I took advantage of the weather today to take the kayak out for its shakedown cruise. It was… educational.

First off, the previous owner put a fair amount of energy into customizing the cockpit to fit to his body, using closed-cell foam pads to make hip pads and thigh braces. Having a fit like this means that you don’t so much sit in the kayak as wear it. Admittedly, it’s like wearing something (very) highly starched, but still… It makes for a much more responsive boat, but there’s a fine line – too snug, and you can’t easily bail out in an emergency; too loose, and you slop around inside. (In theory, a good fit will also help you with Eskimo rolls, but I’m not at that point yet.)

When I bought the boat, I knew I was buying something that had been changed from one-size-sorta-fits-most to one-size-fits-one. I also knew that I was broader and taller than the previous owner, so I knew that at some point I’d need to reshape his foam. That point came late this morning; I spent about an hour making room for my wide(r) ass.

Still, it felt pretty good sitting in the driveway. I strapped it to the car, and headed off for Lake Washington. When I got there, I learned that I’m going to have to tweak the replacement skeg that I fabricated – it’s a shade too wide, perhaps due to expansion in the cold, and I’m going to need to figure out a better way to secure it to the S-hook that attaches it to the cable that raises and lowers it. Okay, so let’s see how it handles sans skeg. That’s the boat’s true nature, after all.

The verdict? It’s a nice little boat. It’s quick and responsive – maybe a little too responsive sometimes, I surprised myself a couple of times when I did something stupid creative – and very nimble; I’m willing to bet it does fun things in the surf. There was a steady wind, resulting in some smallish (1m or less – mostly less) waves, which the boat handled just fine. It does love to weathercock, so I’m really going to have to get that skeg squared away ASAP.

I’ve still got a little work to do with the foam, too – my right side fit fine, my left not so much. My hips were fine (otherwise, I probably would have tipped over), but my left thigh wasn’t quite in the right place.

Oh, and my second-hand dry gear is, in fact, quite dry. Not that I’d lose my balance while getting out of the boat in the shallows or anything like that. No. Never. Still… *ahem* Quite dry.

Good to know.

My inadvertent waterproofing test also brought home in a very real way the value of the maxim “Dress for the swim, not for the paddle.” The air temperature today was in the high 50s, low 60s, even with the wind. The water temp? High 40s, low 50s. Capilene thermal underwear is a Good Thing.

All in all, it was a most productive 90 minutes of paddling. The boat looks like it was a good purchase, as does all my gear… And I have definitely whetted my appetite for more. Er, more paddling that is, not gear.

Well, okay; gear too. But that’s sort of a given. C’mon, summer!

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