I have always thought of kayaking as a relationship. Generally, it’s the relationship between the water and the paddler. But, the relationship between the kayak and the paddler is important too. As I prepare to leave on the Arctic Voice Expedition, I am beginning to really appreciate all the things that go into my relationship with a kayak I will be depending on for the next couple of months.
Arctic Voice is a 3,000-mile trek across Arctic Canada to raise awareness and create community action in response to climate change. Since this trip is long, remote and totally self-supported, my two teammates and I will have to carry a lot of stuff. A whole lot. Our kayak of choice is the Feathercraft K-1 Expedition.
Route of the 2008 leg of the expedition is shown in blue.
The K-1 has two qualities that make it perfect for this journey. First, it is a folding kayak that fits snuggly into a rather large backpack. While I know I will get hit with massive weight overage charges from the airlines, I also know my kayak will fit on the plane, so I’ll deal with the cost. The other quality is its gigantic load capacity, and I will need every bit of it.
Expedition camping gear checklist
The K-1’s 385 lb. load capacity is a virtue — but it is also a challenge. I am not large. I am used to paddling a very low volume, traditional Greenland-style skin-on-frame kayak. Greenland kayaks are made to fit the individual paddler. The great thing about the personalized fit is that when you move your legs or hips the kayak moves too. It’s wonderfully responsive. This is not the case if you are a small person in a giant kayak.
First-time assembly took me several hours longer than the estimated 40 minutes. Sitting in my newly assembled kayak in the middle of the living room floor, I felt like a little kid in a big laundry tub. The coaming came up to my chest. I do have a high stroke, but this was just silly. I would have to figure out a way to outfit my K1 so I paddle in a less comical manner.
The easiest solution was to build myself a booster seat. Six inches of mini-cell foam did the trick nicely, but also made a very stable kayak fairly unstable. Oh, well... I assumed a heavy gear load would correct most of that. Besides, I would trade initial stability for a good forward stroke any day.
|The next issue was to give myself better grasp on the thigh braces. Feathercraft recently added two tubes to the frame that run inside of the gunwales. This gives you some hold on the kayak, but of course, I wanted more. I always loved the outfitting on my Wilderness Systems Tempest, so I borrowed the thigh braces from that kayak and bolted them to the brace tubing with metal straps. So far so good.|
Alison’s modification of the K-1 cockpit outfitting.
© Alison Sigethy
Now that I was happy with the fit, at least on my living room floor, it was time to get wet. The section of the Potomac I usually paddle is normally pretty calm. But on especially windy days you can get some decent chop. I was fortunate enough to have just such a day for my first outing in the K-1.
Alison shaking out her kayak and learning it’s quirks.
© Jonathan Mar
|The wind was blowing 20 knots with some stiffer gusts. Little whitecaps were easy to find, and some of them could even be surfed for a second. It was a good day to play. Initially, the kayak did feel quite unstable. But it didn’t take too long to get used to the shakiness. Getting used to the rudder was another issue. I’ve never liked rudders and never owned a kayak that had one — until now. If there’s ever a time to use a rudder, it’s in a heavily loaded kayak in Arctic waters. I knew I would be glad to have one — once I got the hang of it.|
| The next time out, I decided to try rolling and reentries. I am pretty fond of rolling and will sometimes go out just to roll. Although I will not intentionally capsize in the Arctic, I wanted to know I could roll up if necessary, and trying it for the first time in 30°F water just didn’t seem smart. Turns out, the hardest part is capsizing. The K1 holds an extreme edge pretty comfortably, just sitting on the sponson.|
Although I was starting to like this kayak, it still didn’t feel like mine. It needed a bit of personalization, so I decided to go to my friends and family. We had a sea-sock signing, which was great fun. Surrounded by good wishes from those close to me, I instantly felt more at home. The final addition will be adding stickers of the Nunavut flag and a little dancing bear I designed before I went to Greenland in 2006. I am carrying those with me and will put them on my kayak when it’s assembled in Kugluktuk — just a couple days from now.
Alison and her signed sea sock (the large waterproof bag, standard in the K1, that fits inside the cockpit to contain any water that enters).
© Cynthia Dowdle
You can follow the journey on the following sites: