Gumotex Slip-On Skeg Roller (kayak trolley)

The effort of portaging the dozen locks of the River Wey the other month wore me out. On some portages you can drag the boat along harmlessly on lush grass. Others involved narrow gates, or crossing busy or narrow road bridges. It all got quite effortful, especially towards the end as my energy faded like a dying salmon.

I quickly worked out what was needed: a simple and easily deployed alternative to the typical strap-on canoe trolley, like the 60 quid Decathlon example (left) with identical examples on eBay for nearly half that price. A closer look at some images shows them to be needlessly high (unstable) and the clip-out joints don’t look that sturdy in the long run, though the tyres are nice and fat and clearance is great. With these trolleys I think the V of the alloy frame would sit better in line with the hull, not across it (with bends in the tubes). But crossways simplifies the wheel axle set up. My idea was to use the IK’s own weight with the skeg to locate and fix a trolley in place. Quick to use; no strapping needed.

With workspace-and-tools mate Jon, we came up with a stable two-wheel folding platform with a drop-in skeg slot and hinged wheels which folded out to both roll and support the hull either side of the skeg. To portage, lower the boat’s skeg into the platform’s slot, pick up at the bow and roll it away.

On getting the trolley, the too-high sides were easily sawn down by an inch, and another inch got sawn off the bottom to improve ground clearance, as in the graphic. We hadn’t pinned down a way of stopping the hinged wheel plates folding inwards on the move. The trolley actually worked OK on smooth surfaces without any hinge lock, but eventually a bump would knock one side in. Until a neater idea springs to mind, the easiest way for me was stringing a loop of stretch-free Dyneema cord round the top to keep the wheel plates from folding in.

At 1.7kg it’s not that light, but as a prototype it was dead easy to make and the thing needs to be durable. Something similar out of alloy tubing (like the Decathlon trolley above) might be half the weight, but is less easy to fabricate in the front garden.

After a few miles…
By chance, I was left car-less during a few days of great weather. In either direction it’s less than a mile and a 50-metre drop along a quiet road to the seashore: an ideal trolley testing scenario. What extra weight there is sits best over the wheels, and at the bow I tie a shoulder loop into the mooring line, leaving me hands-free to check my messages. Coming uphill for a mile from the beach, I could walk at normal speed with much less effort (and time) than carrying the deflated IK.
By chance it seems the width and height proportions are pretty good for stability, and the cord works well enough to keep the hinged sides up. A couple of times over rough stony ground the cord came off and the trolley folded up, or on steeper side slopes it just fell over. So maybe another 10-15cm of width would be good, but without much added height. And there must be a simple latch or lock idea for securing the sides.

The solid plastic wheels (£12.50 for two pairs) make a racket or hard surfaces and will transfer shocks and eventual wear to the wheel mounts. Some near-identical rubber wheels cost about the same and ought to feel less harsh. But first, I may waste some time wrapping some spare motorbike inner tube around my current wheels.

Having a trolley makes an IK nearly as versatile as a packraft: a boat you can start here, end there and easily transport back across the difference.

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