… I deliberately chose [these Kokatat Swift] dry trousers with no sewn-in socks as my drysuit has those. With the Swifts … I’ll just wear short Seal Skins and have no worries about the sewn-in socks getting holed by gravel. Time will tell how they wear and perform.
Well, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve never been convinced by the Goretex/membrane magic; at least not for hillwalking – I get too hot and sweaty. But making less heat paddling an open kayak on a cool Scottish day, the stuff seemed to work. It keeps out the splash and light rain, but because the leg muscles are inactive, sweatiness is barely apparent. Using a regular eVent hiking cag on top produced more mugginess, but nothing as bad as on the hill and easier to control with the front zip and adjustable cuff cinches. Unlike a hardshell, for an IK there’s no great benefit to buying a regular kayak cag with a waist seal as there’s no cockpit spray skirt to seal it against. If you really want to keep dry all over, just use a dry suit.
On one trip I found that the Swifts with knackered SealSkinz didn’t really work. ‘Waterproof’ SealSkinz only last until the clingfilm-like membrane goes. Then they become saggy sock-bags with insulation qualities no better than woollen socks. In fact, they may well chill damp feet. Wearing my slowly dilapidating Teva Omnium water shoes (left), I now think it’s better to seal feet properly with latex socks. IMO latex is easier to repair than socks laboriously made from off-cuts of membrane fabric which, like all that kind of stuff, has a limited life span, especially under the grinding weight of a foot. Bizarrely, I see most don’t make dry pants with integrated latex socks, only membrane, which must be a a cost or maybe a UV thing. Anfibio is an exception. But you can easily buy dry pants with latex ankle seals and glue on latex socks which are readily sold individually for around 20 quid.
Gluing on latex socks First I trimmed the latex on the trousers and the socks to similar lengths. Getting a circumference match is important if there’s to be no leak-prone creasing once they’re joined. You’d think gluing latex socks to latex trouser cuffs would be simple. Not so it seems. My first go using regular rubber glue didn’t take to the shiny outer surface of the pants’ latex.
I read of using two-part adhesive, even though that refers to the tricky latex-to-dry suit fabric seal, not similar latex. So with the leg and the sock remounted on a piece of 5-inch plastic drain pipe (below), I tried again mixing up some PolyMarine Hypalon adhesive. This stuff sticks like a velcro electro-magnet, but curing times are lengthy and there’s the whole faff of getting the 25:1 mix correct.
I folded back the sock about 3cm on the pipe end and nudged it against the exposed trouser leg cuff (left, above). When the adhesive had cured after 30 mins, it’s another coat (middle), wait 3 mins then just roll the sock over onto the leg and lay in with the roller then strap it up for a couple of hours. There was one small leak, easily fixed.
When cooler weather requires them but you don’t want a full-on drysuit, these fully sealed pants have been great. I can wade right in without getting wet feet, and wearing regular socks underneath the latex is are warm and comfy. A few years later one sock started leaking; a tiny hole, easily fixed with a dab of Aquaseal. They say latex is prone to UV so is best kept out of sunlight (which is why latex cuffs are often covered) and given the odd squirt of 303 UV protectorant or NikWax Solarproof.
Grappling to get the boat out of the muddy Medway river at Yalding one time put a light scrape on the hull. It reminded me that, along with fitting PRVs to the sidetubes, another winter job was to fit a protective strake under the bow where most scraping occurs. Better to get the protection in early while the boat is newish.
A 70 x 15cm Hypalon off-cut (close enough to Nitrilon) was 14 quid on ebay and once trimmed left enough for another strake or two. I had some Polymarine two-part adhesive (below) and glued the strip to the boat’s curved form with the floor inflated, even if that meant working the roller to press it all together was less effective. I then slathered some Seam Seal around the nose of the strake to protect it from unpeeling (less runny Aquaseal would have been better but a Seam Seal tube was open. More on glues here).
2021 Update A strake is a good idea but actually got hardly worn, so on Seawave 2 I just stuck on some Gorilla tape, maybe two layers, in the same place. Easily renewed/removed.
While the boat was filling the hallway and causing a hazard to domestic navigation I also bodged up a better system for the all-important footrest. A bit of inner tube now counter-tensions the footrest from the bow to keep it in position. It means the thing is now fully adjustable across a wide range of positions, can easily be fine-tuned from the water, removes in seconds for boat cleaning/drying and needed no extra fittings glued to the boat. Once great thing about the Seawave is the multitude of attachment points on the floor and sides.
While on the river my aged Mk1 Alpacka U-seat base went flat, split right in the U. This seat is part of a lighter and comfier system I brought over from my Amigo – an improvement on the one-piece Seawave seats. It’s currently unfixed to the boat and the thin nylon must have ripped while yanking it into position on the river after getting back in. Again, I’m trying to avoid gluing extra D-rings to the hull – they’d limit seat base adjustment options anyway.
Better then to attach the seat base to the base of the backrest with a couple of zip ties. The whole backrest/seat base can then slide forward and back off the backrest side straps and it all unclips from the boat in less than 3.7 seconds. I glued up the punctured U-seat but it won’t last, so I’ve ordered MkII Alpacka seats (left) from Packrafting Store: €70 delivered for a pair. From Alpacka US the seats cost $25 but their auto-calculated international postage is nuts, let alone tax and VAT issues. These seats have the U filled in like a webbed foot: stronger and less floppy for just ~12g extra weight.
2021 Update. I’m using the same system on Seawave 2; a non-U packraft seatbase and a used backrest off a Bic SoT with a piece of stiff plastic board slotted inside.
I’ve also ditched my old my SoT thigh straps (left). Nicely padded and effective though they were, the brass spring connectors and padding made them feel heavy and bulky at ~720g.
Instead I got some non-padded Anfibio packrafting straps (they’re different now). With my biners they come in at 270g. The delta-straps dangling off the sides are a clever idea, designed to give a more direct pull when rolling a packraft for example. Can’t see myself doing that in any of my boats. Whether you’re rolling or just paddling, in rough water the more direct connection with the boat the better. I’m a big fan of these light but effective straps now. No need for paddling.
It’s understandable to worry that something like an inflatable boat is a bit of a liability when out in the middle of a deep lake, hairing down some white-water or when far out to sea. This is especially pertinent if your only experience is a beach toy made of a thin and stretchy PVC film.
Once on the actual water it’s hard to think of anything actually puncturing my full Nitrilon Gumotex IKs or the old Grabner. What more often happens is some kind of accidental wear or rubbing when not paddling or during transportation, like the trolley wheels which wore a hole in my Seawave, or the windy tree branch which rubbed (but did not puncture) my Grabner (left). I also snagged my packraft’suninflated floor on submerged concrete once, then added protection to the outside and padding on the inside to stop that happening again.
I’ve also travelled with cheap slackrafts that have got ruined within minutes and punctured every other day. You do get what you pay for. So when it comes to glue I’ve learned that preparation and application are vital to getting a good repair: rough it up; wipe it down with solvent, apply the right glue to both surfaces, wait, then slap on the patch and press down hard with roller to achieve a long-lasting bond. More below.
Is your boat plastic or rubber? As explained here, broadly speaking IKs are made of either rubber- or PVC-coated fabrics. Rubber-based Hypalon, EDPM or Nitrilon is much less used now and most with the tubeless construction method. On a boat like this, rough up the surface, clean with solvent (see below), apply the right glue and a same-material patch, all which needs to be done well as the patch is vulnerable on the outside. Or, you can just dab some Aquaseal directly onto a small hole in the hull to protect it from wear, as shown above left (not an actual puncture).
One-part glues I’ve succeeded in gluing on non-critical D-rings onto Nitrilon and EDPM (Grabner), as well as PVC to Nitrilon using single-part Aquasure urethane sealant/adhesive (‘Aquaseal‘ in North America). Allowing Aquasure or similar to half-cure in air for 30 minutes, then sticking together and letting it ‘seal’ to itself is a way of bonding anything – even non-compatible rubber-based Nitrilon to PVC, as I did here. SeamGrip is a runnier version of Aquasure to get into cracks and seams. Though I’ve not tried it yet, British-made Stormsure is the same thing. Apply a thin film of Aquasure to both surfaces; wait half an hour, then bond with all you’ve got.
In the UK you can buy Aqausure in 28g tubes from £6, or 250g for around £24. Unless you have a lot to glue/seal jobs, be wary of saving money with the big, 250-g tube. Give it a chance and it’ll split and harden before you get to use it all, even if it’s effectively over half price. Alternatively, I’m told a good tip is to store it in the freezer once opened.
The other one-part glue I used on my PU/PVC Incept IK, Slackrafts and used recently on an old hypalon Semperit is Bostik 1782, not least because it once went real cheap on ebay.
I can’t say it worked that well on my Incept; two-part adhesive is always better. Even on the slackraft the Bostik softened and shrivelled the thin PVC. But on non-critical applications (D-rings and none-huge tears), 1782 seems to work well on hypalons (rubber is always easier to glue than plastic PVC) and at £10 for 100ml was good value. Plus it’s a nitrile rubber/resin-based solution and I’ve found won’t go off and harden in the tube like Aquaseal often does. It’s my favourite, do-it-all, one-part glue.
For years Gumotex supplied rubbish Chemopren Universal gluing in their repair kits. It looked like the brown rubber solution you’d use on a bicycle inner tube. I tried to use it on my Gumotex Sunny years ago and found it was crap. Back then it may have been me, but I tried to use Chemopren again recently on my hypalon Semperit and it wouldn’t even adhere to a roughed up, MEK’d surface! To be fair, it might have been many years old, but so are my other glues.
The glue that came with my second Seawave in 2020 was a small tube of Elastick (left). It looks like a generic polyurethane do-it-all glue, like Aquasure. It will probably remain unused with the boat until it turns solid. I’d sooner rely on Nirtile-based 1782 or Aquasure for field repairs. Tbe problem with these urethane glues is once you open them or the alloy casing cracks they dry up and harden.
For important jobs use much stronger two-part adhesives suited to actually assembling air boats as well as making more permanent fittings and bomb-proof repairs. At about £15 posted for a 250-mil tin, PolyMarine 2990 Hypalon adhesive is much cheaper per ml than Aquaseal or Bostik 1782. In the UK Ribstore and Ribright sell similar stuff, and Bostik 2402 is the same but prices vary wildly. Just make sure you buy for Hypalon or PVC. I’ve used it to glue D-rings onto my Grabner (more here), floor patches to my Alpacka, latex socks to my dry trousers and patches as well as repairs to my Nitrilon Seawave and Sunny. It sticks like shit to a s***el.
The trick is to measure out the correct quantity. Above: the small bowl about half full of glue and hardener – about 10cc or 2 tablespoons? – was enough to fit two 80mm D-rings. Each surface: the back of the Ds and the hull, need two applications half an hour apart.
In 2017 when I dismembered an old IK, I was easily able to pull off recent patches glued on with Bostik by hand. But I could only pull off Polymarined patches with a pair of Knipex hydraulic trench pliers and even then, the patch coating pulled away from it’s core (lighter exposed weave below) or the patch remained stuck to the boat and instead pulled off the dead’s boat’s hypalon coating revealing the fabric’s yellowed core or scrim. The two recently glued surfaces could not be separated. They say the mixing of the two components causes a chemical ‘vulcanisation’ and molecular cross-linking which creates a very strong bond. Mixing and applying two-part is a pain, but it works.
Get a good roller
Single or two-part, once you apply your patch, roll it very hard with something like the classic Baltic-pine handled Sealey TST15 stitch roller (left) aka: tyre repair roller used for innertube and tyre repairs. The knurled metal wheel set in a solid handle applies much greater pressure than a wide plastic roller I used to use, and they’re only about a fiver on eBay. Buy one now so you’re ready.
Bladder boat and packraft repairs With smooth-skinned Alpacka packrafts, they recommend two-inch wide Tyvec adhesive tape produced by DuPont. Just peel off the back and apply a section to pricks or small tears once the surface has been cleaned and dried. No need for roughing up, but a quick wipe with solvent won’t do any harm. Larger tears can be sewn then taped. Tyvec will work on urethane IK bladders and extra tacky duct tape or gorilla tape will do too, but is unlikely to remain impermeable once immersed for a while.
Aire-style bladder boat repairs are actually easy. According to Aire’s youtube vid, you unzip the hull shell, slap on a bit of Tyvec on the split, tape up the inner side of the hull shell gash to keep out grit, reflate and off you go. You can glue up in the usual way later, if necessary. I had the feeling that on my Feathercraft Java the urethane-coated sponsons made of thin ripstop nylon fabric (like tent flysheet material) couldn’t have been securely repaired with tape. In fact, it would be difficult to bond anything well to the slippery nylon fabric compared to smooth urethane plastic or hypalon-like surfaces, but perhaps once inflated the seal would have been fine.
Once you’ve done your roughing up (sandpaper or a foam abrasive sanding block, left) you need to clean off the residue as well as any oil or grease present. Anything will do in a pinch; alcohol and spirits, after-shave or nail polish remover (acetone), lighter fluid, white gas or petrol of course, but not oilier diesel, aviation fuel or Nivea for Men. Bleaching agents aren’t the same thing. In the end just use water to remove the dusty, post-roughing residue, and on a cold day it can help to warm up the damaged surface to cure the glue more quickly.
For a travel repair kit a tin of lighter fluid (same as white gas) or nail polish remover (acetone) are easy to buy and handy to pack. Back at home I’ve found MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) is inexpensive at £9/ltr and hideously effective. Acetone is even cheaper and perhaps less extreme – all we’re really talking about is cleaning off any grease and the dust after sanding. They say MEK is for PVC boats rather than Hypalon, but on a thin plastic slackraft the PVC will shrivel up before your eyes once MEK’d. Even on rubber-based coatings use MEK or similar toluene sparingly. Expect some colour to come away on the cloth and the coating to soften at bit: good for adhesion. Note the NRS video above specifically recommends toluene (the second ‘T’ in ‘TNT’ explosive, fyi) for hypalon. On ebay uk it’s the same £9/ltr but they won’t post this stuff around the USA.
Huge tears and bear bites
If you have a huge gash, as in the folding Klepper’s hull below, sewing is the only way to contain the tear when applied to an IK. Then apply a huge patch with adhesive, as normal. The boat below caught a cut-down metal fence stake buried in a shallow river bed and was actually sent back to Klepper for professional repair. It’s tempting to think an IK’s pressurised hull would have skimmed over the stake rather than snagged it. The smaller 1-inch L-tear on the left was glued with a 5-inch patch but the 30-year-old IK proved to be totalled.
Inflatable kayaks are a bit like mountain bikes. You can buy a blinged-up piece of overweight junk with ‘full suspension’ from a superstore for under a hundred quid. Or, if you’re serious about your cycling fun you can buy something decent that’ll be a joy to own and ride.
Unlike my previous new IKs, out of the bag you don’t get much with a Grabner Amigo. In fact you don’t even get a bag. With Grabner IKs just about everything except the repair kit and air you pump in is an extra which undermines the otherwise striking 14kg weight. To make up for this dearth of equipment, in the catalogue they even list the specification label (right) as among the boat’s standard features! So my Amigo added up to the bare boat with carry loops at each end and two backrest bars. No seat, skeg, pump, lashing points (D-rings). On purchase, I ordered half a dozen D-rings and a pressure gauge. The rest I’ll work out myself. Having learned what’s needed over the years, that suits me fine.
With the high pressures an Amigo runs it’s great to finally have a pressure gauge that’s easy to use (left). There are no pressure release valves (PRVs) to stop an Amigo splitting a seam if left out in the hot sun, so it’ll be a quick way of keeping tabs on the boat’s pressure or ascertain it’s at full charge. I’ve added a marker in pink to easily line up with the Grabner’s rating of 0.3 bar (4.3 psi) – not 4.3 bar as I mistakenly did once (the old eyes are going…).
Fitting a tracking fin
Before the Amigo even got wet I glued on a Gumotex skeg patch (left, £12) and thick plastic Gumo skeg (another £12). All up cheaper and stronger than Grabner’s similar slip-on €60 alloy version. I took a chance using MEK to wipe and one-part Aquasure to glue the Nitrilon patch to the Grabner EPDM hull as I didn’t have proper two-part adhesive to hand. I figured it would work OK as a skeg isn’t under great strain like thigh- or footrest D-rings, for example. Years later, no problems. Apply a thin film of Aquasure to both surfaces; wait half an hour, then press down with all you’ve got.
A skeg is a pain in the shallows or when dragging a heavy-laden boat over the heather; that’s one thing I liked about the Incept’s hinged rudder, but I can’t think how to make an effective hinged skeg except the way Feathercraft do it on their self-bailing Java (it slips up and down through a slot in the self-bailing floor).
A slip-in skeg can’t be slipped off a fully pumped up boat, at least one like a high-pressure Amigo, though actually after a couple of months it’s less tight and can be done. Being able to do that is very handy for portages or grass-dragging, though the skeg itself looks pretty tough. Of course, an IK works without a skeg, but on coastal waters they’re a good idea. More on that topic here.
The Amigo uses more secure bayonet inflation valves which with the right adaptor (see inset below left) don’t pop out at the high pressures (0.3 bar/4.3psi) this boat requires.). Pump hose-end bayonet adaptors are easily bought in the UK from RIB suppliers on ebay. Inset left, the black one is what Grabner sell with a fitted fibre sealing ring and steps in the bayonet to suit different valve depths. The ‘butterfly’ finger tabs make this easy to twist in place, too. The green one uses plastic spacers held in place behind a black rubber washer to get a good seal. You wouldn’t want to lose these push-on seals and it’s hard to twist in place, so for the moment I’d say the Grabner one is better. Write that down, quick!
A now almost extinct yellow-hosed Bravo foot pump that suits some Gumotex can’t manage Grabner pressures, at least not my aged Bravo which hisses from various leaks before you can get a full charge. I’m amazed it’s lasted as long as it has. I got myself a bulky 2-litre barrel pump (above left, £20) rated at over 11psi. As you can imagine, on a low-volume IK this works fast, not least because it pumps on up and down strokes. Like Bravo foot pumps, it also has a second port to suck out ever last dram of air – handy for compact packing at the end of a tour.
The Bravo barrel is bulky so I’ve got a K-PumpMini (right, review here) from i-canoe in Ireland who can import anything from the NRS catalog in the US, and without a huge mark up too (€80 delivered, not sold in the UK). My longer K-Pump 100 worked surprisingly well inflating the Incept; we’ll see how the Mini model performs on the Amigo. If nothing else it will be a handy top-up pump; Grabner cover themselves very comfortably by claiming that anything under a 20% pressure loss over a 24-hour period is not a warranty claim, though I’ve never owned an IK that lost that much air in weeks let alone a day. K-Pumps can’t suck out air like Bravo pumps, but using a loose hose with the bayonet fitting it can be done by lung.
Next, I glued on my half-dozen D-rings (left). Front and rear will hold down gear; the other four locate my cut down packraft seat as well as an adjustable footrest tube similar to what I made for the Solar last year. The seat and foot rings will also double up as thigh strap location points. I’ve not always been that successful at gluing on previous boats, so this time did it by the book: roughen with sandpaper, wipe clean with MEK or alcohol, apply glue to both surfaces thinly and wait half an hour, glue again and wait less, then apply and press down hard with the roller.
Doing this I had a feeling the two-part Polymarine 2990 adhesive (right) was more effective than whatever I used doing the same job on the slipperier PVC-U Incept a year or two ago. I suspect Hypalon/Nitrilon is easier to glue; ‘plastic’ PVC-U is more effectively heat welded.
Over the years I never really got into using the thigh straps on my Incept or Java – perhaps the need for ruddering the Incept made them more tricky to use, or perhaps I’m just an idle paddler. But with the Amigo, I want to have that option to help it shift. In any case, it’s worth persevering with thigh straps as this is one of the main things that separates IKs from hardshell kayaks in terms of boat control in rough conditions and optimal torso-centered paddling efficiency. Straps are not quite as effective as bracing your knees under the top deck of a hardshell, but they’re all you can do with an IK. Otherwise, you’re just sitting in a canoe or on a floating log. I’ve now got fully used to the straps on the Amigo and use them without thinking, just like I feel much more secure with the toe clips on my bike’s pedals.
In my opinion, you need some kind of footrest too, if a braced body is to make an efficient paddle sweep – it’s probably more important than thigh braces. Last year I improved this on the old Gumo Solar that’s occasionally used by the g-friend. The Gumotex footrest cushion (same as my old Sunny) was too far away for the 5-foot Mrs to use effectively and is squidgy at best. On the Amigo I was able to use the front thigh strap D-rings to hook up the 4-inch footrest pipe (above left) with an adjustable strap looped through. It works fine.
At the other end I’ve separated the toilet-like seat base of my old Alpacka Denali packraft from the backrest section. It clips to the rear thigh strap hardware with mini snaplinks (left). This ultralight seat has already been repaired once by re-heat sealing the flat seam and another hard bounce may pop it again. It’s lasted the summer but if that happens I’ll come up with something better; any inflatable pad or IK seat base will do. The Incept seat was pretty good, so was the firm-backed Feathercraft Java seat which didn’t fold under strain. Right now, at about 50 grams, the cut-down Alpacka seat base is about as light as a kayak seat can be.
The hard plastic Grabner backrest was comfortable enough to lean on once I added a bit of karrimat, though it kept coming adrift from the lug holes when the bar pivoted down, usually when manhandling the boat, but occasionally on the water too. At sea it’s quite awkward to refit the bar into the black rubber lugs as the hull sides push apart. The only way I found was to face backwards in the boat, swing the legs out into the water and squeeze them against the hulls to repeg the seat bar.
To keep the bar in place while retaining a tool-free, quick detach element I hammered out the outer brass peg and replaced it with an R clip (above left). But that didn’t last too long – one clip bent and fell out and, as expected with footrests, the alloy bar was bending against the strain. I tried a blue seat strap instead (right), but hooking that to the rubber seatrest lugs looked like it put too much strain and distort them. Ripping those lugs off would be a pain. No way round it but to glue on another two D-rings as I did on the Solar; a 4.5-inch patch has four or five times the glued surface area of the seatbar lugs so ought to take the strain. D-ring prices seem high so I settled on what I knew – chunky Grabner items at €15 each (right). Grabner deliver fast from Austria.
The seat strap was a crude solution so I figured I may as well try a proper, full-height backrest off an SoT. On ebay the ‘heavy-duty‘ item (left) with long adjustment straps and even a back pocket went for £24 – less than the two D-rings which hold it in place. As far as I can tell the rear straps’ only purpose is to hold the backrest upright, but it’s proved very comfortable – like a proper seat and with no inflation required. I’ll keep the original seat bar for less frequent two-up paddling where I don’t have a footrest to put a strain on it. So after a couple of months use I have optimised my Amigo by completing the adaptions listed here, making a comfortable and more practical boat for coast hopping and river touring. The cost has been six D-rings £80; seat £24, glue £15, seat base and straps already had; Gumo skeg and patch £24, and two pumps, gauge and adapters £110.
Gael’s H2 review here, Compared with other kayaks here Solo paddle up the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail: Part 1 – Part 2
After more than 12 years my tandem Grabner H2 IK was showing signs of wear all over. The most visible appeared behind the fore half deck where two grommets fed the grab lines (below left). Around those grommets the rubber coating had worn off, showing the bare woven core material of the Hypalon fabric.
I knew Grabner could provide an MRO service as stated on their web site and the French Grabner reseller confirmed he could send my boat to the factory in Austria for a quotation. That came the week later in German, but what didn’t need translating was the substantial figure at the bottom which added up to something like “you’re better off buying a new boat”. Another major concern was a crack that developed under the aft backrest bracket (middle). This ill-designed bracket has a sharp edge that gets pushed into the skin under the weight of the paddler. After some years of chafing it had worn a small hole that proved difficult to patch reliably.
I must to admit the H2 is not as perfect and tough as I’d claimed so loudly. Encounters with various submerged obstacles and a number of uncontrolled landings had resulted in many scars and scratches all over the hull. I now also own a similar Incept K40 for solo paddles, but as I intended to keep the H2 as a tandem boat, I thought it was time to give it a serious makeover.
Grabner’s attitude to those requiring a more seaworthy kayak than an H2 was get an Explorer or the framed but now discontinued Discovery, but those IKs are way too bulky and heavy (26kg and 29kg respectively) for transportation when shuttling about.
My H2 weighs just 16kg. Plus they are just about the most expensive IKs in the inflatable world (left). I discussed the money issue with the other half of the H2’s crew who happens to also be the purser. She too wanted to keep the H2 and was not as appalled by the cost as I was, so after a short deliberation we decided to proceed. Three weeks later my local reseller informed me enthusiastically that my H2 was here and beautifully refurbished. Save for the numerous patches it looked like new.
There was a keel strip on the bottom as well. Surprisingly the Austrian guys hadn’t paid attention to the colour of the patches (left). While the inside the H2 is yellow, they applied patches in external red. I should have supplied them the yellow patches I’ve got in my repair kit. Anyway, I’m happy the boat is in such great shape again, if not better than before. I can’t claim it’s worth as much money as I’ve spent on it, but I’m sure my H2 will go for another 12 years.
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 your 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. 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.
Lashing points and loading One of the limitations of all old Sunnys is a lack of lashing points – something that an Aire Super Lynx or FC Java have plenty of. Early on, I tried to glue a few on with what I thought were the right materials and technique, but half have since peeled off. Now I’ve discovered Aquaseal or two-part glue I manage better.
Another IK limitation is that nearly half the actual width of the boat is taken up with air chambers, reducing the interior packing volume (if not necessarily payload) to less than a foot wide, especially with single side chamber boats like a Sunny (as opposed to twin-chamber bloats like Grabner H2s or Gumo Seakers). I have to say though, on the trips I’ve done – nearly a week along a tropical coast (above) with one resupply – the volume was adequate. It might not be the same story in a colder climate or when you need to carry more freshwater. The limits with the Sunny are weight as much as space; the freeboard is reduced and it swamps easily, which at sea can be a hassle if sharks are circling.
As is well known, the position of loads has an effect on what they call ‘trim’ – the level or balance of the boat. This also effects tracking (more critical without a skeg). In some pics you can see how my 95-kg weight sinks the boat in the middle. To counteract this I generally try to pack the heavy weights out at each end. Too heavy at the front is not so good for waves and rapids, but the Sunny swamps fast in these conditions anyway; it’s only on flat water that baggage positioning is noticeable.
I kept the cargo nets off my FC Java (left and above) and used those on the Spey river one time, a quick way of getting to your stuff which of course is one thing that IKs and SoTs do so much better than SinKs.
Trolley tech The Gumotex backpack/drybag is a pretty basic sack with thin shoulder straps prone to tearing, and no hip belt. You wouldn’t want to carry the 16-kilo Sunny and say, 10kg of camping gear and paddling gear more than a couple of clicks.
A £10/1kg folding trolley is a handy way of transporting an IK around rail stations or airports. It folds up neatly and fits on the bow (right). In fact, with a bit of adaptation, I wonder if it could make an upside down set of wheels for portaging? It’s nice and light but the wheels on this black trolley are too close together, or the load platform is too high so the load tips easily on rough pavements. And you get what you pay for: the tubing and construction are pretty flimsy. Protracted gumboat trolleying over rough surfaces and tracks will eventually mangle such a lightweight trolley (my second) so it needs to be treated carefully.
On the Haute Allier river in France I used a heavier-duty and wider trolley (4.2kg) that fitted well under the seat (left, with the old original Sunny seat). Where weight is not a limitation (on trains and buses), I’d use this one again, but with any trolley a wide wheel track is the way to go. It all depends how far you’re trolleying of course, and if it’s over rough ground.
Sometimes I wonder about an integrated backpack frame with wheels, or a wheeled bag with more handles. Part of the reason the OE gumbag is tearing is that when you trolley up to some stairs you can only yank it by the top clips or the backpack straps. It’s something to think about when your current gumbag rips to the point of no longer being a functional drybag. Even in good shape it’s not a serious dry bag, but what roll top is? There’s more on dry bags here.
The Aire Cheetah seat (left) turned out to be no worse than the inflatable original, but was a bit lighter – even though it weighs just over 2kg. I’ve also set it up so I clip the seat to the boat’s seat mounts (which originally used a knotted bit of rope) so I can take it out at camps or to dry/clean the boat. Plus, along with the box for a footrest (below), it’s one less thing to pump up.
Firm backresting was a problem with the OE seat; or to be precise, fitting points to hold the back of the seat upright as you push back with your feet. Because the support strap is attached from the seat top to the front seat base, as you lean bank it just pivots rather than supports. The 410C is much better in this respect. To cut a long story short, I imitated them by gluing mounts to the hull’s side tubes to attach to the seat top. This way the pulling force is in a better line and the seat doesn’t pull down. Some say though that the old-style seat have better back support than the plain Mk2/3 style Sunny seats. Since fitting on the side tube mounts (the real answer to this problem) I don’t think about the seat now which must mean it works. The Aire seat is still a bit heavy though.
Footrest The OE inflatable footrest pillow was non-adjustable (on the 410C it is) and always too far away to be effective, even for me at 6′ 1″, so I replaced it with a 5010 Otter box (left), which of course has uses to store stuff on the water.
However I then noticed the strain of me pushing back off the box was tearing the lower seat mount tabs glued to the hull (where the rope used to be). The box is now attached directly to the seat with adjustable slings. This way I now push inside a ‘closed loop’ made up of the seat and box, so only straining the sling and clip joins which make up the loop – and not the boat mounts. Of course this does mean there’s some energy-absorbing slack between me and the boat, but it’s a gumboat not a K1 racer alas, so will have to do.
Although I find I’m happy to paddle with my legs lying flat, when you want to go for it a firm foot brace and a bent knee are much better, but require a fairly solid seat to push against. The long box-to-seat strap loop seems to work OK and I discovered a side benefit; the straps can be pulled over my knees to make thigh braces (right); another possibly handy feature when the going gets rough. It’s not like bracing directly off the hull or anywhere near as good as with a SinK’s ‘underdeck’; it’s more to achieve good paddle thrust using the core not the arms which they keep telling you to do. And anyway, even in the roughest rapids I’ve done, the Sunny feels stable enough without thigh braces and if anything I prefer having my legs free to stick out to steady myself (or fall out neatly). The Sunny usually swamps long before things get hairy enough to tip it over.
As mentioned above, sometimes I feel with the Cheetah seat that my butt ought to be a bit higher. It’s also pretty heavy at 2 kilos (4.5 lbs). Now I’ve inherited a spare new-style Alpacka packraft seat (left), I may try and adapt it to fit the Sunny. The Alpacka seat is not half as robust as the OE Gumo Nitrilon seat so it needs to be supported in a way that won’t wreck it. I haven’t worked out how to do that is yet; maybe a stick across the hull like a Grabner, but that requires gluing. This seat will be higher than the Aire which is an important feature with kayaks: butt higher than heels is much more sustainable, comfortable and efficient for paddling, so you want to set a seat as high as you feel safe, bearing in mind CoG and stability as discussed here. The Alpacka seat also weighs just 220 grams (half a pound), saving nearly 1.5 kilos, or nearly 10% of a Sunny, and a bit of bulk… (but I got rid of the Sunny before I had a chance to work this one out).