I got up at 5AM Sunday to break camp and cross over to Anacortes during slack water. As I shoved off the sky started to grow brighter and it began to rain. Except for the raindrops on the surface the water was completely still. A porpoise swam by. A warm breeze blew gently from the south. An early morning ferry passed close in front of me. From what I could see in the windows, it was mostly empty except for a handful of passengers. I saw no other boats on the water.
After landing and unpacking back in Washington Park, I drove down to Deception Pass to find some rough water. I grabbed a second breakfast then took a nap in my car at the Bowman Bay boat launch. Later I was awakened by the arrival of a group of kayakers and a van pulling a trailer with about a dozen kayaks. When they started doing warm-up exercises in a circle on the grass I decided I would get going.
I warmed up by doing a few rolls in Bowman Bay. I’m used to an “ocean sized” cockpit but even with the large cockpit I felt that I could get a good grip on the underside of the deck of the IceKap with my knees. It felt a little stiff doing layback rolls (I think the backband was a bit restrictive) but forward finishing rolls were very easy, and the IceKap felt like it wanted to just pop back upright.
Then I sprinted toward Deception Island, with the skeg down. It seemed faster today, probably because the boat was empty. I wish I knew how fast I was going this time, but unfortunately the battery cover on my GPS came off and it got wet. It twisted off because I had a lanyard attached to the battery cover lock. Lesson#5: Electronics will fail.
The IceKap’s maneuverability made for easy paddling around the rocks and kelp at Deception Island. I pulled the skeg up when I approached the Island. I didn’t notice any weather cocking with the skeg up when I left the Island and headed into the Pass with the wind at my beam.
I timed the trip so I would enter the Pass at slack, but still had to work against the growing ebb, paddling close to the rocky shore and taking advantage of back eddies when I could, and sprinting through the current when I had to. I really loved the IceKap’s agility here. The light weight made for quick acceleration and turning. Did I mention that Sterling says the IceKap will turn 360 degrees in three strokes?
Playing in the current was a real pleasure. Edging was smooth, and the IceKap felt very stable in the waves, despite the hard chines and 19.5 in beam. Once in a while some standing waves would pop up as the current evolved. They weren’t big enough to do any surfing on but it was fun to roll around in them.
Lesson#6: In rough water the IceKap really shines!
Finally the kayaking class arrived. Soon after, a whale watching boat came in close to watch the kayakers. I couldn’t resist showing off for the tourists. I did the trick where I appear to capsize accidentally and then stay under for as long as possible before slowly rolling back up. If you’ve ever watched someone else do that it’s unnerving because you don’t know if the guy is drowning or what. Another cool trick is to paddle into the current and then fall into a balance brace. The current carries you floating on your back and it feels like you’re flying (I learned that from Shawna and Leon of Body Boat Blade).
So in conclusion I think the IceKap is an awesome kayak! I was unsure the first day out, but the second day at the Pass really convinced me that it is really as good as people say it is, for Greenland style rolling, playing in rough water, and light camping. Apparently it excels in the surf and in very nasty outer coastal conditions as well, although I can't speak from any experience on that. It's also fully equipped to do the BCU thing. So if that’s your paddling style than I highly recommend it. In addition, the state−of−the−art lightweight construction makes a difference in performance as well as in the ease of cartopping and resistance to getting holes in the hull. I would definitely buy an IceKap myself, and still might someday, but I guess I realized from this experience that I have a number of low volume rolling/light touring boats already and didn’t really need another one. Maybe what I really wanted was something different, like a fast boat with enough volume for multiday touring. Or maybe it's because I just can't get emotional about a boat that's not made out of wood.
Do you think I could get Sterling to sell me a license to build an IceKap in vacuum-bagged cedar strip?
A new coworker of mine has been sea kayaking for several years. We talked recently about our kayaks, paddles and styles. He paddles a carbon composite Epic 18X, which I would describe as a fast touring sea kayak with a swedeform hull, large cockpit and a rudder. His Epic weighs about 37 pounds, goes fast and has plenty of room for touring. It has a plumb bow: all of the boat length contributes to the waterline. He is a firm believer in rudders. He says many kayaks have problems weather cocking in strong winds and most kayaks will have problems tracking in a quartering sea. A retractable skeg might help with these issues but a rudder is far more effective. Skegs also add drag even when they are not deployed because of the slot in the hull, and since their mechanism is internal (as opposed to a rudder's mechanism) they are difficult to fix when they break. He likes the large cockpit in the Epic that allows him to lift his knees occasionally while paddling long distances. Often he doesn’t dress for immersion because he would cook in a drysuit during the kind of workout he gets when paddling, and usually doesn’t wear a sprayskirt. He does not roll, but is proficient in various self−rescue techniques.
The South Sound area doesn't have surf or rough coastal conditions, so one can make the argument that a highly rockered “British style” kayak design with a tight cockpit and upswept bow and stern doesn’t really makes sense here. He said they definitely look cooler and more “kayaky” though. But it’s not about aesthetics: it’s about practicality. It’s about using the best tool for the job, which the Epic 18X is if you want to go far and fast, loaded with gear.
Well, everything he said made plenty of sense to me. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective (i.e., the opinion of an experienced kayaker who didn’t go through BCU training or is a Greenland−style traditionalist.) But I have to disagree with what he said about aesthetics. You can’t tell a wooden kayak enthusiast that kayaking is "not about aesthetics!" Wooden boat owners are simply not practical people. For people who spend a great deal of their spare time building their own boats, aesthetics takes precedence over practicality every day of the year.
Paddling quietly alone along a rocky cliff covered with sea life during a warm summer evening while the sun sets, in a wooden boat that you built with your own two hands − is that not about aesthetics? If you just want to get somewhere on the water an inflatable dinghy with an outboard motor will work just fine. A few gallons of gas will take you plenty far (certainly as far as the next fuel dock) and you’d be able to carry a lot more gear and maybe even a passenger or two. And if you're into paddling for the exercise, maybe your time would be better spent in the gym.
As far as rolling goes, it's not just an effective self rescue technique: it looks really cool too. Honestly, that's why I practice so hard at it. So in the end, what he said made me question my motivation for going into sea kayaking in the first place, and forced me to think about what I enjoy about it. I came to realize that I really didn’t want to own a fiberglass boat of any kind after all. I have to thank him for that!
I don’t think the IceKap tracks very well. There -- I said it! That’s Lesson#3. This isn’t supposed to be an advertisement for the IceKap anyway, just a collection of my personal impressions. During the crossing over to Cypress the kayak tended to wander and I’d be doing draw strokes to avoid running into my friend Tom Sharp who was paddling a classic Mariner Coaster. I thought at first maybe it was because I packed it too heavily in the bow, so we stopped at Strawberry Island and I shifted some cargo. It didn’t make much difference. Dropping the skeg fixed it though but also added more drag. With the skeg up I tended to lead just ahead of Tom but with it down I found myself right beside him.
Just north of Strawberry we happened to run into Tom Banks paddling with his wife and another group of kayakers. He was paddling his low−volume IceKap, named Blue Ice. I had been exchanging messages with him just a few days earlier, after having read his testimonial about the IceKap on Sterling Donalson’s website. To run into him on the water like this was just an amazing coincidence! Sterling had told me that Blue Ice was the second IceKap ever made (completed about a year and a half ago). Tom Banks said that the low−volume and the standard volume models really behave like completely different boats. I should have asked him to be more specific on that. While on the water he popped his sprayskirt, slipped out of the cockpit and sat on the back deck so he could show me his Nimbus seat. He agreed with me on the tracking issue and said that he paddles with the skeg down almost all the time. Otherwise he seemed very enthusiastic about his boat, which is carbon composite layup. He can even do forward finishing handrolls in it--pretty awesome!
Tom Banks and his group were paddling the opposite direction that we were, which suggested to me that we were going the wrong way. In fact we ended up fighting a little ebb current. I’ll blame that current for my sluggish paddling. Even at a sprint I couldn’t get the IceKap over 4 knots. Sterling said that other paddlers can typically cruise at 5.2 mph (statue miles per hour, not knots). I don’t understand why anyone would measure speed on the water in mph and not knots, except that it might make you feel like you’re going faster. Lesson#4: Set your GPS to mph, not knots.
We ended up stopping at Cypress Head. We had wandered around at Pelican Beach earlier, but the campground there was crowded and felt very exposed to me. The campsites at Cypress Head are set in the trees and located right on the headland −− much more scenic, sheltered and private. Tom decided he wanted to paddle back to Anacortes and go home, so he left me alone to make camp. By the way it sure was a pleasure to drag a fully loaded kayak onto the beach by myself and not have to worry about scratching up the beautifully varnished wooden bottom (especially since it was not my kayak!) Actually the IceKap is so light that I was able to carry it loaded by myself short distances on the beach over rocks and driftwood logs. The lighter weight does make a difference, even with a loaded boat.
I made a campfire even though it was a warm evening. There is something comforting about a big campfire. It turns an otherwise vacant patch of dirt into a home away from home. Plus it’s entertaining burning stuff and you can burn a lot of your garbage instead of packing it out with you!
[to be continued]
Filmmaker and founder of Dubside.net, Tom Sharp, happened to call me just as I was approaching Bellingham. I had mentioned to him that I would be heading to the San Juans for the weekend. We decided to meet in Washington Park in Anacortes and go paddling from there. We were making things up as we went along, taking into account the currents and prepared to camp out, but not committing to anything until we saw how busy the campgrounds were. I suggested we paddle clockwise around Cypress Island. It didn't seem to matter to Tom where we went I think because he had paddled around all of the islands this summer already.
Tom brought along a Mariner Coaster, borrowed from George Gronseth. Apparently George once had an entire fleet of Mariner Coasters that he would use for his classes, and this was the sole survivor. The Coaster is no longer being produced and is now a much sought after classic sea kayak. Brian Schulz has built a skin-on-frame version of the Coaster, which he calls the SC-1. This kayak later evolved into his latest design, the F1. I'll just quote what he has written about it here:
"The original Coaster was designed by Cam Broze of Mariner Kayaks in 1985. This 23" wide 13'5" kayak quickly gained cult status as a superior kayak in the surf. Surprisingly it went on to prove itself as a remarkably versatile sea kayak for smaller paddlers as well. Whereas the Coaster won’t win a sprint against a longer narrower kayak it is very fast for its length, it draws no penalty at cruising speeds and is actually more efficient than much longer kayaks at speeds up to 4 mph because of its reduced wetted surface. Every sea kayak is a compromise but the Coaster seems to get away with a bit more than it's fair share. Some sprint speed in exchange for better cruising efficiency, maneuverability, portability, and large usable cargo space, a pretty good trade. This kayak is very stable, swift, turns especially quickly yet tracks well even in difficult cross-wind and following sea conditions. And it screams in the surf zone without pearling. A great boat for kamikaze surfing AND peaceful flat water exploring."
Tom had tried it on the coast and said the handling really is fantastic in the surf. This particular boat had been retrofitted with fore and aft bulkheads and rubber hatches (the original was manufactured with only small deckplates fore and aft, and no bulkheads) Of course Sterling Donalson did the retrofit. And while I was struggling to get all my gear into the IceKap, Tom put all his camping gear including 8 liters of water into that short stubby Coaster, and still had plenty of room for his kayak wheels. In the end I was able to pack everything into the IceKap I wanted for an overnight trip except for my wheels, but had to put my sleeping bag into the cockpit. So I was really depending on that compression drybag to not leak.
Lesson#1: The IceKap is not the best choice for multiday camping trips. No big surprise there. Someone would have an even tougher time packing for a simple overnight trip with a low volume IceKap equipped with a day hatch compartment.
On the water the IceKap felt very comfortable. As soon as I sat in it I immediately felt that finally someone has made a kayak for paddlers my size. I thought the primary stability was excellent. It felt much beamier than a 19.5 inch boat -- not twitchy or tender at all. The Redfish closed minicell foam kayak seat acted like a true lumbosacral support, discouraging the bad habit I have of slouching in my seat. This was a cockpit I could paddle all day in. I stuck my bilge sponge along one side of the seat and there was room enough for a bilge pump along the other side. I had forgotten to adjust the footrests on land but was able to adjust them easily on the water by simply unlocking them by twisting a red tab and sliding the foot rest forward or backward with my toes, then twisting the tab to lock them again. The underside of the deck around the knees was lined with minicell foam which acted as an effective thigh brace.
Lesson#2: This is exactly how to outfit the cockpit of a kayak.
So off I went, paddling after Tom into Rosario Strait on a sunny August afternoon.
[to be continued]
Recently I asked fiberglass guru and kayak builder/designer Sterling Donalson if I could demo the IceKap. I had sat in Dubside’s shiny black IceKap quite a while ago and rolled it a few times in a pool but never actually paddled one. Sterling graciously allowed me to borrow an IceKap for the weekend, so Saturday I was up early in the morning driving to Bellingham to pick it up.
Sterling's Kayaks & Fiberglass is a nondescript big metal shed off a country road. For a boat shop, the smell of wood was conspicuously absent -- instead the strong smell of epoxy resin was everywhere. Another customer happened by the same time I was there. He was getting the leaky skeg box on his Impex Force 5 fixed.
The IceKap I got to use was the standard volume demo model. It is a highly rockered, hard-chined kayak with a pointy upswept bow and stern, 16 ft 11 in long and 19.5 inches wide, weighing 38 pounds (down to 27 pounds with a carbon composite construction) and designed for paddling in challenging coastal conditions. It has full perimeter gab lines and recessed deck fittings, end toggles, rubber SeaDog hatches, a long keyhole cockpit, a retractable skeg, and an optional day hatch compartment. So it’s American, but is really similar to the “British-style” kayaks. Sterling calls it “Greenland-style”.
Sterling’s standard lay-up is a state-of-the art resin infusion technique used with layers of unidirectional cloth. It results in a hull that is stronger and lighter compared to typical hulls built with fiberglass mat. The resins are measured precisely and weights of his boats come out within a pound of each other. All these kayaks are custom built. The design is usually tweaked to meet individual needs: custom bulkhead footrests, cockpit coamings, seats, and deck artwork. The deck can be lowered an inch to cut the standard volume down to a low-volume model. And then the back deck can be lowered even more as in the super low-volume "Dubside model".
Tom Banks said he “literally tried out some 30 different kayaks” and found the low volume IceKap fit his criteria the best. Tom is a BCU-trained rough water paddler, Greenland-style enthusiast and rolling nut!
John Day says that the IceKap is “light, maneuverable, easy to roll and totally forgiving in the surf! It punches out through big, breaking waves better than any boat I've tried. I have used this boat in every condition imaginable….” He also says that it is the best surfing sea kayak next to the Mariner Coaster. John is a ACA certified open water instructor and paddles in insane conditions on the Oregon Coast.
In last year’s Deception Pass Dash, the paddler known as “Kiwi” came in first in his division with an IceKap.
Sterling told me that Heather Nelson did her BCU 5-star in the very same white IceKap I was taking out for the weekend.
So… wow! I don’t think I had ever been so excited about a fiberglass kayak in my entire short paddling life. With that kind of introduction to the IceKap, how can anyone not be totally impressed? I was just itching to put her in the water to find out for myself what the whole IceKap experience was like…
[to be continued]