Our Folding Kayak,
a Greenland II by Folbot

 

Greenland II made by Folbot

 

Under sail (photo by Tycho Horning)

 

 

 

 

Six years ago, we decided to purchase a folding kayak for extended trips along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska.  Although a folding kayak is relatively complex  and expensive compared to a hard shell kayak, the ease of transport and storage were major advantages for us.  Several other advantages are described below. 

As with most things, part of owning a boat is being owned by a boat. That is, being responsible for its maintenance, storage, transport, etc.  I've owned a variety of small boats during the past 4 decades but have never been less owned by a boat than this one.  We're delighted to have a craft that can be stored in a closet, transported by car or mass transit to rivers, lakes or sea coasts and then will transport us to the wild, adventuresome places we love to visit. 

We got around the expense factor by purchasing a used kayak in excellent condition that we found online.  The fragility was only a factor while landing and launching, where we were careful not to scrape the bottom of the boat.  We've put about 1600 miles on the kayak and the skin is still in very good condition with only a few scuffs and minor cuts.  We've been pleased with how well the kayak handles rough seas and with 8 crossings of open ocean plus the outer coasts of Kruzof, Chichagof and Yakobi Islands, we've had our share of them.         

The kayak is a Greenland II made by Folbot.  It was built  in 1999 and we purchased it used in 2007.  Despite being 8 years old when we bought it, it had only been used a few times and was in like-new condition.  It was equipped with paddles, rudder, expedition kit, repair kit and sail rig.  In the summer of 2008, we did a week long shakedown trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island and in the summer of 2009 we spent 59 days paddling and sailing the kayak 700 miles from Vancouver Island to Alaska.  

The boat proved to be a good choice for our us.  Its large volume made packing a relatively easy matter, even when packing 3 weeks of food.  The 34" beam is wider than on any other kayak we've paddled, and we've been surprised at how advantageous that beam is.  It affords a reserve of stability that makes entering and exiting, as well as paddling in rough weather, a much more relaxed affair than has been our experience in the narrower kayaks we've used in the past.  Pearl, who doesn't swim, also feels much more secure in this kayak than in the narrower ones she's used in the past. 

Contrary to our expectations, we haven't found the beam a problem when paddling.  The primary difference from paddling a narrower kayak is that it requires longer paddles.  We both find a 260 cm paddle about right.  Interestingly, the wider beam hasn't been much of a detriment to speed either.  In the summer of 2008, we paddled for a week in company with a muscular friend in a single Feathercraft.  In a sprint he would win every time, but at a normal cruising speed we would always pull out ahead and he occasionally had to paddle harder to keep up.  We later had a similar experience when traveling in company with two people in hard shell singles.  During both of our long trips in this boat, we averaged around 12 to 15 miles per day early in the trip, but as we gained strength, we occasionally had 20-30 mile days.

Another advantage of the wider beam is that sailing is a much more feasible endeavor than on a narrower boat.  The kayak came with a Folbot FR-30 Twin Down-Wind sailing rig, but the long mast made it unsuitable for our purposes.  We needed a relatively short mast that could easily be stepped and stowed while underway and a sail that could be easily and quickly raised, lowered and reefed.  I designed and built a square sail rig using two of the 3 mast sections that came with the FR-30 rig, giving an overall mast length of 7' 4".  I sewed a 22.5 sq. ft. sail 4'8" wide by 4'10" tall of 1.9 oz. ripstop nylon.  The yard and boom were made of 1" diameter aluminum tubing, each 4' 8" long.  Running rigging was 1/8" nylon parachute cord.  For transport, the rig fits into the bag containing the kayak frame. 

We were very happy with the performance and handling of the rig.  Pearl felt it added an interesting dimension to the trip.  She could step the mast and have the sail rigged in under 5 minutes.  Once the mast was stepped, the sail could either be raised for sailing or lowered and stowed for paddling in about 15 seconds.  The ease and speed of raising and lowering the sail allowed us to frequently alternate between sailing and paddling in light and variable breezes.  We usually reefed in around 12 knots of wind and when reefed, could carry sail up to about 20 knots of wind if going downwind.  The sail was effective up to almost a reach (sailing direction perpendicular to wind direction), though we didn't sail on a reach in higher winds.  On the 2013 trip we sailed about 150 miles and paddled 750 miles.

Sailing a narrow craft of course carries the potential for capsize, so when sailing we paid close attention to what we were doing and to what the weather was doing, watching for squall lines, increasing winds, cats paws, etc.  Also, Pearl held the halyard, rather than cleating it, so the sail could be dropped instantly.  As a result of these precautions, we've never come close to a capsize.                    

The zippered decks and large cockpit made packing a breeze as compared to packing a hardshell sea kayak.  Unless there was surf, our packing routine was to carry the empty boat to the water, loading it in enough water to float it.  Unpacking was the reverse, with one of us unloading and tending the boat while the other schlepped gear up or down the beach.  Surf launches, which we only did on sandy beaches, required loading the boat at the highest point that the waves would come to on the beach.  As the tide brought the water level up or down, we would move the boat, waiting to do so until especially high waves floated it.  Surf landings and launches were more exciting than in calm water, but not usually difficult. 

The cockpit is weatherproofed with a coated nylon cover which attaches to the deck with velcro.  This was easy to attach and quick to remove for loading and unloading.  Surprisingly, the velcro never detached during rough weather, despite waves occasionally breaking over the deck.  On our shakedown trip in 2008, we experienced some water leaking onto our laps through seams at the cockpit cover/spray skirt joint.  We later sealed those seams, which went a long way toward making them waterproof.  Eventually though, the waterproof coating on the fabric in that area wore through and we had leaks again.  Fortunately, we usually wore rain pants anyway, so it wasn't a major problem.  Before another trip though, we'll replace the cockpit cover and spray skirts. 

We used the seats that came with the kayak, which were thick, dense foam.  On top of these we had inflatable seat pads (see equipment page) which were a major comfort upgrade.  While paddling, the stability of the kayak made it easy to lean back and stretch periodically, making it tolerable to occasionally paddle for 6-8 hours without getting out. 

For transport, the kayak fits into 2 bags.  One bag contains the aluminum kayak frame, rudder assembly, 3 paddles and sail rig.  The other bag holds the skin, cross frames, seats, cockpit cover, spray covers, bilge pump and repair kit.  Each bag is just under 50 lbs.  We've transported the bagged kayak on Amtrak, Greyhound and the Alaska Ferry and have only once been charged extra for them (Amtrak, $10).  

An maintenance issue we had with the kayak on the 2009 trip was electrolysis which caused several frame rivets to fail.  These rivets secured stainless steel hinges to the aluminum kayak frame.  We replaced several rivets en route on that trip.  When we returned, we replaced all 48 hinge rivets with new ones from Folbot, bedding each in silicone anti-corrosion gel.  It took only a couple hours and the frame was then better than new.  On the 2013 trip, we had no further issues with the rivets.