Friday, July 31, 2009

The Kodiak - the verdict

I had a pretty good idea what to expect of the Folbot Kodiak having paddled the double Greenland II and the single, leaner Cooper. But I was still pleasantly surprised at both the similarities and the differences between the three Folbot kayaks. The Kodiak is as easy to build as the Greenland with great volume. However, the Kodiak is similar to the Cooper in terms of speed and tracking. It fits well inbetween the two models.

Whilst not intended as a professional review of the Kodiak, here's a quick run down of the more important points I found - in no particular order:

Seating Position/Cockpit
I had already imagined what it would be like to sit for a long time in the Kodiak as I know from experience that my bum usually goes to sleep and then my legs start to ache after a couple of hours in the Cooper. The standard seat is mainly to fault but this is, and luckily was, easily remedied. Either buy the inflatable seat that Folbot now offers or make your own modification. I settled for an inflatable cushion - be careful not to inflate too much - and after some experimentation I found the right amount of air to provide a comfortable and higher paddling position.

The seat back needs a quick modification to secure it in the upright position to prevent it falling down when you enter the kayak. It can be a real pain to reposition the seat when sitting on it. Annoying but easily fixed.

My knees were often braced against the washboards of the cockpit but this was only a problem on the very first night of paddling. Most kayaks are modified to fit the paddler and the Kodiak is no exception. A bit of ensolite foam taped to the washboards should solve any future problem.

The Position of my legs was an issue at times as I felt there was little room for movement when I was using the rudder. Luckily, the Kodiak cockpit is large enough that you can pull back the spraydeck and lift your legs and move them around without making the kayak unstable. On longer crossings I will remember to make the spraydeck ready to be removed for this purpose.

The Kodiak has very good initial stability. It can, however, still be leaned relatively easily to assist "cornering", okay, turning, without feeling off balance. The inflatable longerons running along each side of the kayak help both in stretching the skin and provide built in bouyancy. I am sure it is possible to roll the Kodiak - never say never - but it will not be easy. It is more a question of recovery and self-rescue than rolling. I have yet to try that out - was too busy videoing whales!

Being flexible the Kodiak also absorbs waves very well. I did not experience rough weather but neither did I feel the small waves out on the water.

Speed and Tracking
Folding boats are not as fast as hardshell boats but I was pleased with the way the Kodiak responded from stationary starts, and the tracking is superb. I did have a problem with the rudder but more as a result of me tying the rudder lines than anything else. Something I need to work on.

Packing the Kodiak was a dream. Very quick, easy to experiment and position the weight for trim with good access and loads of room in the bow and stern. While only packed for five days, it was not necessary to have anything stowed on the deck of the kayak other than my deckbag.

Material and Quality
The Kodiak is well made and very tough. Although a tighter fit than the other models I have built and paddled, this is no bad thing considering the whole kayak feels solid and tight. The hull is made of hypalon and this seems to stand up well to abrasion from sand and ice. I can see no sign of damage on completion of this short trip and at no time did I stop to think I should take care of the hull - I paddled and "parked" carefree. It was also quick to build and for that reason the Kodiak should be easy to maintain. Folbot stock all the necessary replacement parts, should they be needed.

Whereas portage is not an issue it is neceessary to move the kayak relatively high up the beach so as not to lose it when a wave from a calving glacier or iceberg catches you unawares. Having to move the kayak it is nice to known that it is easy to do so, although I am sure I can refine the technique yet. The dry weight of the Kodiak is just under 24 kilos. At the end of a day of paddling, tired and wet, this is appreciated.

I had no water enter the boat during five days of paddling. However, I did not experience any rough weather either. But the skin does not leak; it sheds water well from the deck.

I am very confident that the Folbot Kodiak will perform well on the expedition next year. It does need a bit of fine tuning for comfort but then most kayaks do. It swallowed gear without feeling sluggish in the water, and it actually felt sporty on take-off. The fact that I could sit comfortably and enjoy the nature and yet feel secure amongst calving icebergs and feeding humpbacks felt really good.

One last thought ... why did I choose a folding kayak when there are so many hardshell kayaks to available? Well, the fact that they can carry a lot of weight without being very heavy, they absorb waves rather than bounce off them and, not least, I can store the kayak inside the house. We don't have a lot of storage options and it gets way too cold to keep things outside during the winter. The modern folding kayak is also very closely related to the Greenland skin-on-frame kayaks in terms of construction and it feels good to be paddling such a kayak alongside the traditional qajaqs in Uummannaq.

I feel I have chosen the right folding kayak for the expedition and looking forward to filling it up with gear and starting next summer!

Following this link you can see all the technical details concerning the Folbot Kodiak.

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