Category Archives: Cheap PVC ‘slackrafts’

Experiences with <£40 PVC 'pool toys' as packrafts

Packframes: Tatonka Lastenkraxe review

See also: NRS Paragon
Stone Glacier also worth a look but $$$

tonka-6I thought I liked the idea of packframes for pack boating – a rigid rucsac harness frame without the bag element. The boat, paddles plus dry bags are all lashed to a frame, alongside a bag.
frameI considered this when I first got into pack boats and searched for the L-frame backpacks I recalled from the late 1970s. Nothing doing apart from horrible old Campari stuff, so I settled on a cheap ex-army A.L.I.C.E packframe and adapted it to take the harness of my ancient MacPac backpack (right).
alicepakI tried it out on the Coast to Coast walk as a kind of modular backpack with various roll-top drybags and an Ortleib bike pannier (left). It looked kind of shabby and wasn’t so comfortable, plus it was too small and lacked a big enough L-shaped platform to support the weight of a the gear. Good thing it cost me next to nothing then.

gear-TNFpackFor the second stage of the C2C walk I splashed out on a TNF Terra 65-litre backpack, the first new pack I’ve bought since I was a teenager. I can report that modern backpacks are pretty damn comfy. Instead of an exterior frame which went out with glam rock, the TNF uses a moulded plastic board to provide the vital hip-to-shoulder stiffening element so the weight rests on the hips not the shoulders.
udbwalkAt 2.3kg the Terra was actually not that light, despite having a pretty flimsy body and I realised it was a bit small for pack boating operations, with their added requirements in gear.
My 96-litre submersible Mk 1 Watershed UDB (left) is bigger, but is just a sack with thin shoulder straps (it since been redesigned as more of a duffel). With no longitudinal rigidity it’s not comfortable but more significantly, is not stable either with the way the straps are positioned, or perhaps that’s because it’s just very tall.
udbergberg-cwtI ungraded the TNF to a bigger Berghaus C71 65+10 backpack (right; 2.6kg) with a snazzy articulated hip belt pivot. Without the harness the 1.1kg UDB could slot into that and so, even if it does weigh in at 3.7kg all up, I have a comfortable modern backpack with a totally submersible UDB ‘liner’. (I used the Berghaus on our Assynt-Cape Wrath Trail variant – above left.)
packframeNearly there. In the US one time I saw some packframes at a hunting outfitters in Flagstaff (right) that were much better than anything I’ve seen in the UK and going from just $80. They had hinged L-sections to support loads, and looked like an ideal carrier for the UDB and boats. As it stands, my UDB is still my preferred haul bag for overnight pack boating activities.
Good analysis, history and list of packframes

Tatonka Lastenkraxe review lastenkraxe-black
Lastenkraxe? A Nordic nutcracker? An uncredited evil troll out of Harry Potter? Tatonka is a German company who produce some crafty and functional stuff, such as their pot/cup. A little research reveals that Lasten + kraxe adds up to ‘load bearer’ + ‘rucksack. Vorsprung durch kraknik.
The Lax differs from the hinged hunters’ frames by having a well triangulated, rigid platform. A bit over the top for load bearing perhaps and it certainly won’t slip under the bed so easily. But besides being rated at 50kg, the platform provides the unexpected benefit of standing up straight when placed on flat ground. No need to look for a rock or dry bit of grass to perch your pack, or support it to get into the back.
It weighs 2.7kg but feels lighter for the amount of alloy in there. And like all modern packs, you can adjust the harness to suit your back length, as well as do the usual micro-adjusting to the chunky hip belt and shoulder straps and the all important, non-elasticated, sternum strap.
tonka-1The Lax will obviously work fine for packraft expeditioning, plus kayak day trips where a trolley can’t be used, but I wanted to see if carrying my Amigo IK was a viable option for camping too. The Amigo weighs about 15kg ready to go, and as you can see takes up much of the packframe when strapped on vertically. Horizontally would make more space above, but having walked about five miles on road, track as well as very rough hillside, treating the Amigo like a packraft will be a tall order.
tonka-5I recall the Terra backpack on my first packrafting trip in 2010 weighed 18kg with a few days’ food and a drysuit. The Amigo is at least 12kg heavier than a packraft so that’s 30 kilos. I was walking around with about 20kg which felt like plenty. As said, the Lax is rated at up to 50kg which is hard to believe; the stitching alone would be under immense strain.
Realistically, camping with the kayak would work best where there was more water between short and fairly easy walks (few bogs and steep inclines – not really Scotland then). Of course, having a kayak as opposed to a packraft makes lone coastal paddling and sea loch crossings less intimidating.
berghausc71Comfort is as good as can be expected with a 20-kg load, but I think it’s safe to say a rigid frame is less compliant than a modern frameless backpack like my Berghaus C71 (right; 2.6kg). On one stage the lower frame was digging into my hips through the hip belt, although on the next walk I must have adjusted it better and it was fine over terrain that at times was barely walkable. I wasn’t using a packstaff this time, but off-piste that would be a great help.
tonka-4Early days yet, but quality of construction seems good. I like the lift handle and generous padding. One thing I’d like to see on any harness like this is a pocket or two on the padded hip belt, or even just a bit of tucking mesh.
The platform construction looks solid and as well as being a pack stand, with a some cushioning would also make a solid camp seat when unloaded (below right). This is a much discussed and under-rated item, and one on which you could even lean back on, just tonkae-2like you weren’t supposed to do in school.tonkae-1
The solidity of this structure also opens up the possibility of adding that nirvana of urban packboat portaging – trolley wheels. More about that later, if I get round to it. Rrp in Germany for the Tatonka Lastenkraxe is €170. My green one cost £95 off amazon. Black ones were another 20 quid.

nosickyIn my packframe investigations I discovered that in the Tarta mountains of eastern Europe there’s a local ‘iron man’ sport of ‘Nosicsky’ (‘portaging’): carrying massive loads on wooden L-packframes. Perhaps it was once a way of resupplying mountain refuges when the mules were on strike. As you can see right, over 200kg was a record one time, but it proves that L-frames were the original do-it-all packframe, long before modern backpacks found frameless alternatives that kept the weight closer to your back.
aarnI also came across the Kiwi Aarn website which showcases a frontal load ‘FlowMo Bodypack’ to help improve you posture and balance weight distribution. They’ve designed two pockets for the front straps tonkae-jeffto carry dense but compact items (like water) while still being able to see where to put your feet. Sounds like a good idea but many of us, like Jeff on the right in the Kimberley (with my old Terra 65), have come up with a similar solution intuitively, when needing to carry a day pack as well as a backpack. Still, it’s an idea worth considering when you have a 15-kilo boat on your back.
cwtwh3-01Since I wrote this I did try a similar idea on our CWT recce, well at least carrying the packraft on my chest. It did feel good on regular ground – better posture, less stooping – but on gnarly terrain the bulk got in the way of the ground at my feet which got dangerous in the places we were walking. To be fair Aarn acknowledge this limitation.

Slackrafting to Clashnessie

asyguinioAs we left one car near Stoer, out to sea a stampede of white horses were galloping in towards the Bay of Clachtoll. It looked like a late 90s Guinness commercial out there. We didn’t want to be kayaking in that, no sirree.
So instead Jon and I swapped craft and set out to follow a string of lochs which filled a fault line marked on the maps as ‘Gleannan Salach‘ (in colour, below). It ran west from Loch Assynt to the sea, across a lochan-speckled headland tipped by the Point of Stoer. To the south Enard Bay (which I kayaked along a few weeks ago) to the north Eddrachillis Bay; all ringed by the cute Drumbeg road. I’d clocked this as a viable packrafting ‘line’ some time ago and today was the day.

stoerpenmap It was only about seven miles, road to road. But from the look of the map and knowing the terrain around here, I expected the walking stages to be sodden, gruelling bogs or chest high fernfests. We’d found as much on Horse Island the previous day.
sala26Jon was debuting his skinned dinghy (more on that idea here), last seen in the Summers during a bitterly fought offshore jousting tournament we’d held off Achnahaird Bay a year or two ago. I’d cut my own slackraft down a while back but found with my weight, the freeboard was a limited and the slightest wave would swamp it. Luckily that was all the excuse I needed to be allowed to use my proper packraft.
It was going to be a day of blustery winds and heavy showers so appropriately dressed, we parked up at the Leitir Easaidh end near Loch Assynt and put in at a shelter by a boat ramp. On inflation Jon’s slackie looked ridiculously small, an impression that worsened once he actually got on it. And on the water the situation deteriorated still further; that thing pulled half the speed of the ‘packa, yawing left and right like some demented dashboard ornament in need of a good slap.

sala05A relative novice to slackage, it’s possible Jon was paddling as if he was in his 17-foot sea kayak which has a length/width ratio of over 8:1. On his slackie it was less than 2:1. Long, powerful strokes merely flip the bow left to right, as I found when I first tried my original Alpacka. It takes a bit of a knack to stop yawing, although the later ‘fastback’ tailed Alpackas like my yellow Yak above, greatly minimised that. Previous slacking expeditions in France and the Kimberley has been with unskinned, full-width slackboats which attained some two thirds of an Alpacka’s peak velocity, once you’ve divided the surface tension by Ω x π. It brought up the troubling possibility: was removing the outer hull to gain slimness at a slight loss of buoyancy not as efficacious as previously thought?
By the time we got to the far end of Loch Leitir Easaidh we’d already been rained on and blown about twice. Faced with a steep climb through knotted woodland and thick bracken, we rolled ’em up and go stuck in. Soon we were at the pass which overlooked the next lochan and by the time we were back at the pumps that one mile had taken an hour.

We estimated the rest of the crossing would probably be at the same slug-like pace, so to get home before Christmas, I towed the slackraft. Jon paddled too of course, the tow line constraining his rampant yawing as we clung to the leeward south shore. Alone on windless flat water, my packraft can sit on 3 mph. Out of the wind our packboat convoy managed about two which was good enough. At the far end a short portage dropped us a few feet down to Loch Three, and at the end of that one a deer fence stretched across the small weir before Lochan a Ghleannein Shalaich, loch #4.
At this point the map showed the flow funnelled into a narrow gorge which could mean an awkward climb to get round. We’d decided if it took ages to get to the gorge we’d turn back, but lined up we were averaging a little over our target 1 mph so the mission rolled on. Better still, an easily walkable route ran alongside the stream through the gorge, then opened out to an agreeably grassy basin that didn’t involve thrashing through chest-high bracken or sinking into unset peat. Unusually, walking here proved to be faster than paddling.
That stage gained us some time, but back on the water we took a few steps back. The southwesterly gale sweeping across Loch na Loinne must have been accelerating round Cnoc an Dubharlainn, at 223-metres, the highest hill in the ‘Salach’. A couple of islands provided inadequate respite from 35-mph sidewinds which hammered down on the rafts. We both dug hard on the right and barely the left across the exposed bays, managing between 1.5- and 2 mph, though it sure didn’t feel like it. The shortest rest saw us skitting across the choppy waters to the northeast bank.
Out of the wind it’s another world. By a wooded cliff we glided past the twisted and banded Lewisian gneiss that makes up the bedrock of this waterlogged region. Said to be three billion years old, the Salach badlands has had its capping of oxblood coloured Torridon sandstone scrapped away, right down to the raw bones of the primeval gneiss.At the far end they’d built up a rubble and mat barrage which diverted the outflow through a pipe. Purpose unclear but after the effort of getting here, I suggested we unline for the next little loch before one more portage brought us to Loch Poll, the last and  biggest loch.

Untethered, the Alpacka Yak skimmed across the lochan like a spun stone. Jon was not so far behind and we both squeezed under a fence and along a channel before we ground out on mossy boulders and took to the banks. The whole traverse seems to follow an ancient wall and a newer fence, and as the winds strengthened we popped through a lonely gate and over a pass clinging to our inflated boats. Down on the far side, again we managed to paddle a meandering, reedy stream until a small waterfall barred access to Poll. Raining, blowing and cold, it was a good time to cram in the last of our squashed snacks for the final haul.

Slackerman, where you gonna run to?
And a haul it was. The winds and rain intensified to the point where we decided, that even at out glacial pace, better to take a longer route around Poll’s southern edge. Flat against the wind at times, from the look of the passing shore, our lined-up flotilla crept along at barely a mile an hour. In fact a ’10’ marked on the OS map has obscured a couple of handy islands that would have made crossing Loch Poll’s 300-metre wide ‘neck’ not so exposed, though that route may have put us against the biggest fetch and rebounding winds.
We curved round the loch southern shore to gain a brief spell of backwind and then with more hacking, we arrived at the take-out bay at 7pm, six hours out of Leitir Easaidh. It was a ten-minute walk to the road and the car, somewhere within a mile. Half an hour later, where was the car? Not in Strathcoy, not in Imirfada. Had we turned the right way off the Salach? At Clashnessie Bay I was forced into that ultimate humiliation: looking at the map. Oh dear. I got Clachtoll near Stoer mixed up with Clashnessie, also near Stoer; I had assumed the Gàidhlig Buidheann-stiùiridh doi Teanga (Gaelic Language Directorate) had changed the name. Another three miles march it was then, into a headwind so strong we couldn’t hear each other talking. Ardmair near Ullapool recorded 48 mph around that time.

sala25

So, has the cut-down slack rafting myth been finally punctured with a blunt wooden spoon? I knew they were slow but Jon’s boat seemed worse. Still, my Amigo IK is the same ginalongside Jon’s Scorpio sea kayak – not as fast – so you’re as fast as you are. I still think for a hill trekker carrying a slackraft that’s no slower than a Supai, lighter than my Alpacka and a fraction of the price, still enables water-inclusive routes across the well-suited northwestern highlands. Longer crossings may take a while but you paddle. That’s what you do. Splish follows splosh follows splish follows splosh. Good things come to those who wait.

Fitzroy Packrafting – Australia

Fitzroy article in The Paddler magazine

My four videos from last year’s trip – about 45 mins all up – are below.

You’ll find Jeff’s version of the same trip in 5 parts (about an hour) right here.

Packrafting around Suilven mountain

I’ve already done a couple of great packrafting excursions around the charismatic mass of Suilven mountain (left, viewed from the east). Last year we did a ‘triathlon’ loop up one side and down the other using bikes, feet and two-up in the Yak; and before that I did an overnighter from Loch Sion to have a look around. That second link has an intro to the region you may like to read.
So you’d think I’d know the local pack-potential well, but looking yet again at the map, I clocked an interesting if lengthy day out, packrafting around Suilven. I could walk east out of Inverkirkaig past the Falls to Fionn Loch, then paddle several miles of continuous water south of the mountain to cross a headland and then another short loch. From there I’d turn back passing a couple more lochs to Lochinver back on the coast. That was around 23 miles, plus another 3 or 4 back to the motorbike at Inverkirkaig. An eleven hour day for sure so unusually, I packed a torch.
The day of least bad weather arrived (today’s grim weather, right): overcast and 12°C with winds building up to 25mph bringing showers and afternoon sunshine. It would have to do; the rest of the week was forecast as much worse and at least I’d have backwinds paddling out. Should they become hard to handle I knew I could hop ashore – that’s the great thing about packrating. But I also knew that cross country hereabouts is lochanssusually a gnarly combination of boot-sucking mires, moss-clad boulders and ankle-snapping tussocks of clump grass. Unless you’re a ground slug or sport a rack of antlers, when off piste in the trackless wilds of the far northwest, you’re often better off in a boat.
Nine 15 and I was out of Inverkirkaig with two fat sandwiches, two bananas and a cup. The thickly wooded valley with it’s not quite paddle-worthy river rose up to the 60-foot Falls of Kirkaig, but with filming and whatnot, it wasn’t till 11am that I paddled onto Fionn Loch (left) under a ceiling of thick cloud on the verge of incontinence. The rounded west prow of Suilven loomed above, trailing it’s cone-like tail like the giant goldfish in the Singing Ringing Tree (right).
I was reversing the section we paddled last year on the triathlon, and at a narrow point passed some small standing waves indicating a current flowing back to the river. Hmm, strange I thought. Approaching the mile-long narrows which maps call Uidh Fhearna, it was a stage which I’d somehow got into my head flowed east into Loch Veyatie, based partly on this picture I took last year. Turning south round a reedy bend and fighting what I thought was just the headwind, I took another turn and, like some astonished Victorian explorer, found the water flowing west, right at me. Of course it does. At the other end Loch Veyatie, Cam Loch drops through a series of waterfalls, and if Fionn here did the same, where did Veyatie drain – down some tectonic plug hole? There would be no Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society for me this year.
Even with a backwind, there was no paddling up this Uidh (left), though I’ve read of hardcore canoeists poling it. So I  unplugged the Yak and set off along the north bank to the far end where the Uidh opened out onto Loch Veyatie and lost its current. With no free ride to help outrun the afternoon’s predicted winds, my schedule slipped away.
As the OS map shows (left), initially there’s a path as far as a stream a mile away. Who knows why, maybe that’s where folk fish, but of course the path itself becomes a mini river. I should have worn my long Seal Skin socks today, the short ones were already sodden but they still kept my feet warm. After fording the river I decided to continue cross country until it became too hard. That took less than 20 minutes by which time I’d already stumbled twice and, while negotiating one steep bank, actually feel a few feet into the loch! Luckily, no damage done so just up ahead I set my sites on a beach to deploy the raft.
It was now 1pm and with that walk covered at around 1.5mph and getting slower; better to get on the water. But first, for amusement purposes I filmed myself from unrolling the Yak to paddling away. It took 8 minutes, something that you’ll see below is made a little less boring to watch by speeding up fifteen times.

An exposed hour’s paddle down Loch Veyatie ensued. I turned out of the cove into the wind, hurrying for the south shore to get into the southwesterly’s lee until the next narrow point where I’d cross back to the windier north side to line up for my take-out. As I passed across the mouth of the sand-spit inlet of Loch a Mhadail, gusts blasted out fetching up some whitecaps. It’s all in the mind of course, but I really don’t enjoy bobbing about alone, mid-loch and out of sight on a chilly September’s day without a drysuit or PFD. One good thing with the Animas backpack I was using for the first time was that like my UDB, it doubled as a reliable float bag. Although there was virtually nothing in it bar my lunch and a cag, that was the reason I sealed it full of air.
The overhead gloom and rising wind was eating up a lot of nervous energy, but that wind was also pushing me along at what turned out to be 3mph, more than double what I’d have managed staggering along the shore, and more direct too. Another reassuring surprise was spotting the buildings at Elphin on the A837 at the head of the Loch. I’d forgotten how close I’d be getting to the other end.
Paddling with the wind past the south shore, cascades ran off Cul Mor and scraggy patches of original woodland clung to the foreshore. I counted them off on the map as markers to my take-out, and with a dash over to the north side, that came up just as it looked on Google Earth last night. What a great WYSIWYG navigation aid GE is. Let Google harvest all my dreary browsing data to throw back at me as targeted ads. It’s a price worth paying for their sat mapping services.
It was only when I crawled out of the boat and stood still that I realised how strong the wind really was, roaring over the hills and bating down the grass. Even though it was less than a mile’s walk to the other side of Creagan Mor headland, there was no chance of leaving the Yak inflated. Instinctively I headed for higher ground, scattering some deer far ahead, but my route soon led to a cliff so I dropped back into the bog and tussock valley that brought me to Cam Loch’s shore. Here I felt I could relax sufficiently to eat something. My cup was MIA, out on the loch somewhere, so I scooped up a drink by hand.
Right then. One more loch to cross; easily done no matter how windy it’s become. Somewhere on the north side the map promised a path that led 12 miles back to Lochinver. All I had to do was slot myself onto it and ride it out for as long as it took. Whitecaps rolled passed me as I neared the north shore of Loch Cam, but what had had an edge of dread on Veyatie just an hour or two ago was becoming familiar and a bit of a laugh as the promised sun stuck its nose out for a sniff at the day. After airing down I soon hooked up with the stony trail, but found I was wavering a little, probably through not eating or drinking enough. It was now 3pm; six hours on the go but I’d only actually walked some 4 miles up to that point, so the legs had plenty left in them and there was drinking water running down the paths.
On occasions I’ve harboured thoughts of cycling this path from Lochinver to the A road, but from the state of it at this end I’d not get 10 feet. It followed a hard, white rim of exposed stony rubble that’s visible on a sat image, but I suppose was better than the mush to either side. Light grey and crystalline, I’ve since read it’s Lewisian gneiss or quartzite which gives the appearance of snow to some of the Assynt’s mountains like Canisp or Foinaven (see long image below). This whole region is marked with monoliths, the most striking of course being the remnant sandstone outliers like Stac or Suilven which resisted their brush with the glacier’s claw as it passed through, exposing the ancient base of lighter coloured gneiss.

I’ve kept missing the interesting ranger-led talks at Knockan Crag, just south of Elphin, he site of the Moine Thrust which literally turned geology on its head a century ago.

Packrafting in a Force 6 Gale

I do like a good storm. On the right was today’s coastal forecast for the Minch. You might call it the first big storm of the autumn. Some 250 miles to the north, out on the Faeroes and towards Norway it’s blowing at Force 10 with 40-foot waves, like something out of the Perfect Storm movie before it gets really scary.
What can it be like to paddle a packraft against a wind gusting up to 50mph, I wonder? Is it even possible? Many times I’ve surprised myself how fast an IK can move – 2-3mph – into a headwind of around 25mph. You can’t sustain that effort all day, but last year I managed to plough along like that for an hour or two when I gave up on the Ningaloo Reef and turned back into the wind. Seeing as gale force is the only paddling available for the next few days, I rolled up the Alpacka and went to find out.
Sorry to disappoint you but heading out to sea alone, even on the beach with the onshore wind felt too risky. I figured there was a good chance of a gust flipping the back-heavy Yak in a kind of ‘frontal bandersnatch’ as it crested a wave. Better to stick to my small ‘play-loch’ round the back, site of many paddling experiments and where there’s just wind and not much wave to deal with.
In the given conditions inflating the Alpacka in the back of the car was effortless; it took just six bagfuls fit to burst to fill up the boat, instead of the usual ten. Getting my yellow windsock onto the water was less easy, so once I slapped it down I jumped in quick, clipped the raft to myself via the paddle and tried to leave the shore at the downwind end of Loch Raa.
There was no fetch to speak of and using my large-bladed but light Werner Corrywrecken paddle, I jabbed at the water head down, trying to make headway. The waves rushing by gave the impression I was flying but a sideways glance to the shore showed the raft was barely creeping along. And when a gust hit, it didn’t actually move at all despite my huffing and puffing.
Even though I’d probably missed the peak of the day’s winds, not surprisingly I’ve never experienced a paddling effort like it. It felt like some sort of horizontal pull-up machine in a gym set on ’10’ and my hands gripped way out on the ends of the shaft to increase the leverage. Soon any ideas about paddling to the far shore, only 700 metres away, were surrendered. From the unedited video’s timeline it seems it took me 8 minutes of flat-out effort to cover 250 metres to a rock – just over 1mph with brief rests every couple of minutes.
I felt safe in the Yak; the gust-borne waves weren’t even a foot high and it was actually a good little work out. Once I’d had enough, I swung round and shot back to shore at what turned out to be 4mph, but felt like siting still while the wind blew past from behind. Interestingly the raft was easy to handle; no weathercocking. Can’t say the K40 would have managed so well if my previous experience on the Ningaloo was anything to go by. Walking the empty Yak to shore, it took off like a kite. Had I not been strung onto that thing it would have been on it’s way to Inverness quicker than the RAF Tornadoes which tear across the skies hereabouts on a fine day.

Slackraft Sea Trials

Chopping down my Sevy pooltoy into a slackraft lost too much buoyancy to take my gross weight, but it works fine for the Mrs who’s about half my weight. So on a very calm, sunny morning – realistically, it’s inshore limits – we took the Sevy out to the Bay for a swim. I’d glued on an extra outer covering of ballistic nylon to save the vulnerable floor, as we had planned to take it down the Escalante river in Utah a couple months back, but it was way too hot for that when we got there and since then, as you may know, much of the US has been suffering a terrible drought.
As often, the first paddle in a short boat like this sees the operator yawing from left to right like a crowd watching a ping pong final. After a while though the paddling technique adapts to reduce this effect, but even then the boat is still much slower than an Alpacka. This Slackie is only 28″ wide by 56″ long – 2:1 – (my Yak is 88″ x 36″; 2.44:1) and the Mrs found the best trim was sitting in the middle, even if this meant nothing to lean back on and so was not really sustainable. Next time out we’ll take a fishing buoy or something to lean against, although I do wonder if some sort of trailing skeg – a board sticking out the back rather than an under hull skeg like on an IK– might help subdue the yawing and so direct the effort in a straight line rather than zig zags.

My Alpacka skims along just like it always does; what a great boat it is. Annoyingly the back rest is leaking again from the twist valve base, even though it’s been glued up once. I find you do need that back rest to sit correctly in the boat, so another repair is due.
We dipped about, followed the river channel and out to sea and on to the rocks. As the tide turned we headed back up the river, against the flow the slackboat soon slowed to a near stop and it was faster led on its string through the shallows until a tailwind helped blow us back to our shoes, by now stranded some 200m from the water’s edge in just an hour.
An post-sea trail inspection showed that my carefully glued ballisticised floor was coming away from the Sevy’s PVC hull like damp wall paper; that may have explained why the boat got so slow coming back. The Evo Stik didn’t take to the hull at all, or if it did, sea water soon dissolved it. At the time I was trying to save on my nice Bostik 1782 which I used elsewhere on the slack boat  with no problems. Anyway, it’s not worth wasting any more glue on this boat. And who knows, perhaps the ribbed floor which has been exposed again may help restore some tracking. We’ll see next time. We’ve half a mind to repeat last year’s fabulous Suilven triathlon, but this time in a boat each.

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Preparing the Slackraft for Escalante

In a month I’m back in northern Arizona for an Expo and afterwards hope to have another crack at the Escalante River (left) in southern Utah. I had a good look around last year at both put-in and take-outs, doing everything short of actually paddling the river. This time round it’ll be a month later so hopefully warmer and if the river’s too shallow (they say there’s been little snow this winter), that suits me fine. We proved on the Fitzroy last September that wading through the shallows pulling your packraft is most agreeable and good leg exercise.
I’m also pleased to say I’ve persuaded the Mrs to come along, and not only that but to come with in the expedition-untested Sevy Slackraft I made over the winter by cutting the outer hull chamber off a cheap PVC pool toy to make a slimmer cheap PVC pool toy resembling something you might enjoy paddling. Seeing as she’s half my weight it ought not sink on her as it did for me, and I’m happy to carry the food and camping load in the bombproof Yak.
There is a chance of course that the Slackboat will catch a buried stick and rupture as Jeff’s did a few times on the Fitzroy. Having learned from that experience, to give the Slacker’s floor a chance I’ve glued on a sheet of ‘ballistic nylon’ I had left over for the same floor protection purpose on my first Alpacka. Best not to read too much into ‘ballistic’, but as I happened to have some going spare it’ll be better than a cheap PVC tarp or cheap tent nylon fabric.
First I applied a few runs of double-sided carpet tape to save on glue, though this tape works out at nearly £1 a metre. I then laddled on some EvoStik and finished the whole job off with a seamless montage of duct tape. See pics below. The finished boat weighs less than 2.1kg (4.6lbs) and packs up more compactly than the Yak. Rather worryingly, as I deflated and then sucked the last of the air out to make it roll up compactly, the inside air was heavily laden with glue vapour. I’m expecting a headache or a high soon. The EvoStik tin did say not for use with soft vinyl as well as other materials, but as the boat held its air well for over 24 hours after gluing, the glue can’t be said to have dissolved the boat – maybe it just permeates. In fact it doesn’t – first go out on the sea it all came apart, so maybe ‘Nevo’-Stik is a better name. I should have used the same glue I did on the Alpacka, but that costs nearly as much as the Sev.
So, with a bit of care and luck, my re-socked paddling pool ought to last the three-day outing down the Escalante. And if not we can both squeeze into my Alpacka Yak, making sure we dispose of the shreaded remains of the Sevy in a responsible manner.
Assuming the plan rolls out [it didnt’], the river runs fine and the weather is good, they’ll be news on that caper at the end of May.

Testing the Sevy Slackraft

Finally I got round to trying the Sevy ‘packraft’, a cheapo PVC dinghy with the outer hull cut off to make it less wide and hopefully more functional.
Compared to the single-chambered Alpacka, blowing it up takes a while. The floor is made of two interlinked ribbed chambers which require a ‘spike’ beach ball inflation adapter that fits on the end of the K-Pump (right). The main chamber fills quickly enough with the K-Pump – a one-way valve ensures you get a good fill of the elastic material and it’s always a surprise to see it stay that way according to the SevyGauge™.
Even then, on the riverbank alongside the Yak it did look very small and rather low in draught so that even with a dry suit, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to get in off a steep, muddy bank. So I set off upriver to Sluice Weir in the Yak, towing the Sevy and intending to shoot the chute for a bit of fun. On the way I spotted a striking blue bird – never seen one of those before. Do you get bluebirds in Kent in mid-winter?
The Medway out of Beltring did seem a bit low compared to last summer, and as I passed under a footbridge by the weir, my heels struck a barely submerged flint-embedded concrete abutment. It was a sharp hit not the usual thud, and sure enough the Yak’s floor picked up a half inch cut. I’d been meaning to glue on some extra floor up front or better still, use a closed cell ‘heel-pad’ inside the boat. Now I’ll get round to this for sure. It’s another thing to carry/fit, but the foam will dampen the sharp hits of hard heels against a rock and spare the floor. It’s why Jeff diligently removed his shoes while paddling his slackboat on the Fitzroy last September. And it was a heel strike that led to the early demise of Steve’s soft-floored Intex on the Chassezac a few weeks before that.
I wasn’t sure if the Yak was going to fill up (it didn’t much, the floor kept the slit shut), but anyway it was high time to scoot over to the bank and try the Sevy on for size. I got in as gently as I could but it didn’t take long to have an inverted Archimedean revelation: the mass of the paddler was nearly equal to the peak buoyancy at the rear of the craft. That’s partly why Alpacka came up with the fastback tail in 2011. Unlike Archimedes, I didn’t dare jump out, put on my slippers and dressing gown, do a quick mirror-check and run across the town square yelling ‘Eureka’. I just sat still thinking ‘is it spilling over behind me and if not, why does my back feel cold?’ I took a couple of pics behind my back to establish plimsoll levels (above left), then set off slowly across the pool, with the trusty Alpacka tender bobbing along behind in case the Sevy auto-scuttled.
This was not relaxed or efficient paddling like in the Yak. I arched forward trying to offload the stern while pulling gingerly through the water for fear of initiating a possibly catastrophic water-bounce that would fill the boat. The Sevy sagged feebly under the weight of my butt and feet, just as I’d seen Jeff’s do on the Fitzroy. However Alpacka do it, it’s the rigidity in their hulls that makes them as good an airboat can be. The multiple coatings on the non-stretch fabric must have a lot to do with that. As expected the short, round Sevyslackraft yawed quite badly, even with the Alpacka in tow to act as a rudder. But that always happens first time out in one of these boats until you adopt a smoother technique. Either way, I was relieved to be wearing a drysuit.
As I bimbled around trying not to sink, the nearby weir boom opened up without warning and suddenly the Medway was kicking out a current such as it had not seen since the end of the last Ice Age. I could barely make headway in the Sev so allowed myself to be swept back to the canoe portage pier where I hopped back into the Yak. No slackage here jammed in tight, but even then, trying to get to the weir for a closer look was hard work. Within just a few minutes the river had risen 6 inches or more. I thought it had appeared rather over-full upstream in Tonbridge as I had driven through earlier. Had I arrived in the Yak about now I could have saved myself a cut floor, but of course would have had a stiff paddle getting here against the current.
Anyway, the 5-minute Sevy Slackraft trial were complete. To paraphrase Right Said Fred, I’m…  Too Hefty for My Boat, although it will make a nice packraft for the Mrs who’s a little over half my weight of 95kg + winter ballast.
So, packboating newsflash: the Sevy blow up boat is not for bloaters like me. But as it’s so light I could still see a use for it as a tow barge for a bike or an extra huge payload (not that you could realistically walk with such a load). Maybe a really long river stage, or one where you want to be well equipped on arrival with a huge tent or something Anyway, there we have it, slackers. Happy New Year and continued packboating adventures to all of you!

Skinning the Sevylor slackraft

As promised, I’ve invested in a Sevylor Caravelle PVC dinghy. Cost: £34 delivered complete with pump, oars, repair kit, manual in ten languages and a box which is bound to come in useful one day. The heavy-duty Super Caravelle model, as modified by Narwhal, is out of stock in the UK until next summer, although an Intex Sea Hawk is the same thing and can be ‘skinned’ of its outer hull (as in the graphic, right) in the same way to make a lighter, narrower and nippier ‘PVC packraft’ – see bottom of the page. That’s the purpose of what is being done here, in case you’re wondering.
Pre-skinned and rolled up, the Sevy was about the size and weight of a proper Alpacka packraft, but awaft with that dizzying scent of PVC which takes you back to Mallorca in the late 1960s. Fully inflated, it’s too wide to take seriously, but it stayed like that long enough to enable the outer chamber to be surgically removed with a bread knife. Unfortunately it’s on this outer chamber that the half-decent ‘high volume’ Boston valve is fitted – all the rest (2 floor chambers and the inner hull) get poxy, beach ball-style push-in valves which, in the latter case, take a while to inflate due to the pencil-thin aperture. Perhaps the Boston can be grafted onto the inner hull; what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll find out soon enough as it also took so long to deflate the remaining hull by squishing the push-in valve I decided to cut it out there and then and slap on the Boston valve from the trashed outer hull over the hole (above left). This was the first time I used MEK solvent to clean PVC. This stuff is pretty damn potent and ‘cleans’ the PVC a bit like paint stripper removes paint! Tellingly, it’s also known as polystyrene cement and has uses for welding too, so use it sparingly on PVC pool toys or they’ll dissolve before you eyes.
The squidgey little foot pump (right) is very light, but slow, especially when trying to get enough pressure into the main chamber for the slide-marker to move down and line up with the ‘A’ on the SevyScale™ (below left). This is a pressure guide so you don’t burst your new pool toy – easily done with thin, stretchy PVC and sharp words. But by chance the Sevy valve plug fits neatly onto the end of my K-Pump which is much quicker at inflating. The Alpacka air bag sort of screws into the Boston valve too, but you need a K-Pump to get max pressure.
Testing the newly glued on Boston valve, the boat was losing air, but it didn’t look like the glued-on valve was at fault. As it happens the bath was full so a check revealed a tiny, half mil hole near one of the seams underneath. I’m fairly sure I didn’t jab the boat with the knife while skinning it, so it must have come like that or my carpet is sharper than I think. Lesson: test all chambers in your cheap pool toy before running a coach and horses through the warranty by attacking it with a knife – that’s if you can be bothered to send it back instead of dab some glue on the hole, should it also be faulty.
The oars are mere fly swatters as previously noted. It’s possible they could be joined together into a packrafting paddle, but why bother; there are decent Werners and Aqua Bounds under the bed so the oars can join the scrapped outer hull at the local dump.
It has to be said, once skinned it’s 36″ (91cm) wide, 60″(152cm) long and no more than 12″ high at the bow, so there doesn’t look to be a heap of buoyancy left over for the likes of bloated boaters like me, but the floor also holds air unlike an Alpacka so a spell on a river will reveal all. As mentioned, if it’s enough to stop me sinking, I may invest in gluing a spare sheet of tough nylon onto the base. It may add weight but will make the Caravette unstoppable; that’s unless a sharp-clawed bird lands on the deck or it gets splashed with MEK.
With half a dozen attachment points cannibalised from the outer hull and glued onto the stripped-down packboat with some Bostik 1782 (right), it now weighs 1550 grams; about half the weight of my current Alpacka Yak and about half the volume once rolled up. So compact, it could even make a flat-water towing platform for the Yak – for carrying a bike for example, as I’m not sure it would so easily fit on the bow, especially with camping gear.

River trials will follow shortly, or I may well head straight out to Rannoch Moor for an overnighter with Intex chum Jon who lives up there – see the vid above from last summer. He has also been inspired to skin his SeaHawk 1 bloat into a purposeful packslab (right). Might be good to take the Yak as a spare up there; if Loch Laidon freezes up round the edges the ice spikes might be too much for our pool toys. It could also be another chance to try out my disc sail (left, or more here with video) – never really gave that a good go on a packraft.