, and some- times all of the above! Any wandering away from camp a dog might do could be its last, so if a dog can’t stay put, it should be leashed.

Dogs have all the basic needs that we do—food, water and shelter. Although the dog will find all man- ner of rotten flotsam to ingest, it needs to have its regu- lar diet kept up. On a cold, wet trip, dogs will need more food than normal, just like us. We usually bring a regular ration of Lucia’s regular dog food—which for a long trip can be a daunting amount of extra food to pack—and supplement it with the some of the fresh fish we catch and eat ourselves.

A thirsty dog’s first encounter with salt water can have explosive results, but it is a lesson that the dog will likely have to learn on its own. Just pray that the purging from both ends does not occur in the middle of a long crossing. It is your responsibility to ensure your dog has access to fresh water, either from creeks near camp, or your own supply. A collapsible nylon water dish takes up almost no space, and can double as a food dish.

It is a romantic notion to sleep with your dog in a tent, but a salty sea-dog that has rolled in the unidentified carcass washed up on the beach will likely not be welcome with the humans, no matter what manner of West Coast deluge is happening outside. Therefore it’s a good idea to bring a tent with a generous vestibule for the stinky hound.

We chose our ultimate paddling pooch carefully, and spent months working with her to ensure that she could be a part of the low-impact travelling we enjoy.

Since then, we have met other guides who actually take their pets to work! One friend has taken his dog, Honey, with him while he guides multi-day kayak trips in Nootka Sound on Northern Vancouver Island, and another friend’s dog, Chewy, gets to river-raft the Elk, St. Mary’s, and Bull Rivers all summer with him. We have even had a blind guest bring his seeing-eye-dog on a two-week guided trip to Ellesmere Island!

We learned that with a little preparation, and a lot of training, you can share your adventures with your dog, and hopefully never again have to see a pair of sad eyes watch you from a kennel window as you head out on another grand adventure without them.

Itinerant guide, biologist and frequent Adventure Kayak contributor Dave Quinn lives in Kimberley, B.C. with Kelly Comishin and Lucia the salty dog. Dave and Kelly operate Treehouse Outdoor Education, specializing in adventure and wilderness therapy. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Iceland: Utopia in the North Atlantic

Photo: Leon Somme and Shawna Franklin
Iceland: Utopia in the North Atlantic

In May of 2003, three expert kayakers from Washington State embarked on a circumnavigation of Iceland. Leon Sommé and Shawna Franklin—BCU coaches and co-owners of the kayak school Body Boat Blade International—joined Chris Duff, also a BCU coach, sometime carpenter and one of the world’s foremost expedition pad- dlers well-known for his solo circumnavigation of New Zealand’s South Island in 2000.

Iceland was first circumnavigated by Nigel Foster 25 years ago. Few paddlers have repeated the feat, partly because of the challenging weather—you have to put in long days on the water to get all the way around the 1,700 nautical miles (3,000 kilometres) in the short sub- Arctic summer. With the open North Atlantic on all sides and unpre- dictable weather, much of Iceland is challenging paddling.

The South Coast is undoubtedly the crux, presenting an unbroken expanse of windswept black sand beach and dumping surf. In storms, there is no place to hide from the wind, the rising seas can consume the beaches, and the nearest dry land is far away over impassable areas of glacial ponds and quicksand.

Beginning in the eastern town of Seydisfjordur and travelling clockwise, Leon, Shawna and Chris hit the South Coast at the beginning of their trip, where they paddled all day every day without pulling ashore until it was time to camp—to minimize the number of times they’d risk getting pummelled in the surf.

One night on the South Coast, a storm hit and the three had to seek shelter in one of the numerous well-stocked emergency shelters that dot the Iceland coast. From there they were evacuated to an inland town to wait out the storm, rest and re-supply.

“The Rescue” became the team’s harrowing adventure story that everybody hears first. But beyond the bleak South Coast, Leon, Chris and Shawna were charmed by what they describe as a “utopia in the North Atlantic”—a tidy land of hospitable people, free-running herds of domestic Icelandic horses, summer wildflowers and unlimited free camping. It’s a place where every little town has geothermal heated swimming pools and hot-tubs where friendly attendants serve you coffee while you soak away the aches of a three-month paddle.

The team successfully made it back around to Seydisfjordur in 81 days. Shawna became the first woman to paddle around Iceland.

Adventure Kayak magazine interviewed Leon Sommé to learn more about this remarkable trip. 

Wow, a 3,000 kilometre, 81-day circumnavigation of Iceland is a pretty ambitious trip! What inspired you to take this on?

Well, it was essentially an email from Chris Duff. One day we just got an email that said, “Shawna and Leon, would you be interested in circumnavigating Iceland with me next year?”

Ireland, Great Britain, New Zealand—Chris Duff is known for doing all these grand expeditions alone. Why did he decide to invite you and Shawna along on this one?

That’s a really interesting question…. He had an incident on the New Zealand coast where he had to have a helicopter rescue and his boat got broken. And I think he just kind of saw his mortality on that trip and needed to get his…mindset back to where he was comfortable being on the water again….

[Also], we live a very simple life like he does. We have a cabin that’s 12’ by 12’—144 square feet with a little loft. It’s heated by wood. Our lighting is candles. No running water, no electricity. And Chris lives in a 13’ by 13’ straw-bale house…. Chris is a minimalist with what he carries in his boat and Shawna and I are considered minimalists by most people as well.

What happened during that storm on the South Coast that led to you having to be rescued?

The winds just kept increasing until they got to hurricane force and it was blowing that black sand

which was just pelting our tents and burying our boats…. And we literally had to come out of our tents every half an hour and push the wet sand off the tent and then shovel it away…. About one in the morning we decided the tents had to come down before they got destroyed, and we were going to attempt to get to the rescue hut on foot which meant crossing a glacial river…. We dragged one of the boats over to the river and Chris [paddled] and Shawna and I hung onto the end toggles…. Got to the other side and then continued walking to the hut which was probably only…two kilometres from where our tent was. It took us from one in the morning until six in the morning to actually make that all happen. We couldn’t see anything. You could hardly breathe…. When we finally went back and recovered things, all the gel coat shine on the boats had been sandblasted off. Shawna’s helmet was sandblasted from a blue [colour] to black….

So you got to the rescue hut and out of the storm. Why did you decide to call for help?

The storm was getting stronger, the rescue hut was actually shaking, being battered by the wind. So we called [by VHF radio] to notify people that we were there and that we may need help. A helicopter from Reykjavik happened to be out and picked up our broadcast, and they called the local rescue team in Kirkjubaeklaustur, the closest town, and later that day they made their way out to us because we didn’t have very much water left, and we didn’t have very much food with us [at the shelter] by the time we got there.

That was a very bad day, because earlier you actually flipped and came out of your kayak while paddling in the rough seas. What happened?

That morning that we set out the barometer had actually dropped quite a bit but the winds for the most part were at our backs, so we were just trying to take advantage of those. And Chris’s pace was much quicker than ours…so we were separated from each other on the water and not in communication. When things started getting nasty we were still in hopes of reconnecting with Chris that day, so we stayed out maybe longer than we should have, but it was still conditions we could paddle…. It just happened to be one of those times where as much as you rely on and trust your roll to be there forever…it just didn’t work out. So all of our other training came into hand and it was very lucky we had it.

Being so far north and so exposed, Iceland is a pretty extreme trip. Is there anywhere in North America where you’d find comparable paddling conditions?

[Circumnavigating] Vancouver [Island] definitely wasn’t as demanding. There are many more outs. It would be hard to say. Maybe a good section of the West Coast of North America that included California, Oregon and Pacific Northwest coasts…in a season like the spring, fall or winter to have the weather exposure.

You really trusted your lives to your kayaks. What kind of kayaks did you bring and why did you choose them?

All three of us had Nigel Dennis Explorers. It’s a great expedition boat. It’s fast enough and yet manoeuvrable enough to turn around and get out of a situation you might not want to be in. We also didn’t have skegs or rudders so we wanted a boat that handles nice without those mechanical features.

You said you encountered high winds and a lot of following seas, but you didn’t even have skegs on your boats? Why not?

Mechanical things tend to break down and they don’t work very well on trips like that. A skeg when you’re going out through surf tends to be the last thing to leave the beach. It gets jammed with rocks. On my Vancouver [Island] trip I did a good portion of that solo and I literally had to get out of my boat once I was off the coast because it was a very skeg-dependent boat and free up the rocks, and that’s a very unnerving feeling sitting out in the Pacific cleaning rocks out of a skeg box so you can use it. So after that trip I decided to go with boats that don’t need them. The Explorer is pretty good at that…. There were days when I would have loved to be able to drop a skeg but, well, we were fine without it. There’s strokes you can use— and holding your boat on edge—that help counter those conditions.

Black is a pretty unusual colour for a kayak! People usually think about getting brightly coloured boats for safety. Why did you choose black boats?

Mainly just because all-black boats are a really cool-looking boat. Shawna and I both decided by the end of the trip that black boats in that environment were too depressing and it would have been nice to have brighter-coloured boats.

This is a report that I’ve heard from the U.K.: The coast guard looked at different boat colours and tried to determine which ones were most visible. And I believe that robin’s egg blue—which is the colour of the U.N. peacekeeping helmets— was one of the the most visible, and yellow was the second most visible and black-on-black was the third most visible.

You were several months away from home on a self-supported kayak expedition in a foreign country. What was the most difficult part of this expedition to plan?

Arranging to have the gear from the sponsors and writing them letters. The rest of it’s all fun! I think all three of us have decided that if we do another big trip, we probably won’t seek so much sponsorship. Expeditions should really be planned on the back of a napkin, sitting in a bar.

Paddling eight or more hours per day, almost every day, what did you eat to stoke the furnace?

Essentially our breakast every morning was oatmeal with cut-up apples and raisins and sugar and butter. And every evening it was some sort of pasta. [For lunch,] peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and boiled eggs and big chunks of cheese. We threw butter in the pasta as well. Butter went into everything, for the calories. All of us lost I think 14 pounds pretty much by the time we got to Reykjavik…. We ate 400 Snickers bars so we were just constantly cramming food in our face.

You had a pretty grueling schedule to get around Iceland during the summer weather window. Didn’t you get tired of paddling all day every day?

At the end of that trip it was sad to think that we weren’t going to be able to just keep doing that. It’s not only just being on the water and paddling. On a trip like this you just set out in the morning knowing you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. And Iceland is incredible so I think on every single day of that trip at some point I’d just stop and look around me and out loud go, “Wow, this is Incredible!”

On a long trip you have a lot of time to meditate. What’s the life lesson of a trip like this?

Being exposed to how beautiful the natural world is and giving you a greater appreciation for that and hopefully making your life so that you live a life that helps support the beauty of the natural world and survival. You realize you don’t need very much “stuff” to survive. You need a pot to cook in, a source of fuel and—actually you don’t even need that!

What would you say to someone considering doing an expedition themselves?

Don’t wait until you have enough money. Don’t wait until your kids grow up, until you graduate high school, whatever. If an opportunity like this steps into your lap, take it. Things like this you can’t pass up in your life. It’s too important. It has too great of an impact on who you are to let it go by. 

Leon’s Top Five FAQs

5. What language do Icelanders speak?
They speak Icelandic. It’s really a very hard language to speak. But luckily close to everybody in Iceland over a certain age speaks really good English.

4. How cold was it?
A lot of people think Iceland is really “icy” and very cold. But for us on the [North American] West Coast it’s a lot like our spring and fall. It was 40s to 60s oftentimes and sometimes really nice days in the 70s. [In Celcius that’s about 10 degrees to low 20s.]

3. How did you get five months off work to go paddling?
People are always asking us how we get the time off. And for both Shawna and I it’s just how we arrange our lives and live our lives, not to have so many bills and things that we have to pay for.

2. Did you have land support?
No. We were completely self-supported.

1. How did you go to the bathroom on the water?
I have to release the spray deck and unzip my relief zipper and then I have a pee bottle in the boat. If it’s not too rough I can usually do that on my own, but when Shawna has to go we have to raft up. She has a big relief zipper in the back which is much more difficult and she actually has to be on her feet squatting over the edge. When it’s rough it’s very unpleasant. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Skills: Let There Be Light

Skills: Let There Be Light

One morning high in the Himalayas of Nepal, I climbed for an hour in the predawn darkness and cold to catch the sunrise over the Annapurna Range. I started taking shots just as the brilliant light pierced the prayer flags in the thin mountain air. By about the fifth frame I realized that these images were all about light. The same light that illuminated the prayers on the flags so intensely and gave shape and scale to the peaks in the background also seeped softly into the nooks and cracks of the valley floor.

My mind flashed back to other favourite times and places; places that at first appeared to be very different than this one: sitting on a beach on St. Ignace Island watching a full moon rise over Lake Superior; paddling past the fall colours on Lake Temagami, Ontario; witnessing the blood-red skies long after sunset on Georgian Bay. These places were sacred in their own way. And it was the quality of light that was the common factor that unified them in my memory with the mountaintop in Nepal, which is where I finally understood that light is what I have been photographing all along.

Photography is the art of “making pictures of light.” Great photographers understand that. Indeed, anyone can improve their images simply by being more aware of how light shapes compositions.

To develop a photographer’s awareness of light, you don’t even need a camera. Ansel Adams, the renowned landscape photographer, would sometimes spend a whole day observing how the lighting changed on a scene before he took any photos.

You can start observing light while you walk the dog in the early morning or gaze out your office window daydreaming about your next kayak trip. Evaluate the quality of light, and pay particular attention to these three basics: direction, intensity and colour.

Light has direction. Try to imagine light in a more tactile way, like flowing water that strikes your subject and flows around it. When shooting a boater in sidelight, think less about the boat and more about how the light is striking the boat and giving it shape and depth. Strong backlighting creates dramatic dark forms with almost no detail in the shadows and also creates magical halos of rim light on delicate objects like surf spray. Strong frontal lighting that comes over your shoulder and strikes the subject enhances detail and bold, bright colours.

If the paddlers in the scene are in shadow, you will learn to automatically shoot from a different angle to get some light on their faces. Instead of shooting that waterfall at noon, you might choose to come back in the late afternoon when the spray is backlit against a dark and dramatic background.

Also consider the intensity of the lighting. On an overcast day, light is diffused and less intense, giving earth tones a soft, muted quality and making the brighter colours, such as a boat, really pop in an image. Early morning sunlight, on the other hand, is focused and very intense. At its low angle, it rakes over the water’s surface and highlights every wave and ripple. This focused intensity is really useful for picking up detail on boats and water droplets coming off paddle blades. 

Water intensifies light—an important fact for paddlers to consider. When light is coming at a low angle, the water acts like a huge mirror that reflects and intensifies the power of the light. This additional reflected light will cause your paddler and boat to be brighter than the similarly lit background. You might want to underexpose slightly to counteract the effect of that intensified lighting.

Finally, the colour of the light will affect the mood of the image and your reaction to it. Light can be either warm or cool. Early morning and late afternoon light is warm. It adds life and vitality to pad- dlers’ faces because of its warm tones. Shadow light is made up pre- dominantly of light reflected from the blue sky. It is cool. Faces in shadow tend to look pale and sickly because of the blue, cool cast to the light. However, you can use that cool, blue light to your advantage. 

With a little practice this new awareness of the direction, intensity and colour of light will become an automatic reflex that kicks in when you look through your viewfinder. You will find yourself making conscious choices about how to take advantage of what you know about light. No matter what type of light you like best—the mysterious, silvery white light of mist over the water, the bright overhead light of mid-afternoon under clear blue skies, or the low light of dawn or dusk that blasts every detail with red-hot colour—soon you will begin to understand and look for the type of light that really inspires you; the light that makes you want to grab a camera and get out in your boat.

By paying as much attention to the quality of light that strikes your subjects as you do to their composition, you will start to see dramatic improvements in your images. Possibly, you won’t need a trek into the Himalayas to see that photography is the art of making pictures of light. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Long Live the Homegrown Boat

Illustration: Lorenzo Del Bianco
Long Live the Homegrown Boat

The other day, I went down to my local kayak club and couldn’t help but notice that every last boat on the water was a British-style kayak. All of them, that is, except mine. 

What’s a “Brit style” boat? Think of kayaks with three little rubber hatches, three bulkheads and skegs instead of rudders. Brit boats are generally small, low-volume craft that weigh 60 to 100 pounds, have pointy upswept ends and tiny little fibreglass seats with backbands, designed to torture anyone over five-foot-four.

These are the kayaks that tend to sport Union Jacks, Welsh dragons and “Kiss me, I low-brace for Scotland” decals. They are designed by the British stars like Nigel Dennis and Derek “I crossed the North Sea using only a cricket bat for a paddle” Hutchinson.

My North American boat by contrast was the only kayak at the club with a rudder and enough volume to actually carry a Honda generator and a steamer trunk of gear—provisions needed to explore the coast in style and comfort. My hatches are those nice big leaky kind, the ones with the awkward neoprene gaskets that you can actually fit a generator through. The seat in my kayak is like a mini La-Z-Boy, not some pitiful little fibreglass thimble that might just fit Herve Villachez or one of the smaller Miss Teen Canada contestants. Mine was the only North American “West Coast” style kayak.

Now don’t get me wrong—British boats are totally cool. They are typically lots of fun to paddle, and there are many excellent designs to choose from. But what in hell happened to the West Coast boat?

I remember a time when West Coast manufacturers were setting the pace for kayak design and especially build quality in North America and maybe even the world. There was great momentum in the U.S. market and a prevailing feeling that many new innovations in hatch, seat and rudder design were just around the corner. America was reinventing the sea kayak, and it was going to be great.

But then, Canucks and Yanks became interested in Brit boats. The average paddler’s skill set had improved enormously. It was time
to move up to higher-performance kayaks, and the North American manufacturers didn’t keep up with some of their customers. Designers in the U.K. were truly trying to make the best sea kayaks that they could, while builders in Canada and the U.S. focused on making the boat that everyone could paddle. They wanted the sport to be so inclusive that they forgot about designs that would stretch a paddler’s skills and their comfort zone. Innovation stalled, and flash and gizmos replaced function.

Now, North American companies are responding by rushing to make “British style” sea kayaks of their own. As the British-style kayak becomes the ride of choice for many “serious” sea kayakers, I can’t help but feel that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. 

Somewhere along the way, the traditional North American features like rudders came to be seen as “bad.” What jackass was responsible for that whopper of a lie? It is patently absurd to say that one system—skeg or rudder—is “better” than the other. They both have inherent strengths and limitations. Skegs are beautifully simple in operation and far less exposed to damage should a collision occur, and foot pedals in a skegged boat are rock-solid under pressure, but rudders are truly superior in some conditions.

No kidding, paddlers in my neighborhood actually believe that rudders are the work of Beelzebub himself. They know it’s true ‘cause they “heard it from some British kayak guru.” On several occasions, while paddling with kayak-anglophiles I’ve tried to explain the advantages of a rudder in following seas. But generally they fall so far behind that they miss the final, most salient point of the argument, which is that rudders really work a treat in following seas!

Hatches. Why must they be rubber? An interesting and little-known fact about those rubber hatches from the venerable British company Valley Canoe Products is that they were never really designed to be waterproof. No, the key design mandate was that they be airtight to contain the smell of British cooking. Consider boiled fish and mushy peas, pigs in a blanket, haggis, kippers, or cabbage boiled beyond the point of no return. Sitting in a cheap and cheerful London tearoom, it’s enough to make one gag. At sea, it would mean disaster. It was a happy accident that VCP’s smell-proof design proved to be watertight as well.

Hatches should be bone dry and easy to access. End of story.

So why on earth has the otherwise sensible paddling community swallowed every last bite of BS from anyone with an accent posing as a sea kayak guru?

Really, the root of all this is very simple: colonialism. When push comes to shove, and we Canadians and Americans hear a commanding voice ringing out in a beautiful rich and plummy British accent, every syllable lovingly enunciated in the King’s English, we immediately recognize our better. We rush to heel like the bad doggies that we know ourselves to be. We still long for our master’s approval and rethink our ill-gotten independence. This is why one always sees some poor Yank fawning all over one of the British gurus at kayak festivals. The British lord will deign to scratch the colonial cur’s ear as he rolls onto his back exposing his genitals in the full canine submission pose.

Let’s keep Brit boats British and take what we learn from them and others, and put it through our own unique filters in order to make something that is truly ours. Hatches should be dry—but they don’t have to be rubber. Americans put a man on the moon, surely someone has got a flush, low-profile hatch design rattling around in their brain. And how about a really slick and easy-to-use rudder deployment system? What about under-stern rudders and foils? Or maybe a kayak with changeable rocker? British layups are traditionally heavy and low-tech. I want a super-stiff carbon boat that weighs 35 pounds. And where’s the performance-touring sit-on-top, with waterproof hatches that will carry a good load, and still offer a decent turn of speed and good thigh contact with the boat for edging and rolling? 

Let’s get back to performance boats with fresh new approaches to the old problems. That’s when something really exciting will happen—when there is a melding of approaches and ideas that spawn something a little bit different and fresh. As Canadians and Americans, let’s all strive for the day when we get invited to the U.K. as revered guests, hold court at their kayak festivals and tell them that they’re doing it all wrong!

Alex Matthews enjoys both Canadian and British citizenship. He resides on Vancouver Island and paddles both ruddered and skegged boats. He extends his thanks to the British kayak guru (who wishes to remain anonymous) who confirmed the nauseating nature of mushy peas. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Lake Superior: A 4,000 Kilometre Kayak Trip?

Image: Gary McGuffin
Lake Superior: A 4,000 Kilometre Kayak Trip?

The new 190-kilometre Hiawatha Water Trail will make Lake Superior’s south coast more paddler-friendly and add another piece to what may become the world’s longest paddling trail.

The Hiawatha Water Trail serves one of Superior’s paddling hotspots, the area centred around Marquette, Michigan. It includes the sandstone cliffs, sea caves, waterfalls, and sand dunes of Grand Island National Recreation Area and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

A waterproof map, available this summer, will show access points, campsites, hazards and sensitive areas. And unique to the Hiawatha are kayak lockers at several urban areas along the coast.

“Essentially, these are small sheds with lockable, kayak-sized compartments,” explained Sam Crowley, one of over a dozen trail volunteers. “Paddlers will be able to stow their gear and go into town to resupply, eat a meal, or spend the night.”

The Hiawatha Water Trail, proposed in 1995, is the brainchild of Marquette outfitter Bill Thompson. The idea took off from the outset, and soon a group of like-minded kayakers had gained the support of local government, businesses and private landowners, and began developing brochures and signage. The number of volunteers grew. The group sought state and federal grants to fund the development of campsites, and has taken an active role in the management of Grand Island National Recreation Area and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The Hiawatha organization acts to promote the interests of paddlers in both protected areas.

Crowley feels that by exposing a greater number of people to the coast and increasing public awareness of sensitive shoreline features, the trail will inspire more people to stand up for the coast’s preservation.

For thousands of years prior to urbanization and private land development, there was an informal, paddler-organized water trail of native Ojibwa campsites around the entire shoreline of Lake Superior. Today, people like Sam Crowley are recreating the old trail piece-by-piece, and introducing a new generation of paddlers to the area in the process.

So far, three water trails dot the American side of Superior: Michigan’s Hiawatha and Keweenaw trails, and Minnesota’s Lake Superior Water Trail. The Canadian equivalent is the Great Lakes Heritage Coast, essentially a government-operated water trail following the north shores of Lake Superior and Huron. Add a couple more to the south shore, and increase paddler involvement in the Heritage Coast initiative, and a modern incarnation of the traditional trail will be complete, extending over 4,000 kilometres around Lake Superior. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Editorial: 1,600 Nautical Miles to Margaritaville

Photo: Malcolm MacGregor
Editorial: 1,600 Nautical Miles to Margaritaville

For the first two weeks Tanya and I could only remember the first verse of Jimmy Buffett’s Parrot Head national anthem. We’d left the Port Arthur marina in Thunder Bay the day after the ice broke. It wasn’t until May 26 that spring—an exceptionally cold winter had Superior com- pletely frozen over. Our morning routine was to boil water for hot cereal and thaw our frosty pogies in the steam. The first verse of Jimmy’s “Margaritaville” was enough to warm our spirits and pass the time for the first couple hundred miles of our three-and-half-month expedition.

Music has always been used to pass the time paddling. Canada was opened by the French voyageurs singing of whiskey and women while moving further west away from the comforts of both. While the Inuit kayaked they invented songs of the hunt, songs they’d write while away and then share like stories upon their return.

Like the Inuit and the voyageurs, we shared “Margaritaville,” a song a little about booze and a little about women, and as we did, it slowly became the soundtrack of our trip. Getting all the lyrics written down took on equal importance to reaching our final destination in Hamilton. What began as a way to lift our spirits became a quest, almost greater than the trip itself. Along the journey Jimmy Buffet introduced us to more good people than we ever could have imagined.

Over the course of 1,600 nautical miles we sang and smoked tobacco around campfires on cobble beaches with other kayakers, drank rummy blender drinks aboard the decks of moored sailboats and, thanks to Canadian Coast Guard Radio, had the final verse patched through via VHF radio. With the help of the great people with their own boats and their own destinations we put all the words together and could sing aloud all the way from “Nibblin’ on sponge cake…” to “That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.”

Five years after, “Margaritaville” was our wedding song. It still sparks spontaneous two-stepping around the kitchen floor and, like nothing else, takes us back to campfires on cobble beaches. It is four minutes and ten seconds of freedom and memories of the people you can meet travelling long distances by kayak… 

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,

Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt. 

akv4i2cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Riot’s Turbo

Photo: Rapid Staff
Boat Review: Riot's Turbo

Company line: A fast and aggressive play machine ready for tearing apart waves and throwing down in holes. The best all-around playboat Riot has ever produced!

Outfitting: The cockpit of the Turbo is tricked out with Riot’s latest outfitting gizmos for showroom adjustability and on-river tweaking. Riot may have gone too far with buckles, bolts and screws. Most felt they still used the cockpit rather than the ratcheting soft Impulse thigh braces. The Reflex hip pads are something you’d set once and leave alone. The movable seat is great but the ratcheting Force backband, broke in the cold water. The adjustable ratcheting foot braces are the bomb for downriver comfort.

River: Running downriver, the Turbo is like no other Riot playboat. The bow and stern are close in volume and length and Riot’s made an honest attempt at offering more rocker while still maintaining a long waterline— you’ll love the hull speed for catching waves on the fly. Have a look at Riot’s weight range chart—the Turbo 52 might be your better river runner.

Play: The hull is what we’ve come to expect from Riot, very loose and hard edges. Clean 540 spins are the norm for this machine. Narrow-feeling and fast, it’s very easy to place on edge and carve like mad. The Turbo isn’t a “butt” bouncer; getting air is achieved through speed and quick edge transi- tion to generate the lift—and at 6.5 feet it makes for impressive aerial moves. Looking at it on shore you can almost predict its hole performance— slicey, balanced and stable. The best Riot cartwheel boat to date. 

Specs (47/52): length 6’8”/6’9” | width 24”/26” | volume 47gal/52gal | weight 33lbs/34lbs | cockpit 31.5×17.5”/30.5×17.5” | river play weight range 90-170lbs/150-220lbs| price $1499cdn/$1099us 

rapidv6i3cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Necky’s Mission

Photo: Rapid Staff
Boat Review: Necky's Mission

Company line: A super fun, river-running playboat with volume for all-day comfort and predictable handling. Winner of the coveted “Gear of the Year 2004” award from Outside magazine.

Outfitting: Necky’s new Recoil system with aluminum backbone provides rigidity to the hull and a mounting point for the seat assembly. The flat seat needs building up under the ham- strings. The self-adhesive foam hip pads didn’t stick, and there’s no water bottle holder. The low-profile aluminum thigh hooks and backband ratchet system are simple and effective. Lots of vertical foot room for your river shoes to press against the pre-shaped cut-it-to-fit foam chunks.

River: River running in the Mission is stable and gentle, rolling smoothly from edge to edge. The incredible amount of rocker eliminates any pearling on ferries and lifts you over reactionary waves. There hasn’t been a boat that backpaddles this easily since the RPM. The Mission brings back home controlled eddyline stern squirts along with crazy stern enders when punching holes and boofing.

Play: Necky bills the Mission a river runner, but it is as much a weekender’s playboat—the return of the long-boat revolution! The super-big rocker keeps the ends clear of upstream green water and there’s no outrageous volume around the knees. Super-fun rails backsurfing. Surfs way faster than small boats. Longer ends grab more water in spins and cartwheels, letting the river do more work and you less “gooning” the boat around. Hole play is refreshingly slow and controlled. Outside might be right. 

Specs: length 7’2” | width 25.5” | volume 57gal | weight 34lb | cockpit 31×16” | price $1399cdn/$999us 

rapidv6i3cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Dagger’s Juice

Photo: Rapid Staff
Boat Review: Dagger's Juice

Company line: The Juice combines downriver performance, volume and speed with a playful hull and a comfy cockpit. The Juice hull is predictable and loose—the one boat that does it all.

Outfitting: Dagger’s Performance Fit System cradles you in spacious comfort. Day one setting the hip pads may have you dreaming of foam and glue but pumping them up for a perfect fit is pretty cool. Dagger answered complaints about too many outfitting tools by providing one tool with different bits—clever but cheeky. Overall, the Juice has vitamin C added, and C is for comfort.

River: The category is whitewater kayaks. The answer is ID and Juice. Jeopardy fans have buzzed in with the question, “Alex, what did Dagger produce from the same mould?” And why not? The ID is a slicey, loose and forgiving boat with decent river play and running speed. Re-decked and re-branded, the Juice is a river/play boat fitting in somewhere between the GT and, well, the ID. The Juice is not likely to paddle anything more technically challenging than a freestyle boat but has the speed, comfort and volume river runners love.

Play: The Juice is a combination of old and new: It cartwheels like the longer freestyle boats—slower and balanced but not super slicey—it frontsurfs edge-to-edge smoother than super-flat freestyle boats; spins not as greasy as the fattest planing hulls but the longer length lets you use the water rather than forcing it to break loose. Best of all, its river speed and rockered bow make it easy to get on the wave.

Specs (6.9/7.1): length 6’11”/7’1” | width 25”/26” | volume 60gal/65gal | weight 33lbs/35lbs | cockpit 34×19”/34×19” | paddler weight range 110-180lbs/170-240lbs | price $1599cdn/$1150us

rapidv6i3cover.jpgThis article first appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Rapid Magazine. For more great boat reviews, subscribe to Rapid’s print and digital editions here.

Boat Review: Pyranha S6F Kayak

Photo: Rapid Staff
Boat Review: Pyranha s6f

Company line:

The S6F is the new generation of high-performance, easy-to-paddle freestyle boats delivering the ability to progress your freestyle paddling past your current boundaries.

First feel:

Pyranha has been tweaking their S6 for a couple years, offering the classic S6, tricked out S6X and the S6F, “F” being freestyle.

Pyranha’s cockpit layout is top shelf but carry a toolbox if you want to do on-river tweaks. It’s the thigh braces that offer the most tweaking—sliding, pivoting angle, and arcing over. Super custom, but even the American Chopper dudes (without the use of their blowtorch) couldn’t find tall testers any more knee and foot room.


The S6F is perhaps the most under-hyped freestyle boat. Everyone was blown away by how unbelievably fast you surfed around.

On steep, bouncy waves the speed was almost overwhelming and perhaps wasted, but on two-to three-foot slower waves the speed is the difference between fun carves, spins and blunts and flushing bye-bye. On small features, the wide, full stern (compared to say the Big Wheel) stayed on the surface of the pile, keeping your boat tilting and surfing down the face. Pro of the V-stern: keeps bringing you back straight into a frontsurf. Con: keeps wanting to bring you back straight into a frontsurf. The S6F is a great pour-over boat: short, slicey, with lots of midship pop volume. The concave bow and stern do lock in your loops.

Pro: Super fast, greasy loose. Fun on all features big and small.

Con: Limited knee and especially foot room. Trippy stern. Price.

Specs (191/192/193):

Length: 6.2’/ 6.3’/ 6.4’
Width: 25.2”/ 26.4”/ 26.4”
Volume: 40.9gal/ 51.5gal/ 57.1gal
Weight: 31.9lbs/ 33lbs/ 35.2lbs
Paddler Weight Range: 88-154lbs/132-198lbs/180-270lbs
Price: $1610 CDN/$1099 US