Tag Archives: cheap PVC dinghy

Skinning the Sevylor slackraft

See also:
Slackraft river trials
Slackraft sea trials

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.

Slackraft river trials
Slackraft sea trials

Packraft surfing – Intex vs Alpacka

Sunday morning Jon and I went to try out his new boat, another Intex Sea Hawk, but the one-man version this time which goes on amazon for under 20 quid. For that money a pump is extra, but we managed to fill it up, though maybe not as firm as it could have been. Once inflated it dawned on me rather belatedly that the Sea Kork is indeed a row boat; and it’s not just the rollocks and the rocket launchers – sorry, rod holders – that give it away. It’s the fact that the rounded bow has, like a new Alpacka, a lot more volume – and so buoyancy than its flat stern. This is a boat that you’re supposed to row facing backwards – like a rowing boat. If you sit at the less buoyant back end facing the bow the trim goes to pot, much like it could be on an old-shape Alpacka with heavy person in it. Jon is only 80kg so could get away with it, but with me – in all my gear right on the Kork’s 100kg limit – I felt better kayak-paddling it backwards. Better trim (levelness) means less yawing.

We decided to go over to Achnahaird Beach (left, on a sunny day) were, as luck would have it, the surf was kicking off the scale with some rollers up to knee height and kept up by a light offshore breeze. I am joking of course, but a few weeks ago the Achnahaird surf was looking pretty damn good (right) at up to a yard high, so even if today was a nothing special, it can be fun here.

I can’t help laughing whenever I see an Intex in action, but it’s as much in amazement that you get so much boat for 20 quid. Out on the water, the first order of the day was to attack the Sea Hawk with the pointy bow of my yellow Phoenician warship (left). Poor Jon had only been 60 seconds in his brand new boat before I was trying to tip him over, like a log-rolling contest. 

Kayak paddling from a standing start the Yak left the Sea Kork far behind – no great surprise there. Jon then took his TNP apart and tried rowing which ought to be more efficient and so faster. But all he did was a backward zig-zag; maybe that takes some practice – or a rowing boat.

By now we were nearing the surf zone where we spent the next hour having a laugh. Neither of us had ever tried this so the semi-surf was just right; we couldn’t tip our boats over whatever we tried, but if we caught a good one on time we could keep up and get a good ride – and then head back out to try and ‘wheelie’ off the next one coming at us (left and below and top of the page).

We swapped boats and confirmed the obvious; the $1000 Alpacka blows a hole in your wallet, but it also blows the Intex inflatable squid off the water. They weigh about the same, but it’s down to the Yak’s shape, lesser width and a snug fit to give you control – as well as no rollocks or fish launchers to bash your hands on as you paddle along. By the time I got in the Sea Squak the inflatable floor was soggy so I was sitting about six inches lower than my feet – not an ideal paddling stance in a boat that’s a metre-wide. On the way back I tried kneeling, but that soon got uncomfortable. Even then, sunk down and paddling ‘backwards’, stern to front, the Sea Stork still tipped along at 2.5mph without much yawing. So as a packraft the Intex does the job and has got to be one of the best value neo-packrafts around.

I’m told one of the shots on this page was published in the 2012 Alpacka Calendar