Reflections from the Cockpit
I think it is fair to say most paddlers prefer to use their own equipment when on the water than renting or borrowing equipment. We are comfortable with our own equipment and we know what to expect performance wise with our own stuff. However, there are times when you need to borrow some equipment or rent it from a kayak shop. Since I travel around the country doing clinics I need to rent and borrow equipment after I get off of the plane.
Given my size I have a much greater challenge than most paddlers do. There is only a handful of kayaks that I can fit into. Before I agree to do a clinic, at a fly to destination, I first have to find out if they have a kayak available that will fit. This of course is not a problem for the average size paddler. I bring up my dilemma, because I have had to force myself into some very interesting equipment over the years. As a result I would like to share some hard-learned lessons with you.
I have learned to take as much of my personal equipment as will fit into my paddle equipment bag. I have even sacrificed my non-kayaking clothes so I can have my paddling attire with me. Those of you who have seen my attire, before and after the class, can tell I am a clothes horse spending thousands of dollars on old T-shirts and shorts. You need to decide whether to pay the airlines for the luggage or pay a kayak shop for rental equipment. My choice is to bring my own gear. Since you will be paying one way or the other, I recommend you have your own gear with you. I can fit everything into my bag except my kayak. Here is a great opportunity to sell you on the idea of a folding kayak, but I wont. The concept speaks for itself. I specifically have a four-piece paddle that fits into my bag so the only thing I need to get at my destination is the kayak. Before traveling, I confirm the size of the cockpit so I know which spray skirt to bring. When in doubt I have a very large nylon skirt that is adjustable and can fit all kayaks I have used thus far. My PFD takes up the most space, but a properly fitting PFD is essential for safety. Even more likely is a chance of under arm abrasion from a poorly fitting PFD. Since I have a special rescue PFD I rarely leave home without it. I wont even discuss the condition of most of the paddle floats I have seen from rental places, if you can even find a place that rents one. Bring your own!
Even with all of my own stuff I have had to modify and augment some of the kayaks I have used when traveling. I once received a kayak from a generous soul who told me the hatch covers were ALWAYS kept in the hatches. Since we were over an hour from his house it was not possible to go back and get the elusive covers before the class began. Logistics were such that I was at the class site and the kayak was delivered to me. Thank goodness for duct tape. You can make temporary hatch covers if you have enough duct tape, but do not crawl over the duct tape covers when demonstrating recoveries. I once cut up a coated nylon stuff sack and held it in place over the forward hatch coaming lip with shock cord. It worked well, because the plastic hatch cover over the nylon added some protection. If you carry a plastic garbage bag in your emergency kit you can try using that in a bind, held in place with shock cord or duct tape.
Some maintain their equipment well and some let it go to ruin. I have had bulkheads that were there for appearances, but didn't keep out any water from the forward and rear hatches. That is why I have learned to water test bulkheads before I use the kayak. A good pair of large float bags is great insurance to bring with you from home. Deck lines, grab loops and shock cords are frequently rotting away so it is good to have extra if you rely on them when performing your skills. Rudders and skegs usually work, but I have had times when it was better to secure them (retracted) so they could not be used.
Since kayaking is done in the seated position a good seat, back support and foot supports are important. I have had to make and fix seats on many occasions. There are a number of seat pads available on the market that can be used if the original seat is not working for you. As for foot pedals, I have learned how to paddle without them, because carrying spares is difficult unless you know the model. The distance apart for bolt holes for most foot braces are the same. I said most, not all. You can bring a spare set if you want, but keep in mind they may not fit unless you drilled another hole (people are funny about drilling holes in their kayak, so this option may be mute). Be sure you bring your own bolts with o-rings to secure the foot braces. A small tube of Aqua Seal can help plug the extra hole. Believe it or not, a piece of well chewed gum has worked and just a small piece of duct tape over a small hole works for a long time if the tape is put on when the kayak is bone dry. In a pinch, I have learned to pull my heels together to help jam my knees up into the coaming to give me some stability below the waist when foot pedals were unavailable, regardless of the reason. Doing the heel trick can get very fatiguing after a few hours. I turns out to be a great abdominal workout. Carrying an extra back band provides options.
Here is my list of items I bring in my borrowing kit when I am using an unknown rented or borrowed kayak. Many of these items are part of my standard repair kit, but my repair kit is a separate item.
Kayak Borrowing Kit:
Universal nylon spray skirt
Large float-bags for the forward and rear hatches
New roll of duct tape
Nylon deck cord and shock cord.
Plastic zip ties of different sizes
Extra rudder cables with crimps, nuts, bolts and utility tool (Leatherman)
3'X3' Piece of coated nylon (or lawn size plastic bag)
Extra Foot Braces w/bolts and o-rings (if you can afford the space and weight)
I prefer my own equipment and use it whenever possible. When you need to borrow, examine the equipment as thoroughly as possible before you take it on the water. Repair and modify as needed, with the owners permission of course. Treat the borrowed equipment better than your own and replace what you break.
When I travel I depend on borrowed equipment so I prepare myself for the worst. The more time you spend on the front end finding out about the equipment you plan to borrow or rent, the less time you will spend on the beach fixing and modifying.
Post article link to USK reflections October 2006 "Renting a Kayak."
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