Big Boats+Small Place=Big Problem
By Tamia Nelson
December 8, 2009
Hard‑shell kayaks and canoes are among the smallest of small craft, but they still take up a lot of space. If your home boasts a full basement, or if you have a big garage, a barn, or a boathouse, you're all set. Not every boater is so lucky, of course, and apartment‑dwellers are especially hard‑pressed. Still, paddlers are an inventive lot, and they've come up with ingenious solutions to the storage question. I outlined a few of our readers' ideas in a column back in July, and that article prompted even more readers to write in. Michael McCain had a bigger problem than most, however, and nothing in the earlier column was quite what he was looking for. But let him tell the story in his own words:
I have just sold my home and am living in an apartment, and have discovered a whole new challenge. Would it be possible sometime for you to poll your readers who live in apartments as to how they store and — more importantly, I suppose — how they secure their boats? At this time my five canoes and two kayaks are being stored temporarily at my brother's house, and I am facing the realization that I will have to downsize my fleet to possibly one of each, but I still haven't come up with an adequate solution to keeping them where I can get to them for an evening paddle any time I want.
I would love to hear if any of your readers have come up with an innovative solution to this problem.
I wrote back to Michael with some suggestions drawn from my own experience, but I also asked for ideas from the knowledgeable folks who hang out at Paddling.net's "General Help" forum. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. As I'd long suspected, a lot of paddlers have found themselves in the same boat as Michael at one time or another, and they've all come up with ways to cope. So let's begin with Job One…
Storing Biggish Boats in a Smallish Place
As urban cyclists have learned — often to their cost — it doesn't pay to store valuable portable property outside for even one minute longer than absolutely necessary, and this goes double for boats, few of which boast a steel frame through which to clamp the hasp of a lock or thread a cable. Inside storage is therefore best, and even in the smallest apartment, it's sometimes possible. Farwell and I once brought a pair of Pack canoes into a tiny lakeside cottage that had just about as much floor space as a small studio apartment. One of the canoes was turned over and propped up on milk crates, where it served as a coffee table. (Warning! Unless you're a big fan of Salvador Dali's art, don't set a hot cup of coffee down on a plastic hull without putting a heat‑resistant trivet underneath.) The other boat was leaned against a living-room wall, where it served as a backrest for the futon which did double duty as both bed and couch. If this approach appeals to you, I'd urge you to make a sketch of your apartment floor plan and try out different arrangements before you bring in your boats. A simple draw program like OpenOffice.org Draw makes this easy, though a sheet of squared paper and a well‑sharpened pencil are really all you'll need. Either way, it saves a lot of furniture moving!
The boat‑as‑household‑furnishing dodge isn't everyone's cup of tea, however, and it certainly has its drawbacks. You'll have to maneuver your boat in and out of your apartment each and every time you use it, for one thing — and if you live on the seventh floor this may present difficulties. Some apartment complexes make garage bays available to their tenants. If that's the case where you live, and if your boat will fit in the space allotted to you, you've found a solution that's both handy and (reasonably) secure. Even if you aren't so lucky, there may be a garage or storage unit nearby that you can rent. The Brits call such facilities "lock‑ups," and the idea, if not the name, crossed the Pond long ago. Of course, if you also have a car, you'll have to use your loaf (another Briticism that has yet to make the crossing) in order to shoehorn both car and boat(s) into a small space. But where there's a will there's often a way, as big‑city apartment‑dweller Carl Delo can attest. The two photos below show just how he did it, making a place for three kayaks in addition to his MINI Cooper, all in one small corner of a large lock‑up.
You can see more photos of Carl's urban boathouse in his Photobucket gallery, and you won't find better illustrations of the utility of well‑thought‑out racks and lifts. Lifts? Don't neglect lifts, those clever constructs of webbing, rope, and pulleys. We've housed a pair of 14‑foot touring kayaks in a shed that was just 15 feet long, simply by suspending slings from hooks screwed into the rafters. There's no reason why an apartment‑dweller can't do the same thing. And there's a bonus: Your boats can serve as hanging planters during the off‑season. You'd better check with your building superintendent before you start drilling pilot holes for the hooks, though. You don't want to find yourself out in the street with your boats, do you?
The super has given you the OK? Then here are a few ideas to get you started:
Wall‑mounted racks are another alternative for apartment storage — your lease and the building super permitting, of course. No luck? Then how about a self‑standing rack? That should allay the super's concerns. Dan designed this one. It was first showcased in July's "Home Port" article, but it's worth a second look:
It's a versatile rack, and Dan notes that it can be adapted to store more than two boats, in addition to being outfitted with casters to permit easy movement.
You say you're not a DIY type? No problem. Sensing a growing need, a number of enterprising companies have responded by designing attractive racks for storing canoes, kayaks, and sit‑on‑tops in tight spaces. Talic is one such company. I wrote to them a while back, asking if they had anything that would suit apartment‑dwellers, and I got a speedy reply assuring me that their designer was on the case. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with, but in the meantime, Talic's free‑standing Finger Lakes and Classic racks should meet the needs of many urban paddlers just as they are.
There are other possibilities, too. Remember loft kits from your college days? Well, lofts also make good boat storage platforms, and there's often space underneath to suspend one or more short kayaks, into the bargain. Just Bing or Google "college loft kit" and see what you come up with.
So far, so good. But what about apartment‑dwellers who live high up in buildings without freight elevators, and who don't want the additional expense of a rented lock‑up? Are they left…
Out in the Cold?
Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Some folks simply lock their boats to the racks on their cars and hope for the best. And some of them get away with it. It doesn't do much for their gas mileage, and given the combined assaults of sun, road salt, and grit, it's not a recipe for longevity — the boat's longevity, I mean — but at least the canoe or kayak is always ready for that spur‑of‑the‑moment trip. Until some light‑fingered opportunist happens along, that is. Then it's back to square one.
Pilotwingz on the Paddling.net forum has a better idea. He makes the point that many apartment complexes reserve parking spaces for residents, and that some even maintain parking areas for tenants' trailers and campers. This being the case, he suggests acquiring a multi‑boat trailer of the sort often used by outfitters. Park the trailer in your assigned space, lock your boats to the trailer's frame, and then fit a cover over the whole unit, thereby shielding your boats from both the sun's harsh rays and the prying eyes of would‑be pirates. The downside? To comply with typical lease provisions, you'll probably have to register and insure your trailer, even if you never plan to take it on the road. On the other hand, you've got an easy way to transport your boats from place to place whenever the spirit moves you. Want more security? Check out the fully enclosed trailers used by snowmobilers and ATV enthusiasts. They're not cheap, and you'll need to make sure all your boats fit inside, but if everything specs out you'll have the closest thing going to a real lock‑up on wheels.
If all else fails, ask your apartment manager for his or her suggestions. While supers aren't renowned for their flexibility or helpfulness, there are plenty of exceptions to test the rule. You might even get the go‑ahead to put up a shed or outside rack in a courtyard or other protected area. You won't know if you don't ask, will you?
The first of the two photos above shows a canoe rest along a portage trail. The second illustrates another of Dan's simple and elegant designs. Either could be adapted to suit a variety of craft, and if there are other paddlers in your apartment complex, you could team up to approach the building's owners for permission to erect something similar — at your expense, of course. Just be sure that you have good locks!
It might also be possible to store one or more boats on your balcony, if you have one, though you may need to rig a cathead or davit to lift the boats into place. These are still common sights on traditional Dutch townhouses (click on the link and scroll down the page to see an example), but I can't say I've come across too many in the States. Still, nothing ventured…
Are you having no luck with your super or your building's owners? If so, it's time to stop into the nearest outfitter's shop to see if they have any suggestions. Maybe a local paddling or rowing club leases storage for their members — many rowing clubs have boathouses right on a nearby river — or the outfitter himself might even rent you some space on his racks. Once again, if you don't ask, you won't know.
Still getting nowhere? Then you'll probably have to…
No, I'm not saying you should give up paddling and take up knitting. Not that there's anything wrong with knitting, of course. In fact, if you like wool socks — and I do — the two activities complement each other wonderfully. Instead, I'm suggesting that you weigh the merits of fabric folders, bolt‑together sectionals, and inflatables. The much‑maligned "rubber duckies" and fragile stick‑and‑string kayaks of yesteryear are no more. In fact, determined paddlers have been running easy‑to‑moderate whitewater and even crossing oceans in folding kayaks since the first decade of the last century, while modern inflatables can tackle just about any drop you'd dare to try in a hardshell. (At least any drop I'd dare to try in a hardshell.) Moreover, folders and inflatables are truly boats you can stuff in a bag. That's a Sevylor solo canoe in the green sack in the photo at the very start of this article. And the red duffle in the shot above conceals a Pakboat folding kayak, small enough to store on a shelf and light enough to tow behind a bike.
Not convinced? Or are you a hardshell diehard? In that case, take a look at sectional craft: canoes and kayaks that come apart for storage and then bolt (or clamp) together to paddle. I can't help you here, I'm afraid. I've absolutely no sectional experience. But you can always let Bing or Google be your guide, using the search strings "sectional kayak" or "sectional canoe." If you do, you'll discover that although take‑apart canoes are rare beasts, indeed, breakdown kayaks are a little easier to come by, and some, like the Nimbus Horizon‑S, are truly elegant craft. Once you find a model you like, your storage woes will be over for good. The problem is solved.
Storing boats between trips can be a surprisingly big job, particularly if you own more than one. And it's an even bigger job for apartment‑dwellers, for whom even the smallest of small boats looms very large indeed. What's the solution to the big boat–small space problem? Three words: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. It's easy enough to say, of course, but it's often hard to do. Still, our readers have shown us just what can be done, and the range of possibilities is a lot wider than I'd have guessed. Thanks, folks! And good luck to all spatially‑challenged boaters everywhere. Remember: Where there's a will, there's almost always a way.
To read the complete Paddling.net forum thread on the subject of boat storage for apartment‑dwellers, just click here.
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