Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Mystique of the Sea Kayak

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The Mystique of the Sea Kayak

By Anna Hendrix
The Daily Magi
October 13, 2062

A sea kayak or touring kayak is a kayak developed for the sport of paddling on open waters of lakes, bays, and the ocean. Sea kayaks are seaworthy small boats with a covered deck and the ability to incorporate a spray deck. They trade off the maneuverability of whitewater kayaks for higher cruising speed, cargo capacity, ease of straight-line paddling, and comfort for long journeys.

Sea kayaks are used around the world for marine (sea) journeys from a few hours to many weeks, as they can accommodate one to three paddlers together with room for camping gear, food, water, and other supplies. A sea kayak usually ranges anywhere from 10–18 feet (3–5½ meters) for solo craft, and up to 26 feet (8 meters) for tandem craft. Width may be as little as 21" (50 cm), and may be up to 36" (90 cm).
Contemporary sea kayaks trace their origin to the native boats of Alaska, northern Canada, and Southwest Greenland. Eskimo hunters developed a fast seagoing craft to hunt seals and walrus. The ancient Aleut name for a sea kayak is Iqyak, and earliest models were constructed from a light wooden frame (tied together with sinew or baleen) and covered with sea mammal (sea lion or seal) hides. Archaeologists have found evidence indicating that kayaks are at least 4000 years old. Wooden kayaks and fabric kayaks on wooden frames (such as the Klepper) were dominating the market up until 1950s, when fiberglass boats were first introduced. Rotomolded plastic kayaks first appeared in 1984.

Modern sea kayaks come in a wide array of materials, designs, and sizes to suit a variety of intended uses. In sea kayaking, where the designs continue along primarily traditional lines, the primary distinction is between rigid kayaks and folding kayaks. Folding kayaks are in some ways more traditional boats, being similar in design to skin-on-frame kayaks used by native people. Modern folding kayaks use ash and birch or contemporary materials such as aluminum for the frame, and replace the sealskin covering with synthetic waterproof fabrics. Unlike native kayaks, folding kayaks can be easily disassembled and packed for transport. Many folding kayaks include inflatable sponsons that improve the secondary stability of the vessel, helping to prevent capsize. More recently, a class of inflatable folding kayaks has emerged, combining a more limited rigid frame with a tightly inflated skin to produce greater rigidity than an inflatable boat alone.

In recent years, there has been an increase in production of sit on top kayaks suitable for sea use. This has resulted in a new market for paddlers looking for the versatility of a sit on top, with seaworthy performance. Sit on top kayaks are a common choice for sea kayakers who prefer the sit on top versatility, but do not want to sacrifice performance.

Most rigid sea kayaks also derive from the external designs of native vessels, especially those from Greenland, but the strength of modern materials such as fiberglass, rotomolded plastic and carbon fiber eliminate the need for an internal frame, though significantly increasing weight. Modern skin-on-frame sea kayaks constructed with nylon skins represent an ultralight niche within the rigid sea kayak spectrum.

Some recent design innovations include:

  • Recreational kayaks—shorter kayaks with wide beams and large cockpits intended for sheltered waters
  • Sit-on-top kayaks—boats without an enclosed cockpit, but with the basic hull shape of a kayak.

A different class of vessel has also emerged, the Surf ski, a long, narrow boat with low inherent stability that is intended for use in surf and following waves.

A sea kayak's primary safety device is its paddler. Although some kayakers consider a well-practised self-righting move such as an Eskimo roll to be essential to safe open-water kayaking, it is the technique of bracing that every well-trained, experienced kayaker practises to maintain an upright position in their kayak. Practice in bracing is often neglected by inexperienced kayakers once they have learned the Eskimo roll. However, the reality is that having to roll really means having to recover from a failed brace. Being in the capsized position in some environments due to missing a brace can put the paddler in danger of colliding with obstacles under the water. Staying upright in surf zones, rock gardens, and rivers is most important and is only accomplished through well practised and successful bracing.

While there are a number of techniques for unassisted righting and re-entry of a kayak after a capsize and turtling, most paddlers consider it safest to paddle with one or more others, as assistance is useful if attempting to roll up solo fails. Even if the assistance fails to get you righted, it's a lot easier to climb back into a boat in the open sea if you've got another boat and paddler to help and your boat's been emptied of water first. Nonetheless, experienced paddlers do attempt open water crossings unaccompanied, and several major long-distance kayak expeditions have been carried out solo.

The use of a Paddle float self rescue device, generally consisting of foam, or inflatable bag, attached to the end of a paddle, allows a paddler to use the paddle as an outrigger, while climbing back into the cockpit. Be sure if you use an inflatable paddle float that you use a dual chambered model, but only train with one chamber inflated. A double chambered device will give you redundancy in case of a failure in one chamber. Training with one chamber inflated won't leave you handicapped if one chamber does fail. In many areas (Canada for instance) this is a coast guard required item. This fairly reliable rescue technique, if well practised, allows one to paddle with confidence when not equipped with a 'bombproof' roll.

There is a strong culture of self-sufficiency amongst sea kayakers and extensive safety equipment such as compass, towing lines, manual pumps, repair kits including wet application repair tape, flares, paddle leash, spare paddles, and survival gear are routinely carried; along with supplies of food and a flask of hot beverage for non-emergency use. GPS, charts, lights, radios and cell phones, and radar reflectors are also sometimes carried.

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