Monday, March 20, 2006

Inflatable Kayaks

Dennis has always paddled an inflatable kayak. His first, while not the worst boat in the world, was far too much like the cheap inflatable boats that kids muck about in at the lake in the summer to be much good in the ocean. Although, that being said, on our first paddle together, he and I did make it over to the Chatham Islands...a feeling that we've been hard-pressed to duplicate since.

But once Dennis traded up to his Advanced Elements kayak, we've all been much more impressed with the possibilities of inflatables. The day we first inflated it—we paddled Elk Lake during the only sunny break that day offered—we knew that this was something a fair bit of thought had gone into. The bow and stern are reinforced and shaped with small aluminium inserts and it comes with a small skeg. The shape is very much that of a traditional kayak, and the shape and structure of the tubes make it quite a nice kayak overall. Dennis, I know, has a few things to say about the cockpit and a few other points, but I'll let him talk about those himself.

Someone who has really been impressed by his kayak is Paula. So this week she bought one of her own. Purchased (on sale) from West Marine, it's an Advanced Elements kayak re-branded as a West Marine one. West marine call this the Skedaddle 1 (crappy name in my opinion). Advanced calls it the Dragonfly—a much nicer name.

This kayak lacks the aluminium reinforcements front and rear, and the front end is both pointed and sweeps forward up and out of the water quite a bit. This means it spins on a dime and gives nine cents change, but it also means that there is no resistance to lateral motion while paddling. Paula resorted to tiny strokes twice as often to reduce this side to side twisting. AE has put a small skeg on the rear and attached a shallow plastic keel to the front (a keel about 30 centimetres long) to help with tracking, but the boat still tends to skitter about with each stroke. A blunter and firmer bow shape would probably have been more to the point.

But the Skedaddle/Dragonfly does pack up very small and weighs only 20 lbs.--making it possible to haul on the back of a bike or on public transit. When Paula travels to Mississauga next all, she hopes to take it with her on the GO train to Union Station and then to paddle out from there into the Toronto Islands. Size-wise, at least, this is a strong probability.


  1. hi, i'm from malta, a small island in mediterranean, lovely caves & blue waters here. i'm interested in the advanced elements inflatables but there are no dealers in malta and so i have to order them over the internet without actually seeing them.
    i just can't decide whether to get the lagoon2 (new version of the dragonfly) or the expedition tandem. do you have any advice? i'll be using it in the open sea or in bays and not extremely long distance, around 6km in one shot max., i'm a beginner, been kayaking maybe 5-6 times with the scouts.

    thank you very much!

    Julia tua

    (pls re. )

  2. I bought one of these from West Marine. My gf and I have tried them out now in two places: a very placid lake in the Kootenays and in choppy waves off Jericho Beach. Your review is right that the boat does not go straight. Absolutely no issue on the lake where if I went spinning about, well, that was just fine. However, when it came time to stabilizing my boat so I could photograph some loons, well, I needed to sometimes paddle with my hands to make sure I was spinning LESS. Off Jericho Beach, I was afraid of tipping at first because of the lack of weight but after I got used to pointing into the waves, I felt a lot better. The people in the rigid boats were just motoring past us and it was a tough paddle to get out there against the waves. I felt I got what I paid for which was a portable boat that I could stick in my car (both of them could) and one I didn't feel bad about taking up space with my camping gear.

  3. Hi Julia
    I'm Paula, the one on the Kayakyak blog who uses inflatable kayaks as well as a rotomolded plastic Eliza kayak from Necky.
    So you're from Malta? That is such an interesting place to read about. It must be a wonderful place to live.
    Thanks for asking my advice. I'm currently writing some product reviews of Advanced Elements kayaks, and I like them a lot. These are very good kayaks for paddling in sheltered water such as lakes and bays.
    In inflatable kayaks, I routinely paddle 4 km along the shore of my local bay and back, and 8 km or longer along other shorelines. What I don't do is cross 6 km of open water between islands, especially alone, because here at Vancouver Island the sea has strong currents and the weather can change from good to bad in an hour. When I want to go across 3 or 4 km of open water to other islands, I paddle with friends and we check the predictions for tides and currents.
    I don't know what the currents are like near Malta. You will have to check online, in books, and at local marine supply stores for advice about local conditions.
    The inflatable kayaks from Advanced Elements are well-made and can be used wherever a hard kayak of wood or plastic or fibreglass that is the same length would be used. If you are paddling 6 km along a shore, they may be very suitable, especially if many people in the area go out in small rowboats and little sailboats. If you want to paddle 6 km across a channel to another island, you would want to use a sea kayak about 16 to 20 feet long instead of these inflatables.
    As to whether to get a Lagoon 2 (formerly known as Dragonfly 2) or the convertible tandem, well, it depends on what you want to do with the boat. Do you want to paddle alone? I'm a small woman and I like the 25 pound (under 11 kilograms) Lagoon for a single paddler because I can lift it and carrry it easily. The Lagoon is not a speedboat, it is for relaxed, slow fun. I've tried the double with a friend, and if your friend is a big man he may be wishing to go faster or feel crammed. At 350 pounds maximum weight for a Lagoon 2, you may be better off getting two Lagoons instead for you and your partner.
    When I want to go farther and faster, I take the Expedition instead. At 13 feet it goes farther on each stroke of the paddle, and it is better for longer outings. I think it can go anywhere a hard kayak up to 14 feet can go -- especially in a group of paddlers. The Expedition is about 45 pounds (21 kilograms) and is harder for me to lift and carry.
    I put either of these kayaks in its bag on a luggage roller and take it on the bus without any problems.
    The Convertible is the model that can be paddled alone or by two paddlers. This is a good choice for strong people who can lift and carry it. The problem is carrying a 60 pound boat on your shoulder, when the wind is blowing. Try not to drag any of these kayaks on the ground! Use wheels to roll it along.
    If you are expecting to paddle with a friend most of the time, the Convertible will be a reasonable choice. If you are expecting to paddle alone, the Expedition is a better boat and easier to handle on and off the water. If you are small, consider the AdvancedFrame 10.5 because it is only 36 pounds (16 kilograms) and it is a better ride than the Lagoon.
    I suggest that even if you are expecting to paddle with a friend, you may find it better to have two boats that are easy to handle instead of the Convertible. I would recommend the Lagoon 2 only if you and your friend are both small to medium-size people and you enjoy relaxed, slow outings in quiet places together. Even if that's what you want, maybe two Lagoons would be better.
    I hope this is the kind of advice that will be helpful. We can talk more about what you want to do with a boat. Please let me know what you decide!

  4. Hi guys,

    Check out Innova inflatable kayaks...Awesome...

  5. My wife and I have a pair of the West Marine Skedaddles, and like them very much. This past weekend was my first outing - her 2nd, and we picked an ambitious route - about 3 miles - around Naples island. We wound up with a long haul into the wind at the end, and used a 3 foot rope to hitch her bow handle to my stern handle, so I I could give her an assist. The slight drag reduced the side to side twitching on my power strokes, which was good because I needed to dig in to get us both back before the parking meter expired!

  6. Hi Fred
    Sounds like you and your wife make good paddling partners!
    My first little inflatable is still working well at almost six years old. It's been a lot of places, including the back of a SmartCar!
    I keep a 10 foot long tow rope tied to the front handle of my inflatable, as well as carrying a throw bag full of 50 feet of floating rope.

  7. They have made so much progress with inflatables that it can often be the best choice as you get flexibility to go to more locations as transporting them is easier. Thanks.