But I was confident that my kayak and I would arrive safely in Hawaii. Most people think large vessels are the most seaworthy ones. But this is not always true.
Survival at sea depends on preparation, experience, and prudence - not on boat size. I turned my kayak into one of the most seaworthy little boats in the world. I did not need to carry a life raft - I paddled a life raft. Inside my kayak, I crammed 60 days food and 25 gallons of fresh water. With my reverse osmosis pumps, I could make unlimited amounts of additional drinking water from sea water. I carried fishing gear, tools, and spare parts. In a waterproof bag I had, a compact VHF radio to contact passing ships, and an emergency radio beacon to alert aircraft flying overhead in case I needed to be rescued. Flares, signal mirrors, a strobe light, and a radar reflector ensured that I would be seen.
My kayak was as stoutly built as any fiberglass sailboat. I wanted to paddle a true kayak across the ocean - not a specialized sailboat masquerading as a kayak. I used a stock Tofino (Necky Kayaks) double kayak with no mast, sail, centerboard, or keel. My boat had a foot operated rudder and a wooden floor inside so that I could sleep a few inches above the water sloshing back and forth in the bottom of the boat. To stabilize my kayak while I slept, I inflated pontoons which I lashed to both sides of the boat. When the pontoons were deployed I could move around in my kayak without fear of capsize. A sailor's safety harness fastened me securely to my boat.
To find my way at sea I used a sextant and a small calculator programmed to work out navigation sights. I could figure my position to within a few miles - when I could see the sun. I chose the crossing to Hawaii because the summer weather patterns are stable and the winds and currents are almost always favorable. The trip seemed to me to be the kayaking equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. It was the most difficult trip I could conceive of surviving.
On a cold, foggy morning three kayaks glided out of the harbor at Monterey. My wife Katie paddled one of the boats. At the one mile buoy off Lover's point, we said goodbye, embracing from the kayaks. Pointing my kayak west and heading out to sea was the hardest thing I have ever done. Tears rolled down my face and I could hear Katie crying. I looked back from fifty yards away and I knew that we were thinking the same thought: that we might never see each other again.
I felt foolish attempting to paddle to Hawail. Who did I think I was to attempt such an improbable feat?
Despite extensive preparation, my confidence was soon shattered by the relentless pounding swell of the Pacific Ocean. I had underestimated the abuse my body - especially my hands -would take on the 63 day crossing. After only a few days at sea, my butt was covered with saltwater sores and I could find no comfortable positions for sitting or sleeping. Within a week, the skin on the backs of my hands was so cracked and chapped that I took painkillers to make paddling bearable.
Running downwind off California, I wore several layers of synthetic pile and polypropylene clothing - the type of clothing which is touted to be warm when it is wet. I stayed warm as long as I wore everything I had, but I was certainly wet.
I was miserable but I spurred myself on with the thought that when I reached the southern trade wind latitudes, warm, sunny weather awaited...
Sailors can have two distinct waking nightmares: too much wind and too little wind. Heading south from Monterey, California, I lived through the first bad dream. The howling grey northwesterlies nearly devoured me For two weeks I headed southwest before thirty knot winds, surfing down fifteen foot high breaking swells. The seas snapped my half-inch thick rudder blades as easily as you might break a saltine cracker. I needed every bit of skill and strength just to stay upright.
The nights were unspeakably grim. I set out two sea anchors and stretched out on the floor of my kayak. Tortured by salt water sores, I snatched a few moments of sleep while green waves crashed over my kayak, forcing themselves into the cockpit. As the ocean slowly filled my boat, I tried to ignore the cold water soaking through my sleeping bag until the rising tide forced me to sit up and pump out the kayak. Then I settled into the bilge and the miserable cycle repeated.
The cold wind was relentless. When I poked my head out in the mornings I screamed into the wind, "I don't want to die!" I felt as exposed and as stressed as I had on long rock climbs. I relied on my skill and equipment for survival - even a small mistake could prove fatal.
"This can't be!" I shouted at the empty blue sky. For about the fiftieth time, I looked at my pilot chart. Sitting motionless in my kayak in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles from land, I cursed the winds that had abandoned me. There was no swell, no wind - no sound. Without the boisterous trade winds and the westward current they spawn, it would take me two more months to reach the Hawaiian Islands. I did not think that I could survive that long. I had been at sea in my twenty foot kayak for thirty days.
A thousand miles southwest of my starting point I found the flip side of the nightmare - calm weather. In the calm conditions, I dried my sleeping bag and clothing and my skin lesions healed, but my progress slowed dramatically.
As night overtook me, I snapped a lightstick and placed it over my compass. However slowly, I had to keep my kayak moving towards Hawaii. Where were the trade winds? The night was so still that the bowl of bright stars over my head shimmered and danced in the calm sea. I felt as though I was paddling off the edge of the earth and into space.
For two weeks I pushed my kayak westward, until I reached longitude 140 west. Nine hundred miles from my goal, the trade winds blew strongly enough to launch my parafoil kite. This colorful flying sail did not replace paddling, but the kite's pull doubled my speed, and I averaged fifty miles a day.
A school of blue and gold mahi-mahi fish played about my boat, frolicking and jumping in my bow wave. Catching them was easy since they always seemed voraciously hungry - fighting each other to be first to bite the lures which I trailed behind on a hand line. I even trained them to gather close to my boat when I knocked on my hull by feeding them cut up pieces of bait. Once a day I slipped a fish hook into a piece of bait and another mahi-mahi became sashimi.
Those days were the best of the trip. The strong trade winds were ideal for paddling. The royal blue surging swells were no more than six feet high and my yellow bow skipped over the waves as if my kayak knew the way to the islands.
Three hundred miles from the islands, I was caught up in a northerly current. The wind shifted from northeast to southeast, and the strong current set me north at the rate of thirty miles a day. If that current had not changed, I would have landed in Japan, missing the islands by hundreds of miles.
I thought that if I was soon to become a life raft, I ought to prepare my life raft equipment. I rummaged through my storage compartments, collecting my emergency radio beacon, flares, and signal mirrors. If I were going to miss the islands, my best chance for rescue would come when I crossed the shipping lanes fifty miles north of me.
On my sixtieth day at sea, I ran out of food. My school of mahi-mahi had left me a week before. I had eaten my toothpaste two days earlier. There was nothing edible left in the boat, and no fish were biting my lures. Looking up, I watched a line of jet airplanes heading for Hawaii. I thought about the passengers eating from their plastic trays. My food fantasies were so real and so complete that I could recreate every detail of every restaurant I had ever visited. I could remember the taste, texture and smell of meals I had eaten several years ago. I thought about how I should have gone to a grocery store in Monterey and bought fifty cans of Spam, or chili, and stuffed the cans into my boat.
I had nearly completed the world's longest open ocean crossing, but I did not feel any closer to land. I had been scribbling different latitude and longitude numbers on the side of my boat, but I had no sense of progress. My kayak trip seemed as though it would last forever. In my 63rd day at sea, I was taking my usual noon latitude sight. When I swung my sextant to look at the southern horizon, I was annoyed by the mountain filling my sextant viewfinder and fouling up my view of the horizon line. "That damned mountain..." I thought. Seconds later, I realized I was looking at land! That dark mountain had to be Mauna Kea, 80 miles away on the 'big island' of Hawaii. The island of Maui 40 miles ahead was hidden under a blanket of squally clouds. As the clouds cleared, Haleakala reared its head and I knew I was almost home.
I whooped for joy when I saw land. I had only been pretending to be a sea creature. I was a land creature traveling through a hostile environment. My survival depended on the life support system I carried in my kayak, and my support system was exhausted. Nearing land, I felt as though a weight was being lifted from my shoulders.
After paddling and kite sailing all night, I brought my kayak into the calm lee of Maui outside Kahului harbor. The scents of rainwashed soils and lush tropical plants washed over me like waves of perfume. No one greeted me when my bow dug a furrow into the sandy beach. Stepping onto the beach for the first time in more than two months, I could not make my legs obey me. They crumpled underneath me and I sat down heavily in the shallow water. A local character staggering down the beach asked me where I had come from. When I told him that I had paddled my kayak from California, he whistled.
"That's a long way," he said. "Must've taken you two or three days, huh?"
"Yeah," I said.
I talked him into helping me drag my kayak up the beach, then he wandered off. Reeling like a drunken Popeye, I lurched off in search of a junk food breakfast.
On Boat Design
Most novices have their first experience with kayaking on smooth water, close to the shore, with a friend as their teacher. As in skiing or any other sport, one doesn't become an expert overnight or even after a month of paddling. The novice kayaker tests a boat before he has perfected skills needed to evaluate its performance. If you are considering purchasing a kayak, then it's worth your time to leam a little bit about boat design so you can make an informed decision.
Humans are inefficient paddling machines. To start with, we are top heavy. When we paddle we have a tendency to rock the boat from side to side and to lean forward, upsetting the fore and aft balance of the boat. We also pull on the paddle at the wrong angle. Therefore, a boat designed to a perfect water gliding formula is not necessarily the fastest if we neglect to compensate for the shortcornings of the human form as it alfects the boat's movements.
When testing a kayak, do not choose the boat that feels the most stable on the showroom floor or on flatwater because all you are essentially testing is the boat's initial stability. A boat with high inltial stability can be compared to the feeling of sitting on a tricycle. You feel secure, and there is little chance that you will tip over, but it sure is difficult to go around corners. The boat with high initial stability will not perform well in waves, just like a tricycle won't work well on side hills.
A well designed boat with high secondary stability is like sitting on a bicycle. If you are not an accomplished rider, the bike will feel unstable and you will feel like you are going to fall over. With a little practice, you can master the skills required to maximize the bike's performance. Many first time kayak buyers make the mistake of choosing the boat that initially feels most stable to them without realizing that they are actually losing seaworthiness.
Secondary stability refers to the degree of stability a boat has when the paddler leans to the side. A paddler leaning to the side in a boat with relatively high secondary stability will feel it become progressively more stable. A boat with high secondary stability will outperform a boat with high Initial stability in every situation. For example, in difficult conditions when waves come from all directions, secondary stability becomes more important than Initial. A boat with higher secondary stability will ride the waves and feel more stable.
So don't worry if the boat feels a bit tippy at first. Remember the tradeoff between Initial stability and performance, and practice paddling the seaworthy boat. Prioritize your requirements, narrow the field of boats for comparison, and then also analyze the boat's tracking ability, durability, buoyancy, responsiveness, cargo capacity, and other features.
Determine where you will be paddling and the prevailing
conditions in that area. Will you be paddling on lakes or
on the ocean, in protected waters or exposed seas? Make an
accurate evaluation of your paddling abilities as well as your size
and strength. Consider fit - if you don't fit your kayak
properly, then your paddling will be very uncomfortable, inefficient,
and maybe impossible.
A composite boat is one where several layers of specialized fabrics are layed up in a mold using a binding resin to hold the shape.
The most common composite material is fiberglass (glass), though it is a general term. Fiberglass itself comes in many different weaves and weights - each designed for a specific use. Kevlar, often mistakenly referred to as fiberglass, closely resembles glass. It also comes in different styles and weights, but is always distinctively yellow in appearance. It is handled in much the same way as glass, but Kevlar fabric is much stronger and lighter. Many people are aware that bullet-proof vests are made with Kevlar. Because it has incredible tear resistance, it is valuable for both bullet-proof vests and kayaks!
In fact, in a situation where a fiberglass kayak would be destroyed, torn to bits (say on a rocky ocean surf break), a kevlar boat, though crushed, would not tear apart. In simple terms, the resin fails, but not the fabric, often allowing you to kick the boat back to original shape and duct tape over the cracks allowing you to paddle the boat back to civilization.
Graphite, lighter than glass or Kevlar, adds stiffness to a hull or deck's shape. It is too brittle to use on its own, but when mixed with another fabric such as Kevlar, the graphite (usually in bands) adds structural strength with very little additional weight.
How much does it weigh?
Ultimately, the kayak's design, usage, fit, comfort, and strength are the major qualifiers. A kayak that fits right and does everything you want it to, is a kayak that you will be happy to own and paddle for many years to come.
What colors are available?
Superlinear polymers are made possible by the use of mettalocene technology. This new technology has the ability to construct PE molecules which are very similar in nature. Where as the 3 Ziegler Nata type catalyst makes polymers with varying degrees of size and comonomer loading, the new chemistry builds molecules all the same size.
The advantage of Superlinear is that it provides a much more entangled structure, resulting in a tougher polymer. The toughness can be used to increase density and stiffness.
This material was made available to us in the fall of 1994. Our in-house testing showed the Superlinear Polyethylene to exceed our highest expectations. The only problems with the new polymer were the higher price compared to standard polyethylene and more difficult processing, especially in the cooling cycle.
We immediately switched from regular polyethylene to the Superlinear and since spring 1995, all Necky boats have been made with this new polymer.
Texas On-the-Water Center
Heart of the Texas Hill Country
Guadalupe River: Hunt, Texas