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Bending Branches

Buying a Boat

In the Bag? Folding Kayaks and Canoes

By Farwell Forrest

Do you live in a seventh-floor studio apartment, in a building without an elevator? And you still want a boat of your own? Hopeless? Not quite. But your choices are limited. Short of finding the formula for a dehydrated canoe ("Just add water!") or making friends with someone who lives in the suburbs and has a big garage, you've got just two alternatives: an inflatable or a folding boat. Let's look first at folders. We'll talk about inflatables later.

Folding boats have been around a long time. A German tailor named Johann Klepper built a folding kayak in 1907 and then took it for a spin in the River Mangfall. It worked. Soon, folding kayaks could be seen on nearly every European waterway. This had little to do with their paddling qualities, however. It was a matter of transport. Automobiles were rare in pre-war Europe, but railroads went everywhere. And you could take one of Herr Klepper's faltboots along with you on the train. Just try that with your Tripper!

Das 
Faltboot

Of course the idea, though ingenious, wasn't exact new. It was simply a clever adaptation of the aboriginal skin-on-frame kayak. But it was certainly successful. Even today, with passenger rail service headed the way of the dodo everywhere in North America, it's still possible to buy a folding kayak. There's even a company making them in the United States. There are also folding canoes, and they, too, are made right here in the USA.

So who would want to buy one? Quite a few folks, actually. People who live in small city apartments. People without cars. People who like to hike long distances into remote mountain lakes. People who want a boat to take along in a floatplane or on a motorcycle.

In fact, some people with 5-acre country lots and three cars in their garage buy them. These folks simply like the "feel." The framework of a folding boat flexes slightly in response to the movement of the water. Compared to more rigid, hardshell boats, it feels…well…it feels alive. That's not such a bad thing.

Why doesn't everyone buy one, then? Simple. Folding kayaks and canoes aren't cheap. The least expensive models are about twice as costly as comparable thermoplastic boats, and the most expensive cost as much as some good used cars. That's too much for many of us.

And folders can take some getting used to. They have to be assembled and disassembled each time they're used. It's not hard to do, but it takes a little practice to get it right. And it takes some time—typically 15-30 minutes. If you usually arrive at the put-in half an hour after everyone else, a folder isn't the best boat for you. Folding canoes and kayaks also take some looking after. Sharp stones, beaver-gnawn branches, and hard corals can tear the outer skin. Repairs to the fabric are usually easy, but they, too, take time. The frame isn't so easy to repair. If you're the sort of paddler who delights in bridging a loaded boat between two rocks and then jumping up and down…well, let's just say that you probably ought to get something else.

For paddlers who are willing to exercise reasonable care, however, folding boats have a lot going for them besides their portability. They're typically very stable—and very seaworthy. They can be paddled, rowed, and sailed. You can even mount an outboard on many models. (Why you'd want to do this is another question. Some folks will have their reasons, though, I'm sure.)

Few boats, in short, are more versatile—or more fun to paddle. And that's a pretty good recommendation in itself. 'Nuff said.

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.




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