It (Sometimes) Takes Two
Part 2 Portaging Kayaks and SOTs
By Tamia Nelson
June 13, 2006
When you look at a kayak, you're left in no
doubt about its natural element. You'd be right, too. A kayak really
is a joy to handle on the water. But a landlocked kayak is something
else an awkward and unwieldy burden. Of course, not all kayaks are
equal. Short, stubby creek boats can simply be shouldered and muscled around
the (usually) brief portages on steep mountain streams. Long, heavy touring
boats don't rest so easily on your shoulder, however, particularly when fully
outfitted. And sit-on-tops
are worse. You don't think this is a problem? Think again. Canoes aren't
the only craft that have to be carried from time to time. It's a rare
waterway that's not interrupted by portages. Even sea kayakers have to haul
their boats and gear above the high-water mark on the beach,
and it often makes sense to carry across a headland,
rather than chancing the chaotic seas of a tide race.
What can be done to ease the burden of getting a kayak or SOT from one place
to another on land? A portage cart
can help. In fact, it can help a lot, but it also has to be stowed somewhere
when you're on the water, and space is tight in most kayaks though a
cart can always go as deck cargo if
you don't mind the windage. Then again, SOTs lack decks for lashing. And carts
aren't welcome in many inland parks. What's left? Not much. When the time comes
to leave the water and head down the trail, you just have to
Grin and Bear It
Unfortunately, few SOTs are easy to portage long distances, and large
touring kayaks make awkward loads for a single person. The one-shoulder,
arm-in-the-cockpit carry favored by whitewater boaters is downright painful at
fifty-plus pounds. And while it's not
impossible to fit a yoke in many kayaks, it's mighty hard to pick your way
down the trail when your head's in the bilge of a decked boat. One method that
I've tried and liked is the frame-pack kayak
tote, but as good as it is, it still leaves you to bear the burden alone.
This isn't always possible. Age, injury, and rugged country all take their
toll, and sometimes even hard men and iron women need a little help getting
their boats across a killer portage.
The good news? A burden shared
is a burden halved. Here's how it's done. Unload your boats and stow your
gear safely off the trail. (Spare paddles can stay under the deck lashings.
Shove one end of your working blade in the cockpit, with the free end pointing
aft. You're less likely to snag trailside vegetation this way.) The first
paddler now takes up a position at the bow, while the other moves to the stern.
(Opposite sides are best.) Then pick up the boat between you and head out.
Toggles make it easy to hang on to slippery hulls, but with care you can just
cradle the ends in your hands. Put the boat down and rest whenever your arms
get tired. That's all there is to it. Simple, eh? Once you reach the end of the
trail, trot back for the second boat. Two boats. Two trips. No pain.
But is it also too slow? No problem. Carry light packs to speed things along
while you portage. Or double up, standing between the boats and humping them
over the trail in one go. A few words of warning are in order here, though.
This only works when the two boats are about the same length. Furthermore,
unless they're both fairly light it's a guaranteed back-breaker and if
they are this light, why not just shoulder them and carry them solo in
the first place? Good question.
So much for twosomes. But maybe there are three of you: Mom, Dad, and
Junior, say, each in his (or her) own boat. There's strength in numbers. Take
advantage of it. After all, three paddlers can carry two boats more easily than
two paddlers can. One paddler (Mom?) grabs the bow of the first boat. The
strongest paddler (Dad?) stands between the first boat's stern and the bow of
the second, lifting one in each hand. That leaves the third paddler (Junior?)
to bring up the rear. A hint: alternate sides and keep in step. It also helps
if the trail is wide and not too steep. Later, on the second trip across the
portage, two paddlers can bring the remaining boat (and maybe a couple of packs
as well), while the third totes the rest of the gear.
Does all this talk of lifting and hauling make your hands tingle and your
back ache? Then maybe you'll find it easier to
Shoulder the Load
First things first. Unless you're content to exchange one misery for
another, pad your shoulder with a square of foam, a rolled towel, or a spare
horse-collar (Type II) PFD. (Do not use your primary PFD as a pad. Save
it for more
important work.) Sometimes a rucksack's
padded shoulder straps will be in the right place. That helps when you're
trying to make the most of each trip across the portage. Ready? Take your
positions. As before, one paddler stands at the bow and one moves to the stern.
You'll want to be on opposite sides this time, too. Next, lift the boat and
lower the keel onto your shoulders. Now walk off, with each paddler keeping a
hand on his end of the boat for safety's sake. Bow sets the pace and stern
matches him step for step. Relax and enjoy the journey. If your shoulder pads
do their job, it will be almost painless!
In a hurry? Want to speed things along by leaving your gear in the boat
while you carry it across the portage? Well,
It's Your Boat
But I'd resist the temptation, if I were you. Paddles and PFDs are OK, of
course, but it's not a good idea to bridge a heavily loaded boat between two
props. Yes, thermoplastic boats are tough, but remember that water is their
element, not air. Pop-riveted seams and toggles aren't designed to support
the weight of a full load of food and gear. So why take chances? Your boat is
your ticket home, after all. And even more to the point, why put yourself at
risk? It's no fun to slip with a loaded boat balanced on your shoulder. A
sprained ankle is probably the best you can hope for. It could be much worse.
In fact, it's likely that more voyageurs died on the portage trail than drowned
in rapids or on the big lakes and they were pros. We're doing this for
pleasure. There's little joy to be had waiting in the ER for your x-rays to be
read. 'Nuff said?
Kayaks and sit-on-tops are fleet and nimble craft among the swells
and currents of living water, that is. Once ashore, however, they're often
awkward and contrary beasts. But that doesn't mean they can't be carried from
one place to another whenever the need arises, or that it can't be done
gracefully. Sometimes it just takes two of you to do the job right. Happy
Copyright © 2006 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights