I was working on a magazine article the other day about open kayaks and ocean paddling when it dawned on me: High school in SoCal and the weekend road trip over the coast range to the artichoke fields north of Santa Cruz. We follow a farmer's old rutted crop road down to a little cove with a decent break, and while the other guys spend the afternoon surfing, I paddle my board up the coast, exploring with a little day pack, some fishing line and a pb&J wrapped up tight in wax paper.

This was the genesis of the open kayak idea for me, although I didn’t make the connection until recently. Not much has changed either. I go out longer now, months instead of hours, and the board is bigger, hollow even, with a shallow cockpit and a rudder and room to stash plenty of grits and schwag. I still pack the fishing gear, only now it's fly tackle, and it's Clif Bars anymore instead of peanut butter.

And it's not a surf board, of course. . . it's a kayak.

When I first considered the idea of circling Vancouver Island, I looked at rowing. I had spent years as a white-water guide rowing rafts and river dories, and I had friends who had rowed enormous distances in open water. But I didn’t want to be sitting backward. At least on the river you’re facing forward as the current carries you. That left kayaks, but I was not sold on the conventional style. We live in the San Juans and are frequently reading or hearing about yet another kayak rescue (or worse), all of them in traditional boats.

I had paddled standard kayaks before. I knew a guy could get proficient in one, roll semi-reliably, and get a confidant handle on float assisted self-rescues, but the impression I had, then and now, was that the element of probability for failure when you were cold and numb and more than a little stressed, was just not acceptable. Period.

I had a good friend, Steve Braun, a very experienced kayaker and swimmer, die here in local waters in a conventional style of boat. Have a look at George Gronseth’s book: Deep Trouble, a collection of sea kayaking mishaps, fatal or near-tragic, none of which involved an open style of boat. When I discovered the open style of kayak, the bump on a log concept, it made good sense.

The boats we use are all open kayak, and more reminiscent of a surfboard than a conventional kayak in many respects. We use the best, Kevlar, long distance, open, or sit-on-top (if you prefer), kayaks. These things are amazing. They have scuppers or drain holes, built through the hull and they’re open on top. If you happen to spill, you flip the boat back upright and seal-flop aboard. The water drains within seconds through the holes and you’re ready to go.

Your gear is packed in airtight dry bags and loaded in roomy, water tight, bulk-headed hatches. You are not going to swamp the boat; THERE IS NOTHING TO SWAMP. They are also incredibly stable and dry; in all of my own lengthy explorations down the outside of the Charlottes, Southeast AK, and Vancouver, I’ve yet to flip one, and paddling off the Charlottes I can’t honestly remember more than a couple waves ever splashing over the side. The boats are quite stable and dry and it won’t take long before you feel comfortable in the saddle.

In terms of performance, you want a boat that can get you from A to B in decent time, that will handle well in a variety of water conditions ranging from calm, to strong currents, breaking chop and big swell, that will carry enough gear to make your beach camps enjoyable, that you can drag around the beach by yourself, that you can hoist a sail on in a minute for some easy downwind travel, and, finally, and most importantly in my book, that is water tight with a shallow, self-bailing cockpit.

You don’t need to be hunkering inside a sealed off cockpit for protection from the sea. You should be dressed for possible immersion in the first place and VERY little water slaps in your lap, in the second.

The wider, shorter version of this type of boat are marketed for beginners and recreational paddlers, because they are, in fact, very user friendly. Besides the recreation market, though, there is the other extreme of application. The Tsunami Rangers and Force Ten are a couple of radical paddling groups in Northern California. They manufacture and use a serious, Kevlar, open kayak extensively in rocky surf and storm conditions. Truly, the boats are good for the toughest as well as the easiest of paddling conditions.

I took a Tsunami boat, a 20’ double, loaded it up with everything but the sink, brought along a spinnaker sail and took off on my first major coastal expedition in the early nineties. On this three and a half month odyssey, I discovered that a kayak with similarities to the old long board made the perfect, long distance, solo, ocean vessel.

Secondary Gear

We provide only the best, field tested gear that has checked out as reliable and functional on prior expeditions.

We use air tight dry bags by Watershed to provide backup flotation to your bulk heads and hatch gaskets. You’ll have plenty of room to take a large amount of gear, and bomber dry bags to keep it dry.

You’ll take a water-proof, ICOM VHF radio along to monitor weather broadcasts and communicate via the Coast Guard or in relay with passing boaters. In addition to the radio, you’ll carry a PLB for quick response in emergency situations.

le will provide you with a custom Gore-Tex, Immersion caliber dry suit by Kokatat. These are the best suits currently available, very comfortable and the equalizer for cold water conditions.

Paddles are either the best wood laminate Sawyer, or all graphite, your choice. You will carry two with you so you can take one of each if you like. I do and they compliment each other as I swap them out each day.

The only other thing I’ll mention (besides the essential Therma-rest chair kit and a brand new MSR stove and cook kit) is the tent. A trusty, water-proof, wind-proof shelter is essential for peace of mind and regeneration of body and spirit each night. If it’s roomy and comfortable as well, it will transform a miserable three day blow into a pleasant experience. We use only North Face Expeditions tents and you’ll appreciate the quality when it’s put to the test.
E-mail Rob
© 2002 Lyon Expeditions. All Rights Reserved.
Gregg Blomberg Photography—www.kestreltool.com
Web Sites That Work!