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Kayaks

An Inuit creation, long ago the kayak was used for hunting and everyday getting around. Today, these small, self-contained craft are most often used for recreational purposes, to the great delight of the increasing number of outdoor adventure lovers.

BUYING

In order to choose the right kayak, you must first ask yourself what kind of activities you will be using it for. Will you be taking it on a nice little spin around the banks of a quiet lake, paddling down a peaceful river for a few hours or going on a several-days-long whale-watching expedition in St. Lawrence River? Whatever you plan on doing, you’ll be sure to find the perfect kayak for you among the four most popular types:

  • Sea Kayaks: Measuring 4.5 to 5.5 metres (15 to 18 feet) long, these kayaks are designed for choppy streams and the salt water of the open ocean. Their length makes them faster, but since they are used in water that is often turbulent, they usually feature a rudder or centreboard (a retractable keel) for improved manoeuvrability. In addition, they have watertight hatches for carrying equipment and keeping it dry in case of bad weather or the boat flipping over;
  • Touring Kayaks: This increasingly popular type of kayak can be 3.8 to 4.5 metres (12.5 to 15 feet) long and are ideal for large expanses of fresh water such as Lac Saint-Jean or the calmer parts of the St. Lawrence River, or for heading out on an overnight or several days’ kayak camping tour. They are shorter and wider than sea kayaks, they are steadier and more stable, especially if they come equipped with a rudder or centreboard;
  • Recreational Kayaks: These are perfect for small lakes, peaceful rivers and one- to three-hour jaunts. Because this type is shorter—no longer than 4 metres (13 feet)—and wider, recreational kayaks are extremely manoeuvrable and are ideal for beginners. They sometimes have a centreboard to improve steering;
  • Sit-on-top Kayaks: Loads of fun to use, these simple kayaks, open along their entire length, are a class apart. They allow you to spend an enjoyable summer day close to shore without worrying about getting wet! This is the kind of kayak that you can leave at the cottage and use on a lazy weekend day.

Once the particular type has been decided on, those of you who always go kayaking with a partner should consider a tandem kayak. Not only will it cost less than buying two but also, thanks to its bigger size, it will track or hold a straight course more easily and enable a steady pace to be maintained if one of the kayakers is not quite as adept as the other. In a similar vein, more and more kayaks are now coming on the market with smaller-sized cockpits specially designed for women.

Trying it out for size

To know whether a particular model will be the right size for a particular kayaker, he or she should try it out in the store. The cockpit opening should be snug enough so that the kayaker stays properly in place, but at the same time big enough to extricate him or herself quickly if the boat tips over. The interior should provide proper support for a kayaker’s bottom, hips, knees and feet. Given such support, the paddler will more easily be able to balance and control the kayak, which is important for rolling (righting the craft when it is flipped over) in situations where that is possible.

Fabrication

Today, the vast majority of kayaks are made of polyethylene, an affordable, durable plastic requiring little maintenance, although it is heavier and less rigid than composites. If some purists swear by the very expensive kevlar, others prefer fibreglass, a more fragile, but higher-performance material that is lighter and more rigid, and can be moulded in any way desired, resulting in bolder shapes and designs.

Speaking of shapes, the longer the kayak, the more it will offer in terms of speed and its ability to hold course, as well as space for carrying gear; however, it could well be heavier. On the other hand, the wider the kayak, the more it tends to be stable, while at the same time hold a lot of gear—although that will also cause it to be slower and heavier.

The shape of the kayak’s hull also tells us something about potential performance. An almond-shaped hull makes a kayak stable and manoeuvrable, but adversely affects its tracking ability. If it has a V-shaped hull, the craft will be less stable, but faster and more responsive—just what more experienced kayakers look for. If the hull features an inverted keel, the kayak will be slower but more stable, while a hull with a sharp chine (nearly right-angled edges where the kayak’s bottom and sides meet) makes for a good compromise between speed and stability, as well as results in a craft with better than average manoeuvrability.

Rocker (the curve of the kayak’s hull from one end to the other) also has an influence on the craft’s manoeuvrability. The more rocker the hull has, the easier it is to make quick turns. However, the kayak will then be slower and more difficult to keep on course.

Finally, volume, or the amount of space in the kayak, affects its buoyancy and the way it responds in the water. A kayak with a low volume will be fun to control in small waves, but have a tendency to become submerged in choppy water. Inversely, one with a high volume will give the kayaker who enjoys whitewater challenges a sure advantage. To achieve the right balance, the weight of the kayaker must also be taken into consideration when choosing the volume of the craft: a heavy paddler will find it difficult to control a low-volume kayak; while a lighter person piloting a big kayak will have the impression the craft is sluggish.

USE

A sea kayak’s deck is more fragile than the one of a recreational kayak, so it is therefore advisable to carry it to where you are going on the roof of your vehicle, taking care to cover the cockpit so that rainwater will not enter the interior.

When fastening the kayak to the roof, straps should be adjusted so that they hold it firmly in place, but not too tightly, in order to prevent the hull from being bent out of shape in the event of prolonged exposure to hot sun.

If the kayak is so long that it juts out over both sides of the length of the vehicle, it is a good idea to fasten down the ends of the craft with cord, as well as tie an easily visible, brightly coloured warning flag to it.

Finally, watch out for scratches: they can slow down a kayak if they are deep. It is better not to land a fibreglass kayak directly on a beach, as small stones could damage the hull. In such a case, it is more advisable to get out of the craft while it is still in the water.


MAINTENANCE

Ideally, a kayak should be stored in a closed area such as a garage or basement. If that is not possible, it can certainly spend the winter outside, placed upside down on a stand, as long as you make sure snow does not pile up on its surface.