Inflatable Kayaks–The Right Equipment?

DSC00314Over the last two and a half weeks on the Mississippi River, we’ve noticed that our Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks attract a lot of attention. Some people are impressed with their portability and stability, while others voice concerns about maneuverability and speed. The choice of boats was a very important decision as we both knew that we would be spending many weeks living and dying by these crafts.

I am a long-time owner of a Sea Eagle kayak and it was determined early on that this type of boat would be ideal for us because of the quantity of gear we would be bringing (about 300 lbs) and the fact that Ryan (and myself to some extent) were both inexperienced paddlers. It also seemed to be a “problem solved” situation right out of the chute when Sea Eagle agreed to supply us with two of their finest inflatable kayaks for the journey.

However, after a few trial runs down the Cumberland River in Nashville we had some concerns about the speed loss when towing a second equipment boat behind us. So Ryan and I decided to do some scientific tests which we completed by paddling a short a length of Greers Ferry Lake using several boating configurations. Here are the results:

  1. 2 Kayaks (1 towed), paddled normally – 8 minutes
  2. 1 Kayak, paddled normally – 7 minutes, 50 seconds
  3. 1 Kayak, paddled swiftly – 7 minutes
  4. 2 Kayaks (1 towed), paddled leisurely – 8 minutes, 40 seconds

There is a margin of error in these results as each trip was pretty short. However, in spite of the perceived difference in speed while towing the second kayak, the actual difference isn’t actually very significant. Over the period of the entire Mississippi River, it would probably add perhaps a week or two to our final duration. Also, speed is not our primary goal of this particular adventure so these results didn’t bother us. Then some other concerns came up…

Ryan and I sat down with Joe Beck of Fox, Arkansas to discuss his own trip paddling the Mississippi and he strongly advised us against using inflatable kayaks for our trip. Here are Joe’s arguments:

  1. Maneuverability. Inflatable kayaks don’t turn or steer as well as a solid craft and this will make it more difficult for us to avoid other vessels and obstacles on The River.
  2. Durability. The River is unforgiving in places and as tough as Sea Eagle kayaks are, they could still be destroyed depending on what we encounter on the float trip.
  3. Comfort. Joe felt that the contact between sand, plastic, and our city-boy skin would be very uncomfortable after a long period of time.

Joe instead recommended that we invest in some hard-shelled sea kayaks. I took his suggestion very seriously as Joe is a boat builder, he has already paddled The River, and one of our primary goals over the course of this trip is to “not die.”

But after a discussion and a little research, Ryan and I pressed on with the original plan. We took both Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks to Lake Itasca and are presently towing the second boat full of supplies.

At this stage of the trip, we are still satisfied with this decision. Our lack of experience on the open water has been handled safely on several occasions which may have been very dangerous in an open canoe or kayak. And since we’re not in a particular hurry, the slower pace of an inflatable boat isn’t a big issue either.

The river conditions are constantly changing so it’s possible that we’ll change our minds as well, but for the time being we are still in agreement that the inflatable kayaks are perfect for our own journey. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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